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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Volkner execution

The Whakatohea rangatira, Mokomoko, was given a full restorative pardon by the NZ government for his wrongful conviction for murder at the Auckland Supreme Court in 1866 and subsequent execution and interring at Mt Eden prison.  This was made law in a unique Act of the NZ Parliament last year which is recorded in text of both English and Te Reo Maori.  From the Preamble:
In 1866, Te Whakat┼Źhea Rangatira Mokomoko was tried and executed for the murder of Carl Sylvius Volkner. Following conviction, two of the co-accused of Mokomoko admitted their guilt. Those persons have since been pardoned. Throughout the trial Mokomoko maintained his innocence.
My input to the Bill here.  I see last month Kereopa has been pardoned too for his conviction in the case.
The rare statutory pardon for Kereopa Te Rau, included in a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with a Rotorua iwi, has passed into law without fanfare.
A result of careful research and a tribe's unshakeable belief, the pardon effectively means Kereopa is no longer guilty of the murder in March 1865 of German-born Carl Sylvius Volkner, an Anglican missionary who was hanged from a willow tree and then beheaded beside a wooden church near Opotiki.
Kereopa was among several Maori convicted of Volkner's murder, a crime which one historian maintains set back race relations by 100 years.

So, as far as I can determine all the defendants for this matter - the prosecuted 'murder' - have now been pardoned in one way or another by the Crown; indeed it seems to be NZ government policy for some decades to do so.  The NZ government is doing so regardless of the level of involvement, or what their individual defences were to the Crown charge of murder.  It follows then that it is NZ government policy to acknowledge that all the convictions, at least, were wrongful. But why were they wrongful? what makes it wrongful? especially when confessions were forthcoming according to the Crown?  It isn't a case of mistaken identity on which this turns, but the status of what occurred.

Is it the NZ government's practice of English law in its courts that are at fault? -  that it was a faulty prosecution, faulty jury, faulty judge, faulty law? - is that the reason for these pardons?  The pardons flow because they are given for more than that.  The act of killing and how that came about is not deemed murder by the Crown anymore, that is what follows from what the Crown is doing.  The killing of Volkner was not murder, but rather something else.

That something else is an execution - a lawful killing.  The time for the Crown to complete this circle and embrace the corollary of its own logic is close.

Volkner is the case of the German Anglican missionary who returned - against warnings - to his native parish in time of war when his denomination was aligned to the Governor, the NZ government and the British who had in the previous year invaded their relations further along the bay.  Volkner was involved in other districts and accused of assisting the British military.  He came with Grace - another Anglican Missionary - wittingly or not as agent provocateurs of the Governor.  

Volkner was identified as an offender on arrival and promptly arrested along with Grace.  He was put under house detention after he was made to understand the charges and had answered questions put to him. Interestingly all accounts I have seen say that Volkner accepted and submitted to the proceedings. Did Volkner and Grace accept the legality, the validity, of the proceedings? I think Volkner probably did as Tino Rangatiratanga and tikanga Maori was a fact, not just an assertion, and Maori authority was a day-to-day reality in the 1860s and it had always been so up to that point.  A hui began of the people from outside who laid down the Aukati, and the local rangatira, which sat all night before a sentence of hanging was determined the following day and the execution was carried out that day.  This was done, let us be clear, by Maori authority on charges of trespassing an Aukati and espionage to abet the enemy (being the NZ government in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi, signed Opotiki 27-28 May 1840).

What Kereopa did next with the deceased, after the execution, was literally eye-popping but was the sort of ritual desecration not incomparable with Victorian era barbarities performed by some British authorities (which is all putting it politely).  The Governor, Grey, had declared war on the Kingites when he crossed the Mangatawhiri in 1863 and he declared war against all tribes when he pre-emptively put a night-time curfew on all Maori shipping in the Waitemata. Every day since has been a backward step for Maori and a step forward for the settlers. Which is why the Crown's reversed position on Volkner is hopeful. A decent settlement becomes possible with the Crown's acknowledgment. If that Maori authority was lawful back then, then when did it ever stop being lawful? All the way up to capital offences. If it can be practised in those circumstances why can't it be practiced now?


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