Hōne Heke

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Hōne Heke

Also Known As: "Hōne Wiremu Heke Pōkai"
Birthdate: (45)
Birthplace: Pakaraka, Northland, North Island, New Zealand
Death: August 6, 1850 (41-49)
Kaikohe, Northland, North Island, New Zealand (tuberculosis (TB))
Place of Burial: Pakaraka, Northland, North Island, New Zealand
Immediate Family:

Son of Tupanapana and Te Kona
Husband of Hariata (Rongo) Rongomai and Ono Riria (Lydia) Te Riria Pahi (Pokai)
Father of Marianne Heke and Hoani
Brother of Tuhirangi; Peia and Tainga-rui

Occupation: Kohutaha
Managed by: Christopher Leonard Patterson
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Hōne Heke

Hōne Wiremu Heke Pōkai (?–1850). Biography by Freda Rankin Kawharu [first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990] https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1h16/heke-pokai-hone-wiremu

Heke Pokai was born at Pakaraka, near the Bay of Islands, probably after the death of his mother's brother Pokaia, after whom he was named, at the battle of Moremonui (also known as Te Kai-a-te-karoro and Te Haenga-o-te-one), at Maunganui Bluff, in 1807 or 1808. His parents were Te Kona and Tupanapana; he was the third of their children. His brothers, Tuhirangi and Peia, were considerably older. His sister, Taingarui, died at an early age. His major tribal affiliation was with Nga Puhi, and also with the hapu Ngati Rahiri, Ngai Tawake, Ngati Tautahi, Te Matarahurahu and Te Uri-o-Hua. Although as a third son he did not have the authority of the first born, his mana as a descendant of Rahiri was beyond dispute, and it was further enhanced by the reputation he gained through his own energy and prowess.

Heke was of high standing in the district extending from Kaikohe to Waimate North, Pakaraka, Waitangi, Paihia and Rawhiti. As one belonging to a senior line of descent, he had rights of use, control and trusteeship in these places. He was mainly associated with Kaikohe, where he spent his early years, living first at Pa Te Oro, one of Pokaia's pa, on what is now known as Kaikohe hill.

He was still a babe in arms when Pa Te Oro was attacked and sacked by a Ngati Whatua war party. Heke and his mother, Te Kona, were taken captive and tied to a puriri tree, which is still standing at the place known as Te Herenga, in Kaikohe. Hongi Hika's father, Te Hotete, crept up to Rewharewha and held a mere to his head. For his life to be spared, Rewharewha had to give Te Hotete a favour; this was to release Te Kona and Heke. Some of the survivors from Pa Te Oro, including Te Kona with her young son, sought refuge in Pakinga pa. In those early years Heke also spent time on the coast, the territory of his paternal great-grandfather, Kauteawha, of Ngati Rahiri. In adult life he built his own village, Raihara, where the Kaikohe Borough Council's offices now stand.

As a youth Heke was quick and intelligent, and a diligent pupil in the Kerikeri Church Missionary Society mission school, which he attended in 1824 and 1825. The missionaries found him mischievous, and even troublesome and surly. He was well built, and about six feet tall. Of the missionaries, Henry Williams had the greatest influence on him and was something of a father figure while Heke lived at Paihia. After Heke returned to Kaikohe in 1837, Williams continued to advise and counsel him.

Heke's marriage to Ono, daughter of Nga Puhi leader Te Pahi, occurred during the years of calm spent with the missionaries. They had two children, a son, Hoani (Hone), and a daughter, Marianne. Heke and Ono were baptised on 9 August 1835, Ono taking the name Riria (Lydia), and Heke the names Hoani (usually rendered as Hone) and Wiremu, although he continued to use his birth name, Pokai. The baptismal record described their 'Quality, Trade or Profession' as 'Lady – native chief' and 'Gentleman – native chief'. Marianne's baptism followed on 23 August. These baptismal names all came from the family of Henry Williams. Heke acquired a deep knowledge of the Scriptures, and often referred to them in later years. His powers of oratory led him to become a lay reader of the Church of England.

Riria died soon after her baptism, and their two children did not survive infancy. Heke then married Hariata (Harriet) Rongo, Hongi Hika's daughter, in the Kerikeri chapel on 30 March 1837. She was a forceful character, inheriting much of her father's drive and self-confidence; she brought her own mana to the relationship. She too had been influenced by close contact with early settlers and missionaries, and had lived for some years with the family of James Kemp, a CMS missionary.

Heke remained a warrior, despite his conversion to Christianity. He had distinguished himself in his first battle at Kororareka (Russell) in 1830. In 1833 he took part in Titore's expedition against Otumoetai, at Tauranga, where he was wounded and returned home. Later, in 1837, he fought against Pomare II and Te Mau-paraoa at Otuihu, where he narrowly escaped capture. His skill, bravery and qualities of leadership were by then firmly established.

In 1840 Lieutenant Governor William Hobson arrived at the Bay of Islands to negotiate an agreement with Maori chiefs so that British sovereignty could be extended to New Zealand. He presented to the assembled chiefs the document since known as the Treaty of Waitangi. There were two versions, one in Maori and the other in English. Those who signed the Maori version did so after considerable explanation and discussion, and in the belief that they understood the nature of the transaction. They believed that the treaty protected their rights, recognised their trusteeship of the land and gave them the rights and privileges of British subjects, in exchange for their allegiance to the Crown. Their rangatiratanga, they believed, was guaranteed. On 6 February 1840, after much debate, Heke became the first of the 45 influential northern chiefs to sign.

After the signing of the treaty, discontent grew among many Maori. When the capital was shifted from the Bay of Islands to Auckland many economic benefits were lost. The introduction of customs duties forced up prices, and revenue from shipping levies now went to the government. The felling of kauri trees was banned for a time and under government control land sales tapered off. Heke was incensed to see his people suffer in the ensuing depression, and to see Maori methods of enforcing law and order displaced by British practices. The trial and hanging of Maketu, son of the northern chief Ruhe, in 1842 for the murder of a European family highlighted the change. It became evident to Heke that chiefly authority was becoming subservient to that of the British Crown. The British flag became a symbol of Maori despair. Accordingly, at daybreak on 8 July 1844, Te Haratua, Heke's second in command, led his men to cut down the flagstaff at Kororareka, which Heke had previously given to fly a Maori flag. Although there was a common cause for concern among Nga Puhi, some chiefs were opposed to his actions. Foremost among them was Tamati Waka Nene. In Auckland Governor Robert FitzRoy asked for military aid from New South Wales.

Heke wrote a cryptic letter to FitzRoy; he said that he meant to improve his behaviour and replace the flagstaff. The flagstaff was replaced, but again cut down by Heke, on 9–10 January 1845; this happened a third time on 19 January. In early February a military presence was established in Kororareka, with one blockhouse guarding the fortified flagpole and a second, with a battery, placed further down the hill. In March fighting began between the British and Heke, who had combined with Kawiti. Kawiti created a diversion, as did a section of Te Kapotai hapu, and Heke cut down the offending pole for the fourth and final time, on 11 March 1845. Fighting with the soldiers was fierce, yet the town remained untouched.

After the inhabitants had been evacuated, the naval vessel Hazard bombarded the town. Although John Bedggood, one of 'Heke's pakeha', was able to enter the town with an escort provided by Heke and collect the life savings of a trader, the town was sacked and looted by British and Maori forces supporting the government, and by those resisting it. Heke drew an imaginary line to the south of the town and ordered that nothing should be destroyed beyond it. The Anglican church and house, the Roman Catholic bishop's house and printing press, and various other buildings and cottages were saved.

After the sack of Kororareka Heke moved inland to his pa Te Ahuahu, also known as Pukenui, near Lake Omapere. He knew that government forces would soon act against him, and ordered the construction of a new fortified pa, which he called Puketutu, near the hill Te Mawhe. In the meantime Nene and his men had also moved inland to a pa at Okaihau. There was frequent skirmishing between the two forces, but not of an extreme kind. They fought only during the day and sometimes stopped by agreement.

By the end of April 1845 Colonel William Hulme had arrived at the Bay of Islands with some 460 soldiers, marines and volunteers. They trekked to Okaihau, two miles from Heke's pa, in appalling weather. Heke waited for an attack behind the impenetrable defences of his pa. He received the Reverend Robert Burrows on at least two occasions. Burrows hoped to make peace, but knowing that only surrender would satisfy the British commander, Heke declined.

On 8 May 1845 an attack was mounted, with rockets firing somewhat erratically over Heke's position. Kawiti's men engaged a storming party outside the pa. After fierce fighting, including a bayonet charge, and continual heavy firing from the pa, it became evident that Heke's plan would succeed. Hulme retreated, his men cold, hungry and demoralised. The next day Heke called for Burrows to give the British dead a Christian burial.

Heke returned to Te Ahuahu pa and began to build another pa at Ohaeawai. Skirmishing with Nene continued. On 12 June, when Heke was away replenishing his food supplies, Makoare Te Taonui, a Hokianga chief and an ally of Nene, realised that Te Ahuahu was not defended and took it. Heke was enraged that his pa was under Nene's control and fought bitterly to regain it.

Support for Heke had increased after he had withdrawn from Puketutu. His Ngati Tautahi kinsman Te Kakaha (Kahakaha), formerly a staunch ally of Hongi Hika, joined him. During a battle Heke heard that Te Kakaha had been mortally wounded and went to his assistance, despite the danger. The dying old man reaffirmed his support for Heke before being carried away. The tohunga Papahurihia with his followers also assisted, but the tohunga saw it as an ill omen when Heke picked up an enemy gun smeared with red. His fears proved correct when Heke fell, severely wounded in the thigh. Those who bore him away believed that the incantation of the tohunga made them invisible. Heke's kinsman by marriage, Wi Pohe, from Whangarei, was killed in the fighting and Te Haratua suffered serious injury but survived.

Heke was taken to Kaikohe and the healing waters of Ngawha, at Ohaeawai. Both Henry Williams and Robert Burrows visited him. His illness was great and the people of Tautoro took him to their chief and senior tohunga, Kuao, Tamati Pehikura and others, all of whom had supported Heke. Matter from the wound was buried; so great was Heke's mana that the site became tapu. To this day the tapu has not been lifted. Later a stone wall was built around the spot, which is never used for gardens or domestic purposes.

During his convalescence Heke continued his fight by means of the written word, sending letters to Robert FitzRoy, George Grey, and Henry Williams and other missionaries. He told FitzRoy that his fight was not against Europeans. He also petitioned for peace. FitzRoy made a demand for land as compensation, which Heke rejected. After the dismissal of FitzRoy in late September, a harder line was taken by his successor, Grey. Heke did not take as conciliatory a tone with Grey, but he made the same demands for Maori rights to be respected. 'God made this country for us. It cannot be sliced; if it were a whale it might be sliced. Do you return to your own country, which was made by God for you. God made this land for us; it is not for any stranger or foreign nation to meddle with this sacred country.' Grey found this letter highly offensive. Kawiti meanwhile had gone ahead with the construction of a new fortified pa at Ruapekapeka. He, too, had sought reconciliation without acknowledging blame. But war broke out again, this time with a larger, better organised British force assisted by Nene. Heke was absent from the first part of this last battle in the north; he arrived with his force of 60 men on 10 January 1846. He had, however, been there before the fighting broke out, and had kept in close contact with Kawiti.

The bombardment of Ruapekapeka had been continuous for two weeks when a breach was made in the defences on 10 January. The British commanding officer, Colonel Henry Despard, and Grey put about the story that the pa had been taken by assault on Sunday, 11 January, and that an attempt to regain it had been repulsed. In fact the pa had been deserted save for Kawiti and a handful of others. Earlier accounts have it that Heke had led his followers outside the pa for Christian worship. However, the pa was without provisions or ammunition, and the more likely reason for its being empty was that there had been an organised withdrawal, in the hope that the soldiers would follow and be ambushed by Heke and his men in the dense bush, also fortified, on the other side of the pa.

Claims that Heke left the field of battle a beaten and broken man are groundless. On the contrary, his mana had increased and was maintained throughout the rest of his life. He and Kawiti had carefully chosen their battle sites and made successful strategic plans. They had made no attempt to intensify the war or involve resident Europeans; indeed, Heke took measures to protect them. Damage to property was minimal; the same cannot be said of damage caused by the occupying troops at Waimate North.

About a week after the withdrawal from Ruapekapeka, Heke, Kawiti and Nene met at the pa of the neutral chief Pomare II and agreed to seek peace. Nene was to act as intermediary between the resistance leaders and the government, and went to Auckland to tell the governor that they had made peace. Grey issued what he called a pardon, and did not insist on the confiscation of land. He let it be known that the punishment already meted out to the 'rebels' was sufficient. Within four months peace was made with Kawiti, but Heke refused to go as a suppliant to Grey. More than two years were to pass before the two met at Burrows's mission house at Waimate North in 1848. To mark the occasion Heke presented Grey with his greenstone mere, not so much as a mark of respect and an emblem of peace, but as a token of acceptance of Grey's right to be in New Zealand and of Heke's expectation that the Queen's representative would honour the treaty. Symbolically, in Heke's eyes, by accepting the gift Grey was also accepting the responsibility of trusteeship.

Later, while living with his people at Tautoro and Kaikohe, Heke continued his prolific output of letters. Through his letters he was reconciled with Henry Williams. However, Williams expressed his concern over the influence on Heke of Papahurihia's spiritual teachings; in referring to Heke's illness, which was taking its toll, Williams showed more solicitude for Heke's spiritual well-being than for his physical health. He urged Heke to 'let that song of darkness remain a song of darkness'. That Heke was influenced by Papahurihia is not in question. Whether that influence was contrary to Christian belief is another matter.

In his later years Heke was afflicted with tuberculosis; this was to cause his death. Yet he continued to administer justice and command the respect due to a powerful chief and leader of his people. At Tautoro, shortly before his return to Kaikohe, Heke took another wife, possibly Kahutaha, although still legally married to Hariata. His adherence to Christianity probably presented him with a moral dilemma, but the death of his two children made him want an heir. This was a hope that remained unfulfilled and the marriage did not last. After his return to Kaikohe, Hariata's anger erupted in physical assault, to which Heke meekly offered no resistance. Having expressed her anger, she nursed and cared for him until his death.

Even in the latter stages of his illness Heke remained in contact with those about him and continued to write letters. His last letters to Grey have an affectionate tone and suggest that they regarded each other with respect. They express Heke's hope for them both, and affirm his faith. 'Salutation to you – I have received your kind letter to me. This is my letter expressing my love to you. My disease is great, but do not grieve about that. This is not the ever lasting abode of the body. Let God's will be done to us two. I will not say many more words because I am very ill. Give my regards to your wife, Lady Grey.'

The missionary Richard Davis of Kaikohe gave spiritual support in the last months of Heke's life. Heke's people remained close to him. Towards the end people from near and far converged on Kaikohe. Shortly before he died, in answer to his people's questions as to where he would recommend them to live after his death, Heke replied: 'In everlasting life.'

He died on 6 August 1850. Claim and counter-claim were made for his body. Davis's request to commit him in Christian burial was refused, but he was allowed to read parts of the funeral service, before the body was taken away. There has been much speculation about Heke's final resting place. It was said that he had been interred in the volcanic cone Putahi, just out of Kaikohe, and on the other hand that he had been taken to Pakaraka because of his reconciliation with Henry Williams. In fact he was buried, in complete secrecy, in the burial ground called Kaungarapa, at Pakaraka. Here Heke joined notable tribal leaders of the past. Erana Pare, widow of Nareta, a grandson of Heke's brother Peia, explained in her old age that when people were taken to Kaungarapa, the bearers were met by the lizard Papa. So intense was the tapu, that all clothing had first to be removed.

Heke defended those Maori values which he saw being threatened by the colonial government. He considered that the contract entered into between the chiefs and the Queen was not being honoured, and that government policies were injurious to Maori. He saw the British flag as the symbol of Maori subjugation, and defied what it stood for by cutting it down. His actions were not aimed at the European community, whose presence he welcomed, but at the government. He resisted the government in battle and in letters. By the time he retired to Kaikohe, his actions had made a powerful statement about his people's rights to self-determination.


Hōne Wiremu Heke Pōkai (c1807 - 6 August 1850) was a Māori rangatira (chief) and war leader in Northern New Zealand. He is considered the principal instigator of the Flagstaff War.

Born at Pakaraka south of Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands, Heke was a highly influential chief of the Ngāpuhi tribe. He grew up in the Kaikohe area, scarcely surviving the vicissitudes of tribal warfare during the late musket war period. As a youth, he attended the mission school at Kerikeri and came under the influence of the missionary, Henry Williams. Subsequently he, his wife and children were converted to Christianity and Hone became a lay preacher.

However, it was as a warrior that Hone Heke established his reputation. He took part in the first battle of Kororareka in 1830, in Titore's expedition to Tauranga, and fought with Titore against Pomare II in 1837.

There are conflicting reports of when Heke signed the Treaty of Waitangi. It may have been with the other chiefs on February 6, 1840.

Some Māori became discontent after the signing of the treaty. Both before and after the signing of the Treaty American traders and the American consul poisoned the relationship between the unstable Heke and the British. The British representative became concerned at the flying of the American Ensign on land.[1] Letters from William Williams, son of Henry Williams who recorded talks he had with Heke show that the Americans were attempting to undermine the British both before and especially after the signing of the treaty. The first American Consul William Mayhew, was probably pressurised into leaving NZ but was replaced by two unofficial Consuls, Green-Smith and Waetford who continued the anti British tradition and extended it by selling muskets and powder to disaffected Maori. Waetford was convicted and imprisoned for gunrunning but Green Smith escaped NZ before he could be arrested.[2] The capital of the new colony was shifted from Okiato to Auckland with the corresponding loss of revenue for the Bay of Islands. The imposition of customs duties, the banning of the felling of kauri trees and government control of the sale of land all contributed to an economic depression for Māori. Furthermore it became clear that the British considered the authority of the chiefs to be subservient to that of the The Crown although the treaty promised a partnership under British rule.

As a signal of his unhappiness with the British, and encouraged by the American and French interests, Hone Heke chopped down the flagpole carrying the British flag that flew over Kororareka. The French Roman Catholic bishop, Pompallier, sponsored clandestine anti crown feeling amongst the Maori.[3] Also Heke had been strongly influenced by stories of the American War of Independence.[4] The British interpreted this as an act of rebellion and soon the Heke's rebel forces were at war with the British. In the time space of 6 months Hone Heke actually chopped the flagpole down three times. Despite this many Maori under the mana of the leading northern rangitira, Waka Nene, stayed loyal to the government and took both an active part in the fight against Heke and tried to maintain a dialogue with the rebels in an effort to bring peace. To prevent the flagpole from being chopped down yet again, the Crown ordered in a battalion of British soldiers to defend it. Heke created a diversion with the help of Kawiti and, whilst the soldiers were fighting on the beach, Heke and a few others crept towards the flagpole and cut it down for the fourth time. This was the beginning of the Flagstaff War.

Heke took an active part in the early phases of the conflict, but he was severely wounded during the Battle of Te Ahu Ahu and did not rejoin the fighting until the closing phase of the Battle of Ruapekapeka some months later. Heke left the pa before the notorious Battle of Ohaeawai, when poor British tactics resulted in the capture of soldiers and their torture by scalping and burning the wounded to death. One soldier had been killed by having a red hot iron thrust into him. This enraged the British.[5] The siege of Ruapekapeka began 27 Dec and continued to 11 January. In this uneven battle, 1500 British soldiers plus hundreds of loyal Maori under Waka Nene began a furious and continuous artillery bombardment against Heke and Kawhiti's men, which flattened most of the Pa's extensive woodwork, deafened the defenders and forced many of the survivors to flee into the surrounding bush. Shortly afterwards, Heke and his ally, Kawiti met their principal Māori opponent, Tāmati Wāka Nene and agreed to seek peace. Nene went to Auckland to tell the governor that they had made peace. This did not prevent the governor, George Grey from presenting it as a British victory. Despite this, Heke and George Grey were reconciled at a meeting in 1848, though Grey had no respect for the political stance that Heke assumed"I cannot discover that the rebels have a single grievance to complain of which would in any degree extenuate their present conduct and. . . I believe that it arises from an irrational contempt of the powers of Great Britain. . "[6] Grey was not the only prominent figure to query Heke's state of mind. Both Henry, his son William Williams and Fitzroy commented on how Heke would change from being calm and thoughtful to having bouts of extreme anger and activity coupled with tremendous bursts of enthusiasm and over confidence. Today these would be recognized as someone with Manic Depression or Bipolar Disorder.

Hone Heke retired to Kaikohe where he died of tuberculosis two years later. He is still regarded as a great leader by the Ngā Puhi and many of the Māori people. Heke died on 7 August 1850. The Rev R Davis performed a Christian ceremony and then one of his wives, Rongo and other followers who had been his body guard for many years, took his body to a cave near Pakaraka, called Umakitera. However there is no direct evidence to support this.[7]

Pākehā Māori Frederick Edward Maning wrote a near contemporaneous account of Hone Heke in A history of the war in the north of New Zealand against the chief Heke, although it was written primarily with an aim to entertain rather than with an eye to historical accuracy.

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Hōne Heke's Timeline

1805
1805
Pakaraka, Northland, North Island, New Zealand
1835
August 9, 1835
Age 30
Paihia, Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand

Baptised at Paihia Mission Station by missionary Henry Williams.

1850
August 6, 1850
Age 45
Kaikohe, Northland, North Island, New Zealand

Death reported in the Maori Messenger : Te Karere Maori, Volume 2, Issue 44, 29 August 1850, p. 2: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=sear...

1850
Age 45
Paihia, Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand
1850
Age 45
Pakaraka, Northland, North Island, New Zealand
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