Part history, part biography, part social commentary, this fascinating book is about infamous events that shook New Zealand to its core.
In 1865, Rev Carl Sylvius Volkner was hanged, his head cut off, his eyes eaten and his blood drunk from his church chalice. One name - Kereopa Te Rau (Kaiwhatu: The Eye-eater) - became synonymous with the murder.
In 1871 he was captured, tried and sentenced to death. But then something remarkable happened. Sister Aubert and William Colenso - two of the greatest minds in colonial New Zealand - came to his defence.
Regardless, Kereopa Te Rau was hanged in Napier Prison. But even a century and a half later, the events have not been laid to rest. Questions continue to emerge: Was it just? Was it right? Was Kereopa Te Rau even behind the murder? And who was Volkner - was he a spy or an innocent?
In a personal quest, author Peter Wells travels back into an antipodean heart of darkness and illuminates how we try to make sense of the past, how we heal, remember - and forget.
Peter Wells has done a splendid job in writing a on an extremely controversial and highly unknown event of New Zealand history. It took me by surprise the detail and accuracy of Wells's research and dedication to the book, it is moving and engrossing.
Wells writes compassionately about the hanging of Rev Carl Sylvius in 1865, 25 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The barbaric drinking of his blood from a church chalice and eating of his eyes by Te Rua, setting race relations back and opening wounds that still have not healed. Wells describes the history behind Te Rua's charges of Murder and subsequent hanging of the elusive Te Rua 6 years later.
A favourite part of mine is the descriptions of the prison. Wells provides us with extensive descriptions, photos and layout plans. Also included is a list of the clothing allocated to each prisoner. This included "2 pairs of boots, 2 pairs of trousers, 2 cotton shirts, 1 serge shirt, 1 cap, 2 pair of socks, Bedding - 1 rug, 1 pair of blankets, 1 mattress and pillow....Each prisoner gets one stick of tobacco a week" (pg 194). The book is full of little snippets of life, and it makes for a complete and extensive inquiry into the case.
The use of primary sources, that are in colour really took me, and allowed me to identify sections of interest. I also really admire the use of colour photographs to show the areas as they are now, and these are placed throughout the book which I believe helps hold interest and allows a picture to develop in the readers mind, binding both history and modern day New Zealand.
Overall this book allows the reader to think critically about the position of race relations today, the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi and consider what is right, and what could be right going forward. This book is a great buy at $44.99 and I would recommend it to all people who are interested in the history of New Zealand, there are amazing little snippets of information that you are bound not to have known before reading!
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