Remember all our forefathers; oppose fabrication of history for political purposes

By John Robinson

Hamilton statueMaori Party Co-leader and Te Tai Hauauru candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has called for an inquiry focused on “identifying and getting rid of racist monuments, statues and names from our colonial era”, and in doing so to create a new version of our history.  The Maori Party demanded the removal a Hamilton street name of John Bryce who “led the Parihaka invasion.”  Radio New Zealand have reported a claim of many killed at Parihaka – which is a lie as the only casualty was one boy who had his foot stepped on by a horse.  (For a true account see Parihaka; The Facts by John McLean.)

In capitulation to one such demand, and a threat, the Hamilton City Council has removed a memorial to Captain John Hamilton after a Maori elder called him a ‘murderer’ and threatened to remove his statue by force.  Captain Hamilton, commanding officer of HMS Esk, had lost his life at Gate Pa, fighting to end rebellion and bring peace to New Zealand; this was no murderer.  His statue should remain, a fitting recognition of his sacrifice.

Te RauparahaWhat, however, should be done when some historical figure did in fact commit terrible atrocities?  What of Te Rauparaha, whose killings around Kapiti and across the South Island are well established and widely reported, and who is recognised in Kapiti street names and the Te Rauparaha Arena and Aquatic Centre at Porirua?  His deeds were horrific, yet he is held in high regard by his iwi (Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa). 

This raises the question of what then should be done when some historical figure who is recognised in the community by a street names, a stadium name or a statue, is held to have done wrong.  Should any one group have the power to expunge a memory that they find distasteful?  

The answer is to keep the recognition, and at the same time to understand the wrongs that he committed.  So, while recognising the horrors of the wars of Te Rauparaha, I do not call for his name to be expunged.  No important historical figure should be written out of history, and any difference of opinion should not give any particularly vocal group the right to remove any record of the past.   

Once respect for differing opinion is established, we can recognise our equality in a peaceful nation, and become one people.

Captain John Fane Hamilton

Captain HamiltonBefore colonisation, Maori society was beset by nationwide murderous wars, with more than 35,000 deaths in and following battles, plus massive social disruption, leading to a population decline of 65,000 to 80,000, in 1800-1840.  That mayhem is described in Unrestrained slaughter, the Maori musket wars 1800-1840 (2020).

Colonisation, which was an essential factor in the Maori cultural transformation, brought a great improvement in the lives of all. There was an end to country-wide inter-tribal warfare, to cannibalism, to slavery, to infanticide.  Developed technologies came, new crops and animals (including horses), literacy, the idea of equality and that all people deserve respect.  Disputes were to be settled by the law and no longer by armed might.

The British did not come in force and for some time Maori communities were left to govern themselves.  Many Maori rushed to sell land, but others wanted to prevent land sales.  There was fighting between the two factions in North Taranaki, disputes in the Waikato.  

In reaction to the unrest, Governor Gore Brown went to the Waikato in 1857 and asked a meeting what they wanted.  The requirements included runangas, a European magistrate, and laws.  He agreed and the senior chief, Te Wherowhero (an old warrior who was to become the first Maori king), was delighted and welcomed that assistance.

Meanwhile, some Maori, such as Tamihana Te Rauparaha, had thought that a Maori king could assert the much-needed law and order.  That movement was not accepted by many Maori in the Waikato, and was turned down by large hui in 1857 and 1858.  The kingite contingent went ahead and anointed Te Wherowhero, a supporter of the government who was unwell and died in in 1860.  Fighting began in the Waikato in 1863 when Rewi Maniapoto led an insurrection with the driving out of the Government agent and there were a number of attacks by armed bands on settlers south of Auckland.

Many chiefs from across New Zealand had recognised the danger of the movement at a great meeting at Kohimarama in 1860.  They profited from the peace and remained loyal to their government, and were apprehensive of the kingite actions.

The British troops were fighting for the many Maori who refused the king movement and demanded their right to live in peace and to sell land if they wished, for people of Auckland who were threatened, and to assert a unified nation. 

The Waikato rebellion was dominated by a coalition of tribes, the wartime alliance of Ngati Haua, Waikato, Ngati Maniapoto a Tarapipipi Te Waharoa (generally known as Wiremu Tamihana or William Thompson) was a leader of the king movement, known as ‘the kingmaker’.

Ngaiterangi of Tauranga were active fighters.  A large raiding-party of between one hundred and fifty and two hundred, who had gone to the Hunua Ranges in 1863 to plunder settlers’ houses and attack soldiers on the Wairoa, had been discovered by an army detachment of fifty-five men and driven off.

Gate Pa and Te Ranga (1)After defeat in the Waikato, some Ngaiterangi chose to threaten Tauranga, where there were many loyal Maori and a few Europeans.  They built Gate Pa nearby, which had to be removed.

After the fire of the guns, howitzers and mortars had destroyed a large portion of the fence and palisading, and opened a breach made in the parapet, an assaulting party of one hundred and fifty seamen and marines and an equal number of the 43rd Regiment entered the pa.  There was a fierce conflict in which “the natives fought with the greatest desperation”.  Captain Hamilton was shot dead on the top of the parapet while in the act of encouraging his men to advance, and in a few minutes almost every officer of the column was either killed or wounded. (Gate Pa and Te Ranga, the full story, 2018, with John McLean, page 68)

It has been pointed out by Andrew Bydder here that “Hamilton was in New Zealand for 12 hours. He did not even fire a shot, and did not get close enough to fight anyone. What were the atrocities he committed? Whom did he murder?”

Hamilton gave his life at Gate Pa in an act of bravery by a loyal warrior in a just war, surely worthy of remembrance.  This was no murderer.  

Te Rauparaha

Te Rauparaha was a chief of Ngati Toa, of Kawhia.  In 1819-1820 he joined a great taua of Ngapui and allies from the north, hoping to find a refuge safe from the deadly attacks of Waikato.  That and a following 1821 amiowhenua (round the land) taua, of Ngati Whatua and Waikato, decimated the peoples to the south of the island, and Te Rauparaha recognised that the weakened region around Kapiti, and the island, could provide the much-needed sanctuary.

He led a heke (migration) south, drove out the inhabitants and took that land for his iwi.  After a failed counter-attack by those he had dispossessed, he invited other tribes to join and strengthen his numbers, forming a coalition of Ngati Toa, Te Atiawa, Ngati Mutunga, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tama, Ngati Ruanui and Ngati Rarua, which carried out a number of murderous attacks on South Island Tribes.  The horrors of those actions, with the considerable killing and cannibalism, has been described by his son, Tamihana (Life and times of Te Rauparaha, 1980, edited by P Butler).  Many of those taua were mainly undertakenIt is evident that we disagree on the place of Hamilton and Te Rauparaha.  I believe that my disgust at the actions of Te Rauparaha does not give me the right to remove any mention of his name and to erase him from history.  Similarly, the opinions of members of the Maori Party, which I dispute, do not give them the right to insist that his statue be destroyed.  Let us hold to our positions, and argue our points – and leave the monuments alone, with respect for those who hold a different view.


We inherit much wisdom from the past, with many directions for a caring society.  One key principle is the recognition of the inherent equality of all people, from birth, regardless of status, wealth and position, race or gender.

This is fundamental to the Treaty of Waitangi, which asserted that ‘now we are one’ and gave to all New Zealanders the rights and duties of British citizens. 

It was clearly stated in the USA Declaration of Independence, allowing no room for doubt.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”

That reference to ‘man’ with its possible gender bias is tidied up in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where the first article is “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.  

Let us recognise that truth and live by that principle.  When any Maori claims a special position and special rights, speak the words of the Barber of Seville.  “Because you are a great noble, you think you are a great genius!  Nobility, a fortune, a rank, appointments to office: all this makes a man so proud!  What did you do to earn all this?  You took the trouble to get bornnothing more.  Moreover, you’re really a pretty ordinary fellow.”  (The Marriage of Figaro, Pierre Beaumarchais, 1778)

Accident of birth should never bring privilege.  Law should be blind to ancestry or ethnicity.  No one group should be set up as arbiter of our thoughts, as in much of New Zealand law.  We must stand up to vigilante actions, which have become all too common and even consented to by authority.

Off to Kihikihi

Rewi M

There is positive action that can be taken, which is to celebrate the coming together of two formerly very different people to form this nation, with enmity and war replaced by peace-making and friendship.  This is nowhere made clearer than in the monument at Kihikihi erected by Sir George Grey in honour of his former bitter foe, and now friend, Rewi Maniapoto.  

We are now free to travel, and to see our country.  Instead of removing a statue in the face of threats, the people of Hamilton, led by their council, should organise a ceremony of remembrance and celebration at Kihikihi, a gathering before that monument to friendship.

We must stop the hatred and consider the forgiveness expressed there; refuse to submit to bullying and instead establish a more positive mood, to go forward together.  Here is a wise use of that freedom, reminding us of the full story of the past, bringing to mind the considerable accord rather than focussing only on grievance.

Dr John Robinson is a scientist who moved from physics and applied mathematics to holistic futures research when with the DSIR in 1972; his main findings are reported in A plague of people: how a suicidal culture of growth is destroying modern society and the environment (2013).  After a period of research on Maori social statistics he retired and has written a series of books on New Zealand history, including Two great New Zealanders: Tamati Waka Nene and Apirana Ngata (2015), The kingite rebellion (2016) and Unrestrained slaughter: the Maori musket wars 1800-1840 (2020). 

An article on the NZ Herald website about the hasty and disconcerting process that Hamilton City Council took to remove the statue of Captain Hamilton is here.  One sentence of particular note — : “Minutes of the meeting [in 2013] show both Tainui and iwi were included in the consultation process.” —Eds