New book says brutal attack in NZ Land Wars never occurred

A controversial publishing company accused of promoting anti-Māori views has released a new book, which insists one of the most brutal Crown attacks during the New Zealand Land Wars never occurred.

Piers Seed's Hoani's Last Stand, the latest work in Tross Publishing's collection, claims to tell the true story of the 1864 invasion of Rangiaowhia, denying Māori were burnt to death there in a whare karakia or church.

"[The book] really hurts me because innocent people suffered," said Hazel Wander, the great granddaughter of Wikitoria Te Mamae Pahi, who fled the invasion.

"The whare karakia (place of worship) was burnt to the ground and inside of that whare karakia were the tūpuna (ancestors)."

The invasion of Rangiaowhia is said to have involved more than a 1000 troops.

It was a thriving village, known for its vast production of food and home to non-combatants who historian Vincent O'Malley says were predominantly women, children and elderly.

He said it was likely targeted to stop the food supply to the Kiingitanga, who were considered 'rebels', and to claim its productive lands.

"A group of people inside a whare open fire on the Crown forces as they approach them, and eventually those troops set fire to the whare and those inside it are torched to death," he said.

"There are multiple eye witness accounts that indicate that this happened, that the fire was deliberately set alight... and that the settlement was predominantly occupied by women, children and elderly men as well."

After Wander's great grandmother Wikitoria fled the invasion, she told her elders what she saw, and was later given the name Te Mamae, meaning 'the pain'.

She said Wikitoria had passed down stories about what she saw so no one would forget them.

"One of the little four-year-old boys, she remembers the old people telling him run, because his clothes were on fire.

"What did they do? They shot him. A four-year-old boy."

But some of the atrocities she describes are rejected in Hoani's Last Stand.

Seed denies Māori were burnt to death in a church or that the village was attacked.

The author claims the Crown's goal was to secure it peacefully, but the situation escalated when the troops were fired-at.

He acknowledges that a number of houses were set alight, but suggests this was not intended to kill Māori, only to drive them out.

"It is exactly the same as starving someone out, only two weeks faster," he wrote.

Tross Publishing told 1News in a statement that it stood by the publication.

"Tross Publishing rejects every one of these allegations as the book is based on all the known written eye-witness accounts of the time - both native and European - which are given in full at the end, and not on oral accounts that can be unreliable - especially after several generations," it said.

"With its accuracy, great detail and many references this is a book that we are proud to have published."

But Tom Roa, a descendant of Thomas Power and wife Kahutoi, who lived at Rangiaowhia, rejected this.

"If I was to secure Rangiaowhia and not attack Rangiaowhia, then why bring 1200-odd of the most powerful army of the world at that time to a village of old men, women, children and disabled people? It's incomprehensible," he said.

"They were coming here to take the land, to take the livelihoods of those people who were prospering. And part of the sadness of that was that it was Māori and Pākehā prospering together."

One crown eye witness account described a house being deliberately lit by troops, and seeing seven charred bodies visible from the rubble.

Descendants of the people who lived there believe that while it didn't look like a traditional place of worship, this was the burning church many refer to.

"Our oral histories say that whare was designated a whare karakia because there was a cross above it," said Tom Roa.

It's not clear if stores and libraries will be stocking this book, but previous books published by Tross are being sold at stores around the country, they're available at public libraries and have even been pitched to high schools.

Roa said he hoped people would read them with caution.

"I'm keen to encourage people to look at that evidence, check the authenticity of that evidence."

READ MORE: Company accused of anti-Māori publishing promoting books at schools

Wander said she believed the latest edition in Tross Publishing's collection did not belong on any book shelf.

READ MORE: Educators say publishers' books anti-Māori, hateful and untrue

"It's making a lie of my nan, its making a lie of my mum... what I'd like to happen to that book, is for it to be taken off the shelves," she said.