1869: Hamiora Pere, Maori “traitor” to the Queen

2 comments November 16th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1869, Hamiora Pere became the only New Zealander ever executed for treason.

Maurice Shadbolt’s Season of the Jew is a historical novel of the conflict that doomed Hamiora Pere. It’s told from the standpoint of Te Kooti, who liked to compare the Maori cause to that of the Israelites resisting Egypt, and founded a religious sect that still persists today.

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..

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

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1491: Eight current and converted Jews at an auto de fe

6 comments November 16th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1491, the murder of the Holy Child of La Guardia was punished with an auto de fe and the public execution of eight Jews — some practicing, some converted to Christianity (who enjoyed the mercy of strangulation before being burnt) — and three others already dead but exhumed for the occasion.

The auto de fe — literally, “act of faith” — was a public ritual of religious penance for the condemned. Though its performance did not always precede the execution of its participants, it became closely associated with the savagery of the Spanish Inquisition.

In the hysteria of the Holy Child of La Guardia case — one of history’s better-remembered instances of “blood libel” implicating Jews in the ritual murder of Christian children — the result was foreordained.

Knitting together (inconsistent) confessions obtained under torture, the famed Inquisitor Torquemada proved a conspiracy of Jews had kidnapped and crucified a child further to the concoction of a magic potion that depended on the heart of an innocent Christian — despite a fruitless high-and-low search for some missing child who might have been the actual victim.

After this day’s gaudy public slaughter, a cult sprang up around the supposed martyr, adored in a chapel erected where one of the prisoners had once had a home — the very spot, it was said, where the Jews conspired. The Holy Child was a staple of Spanish literature down to the 20th century and is still venerated in La Guardia.

But Torquemada aimed for results well beyond Christendom’s martyrology, and the wretches at the stake would not be this day’s only victims.

John Edward Longhurst argues in The Age of Torquemada that the Inquisitor seized on the Holy Child case to orchestrate “his heart’s desire — the expulsion of all Jews from Spain.”*

Early the next year, the Spanish monarchy obliged, permanently remaking Spain:

If Ferdinand and Isabella were hesitating over expelling the Jews from Spain, the discovery of this latest Jewish plot would surely resolve all doubts. The Auto de Fe of November, 1491, exploited the affair to its fullest, emphasizing not only all the gruesome details of the Murder but the Jewish menace to Christians intended by it. The sentence against the Jew Juce Franco, read aloud to the great crowd at the Auto de Fe, identifies him as a seducer of Christians to the Law of Moses in language that clearly foreshadows the Edict of Expulsion four months later

We may be sure that Ferdinand and Isabella were treated to a lengthy account of this case. It also is clear, from their own observations in the Edict of Expulsion, that Torquemada impressed on them the determination of the Jews to persist in their efforts to seduce Christians to Judaism. As long as they were permitted to remain, the danger of infection would never be eliminated, no matter how harsh the measures employed against them.

* Or, their forcible conversion … which would then keep the Inquisition in business for years to come.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Auto de Fe,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Innocent Bystanders,Jews,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Notable Sleuthing,Popular Culture,Posthumous Executions,Power,Public Executions,Spain,Wrongful Executions

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