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War Weapon as Friendship Overture

June 7, 2023

In 2016, the Government announced that 28 October would mark He Rā Maumahara, a commemoration date for Te Pūtake o Te Riri, the New Zealand Wars. Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi and Te Rau Aroha Museum of the Price of Citizenship both have exhibitions that delve into the New Zealand Wars.

Te Rau Aroha has taken a personal approach to war and the acknowledgement that people who serve in theatres of war are more than soldiers; as people with lives and livelihoods, and whānau. The approach of Te Rau Aroha has inspired this blog. Through a weapon used in the Northern War we see and relive a generational relationship which began during that period.

In 1972Waitangi National Trust was approached by the grandson of Mrs Jessie Wood, enquiring if Waitangi would be interested in the donation of a flintlock musket that had once belonged to Hōne Heke. It had been given by Hōne Heke to Mr Wood’s great-great-grandfather William Wells, following the Northern War.

Wells had moved to Waimate North from Auckland after his marriage to Sarah Wallis in 1842.His first child, also named William, was born in Waimate in 1843. Wells’ descendants described the relationship between Heke and Wells as ‘fond’, with Heke giving the musket to Wells to encourage him to remain in Waimate North.

Despite the gift of the musket, inlaid with gold and silver, Wells and his family moved elsewhere in Taitokerau. Wells and his wife went on to have 12 children, including two sets of twins. To his tenth child, Mrs Harriet Harris, Wells left the musket upon his death.

Harriet was married in Mangonui where she lived the rest of her life. From 1899 Harriet took to ringing the bell of the Anglican Church overlooking Mangonui Harbour every New Year’s Eve for five minutes leading up to midnight. Many attempted to stop her over the years. A notable year a group of locals dressed as ghosts muffled the bell-clapper.

Of her four children, Harriet left the musket to her daughter Jessie Wood. By the time Jessie was ready to make her own arrangements for the firearm, she was living in Manawatū. With the help of her grandson, Waitangi National Trust was contacted as a potential place appropriate for the firearm to be gifted. Auckland Museum was considered a safer place by the family, but less appropriate for it contextually. After all, it had belonged to a Ngāpuhi chief and participant in the Northern War. The family recognised that, writing in the letter “I am sure you would welcome this important part of NZ history and also the Maoris (sic) of his tribe would also probably be happy with it in your hands.”

The family decided the gift would be made in July of 1972. The date corresponded with the birthdate of Harriet Harris and the family thought the date appropriate given the musket had once been in her hands. The musket has remained in the collection of Waitangi National Trust, and can be seen on display in Ko Waitangi Tēnei in Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi. It is displayed in a case with other reminders of the Northern War and those who took up arms to uphold the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Hōne Heke has long been remembered for many actions. Signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi first on February 6, cutting down the flagstaff in Kororāreka, his role as a general in the Northern War. Too often, war is commemorated by remembering soldiers. It would be better served to also remember them as people. With lives, families, and friendships outside of their actions in theatres of war. To the descendants of William Wells, Heke is remembered as a man who was friends with their tūpuna.