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Historic letter to William IV came from Kerikeri

January 31


Historic letter came from Kerikeri

It’s hard to believe that Kororipo Pa – now a beautiful reserve close to the Kerikeri Mission Station – was the scene of an event that changed the course of New Zealand history.

Thirteen Ngapuhi rangatira [chiefs] gathered at Kororipo Pa on October 5 in 1831 to discuss the composition of a letter in Maori to King William IV of Great Britain – asking him for help to protect their land.

“Kororipo Pa had long been a meeting place where chiefs came to discuss issues of great importance, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they would have come here to meet and formulate a letter to King William,” says Liz Bigwood, the Manager of the Kerikeri Mission Station, which is cared for by the NZ Historic Places Trust.

“The meeting sought to affirm the relationship with the British Crown established in 1820 with the visit by Hongi Hika and Waikato to London, where they met King William’s elder brother, George IV. The hui involved the 13 rangatira and the Church Missionary Society missionaries – principally William Yate.”

One of the requests made to King William was an invitation for him to become a friend and ally in response to a fear that other powers would come and take away their land.

The main enemy identified by the chiefs was the ‘tribe of Marion’ – the French, a direct reference to French explorer Marion Du Fresne and his disastrous visit to the Bay of Islands in 1772.

“The memory of Marion du Fresne’s time in New Zealand was still raw. After breaching a rahui [ban on fishing], Du Fresne and some of his men were killed and eaten out of utu. In response, the rest of Du Fresne’s men attacked local Maori, killing 250 people and burning down villages and pā,” says Liz.

“Whether it was a coincidence or not, just days before the chiefs met at Kororipo Pa, the French ship La Favourite had sailed into the Bay of Islands.”

The ship was a discovery vessel commanded by Captain Laplace and not a war ship, though rumours were rife that the French were planning to settle New Zealand. The rumours were sufficiently alarming to cause the New South Wales Governor to order a British naval ship to investigate – and if it found the French to have taken possession, to lodge a protest on the grounds of prior possession by Britain.

In fact, Laplace had only stayed a few days to rest his crew. Nevertheless, his ship’s presence in the Bay was enough to cause ripples of fear, as missionary Marianne Williams recorded in her diary on October 3, 1831:

“David Taiwanga [Taiwhanga] came running in to tell me that the ship was now come, about which we had heard so much … that they were the enemies of King William, come to spy out the land, and had 400 men on board; that as Mr Williams was at Kerikeri at the Committee, I must give him the flag of our nation to hoist upon the flagstaff on the hill.”

Marianne countered – somewhat lamely perhaps in Taiwhanga’s eyes – with the explanation that the flag rope was broken, which was the reason no flag had been hoisted for several Sundays.

“Oh! He would send a boy up; would I not give him a rope?” wrote Marianne.

“I should have it again in a few days. Did I not wish to shew the flag of my country? Then, if they tore it down, Mr Williams would write to the rulers of our land to fight for us…”

Taiwhanga’s comments highlighted a general sense of concern about the French which was felt by both the Governor of New South Wales and rangatira alike, and was one of the factors that brought the chiefs together at Kororipo Pa.

A translation of the original letter written in Maori by Manuka Henare of the University of Auckland, reveals what was on the minds of the rangatira who had gathered at Kororipo.

One of the key purposes of the letter was to ask the king to “be a friend and ally with us, including that of being a protector and guardian of these islands in case of further discrimination and retaliation from other foreigners, including the likelihood of invasion to take from us our land”.

The chiefs also requested that “if in the event that some of your own people interfere in our ways and provoke us by devious actions… and we include those who have run away from any of your trading ships, it is best that you be their judge and deal swiftly with them; otherwise they will experience the anger and righteousness of Maori people”.

The letter was then signed by ‘us the leaders of the Maori people’.

“The Ngapuhi rangatira would have regarded the letter to King William as a continuation of a ‘conversation’ with the Crown, which extended from Hongi Hika’s visit to London in 1820,” says Liz.

“It can be seen as a request for friendship and protection – rangatira to rangatira – and even a signal, perhaps, that the King should ‘sort out’ some of his more troublesome subjects in New Zealand before Maori did.

“It was also the first step on the road towards the Declaration of Independence of 1835, which sought to further formalise the Crown relationship with the Northern Tribes – and which was followed by the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840,” she says.

Although there is no specific mention of where the history-making letter to King William was actually signed, it is quite likely that it was signed at Kemp House.

“William Yate took the lead on drafting and finalising the content of the letter with the rangatira gathered at Kororipo, though the Committee of Missionaries facilitated the meeting and the writing of the letter,” says Liz.

“It’s reasonable to assume that the letter sent to King William – which changed the course of New Zealand’s history – was signed here at Kemp House, the centre of missionary activity in the Basin.”

People can visit these significant historic places – Kemp House and the neighbouring Stone Store are open every day except Christmas Day, and visitors to the Kerikeri Basin can also explore Kororipo Pa, which is open to the public during daylight hours.


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