Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Flagstaff War

Besides the land troubles others now beset the governor. After New Zealand became a British colony many changes followed. Gradually the unseen power of Civilisation laid hold upon the islands. The chiefs began to feel uneasy. Something, they knew not what, was rising up around them. Somehow their power was vanishing. Old customs were slipping away. New and strange ones were coming into use. The people were made to pay taxes, a thing they found hard to understand. Ships coming to New Zealand ports had to pay custom duties before landing their goods. So tobacco and blankets grew dear, whale ships almost ceased to come to the Bay of Islands, where once they had crowded, and the trade of the town Kororarika was almost ruined.

A vague fear and discontent spread among the people. Then there were not wanting base white people who pointed to the British flag, and told the dark chieftains that there lay the cause of all their sorrows. And so the idea took root that if only that flag were removed the good old days would return again.

Near Kororarika, on the Bay of Islands, there lived a young chief called Honi Heke. He had married the daughter of the great chief Hongi, and, like him, longed to be powerful among his people. He was restless and clever, and he hated the white people. He was no ignorant savage, for the missionaries had taught him much. But although at one time he became a Christian, later he turned back to his heathen ways.

Proud, wild, and discontented Heke was ready to fight any one. And when one day a woman of his tribe, who had married a white man, called him a pig, he gathered around him a hundred hot-headed young savages like himself, and marching into Kororarika, he plundered the white man's house, and carried off his wife. Then having danced a war-dance, he and his followers cut down the flagstaff, from which floated the Union Jack, and departed rejoicing.

This was serious, and the governor resolved to put an end to Heke's wild tricks. But in all New Zealand there were not ninety soldiers. So he sent to Australia begging for help. Sir George Gipps, the Governor of New South Wales, at once sent a shipload of men and guns. But before they came, Waka Nene and some other friendly chiefs begged Fitzroy not to fight.

"We will guard the flagstaff," they said. "We are old folks and faithful. We will make the young folks be faithful too."

Then at a great meeting twenty-five chiefs apologised for Heke's behaviour, but he himself did not come. Instead he wrote a letter which was only half an apology, for he said the flagstaff was his own. It had been brought, he said, from the forest by his own people, and had been meant, not for the British flag, but for the flag of New Zealand.

However, Fitzroy accepted the apology such as it was. The chiefs, in token of their submission, laid their guns at his feet. He gave them back again making a long speech, in which he warned the Maoris not to believe or be led astray by the tales of wicked white men.

After this, Governor Fitzroy took away the custom duties and made Kororarika a free port once more. He hoped in this way to bring wealth and trade to the town again, and make the people more contented. And when they heard the news, the white settlers were so glad that they used up all the candles in the town to make an illumination to show their joy. So peace was once more made. The soldiers were sent away, a new flagstaff was set up, and again the Union Jack floated out on the breeze.

But before many months had gone Heke once more gathered his men, and the flagstaff was cut down a second time. Heke hated it as the sign that the Maoris had no more power in the land. "God made this land for us and for our children!" he cried. "Are we the only people that God has made without a land to live upon?"

Again Governor Fitzroy sent to Sydney for help. He also offered a reward of £100 to any one who would bring Heke prisoner to him.

This made Heke's followers very angry. "Is Heke a pig," they asked, "that he should be bought and sold?" And he in his turn offered £100 for the governor's head.

Again two hundred soldiers came from New South Wales. Again the flagstaff was set up. And this time it was hooped and barred with iron, and a blockhouse was built near in which a guard was stationed.

All this made the Maoris more sure than ever that the flagstaff was really the cause of their troubles. "See," they said, "the flagstaff does mean power, or why should the Pakehas set it up again and guard it so carefully!"

All the wild and discontented young men now gathered to Heke, who had sworn the downfall of the flagstaff, and of the power of which it was the sign.

It was in vain that the missionaries, who had always been peacemakers, tried to make peace now. Printed copies of the Waitangi treaty were sent to the Maori rebels. But Heke would neither listen nor give in. "It is all soap," he said, "very smooth and oily, but treachery is hidden at the bottom of it." One Sunday morning a missionary went to his camp to preach. His text was, "Whence come wars and fightings." Heke listened to it quietly, then he said, "Go, speak that sermon to the British, they need it more than we."

Days went on, and still the Union Jack floated from the hill above the town. Still Heke and his men lay encamped near, breathing defiance. The people of Kororarika, well knowing that Heke never broke his word, began to drill, and prepared to give him a hot welcome when he came. But in the end he took them unawares. One morning in March, before the sun was up, two hundred men came creeping, creeping up the hill. The guard was taken by surprise. Before the officer in charge knew what was happening, the enemy were in possession of the blockhouse, and the soldiers were being driven downhill.

Then the axes went to work, and for the third time the flagstaff fell.

The townspeople armed themselves, and with the soldiers and marines from the warship which lay in the bay, defended themselves right bravely. But the Maoris had the best position on the flagstaff hill, and after hours of fighting, men, women, and children fled to the ship, leaving their town to the mercy of the foe.

Great was the joy of the savages when they saw the white folk go. They danced, and sang, and made grand speeches. Then dashing upon the town they began to plunder it.

As the fighting was now stopped, many of the people ventured back again in the hope of saving some of their goods. The Maoris were now perfectly good natured, and did not try to hurt them. Then might be seen the strange sight of Maori and white man carrying off goods from the same house, the one trying to save his own, the other taking whatever he had a mind to take. But before long fire broke out. It raged among the wooden buildings, and Kororarika was soon little more than a blackened ruin.

Homeless and penniless, many of them having nothing left to them but the clothes they wore, the settlers fled to Auckland. Here something like a panic seized hold of the people. Many of them sold their farms for almost nothing and fled from the land in terror.

But the Maoris followed their victory by no cannibal feast. Instead they allowed the missionaries to bury the dead. They even helped some women and children who had been left behind to join their friends. Indeed through all the war the British could not but admire the courteous, generous behaviour of their savage foes.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: "The Heavenly Dawn" and "The Wild Cabbage Leaf"  |  Next: The Warpath
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.