Missionary Carl Völkner killed at Ōpotiki

2 March 1865

Völkner’s death in the Illustrated London News (Alexander Turnbull Library, PUBL-0033-1865-47-080-2)

Local Māori adherents of a new religion, Pai Mārire, hanged the Church Missionary Society (Anglican) missionary Carl Völkner from a willow tree near his church at Ōpōtiki.

Many among Te Whakatōhea felt Völkner had betrayed them during the Waikato War (1863–4) by acting as an informant to Governor George Grey and accusing a popular Catholic missionary of aiding the Kīngitanga. Völkner’s return to Ōpōtiki on 1 March – despite warnings to stay away – unfortunately coincided with a visit from Pai Mārire emissaries.

Völkner’s body was later taken down and beheaded. Many of those present tasted his blood or smeared it on their faces. In a final insult, Pai Mārire firebrand Kereopa Te Rau swallowed Völkner’s eyes, dubbing one ‘Parliament’ and the other the ‘Queen and English law’.

The government responded swiftly to Völkner’s killing. Troops hunted down those responsible and took reprisals against local Māori. Much of the best land in eastern Bay of Plenty was confiscated and occupied by military settlers.

Völkner was buried at his church, which was later dedicated to St Stephen the Martyr.

Kereopa was handed over to Ngāti Porou by his erstwhile Tūhoe protectors in September 1871. Tried at Napier for Völkner’s murder, he was found guilty and hanged on 5 January 1872.