Bay of Islands - The Girls' War

Author: Florence Keene     Publisher: Northlander     Date: 19th Century

During the early nineteenth century the Bay of Islands was a popular provisioning base for whaling ships that sailed the South Pacific and Antarctic waters. Master of the whaling vessel, "Toward Castle" Captain Brind, when in the Bay, took as wives two high-ranking Maori girls, one the daughter of Kiwikiwi, the chief of Kororareka, and the other a close relation of Te Morenga, the chief of Taiamai, which is now known as Ohaewai.

Both of these men were chiefs with great many in the North and to rouse their anger was to ask for instant trouble. After some time, Captain Brind tired of these girls and returned them to their kainga.

This in itself was a slur on their tribes and deeply resented but when the Captain chose two other girls, one the daughter of the powerful Hongi Hika and the other a daughter of Rewa, a Bay of Islands chief, there was angry muttering among the relatives of Kiwikiwi.

Before the trouble fermented further, the Captain took his two new wives with him on a trip to Tonga, and so temporarily avoided a confrontation.

In February 1830, the Captain returned to Kororareka and the two girls went ashore for a swim in the warm waters of the Bay. The jealous eyes of the discarded wives and their mothers soon espied the two girls disporting themselves in the waves. They rushed down to the beach into the water and in a flash all was turmoil, with unforgivable insults being hurled from one to the other.

Finally the wife of Kiwikiwi and mother of one of the discarded wives snatched a handful of hair from each of the favoured girls' heads and said she was going to use it for fuel to cook her food. According to Maori tradition, the most sacred part of the body was the head and so to even strike it was an unforgivable insult. To burn it as fuel was a heinous crime and called for utu.

On the other hand, Captain Brind considered that the indignities suffered by his two latest wives were also an insult to him. He sent notes to the several whaling vessels in the Bay at the time to ask them to fire on the natives but not wishing to become involved, they all refused. Feeling that the situation was becoming more and more dangerous for him he weighed anchor and sailed out of the Bay, never to return.

But the trouble was still simmering. Rewa, Titore, Moka, Wharepoaka and Ururoa (successor to Hongi Hika) on the one side, and Kiwikiwi with Pomare and his relations from Taiamai on the other, indulged in muru raids and the trouble would have passed off without bloodshed except for an unfortunate incident.

An excitable young warrior of Kiwikiwi's taua fired a shot, which killed a woman of Ururoa's tribe. Immediately the warriors flung off their mats and sprang into action and the battle began. Regardless of danger, Hongi, a supporter of Ururoa, but who nevertheless did not wish for bloodshed rushed forward to stop the conflict - but in vain. He was shot and his bravery only added a fiercer flame to "the fire in the fern."

European women and children of Kororareka escaped to the whaling vessels but when Kiwikiwi's wife and daughter joined the rush to the ships, the girl was shot dead on the beach.

Kiwikiwi had some 800 warriors while Ururoa had 600 and Ururoa was driven back leaving the beach strewn with nearly 100 dead and wounded. Both parties later carried off the bodies of their chiefs but the dead slaves were left on the battlefield and afterwards buried by the European residents.

Across the Bay at Paihia Messrs Henry Williams, Richard Davis and Gilbert Puckey, seeing a battle raging jumped into their boat and were soon on the scene of action. For a whole day they endeavoured to make peace and were at last successful. Two days later Samuel Marsden arrived in the Bay and consolidated that peace.

The day following the fighting was Sunday, and Kiwikiwi according to Maori custom abandoned and set fire to his pa as blood had been spilt on it. Eventually he retired with his people and possessions to Otuihi at the junction of the Kawakawa and Waikare rivers.

This battle was known as "The Girls' War."

By Florence Keene, from Tai Tokerau

Sourced from Northland Room, Whangarei Central Library

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