HEKE POKAI, Hone
A new biography of Heke Pokai, Hone Wiremu appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Hone Heke was the son of Kau (brother of the chief Pokai), and of Tupanapana. He was a nephew of Hongi Hika and could thus trace his ancestry back to the original Arawa canoe from Hawaiki. Heke married Ono (baptised Lydia), the daughter of Pehii. About this time Heke was himself baptised at Paihia by Henry Williams, taking the name John (Hone). During Lydia's lifetime Heke led a quiet and studious life, but after her death he increased his mana by marrying his cousin Hariata (Harriet), the daughter of Hongi Hika.
As a young warrior Heke distinguished himself in battle at Kororareka in 1830 and again at Tauranga in 1833. He was wounded in this latter skirmish and had to be taken back to the Bay of Islands. He fought Pomare in 1837, narrowly avoiding capture. Heke then returned to Kaikohe, where he levied a toll on travellers. He further increased his mana by assisting Porirua against Parakaraeo. Parakaraeo had sold to the Government a piece of land which Heke's and Porirua's relatives claimed. In the ensuing skirmish Parakaraeo was routed.
Although Heke was one of the first and most influential chiefs to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, he was annoyed to find that his revenue from the whaling ships was being diverted to the Crown and that his land sales came under the scrutiny of the Government Commission. In 1841, when a European family was murdered by Maketu, the European settlers demanded his arrest. Heke, however, advocated open revolt, but the moderate counsels of Tamati Waka Nene and other Ngapuhi chiefs prevailed. Heke's anger smouldered until, in 1844, two American whalers were seized for smuggling and their crews convicted and fined heavily. Annoyed by the severity of these fines, the Acting American Consul suggested to Heke that the British flag at Kororareka was to blame, for it was by virtue of that flag that the country had passed to the Queen. Heke fomented a quarrel against his cousin Kaimare and set out with a taua (war party) against him, but Kaimare suggested that the taua might be better employed against the British. Accordingly, at daybreak on 8 July 1844, Heke's men cut down the flagstaff. Waka Nene and some of the Ngapuhi chiefs protested against this action and Heke apologised and made reparation.
Heke then sent Kawiti, the fighting chief of Kawakawa, a green mere smeared with filth, suggestive of the indignities which had been heaped upon the Maori. Kawiti agreed to join Heke in his war against the British and his men commenced plundering the settlers. Heke denounced looting, but, being jealous of the reputation Kawiti was gaining, decided to seek the limelight by once more cutting down the flagstaff. On 9 January 1845 he did so and the Government offered £100 reward for his capture. Meanwhile a new flagpole was erected and Waka Nene told the Colonial Secretary, Dr Sinclair, that he would arrest Heke should he make another attempt on the flagpole. Ten days later Heke left his men at the foot of the hill, walked to the summit through Nene's men, and cut the back stays of the flagstaff, which fell. Nene's men, faced with the choice of killing a chief for his treatment of an inanimate flagstaff, refused to take action. A new flagstaff was erected and guarded by a blockhouse, while a second blockhouse and a battery were placed lower down the hill. Heke now joined forces with Kawiti at Te Uruti, near Kororareka, where they planned two diversionary movements to draw away the soldiers guarding Kororareka, leaving Heke free to move his men up the flagstaff hill. The surprise was complete and the flagstaff fell for the fourth time. After some fierce fighting the Europeans abandoned Kororareka to the Maoris and reports reached Auckland that Heke and Kawiti had joined forces and that a joint attack on the city was imminent.
Fearing retaliation Heke and Kawiti built a pa at Te Ahuahu, while Nene built another at Okaihau to keep an eye on developments. There were several minor skirmishes in which Heke was worsted. He tried to make peace with Nene but would not accept the terms offered. On hearing that the Governor had dispatched troops to assist Nene, Heke abandoned Te Ahuahu and took up a strong position at Puketutu, where he beat off an ill-conceived attack made by British troops and Nene's men under Lieutenant-Colonel Hulme. The soldiers withdrew to their ships and Heke returned to Te Ahuahu. Taonui, who was left to watch movements, discovered one day that most of Heke's men were foraging near Ohaeawai – he thereupon attacked and captured the pa, where he was soon joined by Nene. In the meantime H. Williams and others were endeavouring to persuade Heke to sue for peace, but he and Kawiti proceeded to build a stronger pa at Ohaeawai. Heke was by this time de facto “King” of the northern districts and he issued an arrogant “fight if you like” challenge to the Governor. All this time Nene's men carried on a series of skirmishing attacks on Heke's foraging parties. The most serious of these, on 12 June 1845, led to Heke's suffering a humiliating defeat at Pukenui. Nevertheless, as his mana had risen greatly in previous months, Heke decided to make one great attempt to overwhelm Nene. Although Heke was aided by 450 warriors with their chiefs, his forces were repulsed. On the other wing Heke's lieutenant, Te Kahakaha, was mortally wounded in combat against Taonui. When Heke heard of this he dashed to his friend's side, but was himself wounded and had to be carried from the field.
Heke was not in Ohaeawai when Colonel Despard attacked the pa, though he and his men joined Kawiti after the soldiers were driven off. On 19 July 1845 Heke petitioned for peace, but argued that the Europeans were at fault. Kawiti also desired peace, but not at any price; he therefore entrenched himself in an ingenious fortification at Ruapekapeka. In view of these activities Heke's peace moves appeared to be a device to cloak further military preparations. Governor Grey made his own offer of peace and gave the two chiefs a fixed time to consider it. Their reply, when it came, was insulting and the war continued. On 10 January 1846 Ruapekapeka (“The Bat's Nest”) was besieged and shelled. Heke drew his men off into the forest, but Kawiti preferred to fight on. On the following day Heke's men held Christian services in the forest while Kawiti's rested in their trenches. Nene's men and some soldiers crept into the pa and captured it, after meeting little more than token resistance. With the fall of Ruapekapeka the war in the North was over. Heke and Kawiti sued for peace and Grey, after consulting with Nene, granted a full and unconditional pardon. Kawiti accepted this graciously, but not so the proud Heke, who wished the Governor to meet him and accept his submission. After some delicate negotiations Grey met Heke and accepted his greenstone mere as a token of surrender.
At this period Heke settled at Kaikohe, where he petitioned Queen Victoria to right the wrongs he had suffered. The Queen, however, was advised to make no reply. Heke now married again, much to Hariata's annoyance. Nevertheless, she nursed him until his death on 6 August 1850. Heke was given a Christian burial service, after which his body was interred in a secret cavern located, so it is said, on the volcanic hill, Te Putahu.
A tall, clever, and splendidly proportioned warrior, Hone Heke was chivalrous in war and much respected as a leader and chief. His pride and restless ambition were the only real flaws which marred his greatness.
by Robert Ritchie Alexander, M.A., DIP.ED.(N.Z.), B.T.(CALCUTTA), PH.D.(MINNESOTA), Teachers' Training College, Christchurch.
- Heke's War and the North, Burrows, R. (1886)
- New Zealand's First War, Buick, T. L. (1926)
- Hone Heke's Rebellion, Rutherford, J. (1947).