Rescue of Harriet survivors begins

21 September 1834

Portrait possibly of Elizabeth (Betty) Guard, 1830 (Te Papa, GH003416)

The family of the whaler Jacky Guard were among a group of Pākehā captured by Māori in May 1834 after the barque Harriet ran aground on the Taranaki coast.

Jacky Guard and other men were released when they promised to return with gunpowder to ransom the captives. Instead, he secured the support of New South Wales’ Governor Bourke for a rescue mission. Meanwhile, Betty Guard lived under the protection of the chief Oaoiti.

When HMS Alligator arrived in Taranaki with soldiers of the 50th Regiment, Ngāti Ruanui assumed they had come to negotiate. Instead, Oaoiti was bayoneted and captured on 21 September.

Four days later, Betty and her baby daughter were located at Te Namu pā, which was attacked and burnt. Betty and Louisa were exchanged for Oaoiti. On 8 October, John Guard junior was freed at nearby Waimate. Fighting continued for several days.

In 1835 a committee of Britain’s House of Commons condemned the level of force used during the rescue. Humanitarian groups such as the Church Missionary Society argued that unrestrained colonisation must be avoided to protect Māori.