The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Heke, Hoani
Heke, Hoani, was a New Zealand chief of high rank, intelligent and turbulent. He was married to a daughter of the famous Hongi, the devastator of the North Island after he had procured muskets and gunpowder in England during his visit in 1820. Alarmed by certain Government measures, Heke listened to the tales of mischief-making foreigners, who told him that the Pakehas would take the country by force and reduce the Maoris to the condition of serfs. They pointed to the British flag flying at Kororareka (Russell) as at once the symbol of English supremacy and Maori subjection. Heke's pride was wounded, while his apprehensions were aroused. He said he would test the matter by cutting down the flagstaff. "It had," he said, "neither bones nor blood, and could feel no pain." He summoned his followers, and in broad day carried his threat into execution, on Monday, July 8th, 1844. In consequence of this daring act about two hundred troops were sent from Sydney to the Bay of Islands, under the command of Colonel Hulme, to punish Heke for his outrage. Several chiefs, among whom was the ever-loyal Tamati Waka Nene, persuaded the Governor to restrain hostilities, and promised to pay for the flagstaff and become sureties for Heke's good behaviour for the future. The Governor accepted Heke's apology, but the latter felled the flagstaff a second and a third time. Again it was put up, and not only sheathed with iron, six feet high, but a block-house erected, and a guard of twenty soldiers placed in charge. Heke was now joined by Kawiti, an old warrior chief. They headed a force of eight hundred men, and encamped within a mile of the town of Kororareka, which had a population of four hundred souls. Several skirmishes took place between them and the "bluejackets" of H.M.S. Hazard, in one of which Lieutenant Philpotts (son of the late Bishop of Exeter) was taken prisoner. They took his pistols, danced round him, and then, returning him one of the pistols, let him go, bidding him to take more care of himself. Three months later Philpotts led the forlorn hope in the fatal attack on Ohaeawae Pa, and was killed. On March 10th a combined attack was made on the settlement, and after a sharp conflict the Maoris gained the day. But they showed great forbearance in the hour of victory. They not only allowed the inhabitants to withdraw to the Hazard in safety, but to carry with them all they could of their movables, and even helped them to do so. They of course appropriated all that was left, and sacked the town, burning all the houses, leaving only the two churches and parsonages standing. Thus was inaugurated a struggle between the Pakeha and Maoris, which, after uncertain intervals of peace, broke out from time to time, till it eventuated in the Maori war, which exceeded in duration the ten years' Trojan war, and cost the empire many millions sterling, besides a large expenditure of "British blood and treasure." On the whole, however, it must be admitted that, although war, in any shape, is a chapter of horrors, the British forces never met a more brave or chivalrous foe than the Maori. Hoani Heke was essentially a fighting chief. His success at the Bay of Islands whetted his appetite for further conquest, and he planned an expedition against the town of Auckland, which must have proved disastrous to the colonists but for the interference of the great Ngapuhi chief, Te Tirarau, an account of which will be found under the latter name. In the north Tamati Waka was marshalling his forces to keep Heke in check. In the engagements between them, the latter was wounded in the thigh, and his colleague, Kawiti, on one occasion, escaped only by feigning death. Hoani Heke never altogether recovered from the effects of his wound, but long before his death permanent peace had been established with the Ngapuhi tribe, the fighting being after wards further south. Heke was amongst the Maoris pardoned by proclamation, but held aloof from the Hintes for a considerable time. In July 1849 he wrote a letter to the Queen, dwelling on the necessity of adhering to the mutual relations established between George III. and Hongi, and deprecating the pouring out of innocent Maori blood by the quarrelsome foreigners. He died of consumption on August 6th, 1850, at the age of forty-two, a professing Christian.