Carl Völkner

Biography

Carl Völkner

On 2 March 1865 Carl Sylvius Völkner, a German-born missionary, was hanged from a willow tree near his church at Ōpōtiki. Followers of a new religion, Pai Marire, who suspected Völkner of spying for the government, were held responsible.

Sent to New Zealand in 1849 by the North German Missionary Society, Völkner began work in Taranaki alongside fellow German Protestant missionary Johann Riemenschneider. In 1852 he switched his allegiance to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and became a lay teacher in lower Waikato. After marrying Emma Lanfear he was ordained deacon in 1860 and priest in 1861 before taking charge of the CMS mission station at Ōpōtiki in August 1861. Völkner was welcomed by Te Whakatōhea, who built a church and a school for the mission station.

During the Taranaki and Waikato wars Te Whakatōhea remained largely peaceful. By 1864, however, there was increasing debate amongst East Coast tribes as to whether they should support the Waikato and Tauranga people. Early that year East Coast tribes (including Te Whakatōhea) were stopped by Te Arawa from travelling to Waikato through Rotorua. When they attempted to take a coastal route they were repulsed at Maketū, sustaining a number of casualties. Te Aporotanga, an important Te Whakatōhea chief, was captured and later executed by the wife of a slain Te Arawa chief. Te Whakatōhea believed that their leader had been murdered by a pro-government iwi and that Governor Grey should have punished Te Arawa for this act.

By late 1864 conditions in Ōpōtiki were grim. The fighting had disrupted food cultivation and outbreaks of typhoid and measles killed a quarter of the population. The arrival of a Pai Mārire mission led by Kereopa Te Rau and Pātara Raukatauri in February 1865 aggravated existing divisions among Te Whakatōhea.

Völkner remained based in Ōpōtiki during the fighting, but visited Auckland in 1864 and again in January 1865. Several locals warned him not to return to Ōpōtiki because he was seen as a government spy. Letters he had written to Governor Grey in 1864 appeared to support these accusations.

Völkner had also helped remove a popular Catholic missionary, Joseph Marie Garavel, accusing him of acting as a messenger for Waikato Māori. For his part, Garavel supported the claim that Völkner was a spy.

Despite the warnings, Völkner returned to Ōpōtiki with fellow missionary Thomas Grace on 1 March 1865. Both were immediately taken prisoner. Grace was spared but witnessed the killing of Völkner the following morning. Völkner ‘knelt down and prayed, and, having shaken hands with his murderers said “I am ready”.’ After an hour his body was taken down and decapitated. Kereopa removed the eyes and swallowed them, describing one eyeball as Parliament and the other as the Queen and English law.

Te Whakatōhea executed Völkner because after being welcomed into their tribe he had betrayed them to Grey. The man who placed the rope around his neck was Pokeno, the son of Te Aporotanga. Völkner’s killing was also an act of utu for the killing of Te Aporotanga, which Te Whakatōhea believed should have been dealt with by the government.

The government responded to Völkner’s death with harsh military reprisals. His alleged killers were hunted down. A number of local people were arrested, and some executed. In addition a large area of land was unjustly confiscated from eastern Bay of Plenty tribes.

Völkner's body was buried at his church, which was later reconsecrated and dedicated to St Stephen the Martyr. Kereopa Te Rau was found guilty of his murder and executed at Napier in 1872. As part of the settlement of Ngāti Rangiwewehi’s Treaty of Waitangi claim, in 2014 Kereopa was pardoned for his role in Völkner’s death.

Adapted by Steve Watters from the DNZB biography by Evelyn Stokes

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Stephen Kelly

Posted: 16 Feb 2014

TRIBUTE TO THE MEMORY OF THE REV. CARL SYLVIUS VOLKNER.
We copy the following obituary notice from the Southern Cross of the 9th March :- ',
Mr. Volkner was one of the best friends the Maories ever had. He was an earnest and zealous preacher of the Gospel
to them, and while endeavouring to inculcate moral and,Christian principles into their minds, ho was not forgetful of his duty to his adopted country, and that his sacred
calling did not exonerate him from endeavouring to subdue any feelings of political ascendency on the part of his
hearers. His teaching to whom was that it was their inevit-able destiny to submit, and that, however successful they
might be for a time, resistance would ultimately lead to their discomfiture.
Mr. Volkner was a native of Cassel, Germany, and a student of the Homburg Missionary College. Ho came to New Zealand about eighteen years ago as a catechist, in
connection with the North German Missionary Society.
Alter residing here for »orno timo ho separated himself front
that body, and having made the acquaintance of Bishop
Selwyn was offered an appointment as missionary under
the Church Mission Society, and his usefulness then be
camo more clearly developed. Ho first commenced his
labours at Taranaki, and then took up his residence at Ko
hnnga, Archdeacon Maunsell's station. Ho also pursued
his calling at Tauranga, and Opotiki, at thoelatter of which
places ho eventually settled. Mr. Volkner and his wife were resident there when the war broke out on tho East Coast, and, for the safety of his wife, he removed her to Auckland, and faithfully con-tinued his ministrations in solitude. At Tauranga
ho preached to tho natives in thoir chapel, to the troops in camp, and when the former gave in their submission he was i
consulted by some of them with regard to a wish they had expressed to emigrate to Rarotonga. The deceased was married in 1854 to Emma Lanfear, sister to the Rev.,
Thomas Lanfear, but had no family. Mrs. Volkner has been residing at St. John's Colloge since she left the mission station at Opotiki, and would have returned there with her husband, who was desirous that she should accompany him, were it not that his friends strongly advised him
against it.Rev Volkmer joined the Church Missionary Society about j
eight years ago, and was ordained n deacon by the Bishop off Waiapu on tho 3rd June, 1860, and priest within the last ;
two years. His age wt¿ forty-six. He was esteemed as i
an intelligent and Christian gentleman by all who knew j
him, and his loss will be severely felt in the cause in which j
ho was such a zealous worker. ¡ '
The members of Mr. Volkner's church, whom ho had I
lived amongst and taught for years, and to whoso fidelity he ;
had trusted with unshaken faith during the war, stood by ;
consenting to his death. His death had been determined ;
on before his arrival, and preparations made for his'
execution ; and although his congregation did not actually;
lay hands upon him, thov were aiding and abetting. AVe '
leave this fact to speak for itself. After tho horrible!
cannibal feast was done, tho head was put through tho pre-*
serving process well known to Maories. . The Rev. Mr.,
Grace and othor Europeans wore then brought forward, and '
the fanatics commenced their journoy southwards.
The natives give two reasons for Mr. Volkner's murder.
One of these is a special reason, and one ia general. The
special reason is that tho Opotiki natives had been told that .
Mr. Volkner reported to the Governor that they wore car- '.
ryiog on a secret correspondence with the rebels, through !
nn agency which, for the present; wo refrain from mention- '
ing. The general reason is this : that they attribute the .
war to tho missionaries. They say they carno first to the country and bought land ; that tho Government carno next,
and tho missionaries used their influence to buy land for the Government ; and that from this cause the present war sprang. The fanatics declare, therefore, that they will murder all missionaries.