16 November 1869
At half past eight in the morning of 16 November 1869, a young Maori warrior, Hamiora Pere, who had participated in a rebellion against colonial forces who were seizing Maori land, was hung at the Terrace Gaol at Wellington, the administrative capital of the British colony of New Zealand. Pere was the only New Zealander ever officially executed for treason. He had been taken prisoner during the siege of a Maori hilltop fort at Ngātapa. Most of the Maoris captured were summarily executed, but about thirty Maori prisoners, including Pere, had been spared from the immediate slaughter and were instead taken to Wellington. He was charged alongside four others with murder and treason and although the murder charge, in his case was later dropped for lack of any evidence, the jury only took fifteen minutes to convict him of treason. Three of the others were also convicted on the charge of treason alone and one for both murder and treason.
The colonial government, which had the legal power to commute sentences, decided that one official execution would be sufficient to serve as an example and satisfy public opinion. 130 Maoris had already been summarily shot on capture.1 If all five remaining prisoners were executed they might become martyrs. The authorities selected Pere’s brother, Wi Tamamaro, who was the one prisoner who had been convicted of both murder and treason. However he escaped execution by hanging himself in his cell, leaving the other four who had been convicted of treason alone. It was Pere’s unlucky fate that he was then chosen to face the noose instead.2
A journalist of the Wellington Independent reported that Pere ‘received the notice of his impending death with calmness,’ but that ‘on the morning of his execution, when he left the room in which he had been confined, he was sobbing bitterly and was evidently suffering from intense mental agony; he looked anxiously around, yet stood firm and erect while he was being pinioned, repeating as well as he his trembling voice would allow, the prayers (in the Maori language) that were being offered on his behalf… the final words of the service were repeated in a remarkably clear and firm voice.’3
- Judith Binney, Redemption Songs: A Life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, Bridget Williams Books Limited, Wellington 2012, pp. 144-145 and James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars 1864-72, R.E. Owen, Wellington, 1956, p. 281.
- ‘Hamiora Pere executed for treason,’ accessed online at url https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/hamiora-pere-executed-treason
- The Wellington Independent cited in ‘Execution of a New Zealand Rebel,’ the Cirencester Times and Cotswold Advertiser, 31 January 1870, p3 and C.A.L. Treadwell, ‘The Trial of Hamiora Pere,’ in The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 4, 2 July 1934 accessed online at url http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Gov09_04Rail-t1-body-d10.html
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