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Death of Carl Völkner


‘Savage Dance, Pai Marire  Volkner’s Death Mar. 21st 1865’

This lurid engraving, typical of many contemporary European depictions of Māori and other indigenous peoples, appeared in the Illustrated London News in July 1865. The date of the killing was actually 2 March.

The frequency of Völkner’s visits to Auckland had raised suspicions that the Ōpōtiki missionary was acting as a government spy. On his most recent trip he had been warned not to go back to his mission station. He ignored these warnings and returned to Ōpōtiki with fellow missionary Thomas Grace on 1 March 1865. Both were taken prisoner.

Grace witnessed Völkner’s killing. According to his account, the missionary ‘knelt down and prayed, and, having shaken hands with his murderers said “I am ready”, and, while they continued to shake hands with him, they hoisted him up.' Völkner was hanged from a willow tree near his church by Te Whakatōhea members of his congregation. Harsh government reprisals, including land confiscations, would have a devastating impact on the iwi. 


Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: 1/4-022022-G
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

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Death of Carl Völkner, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated