Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE FLAGSTAFF WAR
 BESIDES the land troubles others now beset the governor. After
New Zealand became a British colony many changes
followed. Gradually the unseen power of Civilisation
laid hold upon the islands. The chiefs began to feel
uneasy. Something, they knew not what, was rising up
around them. Somehow their power was vanishing. Old
customs were slipping away. New and strange ones were
coming into use. The people were made to pay taxes, a
thing they found hard to understand. Ships coming to
New Zealand ports had to pay custom duties before
landing their goods. So tobacco and blankets grew dear,
whale ships almost ceased to come to the Bay of
Islands, where once they had crowded, and the trade of
the town Kororarika was almost ruined.
A vague fear and discontent spread among the people.
Then there were not wanting base white people who
pointed to the British flag, and told the dark
chieftains that there lay the cause of all their
sorrows. And so the idea took root that if only that
flag were removed the good old days would return again.
Near Kororarika, on the Bay of Islands, there lived a
young chief called Honi Heke. He had married the
daughter of the great chief Hongi, and, like him,
longed to be powerful among his people. He was restless
and clever, and he hated the white people. He was no
 ignorant savage, for the missionaries had taught him
much. But although at one time he became a Christian,
later he turned back to his heathen ways.
Proud, wild, and discontented Heke was ready to fight
any one. And when one day a woman of his tribe, who had
married a white man, called him a pig, he gathered
around him a hundred hot-headed young savages like
himself, and marching into Kororarika, he plundered the
white man's house, and carried off his wife. Then
having danced a war-dance, he and his followers cut
down the flagstaff, from which floated the Union Jack,
and departed rejoicing.
This was serious, and the governor resolved to put an
end to Heke's wild tricks. But in all New Zealand there
were not ninety soldiers. So he sent to Australia
begging for help. Sir George Gipps, the Governor of New
South Wales, at once sent a shipload of men and guns.
But before they came, Waka Nene and some other friendly
chiefs begged Fitzroy not to fight.
"We will guard the flagstaff," they said. "We are old
folks and faithful. We will make the young folks be
Then at a great meeting twenty-five chiefs apologised
for Heke's behaviour, but he himself did not come.
Instead he wrote a letter which was only half an
apology, for he said the flagstaff was his own. It had
been brought, he said, from the forest by his own
people, and had been meant, not for the British flag,
but for the flag of New Zealand.
However, Fitzroy accepted the apology such as it was.
The chiefs, in token of their submission, laid their
guns at his feet. He gave them back again making a long
speech, in which he warned the Maoris not to believe or
be led astray by the tales of wicked white men.
 After this, Governor Fitzroy took away the custom
duties and made Kororarika a free port once more. He
hoped in this way to bring wealth and trade to the town
again, and make the people more contented. And when
they heard the news, the white settlers were so glad
that they used up all the candles in the town to make
an illumination to show their joy. So peace was once
more made. The soldiers were sent away, a new flagstaff
was set up, and again the Union Jack floated out on the
But before many months had gone Heke once more gathered
his men, and the flagstaff was cut down a second time.
Heke hated it as the sign that the Maoris had no more
power in the land. "God made this land for us and for
our children!" he cried. "Are we the only people that
God has made without a land to live upon?"
Again Governor Fitzroy sent to Sydney for help. He also
offered a reward of £100 to any one who would bring
Heke prisoner to him.
This made Heke's followers very angry. "Is Heke a
pig," they asked, "that he should be bought and sold?"
And he in his turn offered £100 for the governor's
Again two hundred soldiers came from New South Wales.
Again the flagstaff was set up. And this time it was
hooped and barred with iron, and a blockhouse was built
near in which a guard was stationed.
All this made the Maoris more sure than ever that the
flagstaff was really the cause of their troubles. "See,"
they said, "the flagstaff does mean power, or
why should the Pakehas set it up again and guard it so
All the wild and discontented young men now gathered to
Heke, who had sworn the downfall of the flagstaff, and
of the power of which it was the sign.
It was in vain that the missionaries, who had always
 been peacemakers, tried to make peace now. Printed
copies of the Waitangi treaty were sent to the Maori
rebels. But Heke would neither listen nor give in. "It
is all soap," he said, "very smooth and oily, but
treachery is hidden at the bottom of it." One Sunday
morning a missionary went to his camp to preach. His
text was, "Whence come wars and fightings." Heke
listened to it quietly, then he said, "Go, speak that
sermon to the British, they need it more than we."
Days went on, and still the Union Jack floated from the
hill above the town. Still Heke and his men lay
encamped near, breathing defiance. The people of
Kororarika, well knowing that Heke never broke his
word, began to drill, and prepared to give him a hot
welcome when he came. But in the end he took them
unawares. One morning in March, before the sun was up,
two hundred men came creeping, creeping up the hill.
The guard was taken by surprise. Before the officer in
charge knew what was happening, the enemy were in
possession of the blockhouse, and the soldiers were
being driven downhill.
Then the axes went to work, and for the third time the
The townspeople armed themselves, and with the soldiers
and marines from the warship which lay in the bay,
defended themselves right bravely. But the Maoris had
the best position on the flagstaff hill, and after
hours of fighting, men, women, and children fled to the
ship, leaving their town to the mercy of the foe.
Great was the joy of the savages when they saw the
white folk go. They danced, and sang, and made grand
speeches. Then dashing upon the town they began to
As the fighting was now stopped, many of the people
 ventured back again in the hope of saving some of their
goods. The Maoris were now perfectly good natured, and
did not try to hurt them. Then might be seen the
strange sight of Maori and white man carrying off goods
from the same house, the one trying to save his own,
the other taking whatever he had a mind to take. But
before long fire broke out. It raged among the wooden
buildings, and Kororarika was soon little more than a
Homeless and penniless, many of them having nothing
left to them but the clothes they wore, the settlers
fled to Auckland. Here something like a panic seized
hold of the people. Many of them sold their farms for
almost nothing and fled from the land in terror.
But the Maoris followed their victory by no cannibal
feast. Instead they allowed the missionaries to bury
the dead. They even helped some women and children who
had been left behind to join their friends. Indeed
through all the war the British could not but admire
the courteous, generous behaviour of their savage foes.