A little-known pamphlet, published for the first time in Vincent O’Malley’s latest book, sheds fresh light on one of the most tragic events in New Zealand history.
In 1879 the government pushed through a survey of lands on the Waimate Plains which had been nominally subject to confiscation fourteen years earlier but in practice occupied and used by Māori. That May, the people of Parihaka began ploughing up surveyed lands in the area in an act of non-violent resistance led by prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. The pair had founded the settlement of Parihaka in the 1860s as a place of refuge for all those affected by war and confiscation, and soon attracted supporters from Taranaki and beyond. But the actions of the Parihaka ploughmen drew an angry response from settlers in the area and in June the arrests began. By August around 200 men had been arrested. That same month the Maori Prisoners’ Trials Act, suspending the right of the accused to a speedy trial, was passed by Parliament. The first group of prisoners was sent to Dunedin that same month.
But the protests in Taranaki continued. By June 1880 the ploughmen had been replaced by fencers. They, too, were promptly arrested and imprisoned in the South Island without trial. A West Coast Commission was established to investigate any unfulfilled promises to Taranaki Māori. Native Minister John Bryce declared there were none. His uncompromising approach was too much for his fellow Cabinet ministers, and in January 1881 Bryce resigned. Frustrated at the failure to end the dispute, later that year Bryce’s colleagues turned to him again, this time giving him a free hand to deal with the people of Parihaka.
On 19 October 1881 a proclamation was issued, giving the Parihaka community two weeks to submit to the law or lose any lands they still held. Bryce was immediately sworn in as Native Minister to make preparations for the forthcoming confrontation. All of this took place as the Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon – a known critic of the government’s actions in Taranaki – returned to Wellington after visiting Fiji, landing just two-and-a-quarter hours after the signing of the proclamation. He was furious that the government, knowing he would never sign such a document, had rushed it through in his absence.
As speculation regarding the imminent invasion of their settlement intensified, Te Whiti and Tohu continued to urge their followers to act peacefully. A force consisting of nearly 1,600 Armed Constabulary and volunteers from throughout the country was assembled. Despite determined efforts by Bryce to prevent detailed press descriptions of what unfolded at Parihaka on the morning of 5 November 1881, two journalists managed to sneak into the settlement, witnessing and subsequently reporting on all that they saw.
One of the journalists was Samuel Croumbie-Brown (or Crombie-Brown). A special correspondent for the Lyttelton Times, Croumbie-Brown (who was born in Russia and had fought for the Union Army during the American Civil War) appears to have been a colourful and complex figure. Prior to the invasion, he had provided the government with a detailed report on how Parihaka might best be taken, having previously sought to ingratiate himself with Te Whiti. Rebuffed in his efforts to seek some kind of advisory role to the government, Croumbie-Brown switched sides yet again, becoming an outspoken critic of the Crown’s treatment of the people of Parihaka, and publishing an electrifying and compelling account of the invasion under John Bryce.
One day after the invasion, Croumbie-Brown responded to what he had witnessed in a different way, writing a poem that was subsequently printed and privately circulated. It appears that this document has not previously been published, and despite its undoubted historical value it seems to have slipped into obscurity:
THE RAID ON PARIHAKA
The history of the Parihaka outrage, divested of all verbiage (used for political purposes) is as follows: – A section of the English Colonists of the North Island of New Zealand had determined to despoil the friendly Natives of Taranaki of land to which they (the Colonists) possessed no claim either by right of conquest, or of so-called ‘legal’ confiscation. Certain men came into power as Ministers of the Crown who were favourable to the wishes of the aforesaid section of the community, yet dreaded to carry them into effect. One of their number, a farmer named John Bryce, notorious for his bitter hatred of the Native Race, succeeded, however, in inducing his colleagues to perpetrate an act that will ever disgrace the history of the colonization of New Zealand. On Saturday, Nov. 5, 1881, the loyal, peaceful, and prosperous village of Parihaka was surrounded by armed men; the Chiefs, who offered no resistance, were taken prisoners and treated with gross indignity. The huts were torn down; cultivations were trampled upon and destroyed; and the unfortunate natives were driven away, in many cases to starve. This was done in the name of Queen Victoria, but without the sanction of her representative, Sir Arthur Gordon, whose temporary absence from the Colony was meanly taken advantage of to perpetrate the deed. The principal Chief, Te Whiti [Te Whiti-o-Rongomai], had for many years preserved peace between the Natives and the alien race in Taranaki, and was engaged in so doing, both by precept and example, when seized and dragged to prison.
THE RAID ON PARIHAKA
There was bustle in the tented field, there was marching to and fro,
For Bryce had said ‘The time has come to strike the fatal blow –
Call it conquest, call it murder, bring it credit or disgrace
I care not, I have spoken, I will crush a hated race.’
There were breathings-out of slaughter, there were threatenings to smite;
‘What though Te Whiti preaches Peace – Are we not here to fight?
The fiat has gone forth that we shall possess the land:
Their cause may be a just one – Are we not a conquering band?’
Once was Peace in Parihaka, once was Plenty, once Content;
Now were armed men around them, and they knew not what it meant.
Their homes had been inherited; they were owners of the soil –
Why came these Pakeha blusterers to outrage and despoil?
They came because a shameless man had sworn a shameful deed
That day to do, though men should die, and breaking hearts should bleed –
‘I have said it, I have sworn it: my god is Party Power;
They may welter in their blood – I’m the Man and this the Hour.’
Now was grief in Parihaka, now was sadness, now dismay;
They had well received the Pakeha – the Pakeha came to slay:
Serried ranks were drawn around them, unsheathed was the sword
In the name of ‘Honest’ Bryce – ‘at the bidding of the Lord.’
And they silently awaited this march of martial men
Until their Chief was called upon by Bryce to yield, and then
Te Whiti rose in dignity and passed with noble grace
Unto his high captivity, unto an honoured place –
An honored place in History, for when the story’s told
Of Taranaki’s lust for land, her shameless greed of gold,
Te Whiti’s name will blazon forth the Champion of his race,
While Bryce’s stands the synonym of outrage and disgrace.
Plundered wharés, prisoned husbands, children homeless and unfed –
These be laurels in the crown that surmounts the conqueror’s head:
A worthless victory safely gained, a coward’s battle won
Without drawing of a sabre, without raising of a gun!
When the story of this wretched day in future times is told,
When those now aged are dead and gone, and those now young are old
‘Oh would to God’ the cry will be – a cry of baffled rage –
‘That we could tear from History’s book this black, disgraceful page.’
For I care not who may read it, I say it without fear,
Be there a heart within the man who bade these Maories ‘Clear’ –
Had tomahawks been brightly flashed, and bullets rent the air,
The first bullet that was fired should have found its billet there.
S. Croumbie-Brown. Parihaka, Nov. 6, 1881.
(Written after reading the evidence given against Te Whiti in the Police Court at New Plymouth.)
The evil is not finished, the lawless work not o’er,
Picked evidence declares in Court what’s tutored well before:
Meet partners in conspiracy against a fellow-man –
Tis fit that Perjury complete what Tyranny began.
S. C-B. Samuel Croumbie-Brown, ‘The Raid on Parihaka’, Edwards & Green, Wellington, 1881.
The raid on the peaceful community of Parihaka had been intended to end resistance to land confiscations at Taranaki. But Parihaka could not be destroyed so easily. Although Te Whiti and Tohu were imprisoned and later sent to the South Island, and their followers forcibly dispersed, they eventually returned. Resistance continued, along with further arrests. Parihaka remained a beacon of non-violent protest, bearing witness to the multiple injustices inflicted against Māori communities at Taranaki and elsewhere. Today it symbolises dignified and peaceful defiance against extraordinary provocation and violence.
This is an edited extract from Voices from the New Zealand Wars/He Reo Nō Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa by Dr Vincent O’Malley (Bridget Williams Books).