1863, George Grey and Wiremu Tamihana

Sir George Grey, painted by Daniel Mundy, established British authority over New Zealand. (Alexander Turnbull Library)
Sir George Grey, painted by Daniel Mundy, established British authority over New Zealand. (Alexander Turnbull Library)

The first edition of the Herald came out on Friday November 13 1863. If the date seemed inauspicious for the paper, the year arguably had more far-reaching consequences than any other in New Zealand history.

It was the year the British Army invaded Waikato and fought a bloody battle against the defenders of the Kingitanga movement at Rangiriri. It was also the year the settler Parliament passed the New Zealand Settlements Act under which millions of hectares of Maori land were confiscated. The aftershocks of these events were still being felt in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

But there is no doubt who the Herald of 1863 would have picked as its first New Zealander of the Year: Governor George Grey, the central figure in establishing British authority over the land.

The newspaper praised Grey for attempting to preserve peace and laid the blame for all the trouble squarely at the feet of the "barbarous tribes", especially the King movement.

"It is fortunate in our humble opinion, that Sir George Grey was so firm," said the Herald, "because, having exhausted every means of establishing peace by peaceful efforts, his hands became the more honourably and completely unshackled to compel pacification, and to cause the enemy to pay the price of the war they had so determinately and unscrupulously rushed into, by confiscation of their conquered lands."

The battle of Rangiriri. (New Zealand Historic Places Trust, see thewaikatowar.co.nz)
The battle of Rangiriri. (New Zealand Historic Places Trust, see thewaikatowar.co.nz)


IN HINDSIGHT

Governor Grey would have seemed the right choice at the time, but not any more.

Eminent historian James Belich, in The New Zealand Wars, says his peace policy was really an indirect preparation for a war to remove the King movement, a solid obstacle to bringing Maori under British sovereignty and assimilating them with the settlers.

In 1995 the Crown apologised for the invasion and the subsequent confiscations, acknowledging that the fault lay with its representatives, and not the King Movement.

From the perspective of the 21st century, therefore, it is impossible to accept the original choice of Grey as New Zealander of the Year.

Wiremu Tamihana, painted by Gottfried Lindauer, was a 'peacemaker who was labelled a rebel'. (Auckland Art Gallery)
Wiremu Tamihana, painted by Gottfried Lindauer, was a 'peacemaker who was labelled a rebel'. (Auckland Art Gallery)

Instead we chose Wiremu Tamihana - more commonly known in the Pakeha press at the time as William Thompson - a Ngati Haua chief who, more truly than Grey, was a peacemaker caught up in a war not of his own making.

Tamihana was instrumental in creating the King movement as a means of resisting British alienation of the land. But he was known among the tribes as a peaceful man. His aim was not war but to broker an arrangement with the Crown under which Maori could live under their own laws and customs. He was regarded with suspicion by sections of the Pakeha community, the Herald at one point referring to his "well-known treachery".

But not everyone regarded him like this. When he died in 1866 the Rev Richard Taylor wrote: "There is something very sad in the death of this patriotic chief; a man of clear, straight-forward views; sad that a man, who possessed such an influence for good, should thus have been ignored by the Government, when, by his aid, had he been admitted to our councils, a permanent good feeling might have been established between the two races."

And even the Herald, though it still thought his policies wrong, ran an obituary which said, "we must give him full credit for sincerity of purpose and conscientiousness in asserting and endeavouring to maintain the rights of his fallen fellow countrymen".

History has been much kinder to him than it has been to George Grey. In Wiremu Tamihana, Rangatira Evelyn Stokes writes that he was a peacemaker labelled a rebel and his influence was undermined by the government. What is more, she says, his ideas endure.

"His vision is still valid: that of a Maori society in control of its own destiny, under a system of Maori law, working in partnership with Pakeha law, and participating in the benefits of Pakeha settlement".

With hindsight, then, Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi Te Waharoa is the New Zealander of the Year for 1863.

From the Herald archives:
A summary of 1863, New Zealand Herald, 31 December 1863

Letter to the editor, New Zealand Herald, 26 February 1864

Letter to the editor, New Zealand Herald, 19 May 1864

WIlliam Thompson criticised for treachery, New Zealand Herald, 11 October 1864

William Thompson obituary, New Zealand Herald, 5 February 1867

George Grey obituary, New Zealand Herald, 21 September 1898

Comment of George Grey, New Zealand Herald, 22 Spetember 1898

'The Kingitanga represents our history - and future', NZ Herald online

'The year Auckland went mad', NZ Herald online, 25 August 2010

Further reading:
George Grey biography, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Wiremu Tamihana biography, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Further viewing:
The Governor - The Reverend Traitor television drama series, New Zealand On Screen, 1977

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