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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.


Disciples of Te Ua Stir Up Unrest—Murder of Rev. C. S. Volkner—War Breaks Out on East Coast—Spread of Strife to Poverty Bay—Siege of Waerenga-a-Hika.

Disaffection in a more virulent form spread like wildfire throughout the East Coast districts following upon the arrival at Opotiki on 28 February, 1865, of Kereopa and Patara (Butler) and some other Taranaki adherents of Horopapera te Ua (the originator of Hauhauism). The party, which was accompanied by two white men (believed to be military deserters) had journeyed via Taupo and Whakatane. Many Bay of Plenty natives at once embraced the new cult. The movement also bestirred the Kingites and those who had never accepted British rule. Bishop W. Williams held that a common fear—that the Europeans intended to deprive them of their land and impose their domination over them—bound the various sections.

On 1 March the Rev. C. S. Volkner returned to Opotiki from Auckland. He had been to see his wife, whom he had taken to the northern centre early in 1864 on account of the growing unrest. The Rev. T. S. Grace (who had only recently been driven from Pukawa, Taupo) accompanied him. During Mr. Volkner's absence the contents of his home had been put up by auction. Upon Kereopa's orders—Patara was away on a visit to Tunapahore—the missionaries were at once seized.

Next day Mr. Volkner was taken to his church. Kereopa said that it was a command from the Hauhau god (spoken through a European soldier's head which he and Patara had brought with them) that the minister should be hanged. Mr. Volkner was escorted to a willow tree nearby. He asked for his prayer book, which was sent for. Then he knelt down and prayed for himself and for those who were about to slay him. Whilst he was shaking hands with those standing about, a rope, which had been attached to one of the stoutest branches of the tree, was placed around his neck by Pokeno and he was hoisted up.

When the body was taken down the head was removed by Heremitu and taken into the crowded church. Kereopa filled the chalice with blood from it. The head was then placed on the shelf of the pulpit. Even to-day the stains show where blood trickled down the front. Taking up the chalice, Kereopa (who was standing in the pulpit) drank from it. He then sprinkled his deluded converts with some of the blood. He gained the designation “Kai-whatu” (“The Eye-Eater”) because he page 216 swallowed the missionary's eyes. Eleven days after the shocking murder the head and body were buried at the back of the church. Mr. Grace conducted the funeral. Some years later, when it became necessary to enlarge the church, the remains were not disturbed. The grave now occupies a position inside the rails of the altar.

In a letter to Mr. McLean (1/4/1865), Captain Harris commented: “Mr. Volkner's death is very sad. He, poor fellow! differed from many of his cloth. He always held the Waitara war to be just, and that the only way to save these people would be to subject them.”

The Hauhau emissaries turned up on the outskirts of Poverty Bay on 13 March as the guests of T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki. Two days later a second contingent from Taranaki, which had journeyed via Ruatahuna, arrived. W. Williams (Christianity Among the New Zealanders) says that even the better-disposed local natives, although disgusted on account of the murder of Mr. Volkner, became spellbound.

“When the worship of these fanatics was practised in Poverty Bay,” he added, “it was followed by a most bitter lamentation unlike anything ever witnessed there before. It was a kind of mourning on account of those who had been slain in the war with the English and for the land which had been taken from them in the Waikato. It was commenced by the Taranaki natives, but the effect was overpowering upon the bystanders, who joined in it by degrees … There was a chord touched which vibrated in the native breast. It was that of aroha ki te iwi (love of country) and they could not resist it.”

Bishop Williams informed Sir George Grey that, at a meeting on 14 March, he came in contact with Kereopa, who endeavoured to excuse himself by averring that it was the Opotiki natives who had killed Mr. Volkner. When Kereopa had wished to shake hands and make peace, he had told him that he could not shake hands with a murderer—and that he could see the blood still wet upon his hands. Kereopa had then adopted a threatening attitude. It was the Bishop's opinion that Patara, who was absent when the murder was committed, must have known of the intention to commit it. [Subsequently, Patara obtained a Government appointment in Taranaki!]

A combined Pai-marire karakia (incantation service) at Patutahi was witnessed by Henry Williams, junior. It is described in Life of Henry Williams (Carleton), vol. 2, p. 348:

“A pole on which the Pai-marire flag was hoisted had been set up. The party marched up and stood around. A tiu (priest) stood by the pole on ground a little above the rest. The party marched around three times, their eyes fixed, with steady gaze, upon the pole as they chanted a song. Then they gathered into a compact mass while the tiu gave out a prayer from a book, the people making the responses in unison with great earnestness and with many inflexions of the page 217 voice. Towards the close, the priest buried his face in a cambric handkerchief, his breast heaving deep with emotion. Up jumped an old cannibal heathen in pure Maori costume—kokowai (red ochre)—and all sang a song of the old time. The friendly bystanders could no longer resist and came rushing into the ring. Kereopa the Eyeeater now came forward. Those who desired to see the head of Captain Lloyd were invited into an adjoining house, where, by ventriloquism, it was made to speak … This all occurred about two miles from the Bishop's mission station at Waerenga-a-Hika.”

None of the more important natives who temporarily turned to Hauhauism was more ashamed in later years than Henare Ruru, senior. Just before his death in February, 1873, he explained that the reason why he enlisted under the Hauhau banner was that Kereopa told him that he would be cured of his lameness if he made a nightly bed companion of the murdered pakeha's preserved head, which had been brought from Taranaki. However, as the presence of the gruesome trophy failed to relieve him of his malady, he had, he said, cast it aside with disgust.