History As Propaganda

The case of Vincent O’Malley

By John Robinson  

Recently several of us took the train to Wellington to hear a talk at the National Library by Vincent O’Malley about his recent book, The Great War for New Zealand, Waikato 1800-2000.

O’Malley does not take on the role of an independent scholar; indeed, he is firmly in the rebel camp.

He is an avowed supporter of the king movement and the dedication of his book is to “those who founded and fought to defend the Kingitanga”.

His presentation began with a slide of his friendly meeting with the current ‘king’.


Advocating the Maori ‘king’s’ legitimacy

Vincent O’Malley makes false claims

The claim for the legitimacy of this ‘king’ and for a separate kingdom had been already made in the introduction to O’Malley, with the insistence that “The Crown invaded the Waikato”.

There was little of fact in O’Malley’s talk, rather an insistence that the version he represented should be taught at all schools (with a decision imposed rather than left to teachers).

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage was hosting a talk of propaganda in favour of a separate monarchy, of rebellion and active opposition to the unified national state, in support of a ‘king’ who has called for race-based separation of government.

Questioning O’Malley’s conclusions

Te Wherowhero at the time he became”king”

During the question time, I disagreed with his claim that “the Crown was overwhelmingly hostile to Maori”; they had agreed to protect those Maori who were under threat and in 1857 Governor Grey had promised to provide all that Waikato desired, which had been warmly welcomed by Te Wherowhero (soon to be the first ‘king’).

I pointed out the considerable disagreements among Waikato Maori, in opposition to O’Malley’s unified picture.

To this O’Malley claimed, wrongly, that any opposition to the king movement was not home-grown, but had been stimulated by Governor Browne.

Differences over confiscated land issues

Tawhaio rejected the return of much of the confiscated land

When Roger Childs asked for comment about Tawhiao’s refusal to accept the return of confiscated land, O’Malley said the offer was only for 20,000 acres.  I disagreed, pointing that the offer had been for all confiscated land not already sold, which had delighted Rewi Maniapoto.

O’Malley waved that away with the claim that the sources of my information (which he did not know) were all wrong, and moved to the next question.

I have been left with an impression of arrogance, and a fixation on one narrative.  O’Malley will readily dismiss any difficult facts, without having any knowledge of the source of the information. 

This is a familiar pattern.  O’Malley has made a number of wild claims that lack substance.

Unsubstantiated claims of atrocities

He supported Otorohanga College students “shock at the burning to death of residents of a Waikato village”, with the claim that I argue in my book that the evidence that people were deliberately torched to death is clear and unambiguous.”

He has painted a picture of “an almost incomprehensible act of savagery” in an article in the Listener, claiming “a George Grey-inspired attack that killed up to 100 Maori men, women and children to crush a non-existent uprising”.

His source of this claim of almost one hundred dead is vague, “Maori oral histories”, without any firm foundation in fact.

What did happen at Rangiaowhia in 1864

The skirmish at Rangiaowhia

All this is nonsense; information of what actually occurred is well known, and given in a Kapiti Independent article, “What happened at Rangiaowhia”.  (Scroll down to  November 7.)

This was one of the most sensible actions in the war.

In 1864, the British Army ignored a well-fortified pa at Paterangi, outflanked the kingites’ heavy defences and moved on to capture the food supplies of the garrison at Rangiaowhia.

There was some resistance by armed warriors, resulting in the deaths of five British troops and ten Maori; the fighting that resulted in the burning of one hut started when Maori shot and killed British officers who were asking them to move away.

‘Proclaimed advocacy and propaganda’

O’Malley’s work is proclaimed advocacy, propaganda.

Yet he demands that his version be presented in all New Zealand schools, the choice to be taken from the teachers by some central edict.

Official support for his spin must concern us all.