Reverand John Whitely

John Whitely: DUSK was falling as a solitary white-haired horseman approached the rising track to the Pukearuhe Blockhouse commanding the ancient route to the north.

It was 62-year-old John Whiteley, the Methodist minister, paying a regular call to distant settlements.

The day was 13 February 1869, a Saturday, and on the morrow he planned Divine services. Suddenly a hidden voice called sharply, "Hokia! Hokia!" ("Go back! Go back!").

He answered in Maori, "Why should I go back? My place is here." Again the voice insisted, "Go back, Whiteley! Your place is not here."

Came the firm answer, "My place is here and here I remain, for my children are doing evil." A new and harsher voice came from the darkness, "Dead cocks do not crow." A shot was fired that brought the faithful old horse Charlie to his knees and his master to the ground. Kneeling beside his dying horse in prayer he was shot again and again.

So died John Whiteley and when the chief Wahanui was told he ordered the Maori camp to be broken up and his people to retire into the untraversed King Country saying, "Here let it end, for the death of Whiteley is more than the death of many men."

John Whitely was the previous missionary from Te Waitere (Ahuahu) - Kawhia, who lived there with his wife Mary and their two children.

In 1838, Ahuahu became a mission station of the Wesleyans, who were so impressed with its genial climate that they planted lemon trees and called the place Lemon Point.

The mission in Kawhia prospered with grapes, potatoes, kumaras, peaches and cherries were grown, and goats milk and cream, fish, pipis, pigeons and pork in plenty prompted Riemenschneider, the Lutheran missionary, to exclaim, 'Oh Mrs Whiteley, we are libbing on de fat 0' de land!'

Since Whiteley's time, Ahuahu has been variously known as Lemon Point and Te Waitere, the latter apparently not a reference to the swiftness of the tidal ebb but, rather, a Maori rendition of Whiteley's name.

That tragic day at the little military outpost at Pukearuhe, lulled by the long peace in North Taranaki, feared nothing when a group of Maoris came up from the sunny beach. Two soldier-settlers, John Milne (40) and Edward Richards (35), were invited to see some pigs said to be on the beach, and were struck down from behind.

Their attackers then went up to the blockhouse to find that the Gascoigne family were in their field of corn and potatoes. They were Lieutenant Bamber Gascoigne (40) his wife (27), two girls (5, and 3 months), and a boy (3). Gascoigne, seeing the visitors, came towards them carrying the baby.

Giving the baby to his wife he shook hands with the Maoris. On raising his hand to open the blockhouse door he was struck down. Then his wife and children were killed; even the house dog and cat were tomahawked.

Towards dusk Mr Whiteley was seen approaching; at first he was not recognised. After he had died the blockhouse and huts were burnt and the Maoris returned to the north.

 Discovery of the tragedy shocked New Zealand and brought fears of another Taranaki war. The bodies were taken to New Plymouth by sea and buried with military honours at Te Henui cemetery. Strong forces were sent to Pukearuhe and outlying districts.

Yet time was to prove the truth of Wahanui's declaration that Whiteley's death was more than the death of many men. The shots that ended his life were the last to be fired between Maori and Pakeha in Taranaki.

Symbolically the restored blockhouse at Pukearuhe was occupied by the Armed Constabulary until 1885. In February 1923, an obelisk bearing a cross was unveiled on the site of the old block­house.

North of this impressive memorial rise the majestic White Cliffs and to the south Egmont's cone breaks the horizon.

At the unveiling the Rev. Robert Haddon represented the Maori people, an historic reminder that Maori and Pakeha alike had shared the sorrow of what happened on Pukearuhe hill.

 

 


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