Pukekawa is located in the Lower Waikato River area of the Waikato District, New Zealand. It was in the Franklin District until 2010. It is 66 km south of central Auckland. Pukekawa, an extinct volcano, is one of the oldest volcanic cones in the Auckland region. The area's fertile soils are used to grow a range of vegetables, including onions, potatoes and carrots. There is the Pukekawa primary school which is located right opposite the garage/store. Most of the services, supermarkets, banks, chemist and shops are located at Tuakau some 8 kilometres away and a further 10 km there is Pukekohe which is a thriving New Zealand rural town. The Onewhero Golf Club is listed by newzealand.com as the sole recreational activity in Pukekawa. The former State Highway 22 runs through Pukekawa.
An ancient Maori pā (fortress) lies on the summit of Pukekawa hill. Otherwise Pukekawa shows no signs of pre-European contact Maori settlement. Its name pukekawa (bitter hill) tells why. The hill could not grow the kumara (sweet potato).
In the 1920s James Cowan described Pukekawa as a "beautiful round green hill on the west side of Waikato".
The New Zealand Wars
From the beginning of the Waikato military campaigns, Ngati Maniapoto made Pukekawa their entrenched headquarters. From Pukekawa they launched raids upon the neighbouring British settlements. From a raid from Pukekawa the British army supply depot Cameron town was raided and burnt to the ground in 1863. A British detachment sent to attack the about one hundred men Maori raiding war party was scattered by gun fire and through the night the soldiers were hunted down in the bush.
The Pakeha Peace
In a peace agreement with the New Zealand Government in the 1880s, Pukekawa was returned to Ngati Maniapoto. In 1888, the Maori King, Tawhaio, moved there with his followers. By 1892 there were 80–90 Maori houses (whare) on Pukekawa. King Tawhaio's house, a large whare, stood there.
The Maori settlers grew on Pukekawa market garden crops, mostly potatoes and maize. Market gardens have been the staple crops on Pukekawa ever since.
Pukekawa became famous by the early 1890s with both Māori and Pakeha for its horse racing and betting. Hundreds of Māori and Pakeha attended the Pukekawa races. The Pukekawa racing cup had the prize of twenty pounds which far eclipsed the neighbouring Pakeha racing cups. From Pukekawa King Tawhaio and his Court made every year regular regal tours through the North Island. King Tawhaio set up in Pukekawa an alternate Māori Government which was not recognised by the Crown nor the New Zealand Government.
The Pukekawa Affair
In 1890 a detachment of armed soldiers raided Pukekawa and arrested and incarcerated Tawhaio's secretary, Kerei, for the destruction of a surveyor's trig on Pukekawa. Kerei was arrested without resistance in the presence of the Maori King to his distress. King Tawhaio later complained to the New Zealand Government that they had broken the 1880s peace agreement when the Kingites had surrendered all their guns. One account described it as "electioneering tactics".
The Pakeha era
After Tawhaio's death and sales to Pakeha farmers, by the early 1900s Pukekawa became a Pakeha rural settlement. By 1920 Pukekawa was described as a "typical township of a Post Office, a store and a few buildings".
The Eyre Murder
On the night of 24 August 1920 a farmer, Sydney Eyre, was shot in his bedroom in the presence of his wife on his Pukekawa farm. Police found hoof marks and cartridges that led to a former employee on the Eyre farm, Samuel Thorn. Thorn was that year convicted in the Auckland Supreme Court and hanged for murder. Thorn died protesting his innocence. The trial was a national sensation. Eyre's wife confessed in the court that she had been "intimate" with Thorn.
The Crewe Murders
The murders of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe in their living room on their farm on about 17 June 1970 thrust Pukekawa into the national headlines again. Their bodies were thrown into the Waikato river and found separately many weeks later. A woman never officially identified was observed to be in the Crewe house before the Crewes were reported missing. The Crewe baby Rochelle and the farm animals were fed by an unknown person. Local farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was twice convicted in the Auckland Supreme Court and jailed for the murders. His motives were attributed by the Crown to a passion for Jeannette Crewe. He was found to have been wrongly convicted and was pardoned by the Governor-General on 17 December 1979. He was awarded $1 million compensation. The story was made into a film in 1980 called Beyond Reasonable Doubt.
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Pukekawa shared in the Waikato prosperity and later depopulation of the 1950s to 1990s. By 1970 Pukekawa was an affluent rural community and service centre of several hundred people but nationally notorious for the Crewe murders. The community was divided between two feuding camps of Thomas and Crown supporters. To some degree the issue split on class and economic divisions. The film, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, was filmed in Pukekawa with both camps participating in its production.
In the twenty-first century, Pukekawa has again rebirthed as a centre for life style housing. Houses of several hundred thousand and million dollar values are being advertised and sold. An 1850s Auckland colonial villa has been shifted and sold in Pukekawa. Land agents advertise the views to the Waikato river. Farms are being advertised, sold and rented out to urban New Zealanders and foreigners to enjoy the kiwi rural life. Backpacker hostels are listed. The farm of Arthur Thomas is still owned and farmed by the Thomas family. At its front gate there used to stand a cross that listed "Justice" , "free Thomas " supporters and a helpful New Zealand policeman. The cross has been moved into nearby bush and its legend obliterated.
Pukekawa farming has shifted back to market gardening. Pukekawa has gone full circle from Maori horticulture to Pakeha dairying back to horticulture.
The Crewe murders continue to divide the district into two feuding camps without apparent closure. Pukekawa water supply contractor, Des Thomas, brother of Arthur, continues to investigate for the murders a local man, "farmer X ". The release in July 2014 of a police report on the murders cleared suspects the late Len Demler (father of Jeannette) and his second wife after the murders, Norma Demler. The report implied Arthur Thomas remains a suspect to the police. The police report also said the cartridge case that incriminated Arthur Thomas may have been "fabricated evidence". The murder house is still occupied.
At the local Tuakau cemetery the graves of Arthur Thomas' parents are present. Twenty seven metres away lie the neglected graves of the Crewes. The names of the still alive Arthur Thomas and Rochelle Crewe are both listed on the grave sites.
In the 1980s Pukekawa was listed as the district that staged on a farm three rock and pop Sweetwaters Music Festivals.
- James Cowan The New Zealand Wars Chapter 32
- "Untitled". The New Zealand Herald. 2 October 1888. pp. 4 5. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
- "Papers Past — Star — 6 November 1890 — ANOTHER RAID ON NATIVES". paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
- "The Pukekawa Murder – Thorn Before the Court". Waikato Times – archived at PapersPast. 14 October 1920. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
- "Pukekawa Murder – The Trial Continued". Ashburton Guardian – archived at PapersPast. 17 November 1920. Retrieved 5 January 2019.