Academic uncovers his family's involvement in invasion of Parihaka

The invasion of Parihaka in 1881 is a painful chapter in Aotearoa's history.

Now, in writer Professor Richard Shaw's memoir, he delves into his family's past and reveals some home truths.

"People's land was stolen and my great-grandfather was a beneficiary of that process. I could avoid knowing anything about any of it for 55 years. To me, that's what Pākehā privilege looks like. There it is, right there," Prof Shaw told The Hui.

The politics professor has spent hours poring over official colonial documents and material to research his family history to write his book The Forgotten Coast.

"We see the best of ourselves on the western front, 20,000 kilometres away. We don't see the best of ourselves here in our own wars," he said.

Prof Shaw has uncovered some painful truths about his family's involvement in the Parihaka invasion, where 1600 troops invaded the peaceful settlement, among them his great-grandfather Andrew Gilhooley.

"I grew up with a photo on my parents' wall of Andrew Gilhooley, who was the captain of the Armed Constabulary rugby team. I'm 58 years old and I grew up with that photo and it never occurred to me to ask who this man was, why so little was spoken of him and known of him in my family," Prof Shaw said.

Gilhooley escaped British colonialism, emigrating from Ireland to become a Taranaki farmer and joined the Armed Constabulary, the force behind the invasion into Parihaka pā on November 5, 1881.

Prof Shaw learned his great-grandfather came to own three pieces of farmland - all confiscated from mana whenua.

Prof Shaw's also been touring the country giving talks about his book, with audiences learning another side to a dark chapter in Aotearoa's history.

The military occupation of Parihaka lasted for five years.

Richard Shaw.
Richard Shaw. Photo credit: The Hui

Pacifist leaders Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi were jailed without trial for more than a year.

"It's a violent occupation. It's malevolent, it's intended to oppress and suppress the people of Parihaka," Prof Shaw said.

"I can't avoid the historical fact that my great-grandfather was a part of the invasion force that massed outside Parihaka on the morning of the 5th of November, 1881, and more than that, he was there for four years as part of the occupation."

Taranaki tribal historian Professor Ruakere Hond is supportive of Prof Shaw's work and how the book is shedding light on their painful past, from a Pākehā point of view.

"It's brave to take on the project itself because it is such a difficult project. There's information in the cupboard that's been hidden away for so long," Professor Hond said.

The irony that Andrew Gilhooley was himself stripped of his land by British colonials back in Ireland isn't lost on Professor Hond. 

"I quite often take the view that violence begets violence that when people grow up, they grow up in certain situations, sometimes act out the same violence that was acted out upon them," Prof Hond said.

"When England came to Aotearoa, they saw themselves as establishing another England and Māori were simply in the way of that. Māori had views of asserting authority, their mana in this country. And that just wasn't part of the picture of what government wanted to achieve, so not a lot of that is surprising."

After three generations, Prof Shaw's family sold their land to other farmers in the 1970s. 

"There will be people who have written to me and said, 'You should return that land or your family should return that land'. It's no longer ours to return, and it hasn't been for nearly 50 years," he said.

"If I was a one-part owner of that land and you asked me the question, shouldn't you give the land back, I would be squirming in my seat."

Prof Hond said Prof Shaw is "providing leadership".

"His story isn't always going to be met with applause, both from Māori and from non-Māori. His story may be denied and may be countered by other perspectives, which I think is good," Prof Hond said.

For the people who still live at Parihaka, it's an opportunity to recount history through a different lens.

"I think the courage Richard had in doing this work is really around Richard perceiving the way in which the country can become," Prof Hond said.

"By going through this process, he is acting out how he wants to see this country come to terms with our shared experience. As long as that conversation continues within the work that Richard has done, it will continue to have value."

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.