Author(s): Mark Derby
In April 1916, John Cullen, the Commissioner (that is, the head) of the New Zealand Police Force, personally led a raid on the Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana's spiritual community at Maungapohatu, deep in the Urewera mountains. The raid, which was based on trumped-up charges, left two of Rua's followers dead and a number of others wounded, and is often described as the last battle of the New Zealand Wars. There is no doubt that the outcome of the raid was disastrous for race relations in this country and a historic low point for the New Zealand police. This book is an account of this extraordinarily dramatic, undeniably tragic and profoundly symbolic event in our history, told by recounting the life stories of its two principal protagonists. John Cullen was a farm labourer born in rural Ireland, who rose through the ranks to head the police force and was famously violent, devious and authoritarian. Rua was notably gentle and inspirational, although often mysterious and contradictory. This is a highly readable, potent and fascinating book of New Zealand history. The two subjects of this dual biography represent two poles of the national character, the archetypal Pakeha no-nonsense conservative who was quite prepared to break the law to serve the interests of the section of society he represented, and the semi-mythical Maori spiritual leader, steeped in mysterious charisma and pre-scientific beliefs. The 2007 anti-terrorist raids on Tuhoe activists and their urban anarchist supporters have given the 1916 Maungapohatu raid a whole new contemporary resonance, a connection that will be explored in the conclusion of this book.
Mark Derby is a writer and historian, who has worked for Te Ara, the online encyclopaedia of New Zealand, and the Waitangi Tribunal. He has recently edited Kiwi Companeros, a book about New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War, and completed a Master's thesis at Victoria University on John Cullen. He lives with his family on Wellington's south coast.