November 16th, 2008 Headsman
On this date in 1869, Hamiora Pere became the only New Zealander ever executed for treason.
Pere* came by the distinction quite accidentally — even setting aside the queer circumstance of his “betraying” a state on the opposite side of the globe by resisting its claim to his ancestral homeland.
Hamiora Pere was one of five Maori prisoners from the Siege of Ngatapa during Te Kooti’s War — an indigenous resistance against British colonization — to face the fatal charge.
The crown handled these cases carefully.
Though all five men drew death sentences (mandatory for treason), the government was evidently trying to stay out of the martyr-making business — as revealed by a judge’s comment during official deliberations.
I believe the result is the very best that could have been arrived at. I am glad to know that Mr McLean thinks that one execution will be useful as more would have been by way of example and caution.
Unfortunately for Hamiora Pere, the one of those five who was most likely set up to be the “example,” Wi Tamararo, committed suicide in prison shortly after his sentence.
Pere seemingly became the next in line for hanging because he was associated with murders in a noteworthy massacre at Matawhero that slew 33 Europeans and 37 of their Maori allies. Notably, however, the charge of murder actually filed against him was dropped prior to trial since he could be placed at the scene of the attack, but not directly shown to have killed anyone. Even off the indictment, it may have been the thing that doomed him.
Whatever the nature of the deliberations — and this report (pdf) of New Zealand’s Waitangi Tribunal inconclusively attempts to unpack the story with the patchy evidence available — the remaining convicts got clemency. Four years later, they were pardoned outright.
Pere got the noose at Wellington, and the accidental historical footnote. He would seem destined to maintain his unusual distinction indefinitely, since New Zealand has abolished the death penalty altogether.
Fear of Death
It is the circumstantial distinction of his case that earns Pere his place in this blog out of the numberless thousands to meet his same fate.
But in the end, he faced the gallows in that existential nakedness common to all us mortal wretches beholding death. Many in these pages meet their ceremonial end with with bravado; Hamiora Pere, by contrast, suffered all the pitiably human torments of fear, according to the report of the Daily Southern Cross:
He received the notice of his approaching death with calmness, and it was not until the morning before the execution that he gave any outward sign that he realised his terrible position. … [after his last farewell with his family he] became terribly distressed. He evidently fully recognised his position; he knew that he had looked for the last time on those from whom only he had any right to expect sympathy; every incident was reminding him how rapidly his term of life was decreasing, and it was not until his spiritual adviser … had been with him some time, that he became more composed.
[on the morning of the execution, Pere’s] responses [to his spiritual advisor] were accompanied by a peculiar moaning, and by convulsive sobbing. … the prisoner, quite a young man, and with nothing in his general appearance worthy of special remark, was sobbing bitterly, and was evidently suffering from intense mental agony; he looked anxiously around, yet stood firm and erect while he was being pinioned, repeating, as well as his trembling voice would allow, the prayers that were being offered on his behalf. … At the foot of the steps [to the gallows] the prisoner halted a moment, but, being led up, was quickly placed in the centre of the platform, under the noose, which was immediately fixed round his neck. From the time the prisoner left his room, until the rope was adjusted, he continued praying in a low moaning tone, interrupted frequently by violent sobbing …
* Also spelled “Peri” and, occasionally, “Pera”.
On this day..
- 1747: Thomas Fuller, Hawkhurst Gang smuggler - 2016
- 1915: The Ghadar Mutineers - 2015
- 1700: Jamie Macpherson, Highlander - 2014
- 1688: Goodwife Ann Glover, Salem trial run - 2013
- 1724: Willem Mons, head grafter - 2012
- 1724: Jack Sheppard, celebrity escape artist - 2011
- 1999: Zarmeena - 2010
- 1885: Louis Riel, Metis leader - 2009
- 1491: Eight current and converted Jews at an auto de fe - 2007
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions
Tags: 1860s, 1869, first peoples, hamiora pere, maori, maori wars, maurice shadbolt, new zealand land wars, new zealand wars, november 16, ringatu, season of the jew, te kooti, te kooti's war, wellington, wi tamararo