Honi Heke threat comes to nothing early 1845

Early 1845 story by Susan (nee Nagle) Holmes re threat of Honi Heki attack at Nagle Cove.


An Incident which occurred during the Maori War in N.Z.


Many years ago in far away New Zealand, on Great Barrier Island, there lived a family by the name of N----. The father Capt N had gone out from England (some years before what I am going to relate took place) to start a copper mine, but from one cause or another the undertaking did not succeed and leaving his family on the Island he had been appointed to the command of one of H.M.S.s engaged in taking troops from Auckland to the seat of the war, paying hasty visits occasionally to the island, as opportunity permitted. Not only were the natives fighting against the whites, but in many places tribe against tribe waged a terrible war-fare, which made life very unsafe for settlers on the various Islands in the vicinity. One of these tribes headed by a half-breed (or “half-caste” as they were then called), named “Johny Heckey” was the deadly foe of the tribe living near to the N----‘s house. The latter tribe however was always friendly to the whites, more especially to this family. Considering themselves a sort of “body guard” to them, possibly owing to the fact that Capt N never left home without sending for the old Chief Atarra, and giving him strict injunctions to take good care of his wife and children during his absence.

            The household consisted of (at this time) of Mrs. N---- three little girls, the eldest being nine, and the youngest a baby of one year old and a little boy of three years,* beside a woman servant, Mary, and man servant “Duncan”. The house which faced the bay (in front of which was a long sandy beach) had a wide veranda, with what are called French windows opening on to it and affording a view of the lawn, bordered with flowers and shrubs and the hawthorne hedge by which it was bordered. To the right was a hill that commanded a view of the sea, usually called the “little hill” in distinction to a larger one beyond. Upon the former was erected a flagstaff from which a flag waved every Sunday. If at any other time, it was the signal that indicated the arrival of my Father (for the writer was one of the children before mentioned). Some time had elapsed since his last visit to us, when one day the old Maoris from the lookout came rushing to the house to tell my mother that the notorious Johny Heckey (who was not only the enemy of their tribe, but had vowed vengeance against every white person on the Island, either man, woman, or child) was coming in a schooner filled with armed men, and that the Maoris were preparing for an attack. After delivering their message they hurried off to join their comrades, who by this time were dancing their war dance on the beach, their faces painted, feathers in their hair, their bodies naked, with the exception of “wrappoo” (a kind of mat) round their waists and armed with a spear and a Tommy Hawk (small hatchet).

            The feelings of my dear Mother can better be imagined than described, on a lonely island, surrounded by natives and fifty miles from any white settlement - but something must be done, lamentations are useless, and hastily calling her servants, it is decided to barricade the windows, and to fasten the children in one of the large open fireplaces, (to be safer in case of attack) provisions and such things as were thought necessary, were hastily put inside, and then our dear Mother kissing us and telling us not to be afraid, that God would take care of us, the opening was boarded up. This done Duncan, armed with a shotgun, and axe, marched up and down the veranda. My Mother was provided with a brace of pistols, one of which she offered to Mary, but the poor woman was so frightened at the thought of even holding the “wicked thing” that my Mother thought she would do more harm than good with it, so took it from her. A small loop hole had been left in one of the windows as a “look out” and now that all preperations that were possible, were completed there was nothing to be done but watch and wait, and (on the part of my dear Mother) pray, that we might be preserved from the terrible fate, which appeared inevitable. From time to time, Duncan reported the progress of events from the veranda, and occasionally a Maori was sent by the Chief to say that the vessel was coming nearer and that it certainly belonged to the formidable Johny Heckey.

            But Hark! Suddenly there comes a shout from the Maories, which makes poor Duncan more firmly grasp his gun, and my mother her pistols. Hastening to the loophole, what was her surprise to see the Maories throwing down their spears and tommy hawks, and rushing towards the landing place, while others were running towards the house headed by the old Chief Atarra, and shouting at the same time “Penny Rory, Penny Rory” (Captain) as they pointed to the “little hill”and the flagstaff, where at that moment the welcome signal was being unfurled. Delight succeeded suspence as the barricades were pulled down and the children were liberated to meet the embraces of their dear father instead of the fierce faces of Johny Heckey and his dreaded crew. Explanations followed, and we learned that owing to his ship having been detained in Auckland (for what reason I do not now remember), my Father had taken advantage of the delay to visit us, feeling anxious to know how we fared, and to tell my Mother that he had arranged for our removal to the Capital at an early date. He had come in the ship’s “Launch” which being unknown to the natives had caused them to suppose that the strange “little ship” to belong to their enemy. The faithful Maories were regaled with pipes, tobacco and ship’s biscuit to their heart’s content. When my dear Father heard of our fright and saw the means that had been taken for our protection, he could not restrain his tears, realizing what a terrible experience this had been for his dear wife, and fervent indeed were the thanks offered up to the Eternal father, who had so marvellously turned “her sorrow into Joy”. S.A.H.


Source: Phyllis Roberts, wife of Susan Holmes’ grandson the late Don Roberts.

Copyright Phyllis Roberts.

Note: 'Penny Rory" is the Captain no doubt, but the words  do not mean 'Captain'. 'Peni Rori' was the Maori pronouniation of F.S. Peppercorne's surname. It is highly probable that Peppercorne was the captain of the vessel that brought Captain Nagle to Nagles Cove.  The evidence for this is the Peni Rori/Peppercorne names is in the newspaper printed in Maori and English below in the 'Letters to the Editor' column of the Maori newspaper: ‘Te Karere o Nui Tireni’  ‘The Messenger of New Zealand’ Vol. 3, No.11, p58, 11th January, 1844.

        "Situations vacant for 50 workers at Aotea by Te Apakarame [Peter Abercrombie] and Pene Rori [F.S. Peppercorne]"

Note- F.S.Peppercorne was Frederick Septimus Peppercorne, who was associated the following year (1845) with William Webster and Ranulph Dacre in a mining venture at Coromandel.- Don Armitage.

Susan says in the article above that  there were 'three little girls, the eldest being nine, and the youngest a baby of one year old and a little boy of three years'.  Catherine b 3-4-35, susan b 5-5-40, Harry b 28-4-42, Isabel b 9-7-44 so Catherine was 9 years old up to 2-4-45, Harry was 3 years old from 28-4-45, and Isobel was a baby of 1 year old from 9-7-45. It seems like this incident took place sometime during March or April of 1845.