One Question Quiz
A statue is removed from its plinth on June 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas, UsA. (Photo: Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images)
A statue is removed from its plinth on June 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas, UsA. (Photo: Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images)

SocietyJuly 9, 2020

Four Pākehā heroes for empty plinths

A statue is removed from its plinth on June 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas, UsA. (Photo: Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images)
A statue is removed from its plinth on June 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas, UsA. (Photo: Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images)

Yesterday Ātea editor Leonie Hayden suggested a number of Māori whose great deeds deserve to be memorialised in stone. Today Pākehā historian Scott Hamilton picks four heroic early New Zealanders of European descent.

Recently I publicly suggested that Akaroa’s Bully Hayes Restaurant and Bar should change its name. Bully Hayes was a 19th century slaver who raped many of the small girls he stole from Pacific islands. I argued that a restaurant should not be celebrating Hayes; many people agreed with me, and sent their own messages to the business’ owner. After looking at the evidence of Hayes’ behaviour, the owner decided to make a change.

As Black Lives Matter protests continue around the world, other relics of New Zealand’s 19th century history are being scrutinised. Captain Hamilton’s statue has been removed from the city named after him. Local Māori, who were not consulted about the monument, remember Hamilton as an invader and a killer. Octogenarian kaumatua Taitini Maipi had threatened to tear down the statue himself.

The campaigns against the likes of Hayes and Hamilton have upset many conservative Pākehā. Some of these people have sent me angry messages, accusing me of wanting to make them “ashamed” of their ancestors. “These colonial guys may have been flawed, but they are the only history we European Kiwis have,” one person said.

It seems to me that many Pākehā, liberals as well as conservatives, believe that their 19th century forebears were almost universally imperialists and racists who wanted to grab Māori land and wave the Union Jack.

I don’t share this bleak vision of the past. I think that colonial New Zealand, like all societies, was a place where different people held very different views, and where dissidence existed alongside an orthodoxy. While the majority of colonial Pākehā may have fitted the imperialist and racist stereotype, a sizeable minority did not. And today we need to remember that minority, even as we pull down monuments raised to the imperialist majority.

I want to list four 19th century Pākehā whose statues could adorn newly empty plinths. All of these people had contradictions and flaws, but each can be an inspiration to us today. All worked with rather than against the indigenous peoples of the South Pacific; all dreamed of a New Zealand where many faiths and peoples could flourish together and enrich each other. And all were persecuted for their tolerance.

John Coleridge Patteson (Alexander Turnbull Library, reference: 1/2-127104; F)

John Coleridge Patteson

Patteson was a nephew of the great Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. After studying Arabic at Cambridge he travelled to New Zealand and became the first Anglican bishop of Melanesia. At schools in Auckland and later Norfolk Island, Patteson taught young men and women from the Western Pacific.

Patteson soon began hearing terrible stories from his students, stories about “catch catch boats” that rammed canoes and scooped up startled islanders, or else shelled coastal villagers and intercepted fleeing islanders. White mariners were catching slaves to send to sugar plantations in Queensland, Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti.

Patteson began to write and speak against the slavers. He travelled through the Pacific collecting stories of slave raids. Imperial administrators and some of his superiors in the Anglican church began to resent his detailed and withering reports.

Patteson was a brilliant linguist, who eventually learned about a dozen Melanesian languages. As he travelled he became steadily more sympathetic towards the region’s indigenous cultures. He began to argue against missionaries’ attempts to impose Western dress and manners on them.

One of Patteson’s students was George Sarawia, who became the first Melanesian to be made an Anglican priest. Sarawia taught Patteson about the traditional rituals, dances, and songs of his north Vanuatu homeland. With Patteson’s help, Sarawia established an experimental community on the island of Mota, where he tried to fuse Christian and indigenous ways of life. Sarawia and Patteson named the utopian village Kohimaramara, after the site of the mission school in Auckland.

In 1870 the bishop was recovering in Auckland from exhaustion when he realised that the Lulu, a schooner funded and launched by Auckland’s business elite, had arrived with 27 ni-Vanuatu slaves. Patteson began to campaign against the introduction of slavery to New Zealand.

Slavers hated Patteson, but knew he was popular on many islands. They began to dress up as him, so that they could lure victims aboard their boats. These masquerades and the continuing violent raids may well have led to Patteson’s death.

In 1871 Patteson landed alone on Nukapu Island, in the far southeast of the Solomons. He was slain. Nukapu had recently been raided by slavers; the killing of a white visitor may have been revenge.

Huge memorial meetings were held for Patteson throughout New Zealand; resolutions against Pacific slavery were passed.

Britain responded to Patteson’s death by sending the HMS Rosario to Nukapu, via Auckland, where its crew played locals in the first international rugby game in New Zealand history. The HMS Rosario shelled Nukapu, and armed men stormed the tiny atoll. Dozens of islanders died. Patteson is revered as a martyr today by many Melanesian Anglicans, but too few Pākehā know about his work. He is our William Wilberforce.

John Williamson, 1860

John Williamson

Williamson grew up in Ireland before migrating to New Zealand in 1841. He was nicknamed “Carbuncle Jack” because of the scars that childhood illnesses had left on his face.

In 1845 Williamson bought a printing press and founded a newspaper called the New Zealander. For years the paper was very popular, and secured lucrative government advertising. In 1853 Williamson was elected to New Zealand’s first parliament; he would be re-elected for the next two decades.

But Williamson was not a typical colonial newspaperman and politician. He sympathised with the Māori King movement, and condemned the land hunger and aggression of many settlers in Auckland.

When British and local colonial troops invaded the Waikato in the middle of 1863, the New Zealander was the only English-language paper to take an anti-war stance. Williamson was an internationalist, and he also spoke out in support of Lincoln’s war against slavery, at a time when almost all New Zealand newspapers and politicians backed the Confederate States of America.

In 1863 WC Wilson, the co-owner of the New Zealander, split from Williamson and founded his own paper, the New Zealand Herald. The new paper enthusiastically backed the war in the Waikato, and won advertisements from the colonial government.

In the winter of 1864 the Auckland office of the New Zealander was attacked by 80 enraged sailors. The sailors had read the paper’s scathing report on the Battle of Gate Pā, where a British force was routed by Māori supporters of King Tāwhiao. When their ship the HMS Esk returned from the war zone, the sailors decided to get revenge. They landed small boats on the Auckland waterfront, and converged on the office of the New Zealander hauling a thick tow rope.

The sailors threaded this rope through an upstairs window, and began to demolish the building by moving the rope back and forth. Held hostage, Williamson was forced to prepare a new issue of his paper, including in it a statement the mob in his office had dictated.

Williamson survived the sailors’ raid, but his paper the New Zealander died in 1866. Williamson’s anti-war stance had cost him his business, but he remained critical of colonial warmongering until his sudden death in 1875.

Suzanne Aubert towards the end of her life (Photo: Joseph Zachariah)

Suzanne Aubert

The Whanganui River settlement of Jerusalem is where in 1969, during the last years of his life, James K. Baxter and his followers established a commune. There they tried to blend Pākehā and Māori cultures, and to escape from New Zealand’s colonial history.

But Baxter was only following a path marked out by Suzanne Aubert, who ran away from France in 1860 to become a Catholic nun in New Zealand. Aubert had been temporarily disabled by a childhood fall, and she yearned to work as a nurse. As she cared for the elderly, ill and disabled in a series of rural communities, Aubert learned about indigenous herbal medicine from tohunga rongoā, or healing specialists. She also learned te reo Māori, and wrote a guide to the language for her fellow Pākehā.

In 1892 Aubert arrived at the Catholic mission station at Jerusalem, where she set up a home for the chronically ill and disabled. Aubert continued her work with medicines, experimenting with exotic plants like cannabis as well local herbs. She began to raise funds for the mission by bottling and selling her medicines. Several of Aubert’s concoctions included cannabis; they were very popular. In 1907 and 1908, though, parliament passed the Suppression of Tohungaism and Prevention of Quackery Acts, which criminalised traditional Māori religion and healing and also outlawed the sale of herbal remedies. Aubert sadly tipped her medicines into the Whanganui.

In 2010 the Catholic church began the process of canonising Suzanne Aubert. New Zealand’s first cannabis dealer may soon be declared a saint.

John Manning

In 1869 George Bowen, the governor of New Zealand, pleaded with Britain not to withdraw its troops from the colony. In his letter to London, Bowen explained that the law and order of his realm was menaced by two forces: Maori nationalists, and Irish opponents of the British Empire.

John Manning was one of the Irish rebels who made life difficult for Bowen. He was born in Ireland, grew up in the United States, and emigrated to Australia’s goldfields town of Ballarat, where he took part in the Eureka rebellion of 1854.

Angered by onerous taxes and by the arrogance of the British Empire, hundreds of mostly Irish miners built a stockade at Ballarat, and fought a pitched battle with armed police. The battle was lost, and Manning spent four months in jail waiting to be tried for treason, before a sympathetic jury freed him.

Manning arrived in New Zealand in 1860, and in 1867 started a newspaper called The Celt in Hokitika, a town filled with Irish miners. The paper argued in favour of Irish freedom, and against the discrimination that Irish migrants to New Zealand often suffered.

In 1868 Britain executed three Irish nationalists who had killed a policeman. When the Irish of Hokitika heard the news, they defied the orders of local politicians and police and carried an empty coffin and Celtic cross through their town. A month later groups of Irish nationalists and pro-British miners faced off at a mine outside Hokitika. Bowen and the government in Wellington dispatched an armed force to the West Cost, banned The Celt, and arrested Manning for seditious libel. This time Manning was convicted, and sentenced to a month in jail.

Persecution meant that Manning left New Zealand for the United States at the end of 1868, but he continued to write about this country. In articles for American papers, he described the history and culture of Māori. Manning was only one of many Irish migrants who saw similarities between their people’s suffering under British rule and the experiences of Māori.

Some Irish went beyond sympathy, and gave material aid to Māori fighting against the Crown. In 1869, for example, a Thames goldminer named Michael O’Connor created an Irish militia, complete with its own green silk flag, and rode into the King Country, which was usually closed to Pākehā, to offer his services to King Tāwhiao. O’Connor sold guns to Tāwhiao, and supplied ammunition to another Māori fighter, Te Kooti. When Te Kooti asked whether he was Pākehā or Māori, O’Connor replied by saying he was neither, but rather ‘Aorihi’, or Irish.

Keep going!