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The death penalty

Page 3 – Mokomoko and Völkner

Mokomoko, executed 17 May 1866

The Te Whakatōhea chief Mokomoko was one of five Māori executed on 17 May 1866 for being involved in the murder of the missionary Carl Völkner at Ōpōtiki in 1865. The government punished Te Whakatōhea further for Völkner’s death by confiscating much of the iwi’s land.

Völkner’s death had occurred during what Pākehā called the ‘Hauhau disturbances’. Many Māori saw Völkner as a government spy. When in May 1865 he ignored warnings from Te Whakatōhea to stay away from Ōpōtiki, he was seized and later hanged. Mokomoko denied responsibility for the killing. He claimed that he went away after the decision was made to kill Völkner and was not present at the death. His descendants hold that he had earlier tried to help Völkner escape.

Mokomoko surrendered in October 1865 and was tried in Auckland on 27 March 1866. Witnesses identified Mokomoko as a member of the procession that took Völkner to his execution. Testimony that he had carried the rope with which Völkner was hanged was to be crucial in his conviction. No witness, however, claimed that Mokomoko was directly involved in the killing itself.

According to Te Whakatōhea the rope had been taken from Mokomoko. In the end the evidence was deemed sufficient to make him an accessory to Völkner’s murder. Heremita Kahupaea, Hakaraia Te Rahui, Horomona Propiti and Mikaere Kirimangu joined Mokomoko on the scaffold on 17 May 1866. Mokomoko’s last words were, ‘E mate hara kore ana ahau. Tēnā koutou Pākehā. Hei aha.’ (I die an innocent man. Farewell Pākehā. So be it.)

His song, ‘Tangohia mai te taura i taku kakī kia waiata au i taku waiata’ (Take the rope from my neck that I may sing my song), became an important expression of Te Whakatōhea’s anger at what had happened to Mokomoko and his co-accused.

In 1993, the justice minister, Doug Graham, made an official visit to Ōpōtiki to apologise to Te Whakatōhea and the descendants of Mokomoko. In September 2011 a pardon agreement was signed by Māori Affairs minister Pita Sharples and Mokomoko’s descendants.

How to cite this page

Mokomoko and Völkner, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated