Rore Pukekohatu's Account of the Wairau Incident
Last Modified: 21-2-2019 7:18
We have long entertained the idea that the existing accounts of this calamitous event, which occurred on the 17th June, 1843, that we determined, whenever the opportunity offered, to furnish an original account from the Natives themselves. This idea has been lately received by the publication in our columns of the historical stories by Hokioi, and we determined to realize the project by enlisting the services of a gentleman possessing a thorough knowledge of the native tongue, who was also well known to the aboriginals residing at the Wairau Pah, which place he recently visited, and obtained the account below from the well known chief Rore. During the time he was communicating these reminiscences, there were two other Maoris present, elderly men, who had also been witnesses of the whole scene, one whom showed our commissioner a gunshot wound in the thigh, which he received at the time spoken of. To these men, Rore continually referred as to the accuracy of his statement as it progressed, and for what they could remember regarding certain parts of it. We are inclined to consider Rore's account as reliable and pretty correct in the main, not only for that reason , but from the fact he has always borne an excellent character among the European as well as his own people, as a truthful and upright man. It will at least possess the feature of novelty to those who may choose to think it doubtful in any respect.
"I was an eye witness of, you may say, all that occurred, and being fully 16 or 17 years old at that time can well recall all the particulars. Surveyors with their men had come from Nelson, and were engaged in several parties in laying out the ground, about here, and Blenheim, and elsewhere. Rauparaha and Rangihaeata, who were then in the island of Mana, having been informed of this , came over and on their arrival at once gave the survey parties to understand that they (the survey parties) must stop their work, that the land they were surveying did not belong to the Pakeha, but was Maori Property, that the materials, wood and raupo, with which they (the survey parties) had built their whares, had been taken of Maori ground, and consequently was not theirs to use, that therefore they (the Native Chiefs) intended, by way of asserting the Maori right to the land, and notifying the absence of any claim whatever of the Pakeha to it, to burn down the whares, but in doing so would be careful that nothing belonging to the Pakeha should be destroyed or injured.
The Maori chiefs then, having first removed from the whares everything belonging to survey parties, had them burnt. The survey parties then left for Nelson, and afterwards came Wakefield with a number of people who had been brought in a man-of-war, the Victoria, which anchored off the mouth of the river. They came in three boats up the river, one a barge boat and the other two whale boats to where Mr Cheeseman's house is now. Here I and my Father and some other Maoris were cutting wood in the bush. It was in the afternoon that they came. The principal persons among them were Wakefield, Thompson the magistrate, Brooke the interpreter, and Tuckett the head surveyor. There seemed to be between 50 and 60 people in all, and they were all armed. At their request we got some food ready for them. They asked Rauparaha was. We told them at a place close to Massacre Hill that now is, but on the other side of the Tua Marina. They do not seem to believe this, for they began searching for Rauparaha in a large canoe we had there, that had high bulwarks and a deck. They remained there in tents, but I and my father went off in the evening to where Rauparaha was, who had previously been informed of all that had taken place. He had with him Rangihaeata and about 30 other Maoris his immediate followers.
The next morning, very early, Wakefield and all his people arrived. They had come in their three boats to as far as about half a mile from Massacre Hill, and then quitted their boats and walked. On their saying that they wanted to speak to Rauparaha, a large canoe was placed by the Maoris for them to crossover, a canoe so long that its length reached from one side of the Tua Marina to the other. Then Wakefield, Thompson, Brook, Tuckett, and one or two others with two policeman crossed over, and came to where Rauparaha and Rangihaeata were.
A conversation then ensued, Brook interpreting. Rauparaha was informed that he must go to Messrs Clarke and Payne. He said he should not go - that if Mr Clarke had anything to say to him, let Mr Clarke come to him. He was then told he would be made to go - by force, and on an intimation from Thompson the Magistrate, a Policeman showed him a pair of hand cuffs, which he was informed would be put upon his wrists. His answer to this was to the effect that they had better try. During this time that Brook was interpreting all this, an old Maori whaler, called Tom, who understood English well, declared several times that Brook was interpreting falsely what Rauparaha was saying1 giving to it an offensive menacing construction that was wrong. After Rauparaha had used the expression - "they had better try" - Wakefield and those with him left and went back to the other side.
Very soon afterwards, the old Maori whaler, Tom, cried out that the Pakehas were going to fire, and would do so after giving warning three times . And such was the fact heard the order given, and saw the guns levelled by the Pakehas, who were in a line on the bank on their side of the Tua Marina. Two Maoris were shot dead, they were in such a position that they were both killed with one bullet. The Maoris lay down on the ground to escape the fire, and did not return it till they saw the Pakehas crossing over on the canoe. They then began, and several Pakeha on the canoe fell.
The Pakehas then began to retreat, and to ascend the hill. The Maoris followed after, and soon the Pakehas held up a white handkerchief, on which the Maoris stopped firing, but immediately afterwards a Maori cried out that Rangihaeata's wife had been killed; she was Rauparaha's sister as well. On which Rangihaeata said there should be no mercy or terms now, and then the massacre was committed.
"I have heard that in some accounts that the Pakehas have given, it is stated that Rangihaeata's wife was killed by a shot from a gun that accidentally went off; but this was
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Rore Pukekohatu's Account of the Wairau Incident. (2019) Retrieved December, 2, 2023, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/history/wairau-incident-eyewitness-account