Born at Pakaraka in the Bay of Islands, Heke was a memebr of the Ngapuhi tribe but also had with connections to Rahiri which added to his mana. He grew up in the Kaikohe area, scarcely surviving the viscitudes of tribal warfare. As a youth, he attended the mission school at Keri Keri and came under the influence of the missionary, Henry Williams. Subsequently he, his wife and children were converted to Christianity. He even becae a lay preacher.
However, it was as a warrior that Hone Heke established his reputation. He took part in the first battle of Kororareka in 1830, in Titore's expedition to Tauranga and fought with Titore against Pomare II in 1837.
There are conflicting reports of when Heke signed the Treaty of Waitangi. It may have been with the other chiefs on February 6, 1840. However, other accounts suggest that he was refused to sign the Treaty for several days, but when he did so it was right at the top of the list.
Heke's doubts about signing the Treaty were well grounded. The capital of the new colony was shifted from Kororareka to Auckland with the corresponding loss of revenue for the Bay of Islands. The imposition of customs duties, the banning of the felling of kauri trees and government control of the sale of land all contributed to an economic depression for the Maori. Furthermore it became clear that the British considered the authority of the chiefs to be subservient to that of the Crown although the Treaty promised equal partnership.
As a signal of his discontent, Hone Heke chopped down the flagpole carrying the British flag that flew over Korarareka. Unfortunately the British interpreted this as an act of rebellion and soon the two peoples were at war, the First Maori War.
Heke took an active part in the early phases of the conflict, but he was severely wounded during the Battle of Te Ahu Ahu and did not rejoin the fighting until the closing phase of the Siege of Ruapekapeka some months later.
Shortly afterwards, Heke and his ally, Kawiti met with their principal Maori opponent, Tamati Waka Nene and negotiated a ceasefire, which they then imposed upon the British, but this did not prevent the governor, George Grey from presenting it as a British vistory. Despite this, Heke and George Grey were reconciled at a meeting in 1848
Hone Heke retired to Kaikohe where he died of tuberculosis two years later. He is still regarded as great leader and a hero by the Ngapuhi and the Maori people. To this day, his burial place remains a secret known only to a few people although this is subject to considerable speculation.