150 years ago today, McDonnell’s Campaign Begins. By Dave Rudd and Ivan Bruce

Image:The location of Pokaikai, shown in an extract from a campaign map 1861 – 1869, showing the location of British and AC redoubts and Maori pa and papakainga destroyed or attacked during the Taranaki land wars.

150 years ago today the colonial forces based in South Taranaki converged upon the redoubts at Manawapou, with the exception of the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, who remained in Patea.

Major McDonnell, with a cavalry escort went to Waingongoro (Ohawe) and met with the chief from the neighbouring village of Kauae, Wiremu Hukanui. Te Ua and Hone Pihama were at Pokaikai (the Wanganui Times calls it Otapawa, but Otapawa had been destroyed by Chutes forces at this point), on a peace mission. McDonnell gave Wiremu Hukanui a white handkerchief, a cartridge, and a percussion cap (he was also given a bottle of rum as a personal gift by one of the officers at the same time, and misinterpreted it as part of the message, delivering it along with the other items), one of which was to be returned to him by noon the next day, to indicate their intentions. Did they want the handkerchief (peace) or the cartridge? (war).

This is Wiremu Hukanui’s account of the event: (2 years later after McDonnell had been promoted to Lieut-Colonel)

“Lieut-Colonel McDonnell asked me, “For what purpose has Te Ua come to the Ngatiruanui District?” I replied, “I believe he has come by the instructions of the Governor, with a view to peace being made.” The Lieut-Colonel said “This is good.” Then the Lieut-Colonel said “Wiremu, her is a cartridge for you to take to Pokaikai, to Tito Hunataua.” I replied, ” I am afraid to go because of the wild men (Hauhaus).” He then gave me a cartridge, a percussion cap, a bottle of spirits and a white handkerchief, and pointing to the cartridge, the percussion cap and the bottle of spirits, he said “These three things are bad and destroy life.” Then, pointing to the white handkerchief, he said, “This means peace.” I then, taking all four articles, returned to Kauae, and I explained to the Natives there the meaning attached to the articles, and at the same time I called for a messenger who would volunteer to take the articles to Pokaikai. A native belonging to Kauae named Reupena Tahi volunteered to do so, and he started with the articles to Pokaikai.”

Fearing ambush, McDonnell did not wait for the response, and departed back to Manawapou that evening.

Tito Hunataua’s account of receiving the articles follows:

“On the morning of that day a man named Reupena Tahi came from Wiremu Hukanui, of Kauae, at the request of Lieut-Colonel McDonnell, to Pokaikai, bringing with him four articles, a cartridge, a percussion cap, a bottle of spirits, and a white pocket handkerchief, on which was written the words Rongo Pai (Peace). Te Ua was present in Pokaikai when Reupena Tahi arrived, and he said to the people “Which of these articles do you lay hold of” The reply was “The white handkerchief”. The three other articles were taken back by Reupena with a view to their being given to Lieut-Colonel McDonnell.”

The next day, McDonnell received a letter from Wiremu Hukanui, indicating that the cartridge had been returned, and that Hone Pihama and the others were waiting for him at Waingongoro to talk. McDonnell replied that he would be there early on the 28th.

150 Years ago today, it genuinely looked like peace may break out in South Taranaki…

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