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Notes on Early Life in New Zealand



The memory of Archdeacon Henry Williams has suffered much from wild reports and ignorant or malicious slanders. The worst thing said against him, an old naval officer, is that he was the instigator of the mad assault on Heke's pah at Ohaeawae. How the report could have sprung up I do not know, but he had detractors who would believe anything. The following letter from his son to the Curator of our Museum, effectually disposes of the imputation, but it is a pity that for want of knowing better, we should have appended to our model of Heke's pah a note that the assault was on the Archdeacon's advice. I knew better, and ought to have corrected it, but it did not come under my serious notice. Henry Williams had more influence over the Maori Chiefs than any man in the country, and was thoroughly trusted. His nine years in the navy were not thrown away. But for his earnest recommendation and assurance, the Treaty of Waitangi would never have been signed, but he put his whole heart into the business, and we of both races owe him the tribute of our respect and veneration, and ought not to let his name be spattered by the guessing of malignant gossip, when in fact, he was as simple and robust a Christian, and as loyal and brave an Englishmen, as ever pioneered our way in dealing with a race that he wanted to lift up to our own civilization. Such a man can make enemies as well as friends.

page 104

Pakaraka, Kawakawa

Bay of Islands,
Auckland, N.Z.October 28th 1902.

Alex, Morton

, Esq.,
Curator and Secretary Museum,
Hobart, Tasmania,

ReModel of the Ohaeawae Pah.

Sir,—I thank you for your letter of the 1st October last, in which you say you will be glad to get a clear account of what I have, relating to the taking of the Pah, to lay before the Trustees.

I will quote from an impartial witness—a military officer—who was present on the occasion. The following is an extract from “The Story of New Zealand, Past and Present, Savage and Civilized,” by Arthur S. Thomson, Surgeon-Major 58th Regiment (vol. 2, page 115):—

“One day the enemy made a sortie from the Pah and attacked Walker Nene's (our Maori ally) position. So sudden and unexpected was this sally, that a British flag was taken, and Colonel Despard and some senior officers only escaped by a ridiculous flight. This taken of success was hoisted inside the fortification under Heke's flag. After twenty-six shots had been fired from the thirty-two pounder, Colonel Despard thought the palisades sufficiently broken in two places for an assault, but Captain Marlow, the Senior Engineer Officer, did not consider either breach practicable. In defiance of this professional opinion, Colonel Despard ordered a storming party of 160 soldiers, under Majors Macpherson and Bridge, and 40 seamen and volunteers under Lieutenant Phillpotts, R.N., with hatchets and ropes and ladders, to be ready at 3 p.m. on 1st July. All the troops old off for this awful service paraded at the hour named, save one man of the 99th Regiment, who was taken prisoner in the morning…. When the advance was sounded, the stormers rushed on the breach at So yards, and for ten minutes tried to enter the Pah by pulling down the palisades, but the inner fence being unbroken, and two officers and half the men having gone down, the party fell back baffled from an impregnable stockade. The whole force then withdrew to a position 400 yards from the Pah.”

On page 118—“Colonel Despard was justly blamed by soldiers and civilians for sacrificing men's lives in attacking a half breached Pah, and it was whispered in military circles in London, that the Duke of Wellington on reading the dispatch, stated, that distance alone prevented him bringing Colonel Despard to a Court-Martial.”

Moss' Book “School History of New Zealand,” page 90, says:—“On the 1st July, in spite of the adverse opinion of the officer in command of the page 105 Engineers, and of the very emphatic and explicit warnings of Waka Nene, and other Maories, Colonel Despard ordered an assault…. Waka Nene, denouncing the assault as foolery, and sending the men to certain death, refused to let his Maories have anything to do with it.”

In “The Life of Henry Williams,” by Hugh Carleton (vol. 2, page 110), is the following:—” When the troops returned this time, under Colonel Despard of the 99th, they were directed against Ohaeawae. According to preconcerted arrangements the rebel forces concentrated, throwing themselves into Pene Taui's Pah. The attempt to breach, maintained for a week, was ineffectual. On the 1st July a sally was made from the Pah, which resulted in the temporary occupation of the Knoll on which Waka had encamped, and the capture of Waka's colours—the Union Jack. The position was gallantly recovered by a party of the 58th Regiment under Major Bridge, but the Union Jack was carried into the Pah. There it was hoisted, upside down, and half mast high, below the Maori flag. This was the cause of the disaster which ensued. The sight was too much for Colonel Despard's temper, and he ordered an assault upon the Pah. The point selected for attack was the only angle double flanked. The hopelessness of success was perfectly well known to the storming party; they were marching to certain destruction. They did their duty to the utmost, some of them even firing into the Pah through its own loop-holes; but within five minutes one third of their number lay stretched upon the earth. The men returned to the bugle call, but not till then. One officer only, Captain Westropp, escaped unhurt.”

On page 113, the following extracts from letters and journals supply details. From Archdeacon Henry Williams's Journal:—“July 1st, 1845. Mr. Burrows (Rev. R. Burrows) and I rode out to Ohaeawae. On our arrival observed much firing, and soon learnt that the natives had made an attack on Waka's people on a hill overlooking the camp. The hill retaken by the soldiers under Major Bridge in noble style. Henry Clarke (interpreter to the forces) was wounded in the thigh. At 4 o'clock the troops marched to storm the Pah, and in a short time a heavy firing was opened. It was a fearful moment. I moved on to the camp and found numbers of wounded brought in. The troops were repalsed with serious loss. Captain Grant and Lieutenant Phillpotts killed, with 22 seamen and soldiers, and upwards of 70 wounded—some mortally, many seriously. I assisted in dressing the wounded. Towards sunset, at the request of the Colonel, I attempted to go to the Pah to recover the bodies of the slain, but as soon as I came in sight, was ordered back by the people of the Pah.”

“July 3rd—Returned to the camp to endeavour to recover the bodies. On my arrival, learned that a flag of truce had been hoisted at the Pah, and page 106 that enquiry had been made for myself and Mr. Burrows that our boys might fetch away the bodies. I proceeded to the Pah on my arrival, but the Natives would not give up the body of Captain Grant. Found the people disposed to be insolent. Returned to the camp. At ended the funeral of the soldiers, 30, including the seamen—a mournful sight. The troops were all present.”

See also “Plain Facts relative to the late war in the Northern District of New Zealand,” printed by Philip Kunst, of Auckland, 1847, pages 21 and 22.

Archdeacon Williams, for he is the Mr. Williams referred to, had for more than twenty years been a Minister of the Gospel of Peace amongst the Maoris, and is it at all probable that he would have interfered in military matters and advised an assault on the Pah, or that a military commander would order an assault on the advice of a civilian?

Archdeacon Williams had served for nine years in his youth as an Officer in His Majesty's Navy, and was too good a disciplinarian to interfere in matters outside his own calling.

It will be seen from the above extracts from Archdeacon Williams's Journal that he did not see Colonel Despard until after the assault, having only arrived at Ohaeawae whilst the assault was being made.

I trust that your Board of Trustees, after verifying the above quotations, will be satisfied that it would be only just and proper to remove the statement which is attached to the Model.

I remain, Sir,

Your obedient servant