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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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POMARE I, Whetoi or Whiria

Also known as Pomarenui (c. 1760–1826).

Ngapuhi chief.

A new biography of Pomare I appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Very little is known of Whetoi's early life, except that he had reached the peak of his fame as a fighting chief by the time Kendall arrived at the Bay of Islands. He was the son of Tuwhanga (died 1814) and of Puhi and was the senior chief of the Uri Karaka hapu of the Ngapuhi tribe. His pa was Otuihu, situated at the junction of the Waikare and Kawakawa Rivers opposite the present wharf at Opua. Whetoi was impressed with the success of the Tahitian Royal House in civilising their people and assumed their name of Pomare. After his death he became known as Pomare-nui – the great Pomare – to distinguish him from his nephew and successor, Pomare II. Early in 1815 Marsden visited Otuihu and, shortly afterwards, Pomare accompanied him to Sydney. Here he made considerably less use of his opportunities than had Hongi and Ruatara and, when Marsden returned to New Zealand in September 1819, he complained because he had not been sent a blacksmith. This omission, however, did not prevent him from attending Marsden's Divine Service.

In 1820 Pomare joined Te Wera's expedition to the East Cape district. They failed to take the impregnable Te Whetu Matarau pa at Hicks Bay, but captured Okau-whare-toa pa with much slaughter. During this engagement Pomare captured Te Rangi-i-paia, a Ngati Porou woman of the highest rank, whom he later took to the Bay of Islands as his wife. He then renewed his siege of Te Whetu Matarau for several months, sustaining his force on the defenders' cultivations. At the end of this he lifted the siege and withdrew his men round Matakaoa head. When the defenders emerged to recover what they could of their food supply, he returned suddenly by night and captured the pa. Pomare returned to the Bay of Islands in April 1821 and professed a desire to extend the benefits of Christianity to his erstwhile foes. Later in the same year he accompanied Hongi on his compaign against the Ngati Maru. He assisted at the capture of Mauinaima pa, but refused to be a party to Hongi's treacherous peace at Te Totara. He withdrew his force and, instead, attacked a pa on Tuhua (Mayor) Island in the Bay of Plenty. In 1822 Pomare led a strong expedition against Ngati Awa and Ngati Pukeko settlements in the Bay of Plenty in order to avenge reverses suffered there by Te Morenga's taua in 1818. The party landed at Whakatane and, after a sharp engagement in which the Ngapuhi guns brought terror to their foes, they pursued Ngati Awa remnants to Ruatoki, Nga Mahanga, and Tunanui. On this occasion a Ngapuhi advance party reached the Te Wharau range in Tuhoe territory. They captured many prisoners and returned to the Bay of Islands laden with spoils, including a number of preserved heads destined for the European market.

In the following year Pomare took part in Hongi's celebrated expedition against the Arawas, of Rotorua. After the fall of Mokoia Island the two chiefs disagreed on their future plans and Pomare withdrew his force to Waihi, where he joined Te Wera, who was on a new expedition to the East Cape. They attacked the Whakatohea and Te Whanau-a-Apanui tribes, but were defeated in a skirmish at Te Kaha. A few days later Pomare won a victory at Whangaparaoa and then took his party to Te Kawakawa (near East Cape), where he endeavoured to make peace with the Ngati Porou. They, however, distrusted his overtures and attacked, but were repulsed by the Ngapuhi firearms. Pomare then joined Te Wera in his successful descent on Waiapu and Wairoa. By this time the Ngati Porou were ready to make peace and Pomare returned to Te Kawakawa where hostilities – which had originated in the Venus episode of 1806 – were formally ended. Towards the close of 1823 Pomare again landed at Whakatane with a large force. On this expedition he was aided by Te Morenga, Moka, and Te Hihi, each of whom had his own reason for invading the region. Pomare's objective was to punish Te Mai-taranui (also known as Te Rangiaho), a prominent chief of the Ngati Awa and Tuhoe tribes, who lived at Ruatahuna in the heart of the Urewera country. He led his force up the Whakatane River and, after a difficult journey, reached Ruatahuna, only to find that the Tuhoe had discreetly retired to Maungapohatu. At this point, probably because he appreciated the difficulty of undertaking a campaign in the Urewera, Pomare made peace with Te Mai-taranui and returned to the Bay of Islands.

In 1824 Te Mai-taranui visited the Bay of Islands to solicit Ngapuhi aid against the Ngati Kahungunu. As a result Pomare led a large Ngapuhi force by sea to Hawke's Bay, where he captured Titirangi, a Ngati Kahungunu pa situated a few miles from Frasertown (Wairoa). After this the party is said to have traversed the Ahuriri plains. The Ngati Kahungunu expedition marked the last of Pomare's successful campaigns.

Notwithstanding the peace concluded after Matakitaki, Pomare still wished to undertake a campaign against the Waikatos. He made several attempts to rally support for the scheme, but Hongi and the other Ngapuhi chiefs opposed them. Te Wherowhero, who was at Taupo at the time, wished to meet him to talk him out of his obsession, but Te Kanawa feared treachery and advised against it. Early in 1826 Pomare led 220 warriors from the Piako River overland to Horotiu and up the Waipa River. The Waikatos were ready for them at Te Rore and surprised the Ngapuhi while they were still in their canoes, Pomare and all but a handful of his men being killed. After the battle Pomare's body was cooked and eaten by the victors. There is a tradition among the Tainui tribes that, when Pomare was opened, they found corn – at that time unknown in the district – in his stomach. As this had been eaten only a short time before his death, it took root and flourished. Thus was corn introduced into the Waikato.

In his day Pomare was one of the most successful of the Ngapuhi war chiefs. After his death, in May 1826, the chieftainship passed to his nephew, while Rewa (or Maanu) and Moka became the war leaders. In April or May 1828 Te Rangituki led a taua to avenge Pomare's death, but was destroyed by the Ngati Paoa and Ngati Tipa at Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Marsden Letters and Journals, Elder, J. R. (ed.) (1932)
  • The Early Journals of Henry Williams, 1826–40, Rogers, L. M. (ed.) (1961)
  • Tuhoe, Best, E. (1925)
  • Tainui, Kelly, L. G. (1949).

Co-creator

Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

Last updated 10-Nov-11