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History-making meeting held at Te Waimate Mission

February 8

MEDIA RELEASE

History-making meeting held at Te Waimate Mission

A last ditch attempt to secure peace in the Bay of Islands in 1844 didn’t quite go to plan.

As Governor Robert FitzRoy and his entourage of senior military commanders headed off to meet with Ngapuhi rangatira [chiefs] at Te Waimate Mission – a property now cared for by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust – peace-making was top of mind.

“Discontent with the colonial authorities surfaced in the north when Hone Heke felled the flagstaff – the symbol of British rule – at Kororareka in July 1844,” says the Manager of Te Waimate Mission, Mita Harris.

“Initially a supporter of the Crown, Hone Heke had become increasingly frustrated with British rule and breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi – including loss of land, loss of income and loss of mana when the capital moved from Kororareka to Auckland.”

A cat and mouse game had played out between FitzRoy and Hone Heke. FitzRoy had received an invitation by Hone Heke to visit him to discuss matters. The Governor had declined his offer, though in turn invited Heke to come and meet with him. Heke had similarly refused FitzRoy’s offer, and a standoff ensued.

Governor FitzRoy wanted to meet with Ngapuhi rangatira to see whether a solution could be found, and in early September a large tent was put up in front of Te Waimate Mission House to host the visiting chiefs.

“The gathering at Te Waimate was important. FitzRoy followed Ngapuhi advice and attended the hui unarmed and prepared to discuss issues of concern to Maori,” says Mita.

“For Ngapuhi, this was a significant move. The Governor fronting up in person helped reaffirm their faith in the relationship between Crown and Maori based on the Treaty of Waitangi.”

In a lengthy speech, FitzRoy – ever the diplomat, and probably aware that Hone Heke had observers at the hui – told the chiefs that he did not blame Heke and his party for taking to the flagpole with an axe, but claimed instead that Heke had been led astray by “wicked Pakehas”.

FitzRoy then went on to expound upon the promises provided by the Treaty, making the point that the British flag was signal of “freedom, liberty and safety”; adding that the flagstaff in itself was worth nothing – “a mere stick, but as connected with the British flag, of very great importance.”

After stressing that he wished “for Peaceable measures” FitzRoy asked the chiefs for 10 guns to be handed over as “as atonement for the misconduct of Hone Heke” – though not, he emphasised, for his possession. The rangatira quickly handed FitzRoy an even larger number of muskets and tomahawks, which he then returned to them as a gesture of good faith.

“The meeting at Te Waimate had been important for the Ngapuhi rangatira gathered there. The fact that FitzRoy had met with rangatira to talk about their concerns reassured them about the Government’s intentions to adhere to the Treaty,” says Mita.

“Some of the chiefs – including Tamati Waka Nene – stood up and encouraged the Governor to remove the troops from the north, pledging in return to protect peace and the settlers there. As well as being an act of rangatiratanga on the part of Nene, it also probably reflected a deep desire to keep British troops out of Ngapuhi territory.”

Newspaper coverage of the meeting in the Southern Cross was optimistic, with the Editor commenting that by constantly adhering to the principles of justice it was possible to govern ‘without the actual interference or assistance of the military’.

“While the Governor had met with Ngapuhi and reassured many of the chiefs, he had not addressed Hone Heke’s legitimate concerns about land and Ngapuhi rangatiratanga,” says Mita.

“That proved to be a stumbling block.”

At the same time FitzRoy was meeting with rangatira at Te Waimate Mission, Hone Heke held his own hui close by. The hui was rather different from the Te Waimate meeting however.

Heke’s feasting platform included an unusual feature – a central pou [pole] topped with a crudely carved head, which Heke’s supporters had taken to calling “te Kawana” [the Governor]. Around the carved head was placed a rope – a switch, perhaps, on the Governor’s power to hang criminals; instead symbolising Heke’s authority to hang unwanted Governors.

“This was a pretty good indicator of how Heke and his supporters were feeling,” says Mita.

“Sadly, there was to be no peace, and just over six months after the meeting at Te Waimate Mission, the North was in a state of war, as Heke and Kawiti harried the imperial troops in a series of costly battles that were a source of constant frustration for the British.”

Many Ngapuhi rangatira present at the Te Waimate meeting sided with the British, though probably shared similar concerns to Heke and Kawiti.

“What galvanised their support for the British, however, was quite possibly FitzRoy’s apparent commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi, demonstrated at the hui held at Te Waimate Mission,” says Mita.

“Many descendants of the Northern rangatira who were alive at the time of FitzRoy’s meeting still live in the Bay of Islands, and we acknowledge the special connection that they have with this place.”

Te Waimate Mission is open daily over the summer holidays. For more information on NZ Historic Places Trust properties in Northland log on to www.historicplaces.org.nz

ENDS

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