Monday, 16 March 2020

Tall Tales and Truths from the South Pacific, 1: War is Hell [updated]


'War is Hell': A story in four parts:
  1. A war for modernity
  2. "Nothing Less Than Victory"
  3. The heart of the rebellion
  4. The little church at Rangiaowhia
  5. The larger fiction at Wellington
War is hell. That lesson delivered in 1864 to the heart of the Waikato rebellion still resonates and is talked about today. But not all stories are equal …

Figure 1: Te Uenuku, the eater of men -- traditional Tanui carving carried into battle,
lost at the massive 'Battle of the Feathers' and rediscovered near
Lake Ngaroto years later [photo source: Bran Brake collection, Mutual Art]

1. A war for modernity

The war in the Waikato was not a “great war for New Zealand.”[1] The rebellion of the Maori king and his supporters did not attract support even from a majority of Maori. “The majority of Maori either supported or, more likely, did not actively oppose, the European government of New Zealand. This was the case even though the proximate cause of war, the forcing through of the Waitara purchase … was almost universally deemed unjust.”[2] 

Neither then was it a racial war. As the more astute historians have noticed, this was a period of time in New Zealand’s short history “when identity did not wholly rest on ethnicity,”[3] when these islands’ First Settlers were beginning to find their identity not in a tribal past but in the new secular modern world to which they had been only recently introduced. Consequently, they were quick to judge those who had introduced them to these new ideas by the standards they themselves were said to uphold. Christian teaching had taught them that God’s law would dispense utu without war, that revenge was the responsibility of the state. This had become the modern view, embraced by modernising Maori over those first three decades of contact.

But when the behaviour of colonial leaders was judged by those they had been teaching, judged by the standards of what the had been taught, it was found wanting. And when it did, Maori were faced with a choice: to embrace the teaching and reject the teacher, which is what the kingites attempted, or to attempt to correct and fully modernise the teacher. 

Renata Kawepo of Ngati Kahungunu was a modernist in these terms, rejecting both the continual tribal warfare of the past and the contemporary overtures of the king movement’s rebellion, while also accusing the British of not fully upholding their own standards. In his view, modernity meant repudiating conflict as a means of settling differences. As they had been taught, the rule of law meant the only battlefield was the courtroom, the only injury there being by due process. Land was one of the causes of war, but if one of the chief blessings of democracy is the peaceful transfer of power, without war, then one the chief blessings of the property rights offered by these new settlers was the peaceful transfer of ownership, without bloodshed.[4] It was the governor and his men who had failed to fully respect that promise.

In announcing himself as king, Potatau had been similarly critical of British double-dealing in defiance of their declared standards, but to declare his hope for peace he used a different figure, a figure of the past, a figure of war, telling his followers, “Formerly your god was Uenuku-the-man-eater. You have a different God now, the great god of heaven.”[5] When Kawepo rebuked the Hawkes Bay Supervisor Fitzgerald for dishonesty, he relied upon British standards – and in criticising the purchase of Waitara against the wishes of its owners he repaired to Potatau’s imagery describing his vexation, saying:

Uenuku, the man-eater, used to be my god; but when the clergymen came to this land, I was told to put away my god, for the Pakeha God was the true one, Jehovah, the preserver of man, the Creator of heaven and earth. When I accepted your God, I thought all wrongs were to be made the subject of investigation, great wrongs as well as little ones. When it came to this affair, I alone was left to worship his God, whilst he, the Governor, went off to pick up my cast away god, Uenuku, the cannibal. And now the Governor, the supporter of Jehovah, has stepped forward and carried off Uenuku the cannibal to Taranaki as his god for the destruction of man![6]

Kawepo was reminding Fitzgerald that by the standards of his own religion, it seemed to be him and his fellows who were now pre-modern. And he was above that battle – and along with the majority of Maori outside the Waikato he tried to remain so. 

It was in every sense an intellectual battle for modernity carried out between Maori themselves, the battle set off by the teacher’s own misbehaviour, just as they were beginning to trust him. On the one side was the modern Enlightenment view embraced by more secular Maori, one valuing realism, reason, individualism, and capitalism; on the other, the supernatural, faith-based feudalism of old. Those leaning towards the pre-modern embraced the king, and with him a pre-modern Old Testament  view; those on the other side looking towards the bolder vision glimpsed with British arrival of “a civil society that lived without fighting.”[7] “A devout Christian such as Wiremu Tamihana could believe in a Maori nation led by a king. The incentives for more secular thinkers … was less obvious.”[8] Eighteenth-century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher had stipulated that “The essence of religion consists in the feeling of absolute dependence.”[9] In this sense,“it is no coincidence that the leaders of all main Maori nationalist movements were mission-educated, and the movements themselves God-centred.”[10]

In a sense, it was a war for modernity against its opposite on both sides--the real and most important war being that inside individual Maori heads. “Maori were able to base … opposition to the government on the violation by government of its own principles.”[11] The modernists saw their battlefield as the courtroom. For the pre-modernists however, imbued with their own history of feudal warfare and Old Testament stories of Israelite victories at the hand of God, the opposition came armed.
“Whether to give allegiance at this juncture was a central question of Maori modernity.”[12] Secular leaders like Renata Kawepo were on the side of the modern. While not above criticising Maori who sucked up to government as “lickplates,” Kawepo and most Maori around the country rejected the king movement and refused them support. The so-called nationalist movement was in truth a retrograde alliance extending but little beyond the southern Waikato.


2. “Nothing Less Than Victory”[13]
At almost the same time as the rebellion in the Waikato, the United States was in a fierce struggle to resolve the contradiction that had lain within its own nation since birth: the principle of individual rights enshrined in its Constitution, against the right to keep slaves claimed by the slaveholding southern states. “The Civil War was a price paid for this contradiction,” turning into “a four-year nightmare that butchered more than 600,000.”[14]

The nightmare was only broken when Union General William Tecumseh Sherman resolved to take the war to those who had started it and show them what war looked like. Instead of taking the bait of chasing Confederate armies and attacking them on ground that they had chosen, he proposed an educational programme by military means – to “make Georgia howl,” he said[15]– marching his troops right through the centre of the South, tearing up rail lines, destroying communications, burning houses, crops and plantations, thoroughly and effectively laying waste “to the material and psychological foundations of the southern war effort.”[16]

Not to kill – that was not the primary goal – but to destroy the rebels’ means, their morale, and their will to continue the fighting.

Sherman blazed across the centre of the slave states and thoroughly savaged their morale. He set fire to Atlanta and with it collapsed the southern will to war[17]– a scene memorably depicted in Gone With the Wind -- and just five months later, American slavery and the pro-slave rebellion was over. 

Atlanta burns, in a still from the 1937 film classic Gone With the Wind

It was not mere barbarism but a planned strategy: making it impossible for those supporting the war to evade the nature of what they were supporting while “not leaving any hope in the minds of southerners that an uprising could work”[18]– to “shock southern society to its roots by the sheer force of his demonstration” and at the same time to withdraw their very means of supporting the rebellion.

To rip out the source of the rebellion, Sherman set out on what was, in effect, an educational mission. His actions served to connect the abstraction ‘war’ to its concrete referent in reality: immediate personal destruction. No longer would ‘war’ float in the minds of southerners as an elixir, calling up notions of social superiority, bereft of its real meaning. The smell of smoke would haunt southern civilisation as it had haunted the people of Sparta and Carthage[and would later haunt the people of Germany and Japan] –the  smell of failure caused by their own willingness to wage war on others. War now meant loss, poverty, shame, and death. Now, knowing its nature, they could reject it.
The meaning of the burning of Atlanta was a demonstration, through the destruction of property, of the very meaning of the war, and the consequences of continuing the rebellion. Sherman’s optical demonstration united force and resolve in a way that left no doubt of the outcome, should southerners not accept the Union. Sherman burned property in order to collapse the will to fight and to save lives. He wondered, later in life, why he was so harshly blamed for destroying property while other generals killed men by the thousands. This is a matter of values: who should be blamed, the general who establishes an effective peace at the price of material destruction, or the one who drags a war out for years under piles of corpses? 

“If we count the bodies,” as one military historian observes, “we may change our conclusions about who in history has been the true protector of life and peace.”[19]


Figure2: The Paterangi Line sketched by Gustavus Von Tempsky, out scouting for General Cameron
3. The heart of the rebellion
The same principle was at work in the Waikato conflict, fought almost at the same time. In the American rebellion, “the majority of southerners had not favoured secession.” Nor had the majority of Maori. The aim of what was the war’s decisive encounter[20] was to demonstrate to that minority that their rebellion was futile, and to the majority that the rebel’s leaders were fools and war could deliver them only hell.

The heart of the kingite support lay not in Ngaruawahia but further south, just north of the Puniu River near where Rewi Maniapoto had his home and Wiremu Tamihana a stronghold, and crops were grown to keep the kingite rebels fed. Now it is simply a place with a school hall and an old timber church, dating back to before the war. Back then this was the spiritual heart of the movement. It was at a hui at Ngaruawahia in May-June 1858 that Tamihana had said: “Commencing at Pukawa the words were these: Firstly, the King be set up to hold the mana or prestige over the land; secondly, mana over man; thirdly, to stop the flow of blood. The Maori King and the Queen of England to be joined in concord.” The Queen of England had never been asked her opinion on the matter, but it was said that "at Rangiaowhia that the ritual cycle was completed and Te Wherowhero formally elected king. Tamihana confirmed that Te Wherowhero should be called ‘King,’ as David had been created King for the tribes of Israel… ‘Forsaken now is Egypt, the land of Sin and Shame [chanted Te Tapihana, tohunga of Ngatai Hikairo]: A new home (we) now seek; as a resting place.’ The King had been created, and the land given a new name, ‘Aotearoa’.”[21]

The Biblical rhythms and incantations are obvious enough. These were clearly not modernisers at work. And this was the reason it would have been pointless to receive the surrender at an already-deserted Ngaruawahia, which is what Grey only belatedly realised. Where Cameron was ultimately directing his forces was to the spiritual and material heartland of Rangiaowhia, to occupy it, burn it, and destroy the rebel supplies and spirit for war – so comprehensively that the only alternative remaining would be to make peace.

But that wouldn’t be easy. Kingite troops had built their own early-Maginot Line to the east of Te Awamutu to protect their heartland, a linked series of sophisticated defences at Paterangi and Rangiatea on which the kingite generals had their few troops hard at work for several months, emplacing 2km of entrenchments on this bold and commanding site. What they built was “immensely strong,”[23] the largest ever built in New Zealand, dominating the Waipa River and flanked by the swamps that at that time lay all across the Waikato. 




Figure3: "The Paterangi Line" [Cowan, p. 342]

This was military engineering of a very high order, so constructed as to be suicidal to attack.[24] So Cameron didn’t. Just like German strategists in two world wars, his men simply went around these impregnable defences. In a bold move, Cameron sent 1200 troops out in complete silence along the river bank at the dead of night, marching in single file, led by Von Tempsky’s Forest Rangers and guided by local Maori, to skirt the rebel defences and instead subdue his heartland. 

The utmost silence was preserved. No bugle sounded; the swords and bridle chains of the cavalry were muffled with cloth….. Rangiaowhia [lay] along a hilly road above the deep swamps and kahikatea forest that fringed the Mangaohoi Stream. The ridge of Hairini surmounted, about a mile and half from the mission station, the large unfortified mission station of Rangiaowhia came in sight, a scene of peace and beauty. Fields of wheat, maize and potatoes extended over gently slopes, and peach-groves shading clusters of thatched houses were scattered along a green hill trending north and south, the crown of the village, with the steeples of two churches rising above the trees, a quarter of a mile apart. In the swampy and part-wooded valley of Pekapekarau, below, on the left as the invading army marched along the southern rim of the Rangiaowhia basin, the morning mists curled up from the raupo-bordered waters of a little lagoon, the dam that supplied the power for a flour-mill…
The main forces of the Kingites were in Paterangi and Pikopiko; those occupying Rangiaowhia were chiefly people of the Ngati Apakura and Ngati Hinetu sections of Waikato, engaged in supply food to the garrisons at the front. There were about a hundred men in the settlement, with many women and children. Alongside the road, lined with whares extending from the south end of the village to a hill on the north where the Roman Catholic church dominated Rangiaowhia, great quantities of food were laid out – potatoes, kumaras, pigs and fowls—packed ready for carting to Paterangi.[25]

 “The conception and implementation of the Paterangi manoeuvre were little short of brilliant.”[26] So great was the surprise that “once the Paterangi line had been bypassed, the settlement itself was largely defenceless, save for the efforts of a few old men and their rusty muskets.[27] Maori, familiar enough with deception in warfare but lulled into a false notion of honour by stories told them by missionaries, had assumed that the residents and village would be immune to attack, that the honourable thing would instead have been for Cameron’s men to throw themselves in their droves against their impregnable fortress of Paterangi, there to be exterminated in a hail of honourable musket balls.


Figure 4: Photo of Rangiaowhia's Catholic Church, demolished in 1931 [Source: (Ritchie, 2001)p 28 ]

The attack was carefully timed to take place on a Sunday morning, when the residents could all be expected to be away from their homes and safely in one place: at church. The soldiers achieved total surprise, and the engagement was swift. In summary: “Rangiaowhia was sacked, the houses and meeting house burnt, and the defenders killed.”[28]




Figure 5: Plan of Rangiaowhia and surrounds. The line of advance is left to right along the river at bottom. The whares being defended are centre-right.  [Cowan, p. 350]

The defenders in truth were few: when the alarm was raised children hid in the swamps, some breathing through reeds; armed Maori “crammed” into the Roman Catholic church “showed a white flag, so were not pressed further”; re-occupying the church later, several discovered that the thin weatherboard cladding offered no protection to musket balls, and they escaped north through the surrounding swamps. The English church too was filled with armed defenders “and some shots came from the windows,” but the action centred in one of the large houses on the slope above the spring at the head of the little valley” where here and nearby “a number of Maori had taken refuge.”[29]

This “large house” was the site of one of the war’s greatest horrors. 

The whare was "part of a cluster,“[30] in the largest of which a small drama was taking place. Sheltering there were the Ngati Apakura chief Ihaia (i.e., the Biblical name Isaiah), a fellow named Rawiri, a small family group of the Catholic Ngati Hinetu chief Hoani Papita (i.e., John the Baptist) with his daughter and grandson Potatau, and several others who were armed. The group had gathered there to die, according to account given some years later by the young boy who survived: his grandfather Hoani being the last to arrive there “so that he might die with us.”[31] The boy’s account is overwhelmingly sad; the mood is fatalistic. Seeing the danger, his father says, “Let us lay down our guns and give ourselves up as prisoners.” No, says the grandfather, as our ancestors died so must we. No, counters his son, “Let us go in peace and according to law.” Hoani, clutching his gun, is resolute; no, he says, we must all stay and fight. And die.[32] The wider debate on modernity was now concentrated heavily upon this small group in this dark place.

Such a house, however, was not a bad place in which to hole up and fight. Recall from Chapter 2 that the floor of the typical Maori house would be dug around two feet into the ground, and bounded by walls often consisting of thick solid timber slabs into which rafters were notched. Against musket balls, this was a considerable defence, with the low floor acting as a defensive trench and the gaps between the slabs offering space from which to shoot --- making it not dissimilar in smaller scale to the defences of a Maori pa, even if the thatch above was a fire hazard to the sparks emitted from a musket pan. And there were no windows, making the interior (to an eye accustomed to bright sunshine) as dark as Satan’s smile. All these would play a part in the drama and tragedy that followed.


A large chiefly whare, of an earlier era, showing the low entrance door, and the thick hit-and-miss timber slabs forming the walls. Sited above a dug-out floor, which offered protection to anyone lying down prone with a rifle aimed out through the raupo screen walls, this presented a considerable small defensive position. The thatched roof and raupo present one of its few weaknesses. [Source: Anderon 2009]

Shots were still being fired by defenders around the village, especially from snipers in the whares – some of whom were women. Having largely secured the village however, Colonel Marmaduke Nixon, commander of Cameron’s cavalry, began mopping up, wholly unaware of the looming disaster in what so far had proved an overwhelmingly successful operation. His Captain Wilson was translating as troops moved from house to house, calling on defenders to surrender. As his troops moved closer to the large whare, a trooper poked in his head, seeking prisoners but clearly expecting no violence, asking if there were any Maoris in the house. “No,” said the young boy’s mother, “there are no Maoris in the house.” To which his father contradicted her, and the trooper saw him and began to drag him out.

What happened next was tragic. And confusing. When Dixon’s Captain Wilson noticed the struggle, he commanded another trooper in to clear the house – Sergeant McHale – at which Potatau remembers, “my grandfather [Hoani] shot and killed him.”[32] As the occupants dragged McHale inside, along with fallen guns and ammunition, the boy and his mother took the opportunity to flee, escaping between the soldiers, who let them pass, and hid out for safety in the house next door. Wilson, thinking it was McHale who had fired the shots, called out “What the **** are you shooting Maoris for!” jumped from his horse and raced into the darkened whare. As he stooped to get inside, he saw McHale’s body through the gloom and smoke, stopped, withdrew in horror, and cried out that McHale had been shot.[34]

The calls for surrender had suddenly became a vicious firefight. Shots poured from and into the whare. Nixon was shot from the open doorway. Other soldiers tried to enter the whare and were shot, Von Tempsky dragging away injured and dead. They called again for the occupants to surrender and were met instead with another volley. The thatch caught fire, possibly from sparks, or possibly by a trooper to drive them out.[35] Shots rained in, most hitting the solid timber slabs but many found their mark.

At last, the old man (Hoani?) was driven out by the flames, emerging from the low doorway wearing a singed white blanket. He had no weapon, “advancing towards the crescent of troops in surrender, facing a hundred levelled rifles.”

‘Spare him, spare him!’ shouted the nearest officers. But next moment there was a thunder of shots. Staggering from the bullets, the old hero recovered his poise for an instant, stood still with an expression of calm, sad dignity, then swayed slowly and fell to the ground dead. The episode enraged the chivalrous officers who had entreated quarter for him…. The truth was that the troops clustered promiscuously about the burning houses were not under the immediate control of their officers at the moment of the Maori’s surrender; and there were many how burned to avenge the fall of their beloved Colonel Nixon.[36]

When the smoke finally cleared the troopers “found in the smoking ruins the charred bodies of Sergeant McHale and seven Maori.” The place of final resistance had become their tomb. Cameron had hoped it all to be swift and decisive, and maybe bloodless. It was not to be. At a price of just five of his men, however, all of whom were killed at the doomed whare, Cameron had won the decisive victory of the war, making it clear to the rebels they could never win. Ten Maori were killed altogether, all but two in the tragedy erupting out of Hoani’s fateful (and fatal) decision not to surrender.[37]

Resistance was now broken. Wiremu Tamehana and his men of Ngati Haua fought at Hairini with the other kingite troops teeming out of Paterangi, then left to sit impotently on his pa above Cambridge before slipping away to his home at Matamata to brood in “great darkness and sorrow of heart.” The last stand was at Orakau, where Rewi was disastrously persuaded to fight by Tuhorangi leaders. “We will fight forever!” Rewi is supposed to have bellowed back when invited to surrender there, “Ake! Ake! Ake!” – before escaping out the back of the fighting pa and over the Puniu River for safety, where his king and remaining supporters would stay threatening but locked up for nearly two decades.

Rewi’s last recorded act in the war was to refuse the opportunity at Orakau to surrender. For six years thereafter, he was silent. And the “border” around his small pocket republic was fortified. 
4. The little church at Rangiowhia
There is a postscript.

Visit Rangiaowhia today and you find the village gone, the swamps drained, the place pleasantly planted in pasture, and the name changed to Hairini. Rangiaowhia Road runs through the centre of what had been the village, meeting Puahoe Road roughly where the large whares once stood. The English church, St Paul’s, where you can buy bric-a-brac on a Saturday morning, remains there further up Rangiaowhia Road, and the Hairini Hall across from it hosts tennis players on most days. The Catholic church which once stood a hundred metres to the north in front of Hoani Papita’s home was demolished however in 1931, as congregations vanished.[38] Only the cemetery remains.

The thirst for history has increased. In 2015 several students from Otorohonga College had been so incensed by what they had learned at school about the war in the Waikato that they began a petition calling for “a national day of commemoration for all those who fell in the New Zealand Wars,” delivering a petition to parliament in aid of that cause. “Every one of the 13,000 signatures on our petition was hard won, face-to-face,” said Leah Bell, the petition’s co-organiser. “Each signature represents a conversation, with the living reality of the New Zealand Land Wars bang in the middle.”[39]

It was a particular story that set them ablaze. In March 2014, 189 pupils from Ōtorohanga College had taken five buses to Rangiaowhia and Orakau “where they sat on the side of a dusty road and listened to the stories of kaumātua and kuia whose ancestors had fought 150 years earlier in the New Zealand Wars.”[40] These stories affected them deeply.

“It’s raw for so many people, and that’s why the petition was formed originally, because Waimarama and I were taken to Rangiaowhia, where people during the Land Wars were burnt alive in a church, and only some of them escaped. And the kuia there, who are descendants of these people, were really emotional, and it was really hard to see.”[41]
 “It was really hard for us to understand that we were learning about people being burnt alive in churches in America during the Civil War, but, not far from our school, it had happened to our people.[42]

Rangiaowhia: where people during the Land Wars were burnt alive in a church. One that you were sitting right outside. It would be tough hearing that. But which church? Given that both churches were left standing after the war –“the beautifully stained glass windows of the English church are entire,” said a newspaper report afterwards, and the Catholic church pictured about was lived in for several months by troops garrisoned there[43]-- it’s hard to know what church they mean. And burnt alive inside a church to which they’ve gone for sanctuary? That’s horrific. But why does it not mesh with the eyewitness accounts? Where do these stories come from? Why were they told that? This is the story of an atrocity, something about which no responsible person should make light. What was the evidence?

Bell’s own zeal for history remains. Graduated BA(Hons) in history from Victoria University, Bell now works as a research assistant at HistoryWorks Ltd for Vincent O’Malley. O’Malley is a historian, a profession whose stock in trade is evidence. In 2017 O’Malley wrote an unsourced piece for The Listener to publicise his forthcoming book in which Bell's story and photograph featured several times. He cited “oral histories” that claimed more than 100 deaths in the raid (“although,” he allows, “it is impossible to confirm the correct number”).[44]  By 2019 his latest book Nga Pakanga o Aotearoa has at the head of the page on Rangiaowhia a still from the 1983 movie Utu showing soldiers deliberately torching a Maori village, captioned with the claim that “some sources put the death toll in excess of one hundred.”[45] His sources there are neither referenced, nor named. 

This is not responsible history. Not only is there no evidence offered, the stories recounted contradict the evidence we have. This is clearly a new paradigm of history; we are now in the realm of the post-modern, where facts are no longer something to sift and refer to. “This naïve view has faded away … the past … is now seen as a construction by observers, either contemporary or modern.”[46] (Emphasis mine.)

In the pre-postmodern world of good sense, belief or knowledge systems are distinguished according to whether they are true or false. Not so in the postmodern world, in which there are no determinate meanings and in which concepts like truth and falsity have no place.[47] 

Some postmodern historians, like Judith Binney, do at least draw from a “deep well” of conversations, that are largely referenced and can be checked and corroborated. Not so O’Malley, whose “some sources” and “oral histories the” reader is required to take on trust. His only mention of the church in his 2019 book, however, is that “Cameron called off an attack on survivors sheltering in the village’s Catholic church,”[48 i.e., upon armed survivors firing shots. In his better-referenced work of 2016 he says that Cameron called off the attack on those who were “streaming out” of the church, “taunting the British troops as ‘a cowardly lot of pakehas’ as they departed.”[49] 

So we are still left to wonder still how his extra casualties were found, and from whence comes the claim for the church atrocity. His 2016 book centres the claim for atrocity on “one report suggesting at least 103 bodies had been discovered,” on “Maori sources clearly referring to the killing of women and children,” and on the death at Rangiaowhia of the wife and two daughters of Kereopa To Rau[50] (who was later reviled for the murder in his own church of the missionary Karl Volckner, after which Kereopa drank his blood and ate his eyeballs) 

The references respectively are to a confusing and otherwise unsupported account by a Sydney Morning Herald correspondent, after the battle of Orakau, referring to the Maori “dislike to being made prisoner” and in evidence thereof having been “discovered and buried” the bodies of 103 men (presumably at the cemetery)[51]; accounts by Wi Kumete (who was taken prisoner at the earlier battle of Rangiri) and by Wiremu Tamihana (who was not at Rangiaowhia but later used a metaphor about the raid in which he compares the “fire” in somewhat Biblical terms to that of Rangiriri, where the only fire was that coming from artillery shells)[52]; and from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, which per that medium's usual practice provides no sources.

Figure 9: Excerpt from Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April 1864, from the account of
 the "close of the campaign," on which O'Malley relies in part for his claims of atrocity

It is certainly fair to say that most of the accounts of this operation “were written by those who took part in the attack,” as O’Malley himself says in his prosecuting report for the Waitangi Tribunal, and that “There appear to be fewer written accounts from survivors of the attack.”[53] As we see, however, closer examination reveals that O’Malley’s claims for mass murder, atrocity, and more than a hundred people being torched to death, evidence for which he calls “clear and unambiguous,”[54] (extraordinary claims which require extraordinary evidence), refer to no primary sources at all.  (Ironically, the Sydney Morning Herald report on which he relies sits next to an account from Taranaki of the ‘Defeat of the Queen’s Troops at Ahuahu’ with the sub-heading: ‘Atrocities Committed by the Rebels…’)[55]

The contemporary anger of Tamihana and others over Rangiaowhia is primarily over its unorthodoxy, its going against their expected norms of what battle should now be,[56] in falling on the villagers while gathered for church; in short its brilliance – precisely what Tamihana sneers at in a letter a week afterwards as “a stealthy assault (konihi).”[57] As if refusing the challenge of a frontal assault of Paterangi was “unmanly.”[58]  Of the casualties at Rangiaowhia however, all that his letter written just a week after the defeat says about it, very soberly, is:

 They fell (the Maoris), and six were killed in one place. Patene Poutama was taken prisoner. These men were attacked at night (sic); the payment was eight, all officers. Enough of that. [59]

He has the last word. Or should have.

Figure 10: Sydney Morning Herald of the same date and same page as
that on which Vincent O'Malley relies for his account of 103 dead.

Except there’s one thing you can say about oral history: if you don’t tell a good story it won’t be good enough to re-tell. “They fell (the Maoris), and six were killed in one place… the payment was eight, all officers.” That doesn’t get retold. It lacks resonance. Instead, more colourful stories do. 

In 2009, a Bay of Plenty Times columnist from the Ngati Apakura whanau told readers that when Cameron encountered resistance from Ngati Apakura he gave the order to “wipe them out; his troops herded all the local Maori up like cattle and locked them in the church, and then set it alight – killing all 144 inside. Those who tried to escape were shot and only one three-year girl got out, by being thrown through the burning back wall.”[60] This was colour indeed. But was it true? Why 144? What happened to 103? Which church? How come both church buildings were still standing there intact afterwards? If only the three-year old girl survived, how do we know about the tale? 

These are questions with no answers offered or given. We are clearly in the realms of story-telling here. Of mythology. (Of the pre-modern.)

Wilson had been told the story at a whanau gathering by a kuia there who said the child survivor was her grandmother.[61] The Otorohonga College students almost certainly heard this story, or something like it, on that 2014 trip to  Rangiaowhia,[62] because according to the husband of one of their teachers,[63] “One of our tupuna in particular was burnt in the church, two of them escaped out of the window and looked from the swamp land as they were burning in the flames, so we hold these as very dear family histories. We also have the writings of Wiremu Tamihana.”[64] As we’ve seen.

If true, these family stories would certainly be devastating. One could only sympathise. But one does need to look for the evidence, and at the inconsistencies. (How many children escaped? How old were they?)

This is not so much retailing history as manufacturing it. And all too sadly, it has become modern-day political history.

As the writer Ayn Rand regularly observed, the uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow.[65] This is how they take hold. Social media platforms are a great recent example we can all understand: “What starts off as balanced information,” explain University of Warwick researchers, “ends up being amplified into threats which evoked feelings of dread.“ “The more people share information, the more negative it becomes, the further it gets from the facts and the more resistant it becomes to correction.”[66] It is the task of historians to correct such errors, not to transmit them.

In 2016 historian Jock Philips told The Nation that Rangiaowhia was an “appalling act of genocide.” Challenged in a Broadcasting Standards Authority review, he doubled down.[67]  On Waitangi Day 2017 Susan Devoy, speaking as Race Relations Commissioner, told both an audience and Bay of Plenty Times readers that “women and children who sought shelter in a local church were locked inside and the church burnt to the ground.”[68] In October of the same year Waikato University professor Tom Roa, calling for recognition of the Rangiaowhia fallen, reminded admirers of Marmaduke Nixon’s magnificent memorial statue at the crossroads in Otahuhu that “Nixon was shot and his troops set alight the town church, killing 12 people who were hiding inside.” [69](103? 144? 12? Is this inflation or deflation?)Roa was a prime mover in having a memorial erected at Rangiaowhia in 2014 to mark the 150-year anniversary. These words are now literally set in stone: “This stone is a memorial to the atrocities suffered by Ngati Apakura, Ngati Hinetu and others here at Rangiaowhia on the 21st of February, 1864.”[70]

Devoy’s theme had been that learning our nation's past is a way to safeguard the nation’s future. When one struggles to find any truth at all in the stories about the past being told, and discovers instead that they are just stories without foundation in truth, then we discover the past is no guide at all.

Perhaps a public health warning would be helpful over too much reliance on history by “Chinese whispers.” In a courtroom, evidence adduced by a witness must either be something they saw or something they read. Stories told by one person to another are not evidence: they are hearsay. Another name for “oral history” is gossip. Interesting, but unreliable – like memes on social media. Fake news. 

A 2013 Massey University Masters thesis Waahine Maaori Voices from the Embers of Rangiaowhia reveals an interesting twist. In the thesis, published a year before the Otorohonga College students visited Rangiaowhia, Masters candidate Hazel Coromandel-Wander seeks “to examine and understand the impact of the Rangiaowhia burning on generations of descendants, past, present and future.”[71] The impact. Not the evidence. She rejects, she says, the “common sense notion that academics can, and should, write from a position of objectivity.”[72] Which is clear from reading the work.[73] 

Setting the scene for her story “based on oral traditions praxis of my kuia ‘handed down’ by three generations of her whanau,” Coromandel-Wander writes that her kuia’s “eyewitness account of the massacre at Rangiaowhia February, 1864, ‘talks back’ to the oppressive power systems that brand the indigenous as guilty.”[74] Twelve-year old Wikitoria is the source of the eye-witness accounts – her great-grandmother – she and other teenagers were said to be hidden undercover of the swamp weed while the soldiers were attacking the village.[75] Here is the entirety of Coromandel-Wander’s account, in her thesis, of a massacre:

When the alarm was raised in the village the elderly along with the young mothers and their babies ran into both the Rangiaowhia Catholic Church and the Anglican Church for refuge. The Crown’s Troopers set the Catholic Church on fire (Barber 1984) and kept their guns trained on the exits to make sure no one could escape. All those who sought the safe haven of the Rangiaowhia Catholic Church were killed.[76] 

This would be devastating if true. The paragraph is supplemented by an account from her oral histories that “…Hongihongi was a young boy, he was in the [Anglican Church], he broke a hole in the back of the church so the old people could escape.”[77]  (The square brackets are her own.)

Church burning is historically evocative. Stories and accounts of church doors being chained and people inside being burned alive stain the pages of history, from Cromwell’s savagery in Ireland to Nazi inhumanity across Eastern Europe. The atrocities are emblematic of holocaust – which is why authors of fiction employ them.

“To examine and understand the impact of the Rangiaowhia massacre” is one of the three key objectives of her thesis, she says.[78]  Her abstract declares that she sites to site her investigation in oral evidence, in kōrero tuku iho. Yet her central claim for the massacre in the church, around which her whole manuscript revolves – the central account that gives it meaning – is revealed to rest on a single account: not her great-grandmother but that one reference to “Barber 1984.” This is Laurie Barber’s little book, commissioned by the Te Awamutu Borough Council to celebrate the town’s 1984 centennial.[79]   The only problem is that in all the 205 pages of this delightful book, there is not a single reference to any such thing as a massacre in a church.[80] Nothing about running to a church for refuge. Nothing about the Crown Troopers setting any church on fire. And not a single thing about training their guns on the church exits to bar escape.  But the story she told from this, to whanau and farther afield, is now a story that has gone viral.

Figure 11: Hazel Coromandel-Wander with the Rangiaowhia anniversary monument.
"It was a day of terrorism," she told journalists, "that still affects her whanau today."
[Photograph by Christel Yardley, Stuff]
A photo of Coromandel-Wander with the monument to “atrocity” appears both in Vincent O’Malley’s 2019 book, and in a 2017 interview in which she talks again about “the day of terrorism.” And here is the twist. In the interview, in which she talks about her grandmother Wikitoria she tells a different story. The church has gone, and in its place is a whare karakia.[81]

The whare karakia and other whare were burned down, with reports of people incinerated inside. 
Pahi named her children after the attack, so the events would never be forgotten.
Te Wera was the eldest, meaning the burning of the whare karakia; followed by Te Pupuhi, the wind that fanned the fire that burnt the whare karakia; Te Ratapu, Sunday - the day of the attack; Te Keu, "pull the trigger", in reference to the soldiers firing; and Maringi, meaning the tears that Pahi wept. 
Her great-grandaughter Hazel Wander has heard these stories, passed down to her mother, a descendant of the iwi who populated the village, Ngāti Apakura. Pahi was born at Ngahuruhuru Pa, Rangiaowhia.[82] 

The words “whare karakia” mean place of worship, or church. In resolving the apparent contradiction in which oral histories speak of a church impossibly burning to the ground (impossible, since the only two settler churches remained standing) while eye witnesses speak of a “large whare” burning (an important whare, at the head of the small village, in which could be found at least two chiefs), it would seem that the latter’s burning has been mistakenly mapped onto the former – in stories told afterwards, which clearly resonated through the years, the small Maori place of worship and karakia had become in imagination one of the settler churches, with kinfolk locked inside and burned.[83]

Never ever discount the sorrow of these war stories.

But never, either, discount the danger of relying upon them without independent corroboration.

5. The Larger Fiction in Wellington

There are two even further twists. The petition of Leah Bell and her friends for a commemoration day for NZ’s internal  wars was successful, and on the back of it that “all schools and kura would be expected, by 2022, to teach the country's history.” The “push to ensure New Zealand’s history is taught in the country’s schools had paid off.” The Minister said he would be taking advice on the curriculum from “historical and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, students and ākonga, parents and whānau, and other groups with a strong interest in shaping how New Zealand history is taught.”[84]  

One doesn’t need to be a genius to understand which history will be taught.

As the victory march rolled on, In September last year a New Zealand Wars plaque was unveiled in Parliament at which Leah Bell was interviewed again. Now a history graduate and working for Vincent O’Malley’s HIstoryWorks, which is the beneficiary of an $859,000 Marsden Grant to study “Remembering and Forgetting Difficult Histories in Aotearoa/ New Zealand,“[85] she recounted again her memory of her school visit to Rangiaowhia, where they “heard from the descendants of the kuia and kaumatua who had been burned alive.”[86]  The story has by now become her own founding myth. But she mentioned no church.

Figure 12: Hazel Coromandel-Wander speaking on her 
great-grandmother's story, as part of the Waipa Journeys project.
[Photo: Still from 'Waipa Journeys: Burning Whare']

And then in November, a series of "Waipa Journeys" was released for travellers to visit and learn history around what was once a highly-contested region. (I recommend them, with reservations). Of particular interest are two by Tom Roa and by Hazel Coromandel-Wander. Roa talks about their being three churches, the Catholic and Anglican Church, and “the whare karakia” which he claims had been built “for practicing Pai Mārire and other forms of Māori faith”[87] – odd, to say the least, since both Ihaia (i.e., the Biblical name Isaiah) and Hoani Papita (i.e., John the Baptist) were, as their baptismal names suggest, said to be practising Catholics.[88] He seems to rely for what seems clear fabrication on the presence of Kereopa Te Rau in the villlage, who only converted to the new faith “after the defeat of the King movement forces in mid 1864.”[89] (Emphasis mine.) He is trying to eat his cake while still saving it.

Note this however: They do both cite the site in questions as a “whare karakia,” not a Catholic church, no doors being chained, no numbers in their hundreds ... and the title for this section is ‘Burning Whare.’

So perhaps we can  finally all now lay to rest the story of people being locked inside a church and burned alive, and proceed from there to better understand this tragedy.

* * * *
NOTES
[1] The overbearing title of Vincent O’Malley’s great work, (O'Malley, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000, 2016) in which he misunderstands Wiremu Tamihana’s meaning of the phrase. It was “a very great war,” clarifies Tamihana in his 1865 petition to parliament, “because it was conducted in such a pitiless manner.” (Stokes, 2002) p. 489
[2] (Head, 2001) p. 98
[3] Ibid p. 98
[4] (Head, 2001) p. 119
[5] (Potatau I, 1860)
[6] (Kawepo, 1861)
[7] (Head, 2001) p. 119
[8] Ibid p. 118
[8] (Schleiermacher, 2005) p. 37
[10] (Head, 2001) p. 231n79
[11] Ibid p. 116
[12] Ibid p. 98
[13] John Lewis’s title
[14] (Lewis, 2010) p. 141
[15] (Grimsley, 1995) p. 187-8
[16] (Lewis, 2010) p. 142
[17] Ibid p. 231
[18] Ibid p. 181
[19] (Hansen, 1999) p. 190
[20] (Pugsley, 1997)
[21] (Anderson, Binney, & Harris, 2015) p. 246-7
[22] (Dalton, 1967) p. 185
[23] Described by “a veteran of Nixon’s cavalry” (Cowan) p. 338
[24] The defences are well described in Cowan p. 341 passim
[25] (Cowan, 1983 (1922)) p. 351-2
[26] (Belich, 1988 (1996)) p. 165
[27] (Pugsley, 1997)
[28] (Anderson, Binney, & Harris, 2015) p.257
[29] (Cowan 1983 (1922)) p. 354-5 passim
[30] Ibid p. 353
[31] Potatau, quoted in (Gudgeon, 1887), who says Potatau, “who was a young boy at the time,” came forward when Rusden’s History of New Zealand (1883) was published to correct Rusden’s intimation that “a general and accompanied by a bishop burned women and children in a Maori house.” The statement, records Gudgeon, was translated and written down in the presence of the mature Potatau. He claims it to be “rough, but accurate, and it is given as it was received.” (Gudgeon, 1887) p. 177-8
[32] (Gudgeon, 1887) p. 178
[33] Ibid p. 178
[34] Ibid p. 176
[35] Cowan suggests both. Accounts from Trooper Drake after the battle and fromTrooper Race thirty-five years later suggest it was intentional: “I have not the slightest doubt,” says Race, “but that the Maories would come out, and thus be taken, but … the Maories are a brave race.” See (Race, 1895) pp. 135-6 and (Drake, 1969). Von Tempsky says “neighbouring whares had been set fire to, with the view of communicating the fire to the all-dreaded one,” which, given the fog of war, perhaps reconciles the contradiction. (Tempsky, 1864) p. 109
[36] (Cowan, 1983 (1922)), pp 355-6
[37] Ibid p. 357
[38] (Auckland Star, 1931). Confirmed also in the Waipa Walking Tour video by Keith Storey of the Parish of St John Management Team. See  (Storey, 2020) starting at 3:05.
[39] (Bell, 2017). Graduated BA(Hons) in history from Victoria University, Leah Bell now works as a research assistant for Vincent O’Malley’s HistoryWorks Ltd on their Marsden-funded New Zealand Wars project ‘'Remembering and Forgetting Difficult Histories in Aotearoa/New Zealand.' [ref: LinkedIn. Accessed 15 March 2020; Tweet Professor Fiona Kidman, Mar 8 2020]
[40] (Auckland Museum, undated)
[41] (National Library, undated)
[42] (Auckland Museum, undated)
[43] (New Zealand Herald, 1864)
[44] (O'Malley, 'Inglorious Dastards: Rangiaowhia raid and the 'great war for New Zealand'', 2017)
[45] (O'Malley, The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa, 2019) p. 121-2
[46] (Munz 1994)
[47] Ibid
[48] Ibid p. 123
[49] (O'Malley, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000, 2016) p. 338
[50] Ibid pp 339-340
[51] (Sydney Morning Herald, 1864)
[52] (Stokes, 2002) p. 489. It seems to me that a historian who doesn’t understand metaphor, especially the common Biblical metaphors that littered Tamihana’s prose, should hang up their shingle.
[53] (O'Malley, 'Te Rohe Potau: War and Raupatu', 2010) p. 120
[54] (New Zealand Herald, 2017)
[55] (Sydney Morning Herald, 1864)
[56] Against the oft-repeated claim, for example, that General Cameron had made a "commitment" to avoid attacking Rangiaowhia, James Belich for one expresses doubt that Cameron "would have committed himself to not attacking so important an economic target, the very hub of the Kingite supply system." (Belich, 1988 (1996), p. 164) Any more than Sherman would have. He continues:
Further, if the Maoris genuinely believed that Rangiaowhia had been declared immune from attack, why did they go to such enormous trouble to block all major routes to it, building no less than four large pa for the purpose?337 The answer may be that Selwyn and Cameron, concerned at the killing of non- combatants at Rangiriri, intimated to the Maoris that women and children would be safeguarded where possible, and that they should be kept out of the firing lines – without specifying any sacrosanct ground. Subsequently, the Maoris misunderstood this, or raised the issue in response to one-sided aspersions cast on their own actions. (Belich, 1988 (1996), pp. 164-5)
[57] Wiremu Tamihana, letter to Rawiri and Tawaha, 28 February 1864, AJHR 1864 E-03 p. 40
[58] A frontal assault was part of the formality expected; they had laid down a challenge, response was expected.
A kupapa Maori returning from korero with defenders at part of the Paterangi defences reported for example that he “found Waikato natives quiet, but Ngatiraukawa and others who have not already suffered were excessively bouncible  in their speeches, telling him that they were tired of waiting, intimating that they would commit murders, &c, if the General did not attack their pas.” [Ref: AJHR, 1864, E-3, p. 25]
So was the formality of battle. Like English rugby players, they were lookiing forward to a set-piece encounter. After a firefight at a stream near Paterangi, in which engagement four soldiers bathing were shot and killed by around 50 kingite scouts and 10 of the scouts were shot in return, the British commander reported: “Two Maories came with a white flag to look for dead bodies, saying, ‘Peace today; war tomorrow." I ascertained from them that their intention was to attack Col. Waddy's camp at daylight this morning, in conjunction with another force from Paterangi.” [Ref: AJHR, 1864, E-3, p. 26]
[59] ibid
[60] (Wilson, 2009)
[61] (Wilson, 2009)
[62] (O'Malley & Blundell, 'Pupil Power Inspires Commemoration', 2017)
[63] (New Zealand Herald, 2017)
[64] ‘RNZ News, ‘Changes proposed to Marmaduke Nixon monument,’ 13 September 2017. The speaker is described as “Māori tribal historian for Waikato and Māori Party candidate Rahui Papa.” He is now the chairman of the executive board of the Tainui legislative council [Ref:Rahui Papa,’ LinkedIn, accessed 15 March 2020]
[65] (Rand, 1999 (1971))
[66] (Jagiello & Hills, 2018)
[67] (Stuff, 2016)
[68] (Devoy, 2017)
[69] (Stuff, 2017)
[70] Inscription on memorial. Personal visit, November 2019.
[71] (Coromandel-Wander, 2013) p. 8
[72] Ibid p. 10
[73] She writes for example that “After news got out about the massacre at Rangiaowhia, Maaori in the district were very angry and they complained to the CMS minister Reverend Morgan (Roberton 1957). He held an inquiry at the Te Kopua mission station with the Forest Rangers and the Troopers to see which side had insulted the other. In the inquiry the soldiers claimed that Cameron himself ordered the burning (Roberton 1957).” (p. 14). Roberton’s piece to which she refers is ‘The Role of Tribal Tradition in New Zealand Prehistory,’ from The Journal of the Polynesian Society – it talks about the canoe traditions of Maori. It is fascinating, but the only connection to Rangiaowhia is a discussion of 16th century Apakura, from whom Coromandel-Wander’s hapu gained their name.
[74] ibid p. 1
[75] Ibid p. 3. She is almost certainly the source for the story heard by the students, and by Wilson.
[76] Ibid p. 3
[77] Ibid p. 3. This comes from her family histories, and is referenced to Te Otaotoa (2010), which in her bibliography reads: “To Otaota (2009, 2010). Koorero Tuku IhoTe Otaota Tukiri, Mokupuna of Hongi Hongi Kapara; Daughter of Rangirereata and Green Davis. Ngaati Apakura kaumaatua; Lifetime Trustee Kahotea Marae.” (Emphasis in the orginal.)
[78] (Coromandel-Wander, 2013) p. 7
[79] (Barber, 1984)
[80] Coromandel-Wander offers no page reference. 
There is a a single unreferenced paragraph in Barber’s book summing up the Rangiaowhia raid which comes closest to describing the event. 
Barber’s paragraph reads:
  “Rangiaowhia was taken by the cavalry of the Colonial Defence Force and the Mounted Royal Artillery. A handful of old warriors rallied in a whare to defend their settlement against the invaders. A fierce exchange of fire followed during which Colonel Nixon was killed, an event that was followed by the shooting down of aged warriors attempts to surrender. The Colonial Defence Force, unable to suppress the fire of the few remaining defenderrs set fire to their whare and burned them alive.” (Barber, 1984) p. 46
Barber looks for colour, and finds it. One could see how reading this would affect a relative, and sympathise. There is no mention of a church. No references are given, but it appears from the book’s notes on other matters to be based on Cowan’s account, with which you may compare it above, and by that of John Featon, described as “journalist and on-the-spot reporter” (Featon “served as an artillery volunteer in the 1860s,” says the official NZ History website, “before becoming a journalist in the 1870s. The blurb in the 1971 reprint of his The Waikato War 1863-4 (1879) acknowledges that he made ‘no attempt to provide a balanced view.” [Ref: NZ History, ‘Writing about New Zealand’s internal wars, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 10 Dec 2019).] )

Featon has two relevant paragraphs: 
“General Cameron arrived at Te Awamutu at daybreak on the 21st, and immediately pushed on to Rangiaowhia, which he found nearly deserted. The few natives who were in the place were completely taken by surprise, and, refusing to lay down their arms, fired on the Mounted Royal Artillery and Colonial Defence Force, who who were sent on in advance of the column. The natives were quickly dispersed, and the greater part escaped; but a few of them taking shelter in a whare, made a desperate resistance until the Forest Rangers and a company of the 65th Regt. surrounded the hut, which was set on fire and the defenders either killed or taken prisoners.
Several casualties occurred amongst the troops. Our loss was 2 killed and 6 wounded; about 12 natives were killed and 12 taken prisoners. In attempting to dislodge the natives from the whare as mentioned above, the brave and respected Colonel Nixon fell mortally wounded, a ball penetrating his chest, injuring the lungs. One of the Defence Force, Private McHale, dismounted and endeavored to burst open the door of the whare, but was shot and dragged inside by the natives; another of the Defence Force, Corporal Alexander. “wounded, viz., Corporal Dunn, who received a ball in the thigh, and Private Brady, slightly in the hand. Finding it difficult to dislodge the natives from their lair, the Troopers set fire to the whare, which, with its occupants, were consumed by the flames. The buckles alone indicated the remains of the unfortunate Trooper who had been dragged inside the whare previous to the conflagration.”  (Featon, 1879) p.77
Featon makes no reference to any church in Rangiaowhia. As with Cowan, his reference to churches is generally to them being used as “stockades” by settlers in Pukekohe East and Mauku when under attack.
[81] Note that Coromandel-Wander uses the phrase “whare karakia” only once in her thesis, saying, “This whare korero was constructed on tribal lands in tribal space to open dialogue for a Ngāti Apakura voice. The notion of a conceptual construction on ‘the tribal landscape in spite of prior structure [a whare karakia] is a space of cultural encounter where the knowledge of previous speakers … provide a new perspective’ that privileges a present day Ngāti Apakura worldview.” It is impossible to now what she means by this. [Ref: (Coromandel-Wander, 2013, p. 62) The square brackets are in the original. Her quotation is said to be from “Jahnke, 2006,’ which makes no appearance in her bibliography, but possibly refers to her thesis supervisor’s co-presentation to a Wellington conference on “traditional knoweldge.” (Massey University)]
(Biggs, 2015 (1981)) and (Ryan, 1983) both translate a “whare karakia”  as a house of prayer or church building, e.g., 
Nō te rā hāpati i kauhau ai a Te Karaiti, i roto i ngā whare karakia (source: Te Pipiwharauroa | The Shining Cuckoo: 8/1904:8).  “On the sabbath day Christ preached in the churches.” (Moorfield)
 (Williams, 1932) makes no reference. See in the modern context too the beautiful book by art historian Richard Sundt, Whare Karakia: Māori Church Building, Decoration & Ritual in Aotearoa New Zealand, 1834-1863 (Sundt, 2010)
[82] (Maitland, 2017). See too a recent video recorded by Ms Coromandel-Wander, who is clearly a lovely lady, recounting the tale, and confirming that “Te Wera was named for the fierce heat from the burning whare karakia.” (Coromandel-Wander, VIDEO: 'Burned Whare', 2020)
[83] This is corroborated in a beutifully-presented series of videos for Waipa Journeys. 
See especially (Roa, 2020), in which a new claim is made, that “When the British Crown soldiers attacked Rangiaowhia ... people were at morning prayer in the Catholic and Anglican churches, and a whare karakia (Maori house of prayer). The whare karakia was tragically burned.” Recall that Roa had previous asserted that Nixon’s troops had “set alight the town church, killing 12 people who were hiding inside.”[1])
He continues now with an even further twist, asserting that : “The whare karakia was a place for practicing Pai Mārire and other forms of Māori faith” (Roa, 2020) – relying for this clear fabrication, it seems, on the presence of Kereopa Te Rau who only converted to the new faith “after the defeat of the Kinf movement forces in mid 1864.” (Oliver, 2014 (1990)) (Emphasis mine.)
Which does nothing to reduce the actual tragedy, but it does at least reduce the number and locaate more precisely the site of all the casualties -- and we are much closer to the likely source of the “misunderstanding” of which so much has been made: that there was only one place burned, and only those people.
How this meshes however with the other stories is difficult to know. That of (Storey, 2020) for example, that “Te Paea Tiaho, sister of King Tāwhiao, organised for Maori to shelter in the church [of St Paul’s] during the attack -- or of O’Malley’s 103 bodies, or Devoy’s 144 –or Wikotoria’s that she saw the burning while hiding in the swamp, which was some way from this burning whare. 
[84] (Stuff, September 12, 2019)
[85] (Royal Society Te Apārangi, 2018)
[86] (Bell, You Tube, 2019)
[87] (Roa, 2020)
[88] (Petrie, 2012(2006)) loc. 3027, Kindle Edition
[89] (Oliver, 2014 (1990))

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