In November 1881 the Māori settlement of Parihaka in Taranaki was invaded by government troops. The aim was to end a campaign of civil disobedience that had been taking place since 1879 and which was in response to government confiscations of Māori land. This armed constabulary of over 1,500 arrested large numbers of people including leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi.
Among the armed constabulary force was Harry Ell. The Christchurch conservationist and politician is best remembered as the man behind the Summit Road and its rest-houses such as Sign of the Takahe. In later years he reflected that the actions of government troops had ‘brought about the bitterness and estrangement between the two races’.
Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi in Christchurch
Without standing trial Te Whiti and Tohu were brought to Christchurch and imprisoned at Addington Gaol, though they were allowed out on a number of excursions to the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills, Canterbury Museum, Addington Railway workshops, the Cathedral and even the theatre. At least some of the motivation for these trips seems to have been to promote the benefits of Pākehā civilisation as illustrated by Christchurch’s industries and institutions.
“Te Whiti and Tohu were taken over the Kaiapoi factory to-day, where their eyes were opened to a still wider extent as to the power of the pakeha.” North Otago Times, 18 May 1882
Both prisoners were treated as oddities and objects of curiosity by Cantabrians. In numerous newspaper reports of the day local people are described as gathering in crowds to gawk at them at every occasion – from their first appearance off the ship at Lyttelton, to a visit to the Exhibition, to their arrival off the train at Ashburton.
Although they were clearly a cause célèbre, the way they are described in reports demonstrates the prejudices and expectations that Christchurch people had of their “exotic” visitors.
“The organ in the Cathedral was also a novelty to them, and caused much amusement to the untutored minds of the Maori chiefs.” “Christchurch”, The Colonist, 5 May 1882
“The bearing of Tohu and Te Whiti, according to people who have seen them robed in a blanket, loses considerably when they don the everyday dress of the pakeha and wear heavy boots.” “Te Whiti and Tohu at The Exhibition”, The Star, 6 May 1882
Imagine waiting expectantly in a crowd to see two Māori chiefs, only for them to appear wearing trousers and boots! Even from the distance of over 100 years the disappointment is palpable.
An end to imprisonment
Both Te Whiti and Tohu were released in March 1883 still without having stood trial, despite Government having passed the West Coast Peace Preservation Act 1882 which allowed for them to be imprisoned indefinitely.
They returned to Taranaki to rebuild the settlement at Parihaka (which had been destroyed following the invasion). The rebuilt settlement included modern conveniences such as a piped water suppy and electricity.
Both Tohu and Te Whiti continued to organise campaigns of protest upon their return to Taranaki. Many other prisoners remained in jails in the South Island, including in Dunedin. The last Parihaka prisoners were released in 1898.
Parihaka remembrance in Lyttelton
There will be a gathering at The Rose Garden for a small service followed by light refreshments back at Lyttelton Community House.
Saturday 5th November, 2pm – 4pm