Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Waikato War myth?

The following, from the NZ Herald of 19 January 1864, startled me. Perhaps it shouldn't have -- we are, of course, by now to the brutality of martial law in times of conflict. But, this account seemed utterly incredible, even so.

From our Mangatawhire [sic] correspondent's letter, which has been crowded out with others, we take the following interesting extract:-

"The General seems to have begun to show the friendly natives that the playing the spy, and carrying two faces will do no longer. The following are the facts of the case as I heard them about a Maori spy. As your readers are very well aware from my former letters, the mail was carried from Head Quarters of the army across country to Raglan, by friendly natives. The postman goes twice a day, and it appears that one of the natives has been in the habit of coming to the camp among the soldiers, and passing himself off as the postman. While he was in camp, he had been in the habit of making enquiries of the number of troops at the different posts. Suspicion having been raised against him, a party was set to watch him, and at last the gentleman was caught. A drum-head court martial was held over him, and the result was that he was sentenced to die. The whole of the natives of Te Wheoro's tribe were drawn up in line; the prisoner was brought up, the word 'fire' was given, and the spy fell a lifeless corpse."

Not only a court martial and death penalty, but the British had the local Maori be the firing squad? Ah, but it seems that this was all just rumour in the wind.

This from the Southern Cross, rival of the Herald, 27 January 1864, the report of a correspondent from Tuikaramea:
"Of course I am quite aware that it has appeared in the columns of a contemporary of yours that the natives had already left their position, and had gone nobody knows where. This was, indeed, interesting news to us, but it was considered extremely strange that the first intelligence of it should be supplied by a correspondent about 100 miles down the river, in place of coming from some trustworthy "friendly" here, who had visited Piko Piko, and could assert the enemy were not there. The terribly graphic account, however, of the capture and execution of a Maori spy here, and other equally true little incidents occuring at the front, so captivatingly told by this Maungatawhiri correspondent, are so devoid of truth that it would only be a waste of time further to allude to them."
 So -- it seems it pays not to go by what a correspondent "reports" to those 19th century newspapers.

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