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Irish chief of New Zealand

Irish chief of New Zealand

In 1845 a Maori chief and war leader, Hōne Wiremu Heke Pōkai (aka “Hōne Heke” c. 1807/1808 – 1850) led a New Zealanders in a rebellion against the English. The rebellion is known as The Flagstaff War for the action of Hōne Heke who challenged the authority of the British by cutting down the British flagstaff on Flagstaff Hill at what is now Russell, New Zealand.

Hōne Heke removing the British ensign from Flagstaff Hill.

In the summer of 1846 an Irish newspaper published a rather amazing claim. It brought to mind stories like “The Man who would be King” or the real-life soldier of fortune Colonel Alexander Gardner.

It is stated that Heki, the New Zealand chief, who has given such opposition to the British authority in that colony, is a native of the county Tipperary; his real name is Hickey: he emigrated from Ireland some years ago, and was shipwrecked on the coast of New Zealand, and taken into the interior of the island by a hunting party of the natives, and sold as a slave to one of the chiefs, who adopted him as his son, got him tattooed, and gave him his daughter in marriage. On the death of the old chief, his Irish son-in-law was chosen as his successor, on account of his skills in war.

A possible reason for this 19th century bit of “fake news”, or rumour may be that Tipperary was one of the more nationalistic areas of Ireland at the time. Therefore the idea that a home-town boy was leading a bunch of “savages” in rebellion against the British probably appealed to local sentiments.

It seems that it might also be an occasional tradition of old to insert Irishmen into stray bits of history… I’m having trouble finding a source for it, but there’s supposedly a medieval tradition that says the soldier who stabbed Jesus with a spear was Irish. There are also tales that Simon Magus, mentioned in the Book of Acts in the Bible, was actually a Druid. Which is leading to next month’s topic…

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