Thursday, April 16, 2009

The many flagstaffs of the Flagstaff War

Image from Wikipedia.

Back in late March, an item was to be auctioned which was claimed to be a piece of timber from the Kororareka flagstaff cut down by Hone Heka in 1845.
"Auction house Dunbar Sloane is selling the piece for Lady Caroline Simmonds, a granddaughter of the Earl of Ranfurly, who was the Governor-General from 1897 to 1904.

Dunbar Sloane jnr said much was still unknown about how the piece came into Ranfurly's possession, or which flagpole it was from.

Asked how he could be sure this was actually a flagpole fragment, Mr Sloane jnr said Lady Caroline held significant amounts of history from her grandfather's time as Governor-General.

"You go through the descent - there's impeccable history. It's not like someone walked in off the street and said 'I found this I want $20,000.' The plaque is very old."

Personally, I wouldn't have forked out great wads of personal savings for an item with a provenance like that. It turns up, after over 50 years, in the collection of a Governor of New Zealand ... no, that's not enough to make me want to part with good money. At least, not as much as the auctioneers would have been expecting.

Now, after the item was pulled from auction due to Maori protests that the piece made have been kauri, from the original flagpole, and therefore from Heke's forests, comes the news that it has been scientifically tested as actually being Baltic Pine. I see news headlines today saying that the tests showed not only that it was pine, but that it came from a mast from by an American whaler which happened to be in port at the time, obtained by Her Majesty's government to be made into a flagpole. Somehow, I doubt a scientific test would tell them all that but there you go. The fragment is Baltic Pine, and Te Papa have another fragment of Baltic Pine, with flagpole fragment pretensions. And, to underline it all, there is a walking stick in the mix to boot.

So -- how many flagpoles were involved in the stoush up at Northland? At least four, by my count. Possibly five, if they didn't bother reusing the one pulled down not by Hone Heke but by Europeans.

The most information I've been able to find came from Hobart's Courier newspaper, of all places.

Flagstaff 1: possibly kauri, unknown fate
Some time in July, 1844, John Held, a baptized native chief, commenced hostilities against the Government, by cutting down the flagstaff and committing various other depredations in and about the Bay of Islands. This being represented to the Governor, he immediately sent to Sydney for assistance, which was promptly rendered by despatching 200 soldiers, who were met at the Bay of Islands by His Excellency in the Hazard, of 18 guns, and the Government brig, but Heki had decamped to his " Pah," inland, and refused to come and meet the Governor ; this affair, however, was patched, through the intercession of the mission, and the soldiers were sent back to Sydney. The man-of-war and Government brig returned to Auckland, and the Bay left to itself again.

Flagstaff 2: unknown wood, cut into short lengths, burned
Another flag was put up, and Heki began to stir himself among the different tribes to get assistance to cut the flagstaff down again ; this he accomplished in the early part of January, landing with two large canoes filled with natives, at a beach a little below the town; mounting the hill by a back pathway, he arrived at the house of the signal man, made the door fast, and then called out to him, telling him not to be frightened, as he only wanted the flagstaff, and would not hurt or rob him if he kept himself quiet ; the natives then went to work and cut down the flagstaff, cutting it into short lengths, and setting it on fire; the rigging they took away with them; they then gave a war whoop or yell, and dance; this was the first intimation the inhabitants had of what had been doing. Returning to the canoes (taking the rigging with them,) they paddled their canoes to the front of the town ; it was by this time daylight, and the inhabitants just aroused from their beds, were dread fully frightened when they saw the canoes filled with armed natives, and as was expected, on the point of landing among them, but they only gave three lusty cheers and paddled away to the other side the harbour, their canoes decorated with the flags taken from the signal station. This outrage caused a very great sensation among the friendly natives, who were now assembling and holding meetings everywhere, to know what was to be done.
Flagstaff 3: unknown wood (put up by Maori, a “bare pole”), cut down
A few days after he sent word over that he would pull down the custom-house and watch-house ; a party of natives, to the number of 500, now came on the beach, determined to protect it to the last, and put up a flagstaff (certainly only a bare pole, but sufficient to hoist the English colours;) this only remained up one day, and was cut down the next night; the Government brig arrived next day with forty-five soldiers, and orders to put up another flagstaff immediately; this was done before evening with the assistance of natives and the soldiers, John Heki still declaring that he would pull down as many as they chose to put up; this stood two days, when it was again cut down during the night, whilst the beach was guarded by about 1000 natives …
Flagstaff 4: unknown wood, pulled down
… this mischief was, however, remedied by the friendly natives before daylight, and another pole put up with the English flag nailed to it ; this was, however, unfortunately pulled down by some Europeans swinging on the ropes upholding it …

Flagstaff 5: unknown wood (possibly Flagstaff 4), undermined, unknown fate
… nothing was done towards putting up another until the arrival of H.M.S. Hazard, with a block house, when a new flagstaff was erected, and the blockhouse put up for its protection, with a guard of twenty soldiers, and a lieutenant. Notwithstanding all these preparations for defence, John Heki still declared he would have it down, saying it was not the Atua (or God) who had placed it there, but men's hands, and men's hands could pull it down again ; at these threats the settlers only laughed, thinking he never would have the audacity to come in the face of the troops, and the sloop of war, to commit his depredations ; but the sequel will show how far they undervalued the prowess of the natives. Heki was by this time joined by number of different chiefs, with their tribes; the first one that may be called properly belonging to the Bay, who showed a troublesome disposition towards the Europeans, was " Kawite" an old and very powerful chief, who, as soon as he heard that Heki was nearly ripe for action, commenced offensive operations on the outsettlers, plundering them, destroying their fruit trees, &c. &c.,and in some instances burning their houses. …In the early part of March, Heki again made his appearance in the Bay, and was immediately joined by this disaffected chief, and all whom he could intimidate into joining with him; although of course very glad of all the reinforcements he could muster, he still could not help expressing his displeasure at the manner in which these natives had commenced their operations, telling them it was not against the settlers he wished to wage war, but the flagstaff ; if the soldiers chose to protect it he would fight with them, but he hoped the settlers would have nothing to do with it, as he did not wish to hurt any of them… On Saturday, March 8th, the Rev. Henry Williams, and T. Beckham, Esq., P.M., went with a flag of truce, and held a parley with the natives, when the principal chiefs agreed, as the next day was Sunday, they would remain quiet until Monday morning, when they might be expected in the town of Kororareka and at the flagstaff; but from certain information it was not for Sunday they waited, but for another large party of natives who joined them on the Monday. … The plans of the natives being all matured, on Monday, March 10, they sent word to the captains of the several American whalers then lying al the Wahapu, requesting them not to allow their people to go to Kororareka on the ensuing day (Tuesday) as they intended fighting, and would not wish to hurt any of them. This intelligence was taken down to the beach and reported to the proper authorities, but they were so self satisfied of their power over the natives that no particular close watch was kept. … As soon as the soldiers' backs were turned, Heki, with his mob, mounted the other side of the hill; the sentry hearing them turned about, and to his dismay saw a large body of natives rushing to the attack of the block house and flagstaff. He did all he could, discharged his musket, killing one native and wounding another, but he was instantly shot down with the signal man, and the natives walked in and took quiet possession of the flagstaff and blockhouse, in which was ammunition for 20 men for three days. Thus again Heki found himself in possession of his darling, the flagstaff. … the flagstaff being cased with iron they could not cut it down, but undermined it until it fell. This job being accomplished they sat down on the hill and watched the fight between the other parties.
Courier (Hobart), 17 April 1845

And then there was Flagstaff 6 ...
In the North, the chief news is that the Government again intended to try the strength of Heki, by reinstating the flagstaff at the Bay of Islands; and Heki, bold as ever, intimated that he would destroy it.
Perth Gazette, 22 April 1848

The British used Baltic Pine as timber for their warships going back to the time of the Battle of Trafalgar; the Dutch even earlier still. American whalers (judging by Internet sources only) seem to have clad their ships in Baltic Pine, but mainly used timbers from their own states.

That the piece of wood up for auction is Baltic Pine still doesn't prove to me, beyond reasonable doubt, that it came from the Kororareka flagpole, though, even if documented evidence came up from the depths of our past to say that, yes, the flagpole at the blockhouse was Baltic Pine. That timber was fairly common in maritime countries, it would seem.

So, sorry, I still wouldn't part with any money for that block.

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