The Invasion of Parihaka, 5 November 1881: An Eyewitness Account

On 5 November 1881 Native Minister John Bryce led 1600 Armed Constabulary into the South Taranaki settlement of Parihaka, arresting leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. Over the following weeks the remaining residents were forcibly dispersed and the settlement destroyed. The ‘crime’ of the people of Parihaka had been to peacefully resist the confiscation of their lands.

Over the years, these events have been described — and the enormous injustice that occurred — exposed in a number of secondary works. These include George Rusden’s 1883 History of New Zealand, Dick Scott’s influential account Ask That Mountain (1975), Hazel Riseborough’s Days of Darkness (1989), and Rachel Buchanan’s The Parihaka Album (2010).

Yet our knowledge of these events would be much the poorer were it not for the actions of two journalists, Samuel Crombie-Brown (or Croumbie-Brown in some versions) and a Mr Humphries, who both, defying Bryce’s extraordinary efforts to prevent any reporters from being present, made their way into the pa and provided a first-hand account of the invasion. Crombie-Brown (who was born in Russia and had fought in the Union Army during the American Civil War) appears to have been a colourful figure. Prior to the invasion, he had provided the government with a detailed report on how Parihaka might best be taken.

His relations with ministers deteriorated rapidly thereafter, and it would seem that he determined to report the events as fully as possible by way of payback. But whatever his motivations, Crombie-Brown provided a compelling account of the shameful actions of that day. An event that could have easily been clouded in obfuscation and denial was therefore brought to public attention as a result.

Here is the eyewitness account that appeared in the Star (the evening newspaper that was a sister publication to the Lyttelton Times for which Crombie-Brown was special correspondent) on 7 November 1881. It makes for a riveting, poignant and disturbing read.

Star, 7 November 1881

Dismay and consternation spread through the ranks of newspaper correspondents at Pungarehu on Friday when it became known late in the day that all civilians were forbidden to follow the advance of the forces on Parihaka, and would be arrested if found there on the entrance of the troops. Several journals had gone to great expense in sending men to the front; and the wrath of these may be more easily imagined than put into polite language. The occasion was one of such extreme interest to people, whatever their opinions in the matter, that specials had been despatched by some papers for the express purpose of being on the spot during the one eventful day alone. Every effort was made to obtain a relaxation of the Draconian law, but in vain. To no purpose did the ambassador of the Otago Daily Times and the representative of a round dozen of evening papers call upon the generalissimo and the Defence Minister. Colonel Roberts was unwilling, and the honorable John was as inexorable as he is popularly supposed to be honest. Your chief correspondent was told point blank by the former that he or any other European caught in the manner described, would be arrested and kept in durance vile till next day, adding that such were Mr Bryce’s orders. However, “collaring Native orderlies and stopping Englishmen in the execution of a duty fully recognised by all civilized commanders and educated statesmen, are two different things.” It became a point of honour to defeat the common enemy, so baying worked out a scheme by which he might possibly be circumvented, it was resolved to take a look at the camp, and then turn in. The morrow and the morrow’s deeds were being discussed beforehand very freely, the obstructive measure meted out to the papers being strongly condemned on all hands, the more so as it was known to be the result of spite on the part of the authorities against the representatives of one daily, which need not be mentioned. If the old story be true, the Defence Minister’s ears must have tingled from something more than mosquito bites that evening. Of the Taranaki contingent it was said, with a frankness that made the blood run cold, that twenty men were sworn to shoot down the first Maori that chance placed it within their power to kill. It is true that Taranaki men have homes laid desolate, slaughtered brothers and friends Blain in Maori warfare, to mourn; still the sentiment, savoured more of the savages’ law of the Utu, at which men wonder so exceedingly, than of any feeling creditable to the hearts of civilised, not to speak of Christian men. The Constabulary were less blood-thirsty in their ideas, and contented themselves with a grand illumination and some uproarious choruses. To the others happily the excuse they wished for never came. The battle of Parihaka, the most successful on the bead-roll of famous fights, till the bill shall have been paid (three prisoners on one side), was won without the firing of a shot.

John Bryce, 1/4-004946-G, ATL
Our plan for the morning was a simple one, and proved eventually more effective than our wildest hopes could have anticipated. It was a start in the grey dawn, and by paths and various ways to gain such positions before the array of skirmishers was thrown out, that we should be able to observe with ease all that passed, in spite of arrests or detentions. Your other correspondents will tell in detail how well we succeeded, the fact being that the two people whose absence was most desired saw and heard more collectively of what took place than any other two observers of the scene. The fates are grimly humorous at times, and so it proved in the present instance. In company with Captain Dawson, an ex-Imperial officer, and Mr H. Vere Barclay, who had undertaken to be our guide, both being desirous of seeing what passed, and Mr Humphries, correspondent for the Press Association, we started at early morn. One of us and Mr Humphries had decided to enter Parihaka, and take the risk of arrest, when the Riot Act should be read to the quiet assemblage of tranquil Maories; the other three were to skirmish by themselves, and be guided by circumstances. On the homeopathic system barbarous regulations had to be met by uncivilised procedure, so like Indians on the war-path, we slunk along under cover, for fresh horse tracks were seen everywhere, and we feared the patrols of our hostile friends and the eyes of the tall blockhouse. It was one of those beautiful mornings that our favoured clime enjoys, when the mere act of living in it, under ordinary circumstances, delights, but the diamond drops of dew upon the fern, so pretty in the distance, are drenching upon near acquaintance. The hoary head of old Taranaki rose before us in all the virgin beauty lent it by the new born day, but who could admire it wading knee deep in a swamp, switched across the eyes by “lawyers,” climbing Maori fences, and plunging over potato beds? The slur cast upon the Maories by their rabid foes, that they do not cultivate the land they hold, proceeds from deep ignorance of the facts. There are square miles of potato, melon and cabbage fields around Parihaka; they stretch on every side; and acres and acres of the land show the results of great industry and care.

Our pilot, a thorough bushman, whoso name is known as the hero of the Queensland and South Australian boundary-line expedition of a few years back, took us through fern and forest safely up close to Parihaka, before the dew began to dry upon the leaves. At seven o’clock the strains of the band were heard playing the force out of Pungarehu. “Up to time at all events,” says some one, allowing the enemy the merit of punctuality. The Native Minister is not in the odour of sanctity with us. We have all wet our legs fording streams, and spoilt our rest to get to windward of his flanking parties, and there is a decidedly revengeful tone about the conversation. Half-an-hour after, having scaled the defences of an old pah, our gallant guide, who knows every inch of the ground, brings us to where we can peer into the village; thence our ways lie apart. We worked round towards the back of the kainga, and soon had the satisfaction of chuckling in our sleeves as we heard the bugle call “from the left extend,” which meant skirmishing for the especial benefit of beating up newspaper men. From the hill, where we finally decided upon taking up our position, we had a complete view of the whole village. Few people were astir, except the children who were clustered in a band at the entrance. All the Natives moving about wore white feathers, but there was little unusual stir, except the loud baying of the dogs as the columns drew near. Those who were not sitting massed in the spaces between the whare’s went peacefully about their usual occupations, but an air of sadness hung about the place, and there was none of the usual gaiety and singing.

Children of Parihaka, 1/1-006430-G, ATL
The first of the Armed Constabulary appeared about eight o’clock, and were greeted with loud cheers by the children, who afterwards kept up the haka and skipping with great vigour. Colonel Roberts, on a black charger and Mr Bryce on a white one soon appeared, with Mr Rolleston on foot. A position was taken up on a hill at the entrance, and more and more companies strengthened those which had already arrived. That the cordon was nearly complete was soon made evident by the appearance of Major Pitt, with the Nelson men and the Thames Scottish on the north-west side. At 9 o’clock the latter came within a few yards of us, and it was amusing to hear the Sergeant warning his men in a strong accent to keep a sharp look-out for enemies in the rear. At his very feet almost were three. Next time he advances on a dangerous stronghold he will have had more practice. From our vantage ground, we watched the lines drawn closer and closer till the outside fences were surrounded. Watching every face on the hill opposite, and the movements of our rulers, to our intense surprise we discovered three civilians beside Mr Bryce, who took complete direction of the whole affair out of the Colonel’s hands. Their faces were well known to at least one or two. Perhaps it was only a curious coincidence that they should all have been electors of Wanganui. The events that followed the entrance of the arresting companies, my fellow correspondents will describe. Colonel Roberts was kind enough to tell a civilian who went up with the troops and asked if he was going to send him to the rear, that he did not object to his presence — only to that of newspaper men. At the same time it is proper to add that Colonel Roberts is a man possessed of far too much discrimination, and has nothing to be ashamed of that he should object to the presence of correspondents. He was simply acting under orders. Until Mr Bryce’s advent, correspondents were always well received in camp, and treated with the utmost courtesy.

(Thus far our own correspondent. The thread of the story is now taken up by our well-known special, who, it will be seen, contrived to get into Parihaka, despite the Native Minister.)


Arrived at the summit of a small hill overlooking Parihaka, at a distance of about 300 yards, the party separated; Captain Dawson, Mr Barclay and my brother correspondent remaining to watch the movements of the troops from the point gained; Mr Humphries and the writer proceeded to Parihaka. There I found the Natives gathered together in a large open space between two rows of houses to the number of at least 2500. They were addressed at intervals by Te Whiti and Tohu, the tenor of their speeches in no way differing from that of other speeches recently telegraphed to you. Both enjoined peace and forbearance under any insults or oppression. The Natives were more than usually grandly dressed, most of them wearing white feathers in their hair. In a large square at the entrance to the pah about a hundred young girls were assembled amusing themselves with skipping ropes. Beyond them, on the road leading to Pungarehu, some hundreds of boys were gathered, awaiting the arrival of the hoia (soldiers) with great glee. I strolled round the pah, and found the women engaged in their usual occupations and as cordial in their welcome as ever. I noticed, however, that amongst the adults — the women especially — there was a prevailing sadness, as though they felt a great calamity was approaching. The attempt to reply to a joke or bit of chaff was piteously feeble. The whole spectacle was saddening in the extreme; it was an industrious, law-abiding, moral and hospitable community calmly awaiting the approach of the men sent to rob them of everything dear to them. As the time approached when the troops might be expected to make their appearance at Parihaka, Messrs Humphries, Thomson, and I went down the road as far as we deemed safe in view of the order to arrest newspaper correspondents, and then stole back behind stones and fences. At 7.15 a.m. we first noticed some skirmishers extending from the left (our right), and as it was evident that, if we remained there, we would be outflanked by them, we retreated from hillock to hillock, keeping well out of sight. I afterwards ascertained that they were hunting the dreaded newspaper men, and succeeded in arresting four or five. At 8 o’clock the head of the column appeared round a bend of the main road. Slightly ahead of them rode Colonel Roberts, commanding, and Mr Bryce, with their respective staffs, followed by the Armed Constabulary, volunteers, infantry, and mounted rifles. Owing to the obstacles thrown in the way of Press men, I cannot get hold of the details; but I understand that about 650 men of all ranks left Pungarehu, and were joined at Parapara by about 1000 men, under Major Goring, from Rahotu.

Armed Constabulary at Parihaka, 1881, 10X8-1070-G, ATL

As they proceeded towards Parihaka, pickets were left at various points on the road, with instructions to stop all civilians. Within about 400 hundred yards of Parihaka a halt was called, and the staff rode up a slight hill on the road, from which the pah could be viewed. They remained about ten minutes. All this time we were lying hidden about midway between the position occupied by the staff and where the Maories were assembled. The position was a most curious one, so far as we correspondents were concerned. We were actually hiding from, and retreating before the European invading force, to which we ought to have been attached, and retiring for safety upon the supposed enemy. Shortly another move forward was made, the head of the column making direct for the principal entrance to the pah. Across this were drawn up in two lines about 200 nearly naked boys, who vigorously danced the haka, and sang songs in derision of the invaders. It was mere child’s play to break through these. At this stage the Armed Constabulary were within 150 yards of where we were, and we considered it advisable to get into Parihaka and secrete ourselves where we could observe the subsequent proceedings.

Volunteers in Camp, Parihaka, PA1-q-183-13

 It had previously been explained to the Maories that we had been forbidden by the Pakehas, under pain of arrest, to witness the proceedings ; but, nevertheless, we were determined to run the risk. They replied: “We quite understand why the Government are ashamed that the country should know what it is doing, but we have nothing to be ashamed of, and you are welcome.” They then proposed that we should sit in the centre amongst them, and they would prevent our arrest. The impropriety of this was pointed out to them, and finally arrangements were made for our occupation of a cooking whare from which we could hear and see all that might transpire. In the meantime the troops were advancing steadily in columns of four, companies of volunteers being thrown out so as to nearly surround the pah. At 8.45 am. the Constabulary entered the pah, halting just within the first row of whares. Mr Bryce, who rode a white horse, looked exceedingly anxious. Mr Rolleston was on foot, and seemed to regard the whole affair as a good bit of fun. At this moment Tohu commenced speaking, but in so low a tone that we could not hear what his words were. By this time Mr Humphries and myself and our interpreter, Thomson, had taken up our position in the whare, from between the slabs of which we could observe everything. Mr Bryce, Colonel Roberts and the staff now took up a position on a slight eminence near the burial ground, about thirty yards to the rear of the whares. Precisely at 9 35 Major Tuke, accompanied by Mr Butler, as interpreter, came up to the edge of the Maori gathering, and without speaking a word waited for five minutes. The Maories had previously been warned that he would come to day for their answer to the Proclamation. On the expiration of the five minutes Major Tuke read the Riot Act. Mr Butler translated it, and both then withdrew, the Maories still paying not the slightest attention, but maintaining a dead silence. This was perhaps the most exciting period of the whole proceeding. Whatever Te Whiti might direct would inevitably be done. The whole assemblage sat with eyes fixed on Te Whiti. His slightest variation of countenance was reflected in the faces of all, and any words that he addressed to those close to him were whispered from one to another, until they reached the uttermost circle of the densely-packed meeting. At 10 o’clock a company of picked men, numbering ninety-five, under the command of Captains Newell and Gudgeon, marched further into the pah, and took up a position within a few yards of the assembly. Captain Newell briefly addressed the men, telling them to be firm, but to use no unnecessary violence. They were armed with loaded revolvers, and carried handcuffs. Just about this time some conversation took place respecting the absence of newspaper correspondents, while, as a matter of fact, I could have touched Captain Newell with a walking stick. Tohu now addressed the Natives briefly. He said: “Let the man (Bryce) who has raised the war finish his work this day. Let neither men nor women cook. We have already eaten, and will wait where we are. Do not let any be absent. Stay where you are; even if the bayonet be put to your breasts do not resist.” Until 10.50 a period of deep suspense and suppressed excitement followed. At that hour the bugle sounded “advance skirmishers,” and the skirmishers swarmed down the surrounding hills towards the pah, forming in a line round it. Major Tuke again came towards where the arresting party were drawn up. Some conversation passed between him and Captain Newell, when the latter again spoke a few words to his men, telling them that if they were to put on the handcuffs they were to “clinch them tight.” Major Tuke addressed the men, cautioning them against excitement, but telling them that if any Maori flashed a tomahawk to shoot him down instantly. He then called to the interpreter:— “Butler, can you point him (Te Whiti) out ?” Mr Butler did so. Captain Gudgeon remarked: “I think that Grey of No. 6 Company would be handy here,” meaning that Grey could identify the men who were wanted. Grey was then called forward.

Te Whiti Surrendering to Mr Bryce, Non-ATL-0164, ATL

A few moments after Colonel Roberts said: — “Call Te Whiti.” Mr Hursthouse (another interpreter) did so. Te Whiti replied that he would not come to him. Mr Rolleston replied that he would not go to Te Whiti, but that Te Whiti must come to him, where he was standing by the burial place. Te Whiti replied that he would remain with his people. He had nothing to do with the fight of that day; it was not his fight, but that of the pakehas. Te Whiti then intimated that he was prepared to see Mr Bryce if he had anything to say to him. For his part he had nothing but good words to say to Mr Bryce. Mr Bryce replied in a tone that those who heard considered harsh, that he would not come to him unless he made a path among his people, through which he (Mr Bryce) could ride. The Natives, it must be remembered, were so compactly packed that to do this was an impossibility. Te Whiti replied quite calmly that the horses’ feet might hurt some of the children. Mr Hursthouse, interpreting for Mr Bryce, said the horse was a quiet one. Te Whiti replied that if Mr Bryce wanted to speak to him, he must come on foot. Mr Bryce said the day for talking was past. Te Whiti immediately retorted: “When did you find it out ?” Mr Bryce: “This morning.” Almost immediately afterwards, Mr Bryce ordered Colonel Roberts to carry out his instructions. The latter, addressing Major Tuke, repeated the command, adding “Do not touch any of the women or children.” Major Tuke ordered Captain Newell to have Te Whiti arrested, and two of the arresting constables instantly made their way through the crowd to where Te Whiti sat. Instead of resistance being offered, way was made them, and Te Whiti quietly awaited their approach. The moment they laid hands on him he rose and Colonel Roberts, evidently thinking the constables must use unnecessary violence, called out “Let him walk if he will.” He came away in a very dignified manner, his wife following closely. Tohu was arrested in a similar manner, and also Hiroki. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested by Constables Willis and Woodward. Constable H. Mulholland, who knows Hiroki well, and shortly after the M’Lean murder was employed in chasing him, was detailed to arrest him. As Mulholland approached him, Hiroki folded his arms across his breast, and Mulholland, suspecting he had weapons concealed, ordered him to throw his arms up. This Hiroki immediately did, and was handcuffed and searched. Nothing was found upon him. He was then passed to the rear, orders being given to the guard to keep him separate from Te Whiti and Tohu. These are being treated as State prisoners, Hiroki as an ordinary criminal. At this stage Colonel Roberts gave the order to “search the whares.” Many of them were searched, and we were in momentary dread of being discovered and arrested, but fortunately our hut was passed over, notwithstanding, as I afterwards ascertained, that your correspondent was strongly suspected of being about somewhere. After their arrest, both Te Whiti and Tohu were allowed to address the people. Te Whiti said: “Be of good heart and patient. Today’s work is not of my doing; it comes from the hearts of the pakehas. Upon my fall the pakeha builds his work. Be steadfast in all that is peaceful.” Tohu said: “This is the doing of war. Be not sad this day. Turn away the sorrowful heart from you. We go away as fools and as captured men. We looked for peace and we find war. Be steadfast and of large heart. Keep to peaceful works. Be not dismayed; have no fear but be steadfast.” They were then led away, and one woman just outside our whare expressed her sorrow, when another replied, “Why are you sorry? Look! he is laughing as he goes away with the Europeans.” While still within ear-shot Te Whiti turned round and called out to his people: “Let your dwelling be good in this place, oh my tribe. Works such as those will be finished this day.” He and Tohu, together with Te Whiti’s wife, were driven to the Pungarehu block-house. Subsequently I learned that passing a whare on the way he called out, “Keep your spirits up, and keep to your whares. I will be with you again.”

Parihaka, November 1881, PA1-q-183-18, ATL

Shortly after the prisoners had been taken, Kina, a Taranaki chief of some standing, briefly addressed the people. He said: “Continue to follow the teaching of Te Whiti and Tohu, even if we are all arrested on the land that has come to us from our forefathers.” It was expected that more arrests would be made, as it is known that a large number of warrants had been signed, but nothing further was done up to the moment of my leaving. The people remained in the same position, looking very disconsolate, and the troops still surrounded them. About an hour after the arrest, my fellow correspondent, who had been told of my hiding-place by a half-caste, slipped a piece of paper through one of the interstices, on which was written that he thought we might come out. It appears that after the arrests had been effected, correspondents, who had previously been arrested and sent to the rear, were permitted to come up to the front. Shortly afterwards we emerged, and if anything in connection with one of the saddest and most shameful spectacles I have witnessed could be ludicrous it was the expression on the faces of the authorities when they saw that their grand scheme for preventing the Colony from knowing what was done in the name of the Queen at Parihaka had been completely frustrated. Not an action escaped observation; not an order given was unheard or unrecorded.

The opinion amongst those who are best qualified to judge, is that the position of the settlers is now worse than before, especially if the large armed force is disbanded. Te Whiti’s restraining influence has been removed, and the more turbulent, excited by today’s events, may take revenge after the Maori fashion. To-day the kindness of the Parihaka people to me was great, and their satisfaction at knowing that the proceedings would be recorded, very marked.

Since writing the foregoing, I have heard that the Maories intend to recommence fencing to-morrow, and will resist interference.


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