Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Launch of 'Journey to a Hanging' with associated media links

Chandalier at the Old Church, Meanee. All pix David Frost MTG Hawke's Bay.

Well, on Monday night, Journey to a Hanging was well and truly launched at the Old Church
Restaurant Meeanee. MTG Hawke's Bay assisted brilliantly with the launch, with staff members 
generously donating their time and energy to give the occasion a really warm atmosphere. 

I've put the talk I gave below, so you can see how I conceptualised the book
at its public birth, among friends and followers.

I was also fortunate to do some media for the book. (I'll enclose the links below.) One was a lively and
energetic interview with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon, National Radio - Kathryn seemed very 
involved with the subject, which was great. 

The other more surprising interview was for Te Kaea, the News on Maori TV. They had sent a crew 
to the book launch and did an on the spot interview afterwards. I was amazed - and gratified - to see it 
occupying about five minutes on Maori TV news last night - 8 July '14 - where it was treated seriously - and with really close
with interest. 

The other in-depth interview I did was with Hawke's Bay TV. This is harder to find for people out of 
the region, but will eventually be on Youtube.

So here is my launch speech.

"It seems especially fitting we're standing here in the body of the church that was once Sister Mary 
Joseph Aubert's.

It was from this church that Sister Aubert set out on a Thursday afternoon of January 4th 1872 and
 began her walk in to Napier, to go and visit Kereopa Te Rau on the hill in Napier Prison.

He was to be hanged on the Friday and it was her wish to go and comfort the condemned man. 

But we need to backtrack here, to fill in the back story.

Kereopa Te Rau was charged with the murder of the Anglican missionary with the strange Germanic 
name of Carl Sylvius Volkner.

The murder happened in March 1865 at Opotiki - and it was an especially grisly murder, especially 
for a traditionally tapu person - a man of God. 

Volkner was first rather amateurishly hanged, then when dead, beheaded and his head was passed 
into his own church where Kereopa Te Rau ate his eyes and drank his blood. His head was then 
mummified - turned into a moko mokai.

Ever since then Kereopa Te Rau had been on the run, fighting battles, then fading into the 
Urewera mists.

By 1871 Tuhoe were ready to sign a peace pact with the Crown. They could no longer withstand 
the battering they were receiving from kupapa and colonial troops.

Part of this was an agreement to hand over Kereopa who had a 1000 pound bounty on his head.

Kereopa was captured and marched to Wairoa, then put on a boat to Napier.

The news spread around NZ - and around the world - the notorious eye eater - Kaiwhatu - was 
captured at last and being brought to justice.

On Sunday 26 November 1871 the entire population of Napier waited on the wharves to see Kereopa.
He was kept below on the orders of JD Ormand and Sir Donald McLean.
Eventually - disappointed - the crowd dispersed.

The following morning Ropata Wahawaha -a Ngati Porou warrior who had once been a slave - 
brought Kereopa into town.

He insisted on a triumphant march - a king brought in chains - so he marched Kereopa along 
Waghorne Street, up along Shakespeare Road - then he got to Coote Road.
This led directly to the prison.

But no, Ropata wanted a triumph - he had been hunting Kereopa for many years in terribly 
challenging conditions - so down Shakespeare Road they marched, a brilliant Pai Marire banner in 
scarlet silk and white fluttering in the breeze, - they marched past the Govt Builidngs where 
Kereopa would be tried on the corner of Shakespeare and Hastings Street - they marched along 
Hastings Street - and only then along the Parade to the corner of Coote Road.

There Kereopa was handed over to Pakeha control.

He was marched up that steep incline to the prison.

But just as he entered the prison, he dropped a cut throat razor on the ground - and with bound hands
 - grabbed it QUICK AS THOUGHT as a newspaper put it- and slashed his throat open.
Blood was everywhere. 

The three doctors of Napier were all called.
Dr Spenser, the brilliant military doctor - famous for sewing up limbs - was first on the spot. 
He sewed up Kereopa's throat - he had just missed the jugular - and brandy was administered.

Kereopa was taken to a wooden cell, placed in their alongside two Pakeha prisoners and chained to 
the wall.

And there Kereopa stayed, through his trial on Friday 22 Dec 1871  when he was found guilty of murder 
and sentenced to death.

There he stayed through Xmas and New Year -

hearing the sound of the waves which are so clear and audible up in the prison still

hearing the band music played by the military bands

hearing the jollity and drunkenness hymns and silences

till he heard the sound of a nail being driven hard into wood
and he realised the gallows were being constructed

he was to be the first man hanged in Hawke's Bay.

At this time, when everyone local rejoiced in his capture and eagerly looked forward to his death 
one man 
one man alone in the whole of NZ stood forth to defend him

that man was the remarkable William Colenso
Colenso speedily wrote a defence published in the Hawke's Bay Herald over three days calling for
he didn't argue whether Kereopa was guilty or not

he just said the enormous killings and vast confiscations which had happened in the Bay of Plenty as 
utu for Volkner's killing had surely sated the desire for revenge

to be merciful is to be strong, he said 
to be merciful is to be Christian
he went to comfort Kereopa in his cell

and now walking in from Meeanee we have Sister Mary Joseph Aubert who had finished helping 
entertain the Catholic children of Napier who came out on drays for a special Christmas picnic 

she took her bible and her beads and began walking into town

so here we have
two of the most remarkable people alive in colonial NZ
two people walking to Napier prison to comfort Kereopa in his last hours

- what happens during those last hours, ….well, you have to buy my book and see….

but let me end by saying- inside the body of this one time church
which is like being inside the whale of our shared past

this book is about New Zealand, about Hawke's Bay, about the past, about the ancestors of 
some of the people who today stand in this room - 

it is about the present and the way we understand AND misunderstand the past

how we come to terms with our past - in this case a most painful episode in our short combined history -

an episode in which a missionary was killed and then a Maori prophet and warrior -

events that galvanised and divided NZ in its own town, 
echoes of which travel right up to this very present day 

it is only a month or so since the Crown issued pardon - in the sense of forgiveness - 
to Kereopa Te Rau for his implication in the murder

so we live among its echoes 
since the Crown pardoned Kereopa Te Rau two months ago - 
pardoned in the sense he was forgiven 

but in the book I talk of 
walking at night without stars

and I used this term to describe the German migrant who came to NZ and had to try and 
comprehend not only Maori culture but English culture - 
both were foreign to him so he was travelling at night without the guidance of stars

whereas Kereopa Te Rau was travelling in his own country but guided by a completely new religion 
which believed in talking in tongues, which believed that moko mokai - shrunken heads - could 
prophecy the future, a completely new religion made up on the spot

so he was walking at night too without the guidance of stars

just as i felt, writing this book,
being pulled in different directions at different times
but also trying to be empathetic
without being conned into a false sympathy

so in the three years I spent writing the book
I travelled far and wide and looked at everything I could find out about these events and 
the people who were its main characters -

and this was what i came up with in the end

there are many paths to understanding

there are many ways to see the same thing
other people might and will see things differently
and this book is a single writer's honest attempt to make his own path towards understanding -

so all in all
though this represents a book with pages and pictures, and facts, and thoughts, and intuitions 
and I hope insights

in the end this is all it amounts to 

there are many paths to understanding 

and this book is one of them.

Kathryn Ryan interview on Nine to Noon, National Radio

See below for Te Kaea, News on Maori Television 8 July 2014.


Latest episode. Te Kāea. Originally aired on Tuesday 8 July 2014. News programme with local, national and ...



  1. Sorry link to Nine to Noon interview got shortened.

    A link to the audio can be found here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/20140837/historian-reinvestigates-1872-hanging-of-kereopa-te-rau


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