New Zealand history falsehoods laid bare
The distortion of the history of New Zealand by racists for political and financial advantage continues at a relentless pace. This has never been more so than in the events preceding a “so-called “Land Wars Day” on 28th October 2017.
On 21st February 1864, in a brilliant and humane action at dawn, designed to minimise loss of life on both sides, troops under General Sir Duncan Cameron occupied Rangiaowhia, breadbasket of the Waikato rebels on which their dominant pa at Paterangi depended. With this setback, it was not long before the rebellion was quelled.
Furious at being so outwitted, the rebels soon concocted the odious lie that a church full of women and children had been burned to the ground and other atrocities committed. Nurtured as “oral history” by the Ngati Apakura tribe, this travesty of the truth remains active to this day, being related at length by one Vincent O’Malley in the “NZ Listener” for 25th February 2017. By contrast, with access to accounts of actual observers, one a Maori lad at the time, there is my own description of the real events in the March 2017 issue of New Zealand Voice”.
Others, notably Dame Susan Devoy (i) and historian Jock Phillips (ii) have likewise repeated the lie of the church-burning.
A party of students from Otorohanga College having visited the site and been fed the false tales of the locals, a petition for a “Land Wars Day” was organised by teacher Mariana Papa and presented to Parliament by students Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson. Parliament failed to investigate the validity of this petition which was accepted without question and so 28th October 2017 became “Land Wars Day”.
On this occasion appeared a report, authored by Martin Johnston, senior reporter of the NZ Herald, (iii) who had evidently interviewed student Bell, now at university, teacher Papa and historian O’Malley. While it makes no direct accusation of any church-burning it is riddled with gross falsehoods about many aspects of New Zealand’s history including the Rangiaowhia affray.
It is despicable that school students should have been made the vehicle for the spreading of such false tales but it is doubly despicable because the truth was known in Otorohanga College nearly two years ago. Principal Timoti Harris had received from me an accurate account of events at Rangiaowhia (iv), enclosed with my letter to him of 3rd December 2015. I wrote again on 11th December 2015 and having no reply, again on 3rd January and 27th March 2016. His belated reply subsequently was received after he had retired as school principal.
I wrote also to the Te Awamutu RSA who responded with total silence and the Library whose reply was short but informative. Tony Membery, Principal of Te Awamutu College briefly acknowledged my second letter to him, concluding: “I believe this will put an end to our correspondence on this matter.” Other enquiries elicited that at Tony Member’s school, discussion of Rangiaowhia was avoided though a tale was current there that what was an old rebel’s white blanket had metamorphosed into a white flag of surrender!
And so the tales continue to fester as so clearly shown by journalist Johnston’s report. Thus:
No. 1: ”College students’ shock at the burning to death of residents of a Waikato village is at the heart of the annual day to remember the New Zealand Wars.”
IA: The burning to death of seven rebels was their own fault. They fired first.
1B: There were no “New Zealand Wars”. There were tribal rebellions.
No. 2: “the invasion of Rangiaowhia”
2: Rangiaowhia was British sovereign territory. Any action to recover it from rebels was entirely legitimate and it is a travesty to call it an “invasion”.
No. 3: “the largely undefended village of Rangiaowhia”.
3: As events proved, there was a substantial number of armed rebels in the village and caches of arms were discovered in whares after the occupation.
No. 4: “[It] was attacked by British forces on February 21, 1864”.
4: Shots were only returned to rebel fire. Rebels attacked first.
No. 5: “Buildings were burned with people inside them.”
5: Only one building was burned with people inside. This was the whare, fashioned as a gunpit, from which old fool Hoani Papita/John the Baptist, shot and killed Sergeant McHale at point blank range when called on to surrender. In the subsequent exchange, the hut made of dry vegetation probably caught alight from the discharge of rebels’ or troops’ firearms. Nobody could be sure.
No. 6: ”The Great War for New Zealand, Waikato 1800-2000”
6A: This reported title of O’Malley’s book is grossly misleading. There were inter-tribal wars before Europeans arrived. These intensified after 1807 when the tribes acquired guns, with Maori victims killed and eaten on a colossal scale. This was New Zealand’s “Great War”.
6B: “1800-2000” is a gross exaggeration. Tribal rebellions started with the Kawiti/Heke rebellion in Northland, 1843-5; mostly a sequence of skirmishes until their attack on Kororareka/Russell which was suppressed largely by Maori forces loyal to the Crown. Other rebellions spanned the period 1859-1880. What does O’Malley date of 2000 imply? (Note: The Taranaki Museum made a similar allusion in its falsehood-filled exhibition in 2011-3.)
No. 7: “Rangiaowhia was a refuge for women, children and the elderly.”
7: The amount of firing by rebels when Cameron’s force was discovered refutes the lie that in any sense it was a “refuge”. In fact, before any action commenced, Captain Wilson of the cavalry gave women and children an opportunity to evacuate which they took. None were killed or wounded except two daughters of missionary murderer Kereopa, who remained in the burning whare. The village was actively engaged in growing food supplies for the rebels and as such a legitimate objective for government forces.
No. 8: O’Malley: “I argue in my book that the evidence that people were deliberately torched to death is clear and unambiguous.”
8: There is not a skerrick of genuine evidence for this false claim which should demolish for ever O’Malley’s reputation as a credible historian.
No. 9: Bell: “the British forces broke the rules of engagement. … the grief was still very real”
9: Given the lies fed to poor Leah, this is so but in truth the troops acted with much restraint, particularly towards women and children, in an action which, but for the recklessness of one old fool rebel chief, would have been almost bloodless. The grief might be real but responsibility for it lies squarely with those outwitted and furious rebels 150 years ago. That is their legacy to their people.
No.10: “The wars were fought in Marlborough, … .”
10: No “wars” but rebellions; only one incident in Marlborough, the Wairau massacre of 1843 when a posse of Nelson settlers greatly underestimated the fighting strength of Ngati Toa with whom they were in dispute, with many butchered in consequence.
No. 11: “It has been estimated that more than 3000 people died, but O’Malley believes the toll, although hard to calculate accurately, was probably higher.”
11: Cowan’s careful figures for deaths are: troops, loyal Maoris and civilians:745; rebels:2154; total 2899. (v)Some commentators consider that he over-estimated rebel deaths. There are other compilations but none aggregating a total of more than 3000. Enough said?
No. 12: O’Malley: “World War I, considered the country’s ‘greatest bloodbath’.”
12: Why would he ignore the elephant in the room: the intertribal “Musket Wars of 1807-37 when by a careful estimate, 35,400 Maoris were killed by other Maoris with almost unimaginable brutality in 602 battles – about one third of the total population? (vi)
No.13: O’Malley again; “generations of Maori were condemned to landlessness and poverty.”
13: In the years before 1840, registered in the Sydney land office were 179 sales of land in the South Island alone by willing Maori sellers (vii), many of whom had travelled personally to Sydney to secure their sales, with reserves set aside for tribal occupants according to rank from 73 acres for chiefs, rather less for free men but zero for slaves, the latter indeed in the days of “tikanga” or Maori practice “condemned to landlessness and poverty”.
Moreover, in accordance with Hobson’s proclamation immediately on his arrival, all such sales were reduced to a maximum of 2560 acres and many voided entirely.
Of those who retained land, in 1848 some Kaiapoi Ngai Tahu were running just two sheep and their lambs on 1000 acres yet one year later a chief wrote to complain that his reserve was not big enough. In 1896 the tribe was cultivating a mere 857.5 of their 45,000-odd acres with one stock unit per seven acres. In 1872, missionary Stack had reported that “Though very fond of milk and butter, there is not one [Maori] household that provides itself with these things, everyone shirks the trouble.” (viii)
Moreover, for released landless slaves, work was available in road-building, other public works and as farm labourers. Except in times of depression which affected all, settler and Maori alike, none who were willing to work needed to be in poverty. It was not O’Malley’s “landlessness” of some Maoris “condemned to … poverty” but their own work-shy behaviour.
Given the foregoing litany attributable to O’Malley, should his speculations be taken seriously?
More appropriate are the words of late military chaplain Frank Glen: “Cameron, with commendable humanitarianism, wanted to avoid a set piece military confrontation because the likely casualties … would be severe on both sides. … Under the cover of darkness, … with the minimal loss of life, he captured Rangiaohai [sic].” (ix)
13th November 2017
i S. Devoy, “Bay of Plenty Times”, Guest Editorial, 4th February 2017
ii J.O.C. Phillips, “Mediaworks”, 2nd April 2016
iii M. Johnson, Senior Journalist, “NZ Herald”, 28th October 2017
iv B. Moon, for an augmented account, see “NZ Voice”, March 2017, pp.40ff.
v J. Cowan, “The New Zealand Wars”, 1922-3
vi J. Robinson, “When two cultures meet, the New Zealand experience, ISBN 1-872970-31-1, 2012, p.64
vii J. Jackson, detailed list of transactions provided, 26th June 2017
viii A. Everton, “Nga Tahu’s Tangled Web”, Free Radical, Nos. 26-8, August-December 1997
ix F. Glen, “Australians at War in New Zealand”, ISBN 987-1-87742-739-8. 2011, p.146