Wiremu Kingi Maketu (also known as Maketu
Wharetotara or Waretotara) (c. 1824 – 7 March 1842) was the first
person executed in New Zealand under British rule. Maketu was also the
first New Zealand Māori to be tried and punished based on British
sovereignty over New Zealand.
Maketu was the son of Ruhe of Waimate, a chief of
the Ngāpuhi. Maketu was accused of the murder of 5 people on 20th
November 1841 on Motu Apohia, the island known as Robertson's Island
in the Bay of Islands. He was accused of killing Thomas Bull (Tamati
Puru) with an adze. The explanation for this killing was that Thomas
Bull had been mistreating Maketu.
Maketu was accused of then killing his employer
Elizabeth Robertson, a widow, her two children and Isabella Brind, who
was the grand-daughter of Rewa, a chief of the Ngai Tawake hapū, of
Kerikeri). Isabella's parents were Moewaka, Rewa's daughter and
Captain William Darby Brind. He was also accused of setting Mrs
Robertson's house on fire.
At first the Ngāpuhi refused to surrender Maketu to
the colonial authorities for trial. Eventually Ruhe, the father,
consented. It may be assumed that the death of Rewa's grand-child, for
which utu [an act of reciprocation for the death] was due, had much to
do with this decision.
Hone Heke had been absent from the Bay of Islands,
and on his return he advocated among the Ngāpuhi for confrontation
against the Government. A meeting of the Ngāpuhi was arranged by
Archdeacon Henry Williams at Paihia at the request of Tāmati Wāka Nene.
The meeting took place on the 16th December 1841
and including Ngāpuhi from Whangaroa and Hokianga, with upwards of a
thousand being present. The meeting was turbulent with Heke expressing
his opposition to the surrender of Maketu. When he rose to speak, he
interrupted Paerau who was speaking and flourishing his hatchet at
him. Upon this Pomare left the meeting as he did not want to be
involved in fighting between the different hapū of the Ngāpuhi, which
had occurred in 1830 in the so-called Girls' War. Heke did not
persuade the Ngāpuhi to accept his position. The meeting ended with
Heke and his supporters conducting a Haka on the beach at Paihia,
firing their muskets, which were loaded with ball.
Henry Williams prepared a statement of resolutions
made by the Ngāpuhi who dissociated themselves from Maketu's action,
which was signed by Tāmati Wāka Nene, Pomare, Waikato, Rewa, and Ruhe
(Maketu's father). This message was sent to George Clarke, who had
been appointed by Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson as the 'Protector
of Aborigines'. The message was published in the New Zealand Herald
and Auckland Gazette. Ruhe seems to have been over-borne by the
Ngāpuhi chiefs that supported the surrender of Maketu, as afterwards
Ruhe appeared to regret his decision as he threatened to shoot George
Clarke's cattle because he had taken his son prisoner to Auckland.
Beginning on 1 March 1842, Maketu was tried in the
Supreme Court in Auckland with Chief Justice William Martin presiding.
It was a first time that a Māori had been brought before the colonial
courts. C.B. Brewer was only retained to appear as Maketu's legal
counsel about an hour before the trial came on; he had no opportunity
of communicating with Maketu, nor did he see the depositions before he
came into court that morning. Brewer argued that the court did not
have jurisdiction over Maketu, on the ground of the prisoner's
ignorance of the crime of murder that was in the penal law of the
colony, and of his having no possible means or opportunity of
understanding the penal law of the colony. Swainson, the prosecuting
counsel, argued that there should be one rule for all people, whether
Māori or Pakeha. Martin CJ ruled that Maketu and could be tried and
punished by the court.
Maketu pleaded not guilty, but he was convicted of
murder by a jury and was sentenced to death. He was hanged at the
corner of Queen and Victoria Streets in Auckland. On the morning of
his execution, he requested to be baptised in the Anglican rite and
took the Christian names "Wiremu Kingi". Just prior to his execution,
Maketu dictated a statement whereby he said it his execution was just
because "it is my own doing" and that he had prayed to God to "wash my
Maketu was approximately 20 when the crimes were
committed. He was executed in Auckland, on 7 March 1842.
These events were considered a turning point in the
history of the Colony, as Hone Heke became an antagonist to the
colonial administration and began gathering support among the Ngāpuhi
for a rebellion against the colonial administration, which occurred in
1845 with the Flagstaff War.
Oliver, Steven. "Wiremu Kingi Maketu". Dictionary
of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved
Paul Moon (2010). New Zealand Birth Certificates: 50 of New Zealand's
Founding Documents (Auckland, AUT Media: ISBN 9780958299718) pp 68–69.
On 7 March 1842 Maketu Wharetotara, the 17-year-old
son of the Nga Puhi chief Ruhe of Waimate, became the first official
execution in New Zealand. Maketu was hanged at the
corner of Queen and Victoria Streets in Auckland for the murder of Mrs
Roberton, her two children and two others at the Bay of Islands the
(Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)
(Painting by Merrett, Joseph Jenner)