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Documentary highlights BoI connection with ship and Canadian rebels

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A documentary telling the story of the fate of 140 Canadian patriots, who rebelled against British rule in Canada, and their connection to one of New Zealand’s best-known shipwrecks will screen at Kerikeri next month.

Land of a Thousand Sorrows Revisited will have a one-off showing at Kingston House beginning at 1pm on June 12. Candian film-maker Deke Richards, who directed the documentary, will attend the screening and answer questions about the little-known connection linking this particular aspect of New Zealand and Canadian histories.

"The film follows the journey of the 58 patriots from Lower Canada and 92 patriots from Upper Canada who took part in an insurrection fighting for representative government in Canada in 1837-38," says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland Manager Bill Edwards. Heritage New Zealand is partnering with Heritage Northland Inc to support the screening.

"Those who were spared the gallows were exiled to the Australian penal colony from 1840 to 1848 including a number of French Canadians and Americans who fought for the cause of freedom from what they regarded as a tyrannical government."

The patriot prisoners were taken to Australia on board HMS Buffalo, leaving Quebec City in September 1839 and arriving in Hobart in February 1840. Here the ship left the largely American Upper Canadians under the ‘care’ of the Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, John Franklin.

By a twist of irony, Franklin was related to American revolutionary, Benjamin Franklin. His connection with Canada didn’t end there either. Lt Governor Franklin was later to command the doomed Franklin Expedition to the Arctic to chart the Northwest Passages after both the Erebus and the Terror had called into the Bay of Islands for about three months in 1841.

The French Lower Canadians were subsequently landed at Sydney later that month, though remained on board the Buffalo until their fate was decided. The pause provided an opportunity for Monsignor Bede Polding, who spoke fluent French and was of the same Catholic faith as the French dissidents, to vouch for the patriots to New South Wales Governor, Sir George Gipps.

As a result the French were spared transport to Norfolk Island though were put to work improving the Parramatta Road, collecting oyster shells to make limestone and working on the officers’ quarters in the Victoria Barracks, which still survives.

The Lower and Upper Canadians eventually received their tickets-of-leave in 1842, and after some lobbying from both groups, a young Queen Victoria granted the political prisoners a pardon. Most returned to Canada but a few stayed with descendants now living throughout Australia.

"The main connection to New Zealand, however, is the Buffalo, which was wrecked off Whitianga on July 28 1840," says Bill.

"The ship was anchored in Mercury Bay when a storm wrecked her. She was parted from her cables and - when it was clear the the ship couldn’t be saved - the captain steered her onto what is now known as Buffalo Beach.

"It was said that when the dissidents heard about the shipwreck there was general rejoicing - such was the hardship the prisoners endured onbord."

The Buffalo also has strong connections to the Bay of Islands. It is recorded that Captain Sadler received gifts from the rangatira Titore in 1834 when it was in the Bay of Islands during one of the ship’s many trips.

With a little help from Rev William Yate of the Church Missionary Society - who was planning to head back to England on the Buffalo - Titore wrote to the monarch advising him that he was sending trees to make battleships in case King William quarrelled with the French.

"Titore also gifted a mere pounamu [greenstone weapon] and two kakahu [cloaks] to the king - appropriately prestigious gifts for a reigning sovereign," says Bill.

Titore’s letter paid off. The king responded in kind, addressing the rangatira as ‘His Highness Titore’, and thanking him for his presents. To Titore’s no doubt delight, the king sent him a suit of armour ‘as was worn in former times by my warriors’ via British Resident James Busby.

The screening of the documentary in New Zealand is very well timed according to Bill.

"2022 is the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne in the Bay of Islands - and a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the significant part the French played in our history," he says.

Don’t miss Land of a Thousand Sorrows Revisited, 1pm on June 12 at Kingston House, Kerikeri followed by light refreshments provided by Heritage Northland Inc. Entry by gold coin donation.

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