Heke, a Christian, had a close relationship with missionary Henry Williams, and, at the signing of the Treaty in 1840, he believed Williams’ assurances that the authority of Maori chiefs would be protected.
‘Governor,’ he told Hobson, ‘you should stay with us and be like a father. If you go away, then the French and the rum sellers will take us Māori over.’ The following day, he was the first of more than 40 northern chiefs to sign (although his signature is fourth, those of more senior chiefs having later been inserted ahead of his).
Four years later, disillusioned by the failure of colonialism to bring his people economic prosperity and by the increasing control of the British government over Māori affairs, Heke ordered the cutting down of the flagpole at the British settlement Kororāreka (later renamed Russell). This was intended to show displeasure at British government, yet not threaten the Pākehā settlers. Over the following months, it was re-erected and cut down again three times. In 1845, this protest action resulted in war between British troops and northern Māori.