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Governor Grey and the preservation of the Maori people

Posted in Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 28 February 2014

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This edited article about New Zealand first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 574 published on 13 January 1973.

Battle of Tauranga,  picture, image, illustration

tThe Battle of Tauranga where the Maoris obligingly built a road for the British redcoats to reach their Pa

Britain’s new colony of New Zealand was in despair. The year was 1864, and for the second time in ten years war had broken out between white settlers and Maori natives.

It was one of the strangest wars ever fought. The enemies – redcoats and dusky warriors – cheered each other after battle and shook hands. The dead were given honourable burial, and both sides erected monuments to each other’s bravery.

The Maoris had lived in the islands of New Zealand for several hundred years before the first white settlers arrived in the early nineteenth century.

This dark-skinned, handsome Polynesian people had sailed their canoes across the ocean to settle in the fern forests and plains of the land they called Ao-tea-Roa – Land of the Long White Cloud.

Early Christian missionaries found the Maoris an intelligent race. They taught them to read and write and to worship God.

But the Maoris were at the mercy of land-hungry white traders who bought their land in return for guns and rum. The result was disastrous, for the warlike Maoris soon realized that the musket was a better weapon than the spear.

Trouble had already arisen over the sale of land by members of tribes without the consent of their chiefs.

The bewildered Maoris, aware that they were being tricked over land prices, began raiding European settlements in revenge.

First there were isolated attacks and murders on lonely farms. Then in 1843, the country plunged into the turmoil of war.

During that first Maori war much serious bloodshed was prevented by the wise policy of the Governor, Sir George Grey, who was sent from Australia to stamp out the rebellion.

Sir George set about smoothing over land disputes, prohibited the sale of guns to the Maoris, and promised the tribesmen their local councils. And soon the war petered out.

When peace came Sir George was posted abroad to another colony. But it was an uneasy peace, for the promises to the Maoris were forgotten by Parliament and the sale of guns began again.

A strange movement began in the Maori villages – the King Movement. For the first time in history the tribes banded together under one king, a chief called Te Whero Whero.

Sir George was recalled hastily in 1861, but it was too late. The Christian Maoris no longer trusted any white man, not even their “Good Governor Grey.” And once again war broke out.

The Maoris, facing tremendous odds, armed with old-fashioned muskets, and using old iron and peach-stones for bullets, proved strange enemies indeed.

The quaintest battle of all took place in 1864 at Tauranga, when 1,700 British soldiers were sent to the Bay of Plenty.

The Maoris, under their chief Rawiri, sent out a set of rules of war to the British troops, including the good treatment of captives, respect for the dead, and non-persecution of civilians.

When the British still did not attack, the eager Maoris built an eight-mile road to their Pa, or stockade, to help their enemy’s approach!

Finally Rawiri sent another message to say they were making a Pa nearer to the British in case the distance had delayed the attack! This was the great Gate Pa, with deep ditches and trenches outside the wooden palisade.

Three hundred British troops charged the Pa. The Maoris tried to flee, but found themselves sandwiched between two lines of fire when a second British force appeared at the rear.

The Maoris turned to face their enemy, and engaged in hand-to-hand fighting. In the confusion that followed, and as darkness fell, the British suddenly retreated from the battle.

No one knows why, unless the retreat was sounded mistakenly. But the British fled.

The British commander, Colonel Booth, died that day. As he lay mortally wounded a Maori woman risked the British gunfire to carry water to him.

A few weeks later the chief Rawiri was killed at another stockade. He was buried beside Colonel Booth.

By 1865 Governor Grey, tired of the British army’s half-hearted attacks on Maori stockades, himself led the attack on Weraroa Pa, capturing it by sending column of redcoats up over the steep cliffs behind. Four days later he announced to Parliament that the rebellion was almost over.

Today the Maori race is a memorial to his great humanity. The Maoris not only sit in Parliament, but during the Second World War they fought for their country side by side with white men.

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