MATENGA, Huria Te Amoho Wikitoria
née Katene, or Julia Martin (1843–1909).
A new biography of Matenga, Huria appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Huria Katene was born in 1843, the daughter of Wiremu Katene, a chief of Ngati Toa, and grand-daughter of Te Puoho, the Ngati Toa chief who was killed near Mataura while leading a taua against Tuhawaiki. Her mother was Amohau Wikitoria, of the Ngati Tawhirikura branch of Te Atiawa, which made her a close relative of Honiana Te Puni, of Te Wharepouri, and of Te Whiti-o-Rongomai. At an early age she married Hemi Matenga, a brother of the Hon. Wiremu Parata, M.L.C. After her marriage she lived with her husband's family at Croisilles, Nelson. On 3 September 1863 the Delaware, a new American-built brigantine of 241 tons, sailed from Nelson bound for Napier with a general cargo. In the afternoon the ship was caught in a northerly gale and, after trying to ride the storm out, was wrecked in the early hours of 4 September in a little bay between Grahams Point and Pepins Island. The Delaware grounded on rocks about 90 yards from the shore, and the mate, Henry Squirrel, was badly injured when he attempted to swim ashore with a line. At this juncture five Maoris – Huria and her husband, Hemi Matenga (James Martin); her brother, Eraia (Elijah); Ropata (Robert); and Kerei (Grey) – appeared on shore close to the wreck. Acting on the instructions of H. Skeet, a Napier surveyor who was travelling on the vessel and who spoke Maori, the Maoris rushed into the water and secured a lead line thrown to them. With this they were able to pull a strong hawser ashore and anchor it round a large boulder. Skeet and the crew then crawled along this towards safety. As the ship was rolling badly, only one man at a time could cross by the rope and, because of its sudden tightening and slackening, all were at some point on their trip either dipped into the sea or dashed against the rocks. Huria, Hemi, and Ropata went into the surf repeatedly, sometimes up to their necks, and assisted the men to come ashore. Eraia stood by and endeavoured to hold the rope clear of the rocks, while Kerei kindled a large fire and took care of each man as he was brought through the surf, warming him and otherwise trying to restore him. The survivors praised the Maoris' actions and, especially, those of Huria who was well to the forefront all the time.
The people of Nelson set up a special testimonial committee which raised a public subscription to present Huria with a gold watch and the others with silver watches in the belief that, as the Colonist put it, “it will act as an excellent incentive to others, and be in its way like the Victoria Cross ‘for valour and humanity”’. On 14 November 1863 the gifts were presented at a special ceremony held in the Nelson Provincial Hall. Huria received a handsome lady's gold watch with a massive and elegantly worked gold chain. On one side of the watch were engraved the Maori words: Nanga tangata o Whakatu Kia Huria he tohu whakamoemiti mo tona maiatanga ki te whakaora i nga tangata o te Terawea, 4 Hepetema 1863.” On the other side of the case was the English translation: “Presented to Julia by the settlers of Nelson in recognition of her heroism at the rescue of the crew of the Delaware, 4 September 1863.”
In addition, when the General Government were told of the Maoris' deed, the Governor directed that Huria, Hemi, and Ropata should be rewarded with 50 sovereigns apiece and that the other two should each receive 10 sovereigns. When he made the presentation the chairman of the testimonial committee read Huria a special address in which he compared her deed to that of Grace Darling, the English heroine. The address concluded: “And like her, Julia, your name and your deed will find a place in local history. Your brave act is one of which a Queen might be proud, and we present you with a watch, whereon your children, and their successors may read with pleasure an inscription which testifies the esteem in which you are held by the settlers of Nelson.”
In the 46 years which followed – Huria died on 24 April 1909 – her deed became a part of New Zealand folklore. In local legend she was hailed as New Zealand's “Grace Darling” and credited with swimming “out through raging waters and, after a desperate struggle” bringing the line ashore. Unfortunately for the legend, Huria did not make her heroic swim; but this does not detract in the least from the courage shown by the five Maoris in saving the crew of the Delaware.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
Colonist 8, 11, 22 Sep, 13, 17 Nov 1863.