Key bits of his­tory

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIELLE STREET

TO­MOR­ROW marks the day the first per­son in New Zealand was legally ex­e­cuted un­der Bri­tish rule, 171 years ago.

The face of down­town Auck­land was markedly dif­fer­ent as about 1000 peo­ple gath­ered to watch the hang­ing of a son of a Maori chief, an event that would be­come a turn­ing point in New Zealand’s his­tory.

Maketu Whare­to­tara was found guilty by the Supreme Court a week ear­lier for mur­der­ing sev­eral Euro­pean set­tlers and a Maori child on a farm in the Bay of Is­lands.

On the dawn of March 7, 1842, car­pen­ters worked at the cor­ner of Queen and Vic­to­ria streets build­ing the gal­lows that would be used to hang Maketu.

The 17-year-old pris­oner was brought out in front of the crowd of mostly white faces at noon.

As the prison bell tolled he was led to the scaf­fold and hanged, dy­ing al­most in­stantly.

The event is one of 20 crit­i­cal junc­tures in New Zealand’s back­ground iden­ti­fied by his­to­rian and AUT lec­turer Paul Moon in his lat­est book Turn­ing Points. Dr Moon makes a case for events that he ar­gues changed the course of the na­tion’s his­tory in a sig­nif­i­cant way.

Oth­ers in­clude women get­ting the vote in 1893, the 1981 Spring­bok tour and the Ho­mo­sex­ual Law Re­form Act of 1986.

The book is not a de­fin­i­tive list of im­por­tant events but each list­ing had to re­sult in con­se­quences for so­ci­ety in or­der to make the grade, Dr Moon says.

‘‘Hil­lary’s as­cent of Ever­est, for ex­am­ple, isn’t in­cluded.

‘‘It was a hugely spec­tac­u­lar event with lots of in­ter­na­tional me­dia cov­er­age, but it didn’t really change the coun­try at all.

‘‘So it’s not a turn­ing point as such, but more of a punc­tu­a­tion point in our his­tory.’’

Bri­tish author­ity was es­tab­lished in 1840, but be­fore the ex­e­cu­tion of Maketu there were two sep­a­rate jus­tice sys­tems in op­er­a­tion.

‘‘It was the first time that Bri­tish law ap­plied to Maori any­where in the coun­try,’’ he says.

‘‘That’s the turn­ing point. That’s when Bri­tish law jumped the fence from only ap­ply­ing to set­tlers in the coun­try to ap­ply­ing to Maori, but at that stage it was only for ma­jor of­fences like mur­der.’’

The pro­fes­sor of his­tory at the fac­ulty of Maori devel­op­ment at AUT Univer­sity has more than 20 books un­der his belt.

He says Turn­ing Points has been years in the mak­ing while he sifted through an im­mense amount of in­for­ma­tion.

‘‘You can’t just rely on what other books have.

‘‘You have to go to the orig­i­nal doc­u­ments and that’s what I’ve tried to do as much as pos­si­ble for this.’’

Dr Moon dredged up in­for­ma­tion from the na­tional ar­chives, news­pa­per ar­ti­cles and pam­phlets pro­duced by or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Di­aries from peo­ple who at­tended the his­tor­i­cal hang­ing helped him set the scene for Maketu’s ex­e­cu­tion.

He says many peo­ple noted the dis­tinct lack of Maori pres­ence at the ex­e­cu­tion.

‘‘Some peo­ple thought there was go­ing to be a rev­o­lu­tion, one of their own group get­ting killed by the colonists.

‘‘On the day very few Maori turned up. But 1000 set­tlers did.’’

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

His­to­rian: Paul Moon’s lat­est book Turn­ing Points looks at events that changed the course of New Zealand his­tory.

Im­age: ALEXAN­DER TURN­BULL LI­BRARY, WELLING­TON. REF: E-216-F-141

Ex­e­cuted: Maketu Whare­to­tara, 17, was the first per­son ju­di­cially ex­e­cuted in New Zealand.

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