The white man who figuratively held the gun for a chief to pull the trigger thus igniting the worst holocaust New Zealand in New Zealand’s history.
In 1799 a ‘new dissent’ had been afoot for some several decades, the intense and radical revivalist child of ‘The Great Awakening’ that had spread throughout Christendom like a plague during the 18th century.
‘The Great Awakening’ was the outpouring of an energetic evangelical and revitalisation movement that had ignited Protestant Europe and North America in the 1730s, a distinct phenomenon which instilled in Christian listeners a sense of deep personal revelation of their salvation in Christ received through the experience of being ‘Born Again’.
Revivalist meetings became geared towards the inspiration of conversion to the gospels of those outside of the Word of the Bible, and as such were the catalyst that ignited a second Great Awakening that was responsible for the Missionary Movement.
One such man who stepped forward motivated by his own ‘road to Damascus’ moment volunteering to evangelise to those outside of the church was one Thomas Kendall. A man from a modest farming background born in Lincolnshire in 1778, who had made his way in the world, first in the teaching profession, and later, after his marriage at 25 in 1803 to Jane Quickfall, as a struggling draper and grocer in North Thoresby, Lincolnshire.
It was on a business trip to London in November 1805, when Kendall heard the charismatic speaker, Reverend Basil Wood that Kendall underwent a ‘born again’ experience that changed his life and stimulated his eventual entry into the Anglican Christian Mission Society as a mission settler to New Zealand.
By 1813 Thomas Kendal, his wife Jane and their brood of five children arrived on the convict ship ‘Earl Spencer’ into Sydney harbour, ready and eager to begin their mission life in New Zealand.
After some interminable delays, Kendall, his fellow mission settlers William Hall and John King set sail on an exploratory journey to the Bay of Islands on the 14th March 1814 and it was on this trip that Kendall met two of the most powerful northern chiefs, the great war chief Hongi Hika of Ngai Tawake and Ruatara of Te Hikutu. It was a fateful meeting and it led the canny Ruatara, in order to gain further mana and ‘contact status’ for himself, into extending his ‘protection’ to the new mission station that which then was established within the protective shadows of the Rangihoua Pa on the shores of the Bay of Islands in December 1814.
Although Kendall had arrived full of verve to teach and bring Maori into the salvation and loving presence of the gospel’s Christ, sadly, for the mission and his fellow missionaries in Christ, no-one really got along, the bickering and disagreements were constant and as a result very little was achieved materially or spiritually in the early years. Kendall had also been appointed as Justice of the Peace and instead of gaining him the respect he so ardently desired, his bombastic attitude and erratic temper only earned for him the enmity of his fellow settlers. Despised, emotional and self-tortured, Kendall was a man waiting to fall from grace little did he but know it.
It was also during these trying times that Kendall ran the failing mission school but it gave Kendall the opportunity to compile the first book in Maori which he had printed in 1815, ‘A korao no New Zealand ; or, The New Zealanders first book being an attempt to compose some lessons for the instruction of the natives’. It was a modest and earnest start and he continued on with his attempts to understand and write down spoken Maori.
By 1818 he had sent a manuscript off to the Cambridge scholar Professor Samuel Lee which was, to Kendall’s dismay, roundly and severely criticised by Lee. Whilst Kendall destructively brooded in the backlash of Lee’s censure, the mission struggled on, the isolation both physical and mental was demanding, the simple act of survival put undue strain on everyone at the mission and tensions were fraught to say the least. The mission settlers were hamstrung at every turn by Marsden in his remote office, which restricted and suffocated any independent moves by the settlers to improve their situation and escape the circumstances of the impoverishment they found themselves living in.
Over-riding the need to provide the necessities of life for his wife Jane, and his sons (the daughters had been left behind in boarding school in Sydney), Kendall’s ego determined to return to England
to work with Lee in Cambridge on a Maori grammar book, it was an unauthorised visit, and we know not how Kendall raised the funds but he was able to invite the war chief Hongi Hika and Waikato along with him. The visit saw Hongi Hika and fellow Chief Waikato feted to the point of boredom by the monied and titled of Great Britain including a visit with King George IV, who gifted Hika a number of trinkets and a chain mail suit of armour. It has been claimed that on the route back to New Zealand that Hika traded these bits of bling for 300 guns however that does not add up. There is one other candidate whom the couple met while at the English court and that was an attaché to the French embassy, the godson of Comte d’Artois (later King Charles X of France), Charles Phillippe Hypolite de Thierry, who understood that he had just purchased some 20,000 acres from Hika, according to the translations provided by Kendall. Monies were handed over to Hika, papers were signed attesting to the purchase and de Thierry left believing he was now owner of a vast tract of the North Island and that he had just dealt with its legal owner. It was this money that would have gained Hika the purchase of 300 muskets and powder in Sydney, not King George’s trinkets.
Thanks to the unwitting de Thierry and his desire to establish his own kingdom at the bottom of the world, Hika was now armed to the teeth and ready to set right the wrongs that lay heavy on his mana. ‘Shungee (sic) and Waikato have returned from England with a great quantity of guns, powder, balls, daggers etc etc and thus they are fully armed to murder, kill and destroy without reserve’ (John Butler.)
It was returning ‘home’ to life in New Zealand as an impoverished settler that was the underlying impetus that in the end drove Kendall, who by now was falling under the spell of the teachings of Rangitira Rakau regarding Maori cosmology and religion, to fall in with the strong wishes and urgings of the powerful war chief Hongi Hika. Hika had been embroiled in ongoing bloody tribal warfare for years, the guns purchased in Sydney added to his arsenal but he wanted and needed, in his mind, more. So Kendall seeing an opportunity to advance himself (stay alive, feed his family and prosper) and his cause (curry favour in order to access the closely guarded secrets of Maori cosmology and Maori carving) surreptitiously began trading in muskets and powder which was then traded directly to Hika.
Kendall’s excuse when caught out was that one in this land, did what one had to do in order to live another day and that if the CMS were going to withhold monies owing to the settlers and restrict their movements, then they, meaning he, would do what he would in order to get on and achieve an economic independence away from the heavy-handed CMS in the guise of Marsden.
Hongi Hika proceeded to take his heavily armed taua force on a cannibalistic rampage the likes which had never been seen before in the land, it was a literal holocaust. No iwi had managed to withstand the onslaught of Hika’s forces when they had such overwhelming firepower in their hands. There was not a standing army within the South Pacific who had as much fire power in their hands as did Hika’s army courtesy of de Thierry and Kendall. The carnage was gruesome as were the cannibalistic feasts in the aftermath, the population of Maori was set back for generations (it is believed that over 20,000 Maori were slaughtered, men, women and children) and the demoralisation of the iwi who had suffered Hika was so profound it took decades to recover.
Kendall was eventually sacked in 1823 for adultery and unbecoming conduct by the CMS after his life spiralled out of control for he had decamped from his marital home and gone ‘Pakeha Maori’, living with the Rangitira Rakau’s daughter, Tungaroa for two years on the premise that he was learning about Maori cosmology.
Kendall remained unrepentant regarding his gun-trading to the Maori and the part he played duping de Thierry of a substantial sum of money for Hika and the carnage that followed in its wake, for he had held the opinion that guns were bringing to Maori a tool for civilizing themselves.
Kendall, despite his initial ‘born again’ ardent desire to serve the Lord and bring the love of Christ to the inhabitants of New Zealand had only, in the end, managed to serve the Devil.
Judith Binney ‘The life of Thomas Kendall; a legacy of guilt’
Paul Moon ‘Fatal frontiers; a new history of New Zealand in the decade before the treaty’
Matthew Wright ‘Guns and Utu; a short history of the musket wars’
Trevor Bentley Pakeha Maori’ and ‘Tribal guns and gunners’