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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


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.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


TE WHEROWHERO [TAWHIAO], Matutaera Te Pukepuke Te Paue Te Karato Te-a-Potatau Tawhiao

Sometimes called Potatau II, (1825–94).

Second Maori “King”.

A new biography of Tawhiao, Tukaroto Matutaera Potatau Te Wherowhero appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Tawhiao was born in 1825 at Mokau, where the whole Waikato tribe had retreated after the fall of Matakitaki pa on the Waipa River. He was the eldest son of Potatau Te Wherowhero and of Whakaawi. After the Ngapuhi were routed in 1827 he lived at several villages along the Waipa until his hapu settled in Central Waikato. Tawhiao never attended mission school, but he was baptised at Mangere while his father was living there in the house provided for him by Sir George Grey. He took “Matutaera” (Methuselah) as his baptismal name, but repudiated it in 1867.


When the aged Potatau died in the winter of 1860 the movement split over the succession. One party favoured his sister Te Paea, and the other, Tawhiao. When Tamihana gave his support to the latter party the kingship passed to Tawhiao. The new “king” took little positive part in deciding policy, but allowed his council to make the decisions. At first the moderate party, led by Tamihana, held sway, but the extremists, under the leadership of Rewi Maniapoto, soon gained the ascendancy.

When war broke out Tawhiao sensed the futility of building fortifications across the line of General Cameron's advance and urged his commanders to adopt guerilla tactics. His war parties, however, insisted on direct resistance at Koheroa, Meremere, Rangiriri, and Paterangi, and they built complicated and powerful earthworks, which they soon found could be invested or outflanked by General Cameron's forces. Had a fluid strategy been followed there is no doubt the conquest of the Waikato would have been much more difficult. Tawhiao was present at the Battle of Rangiriri, but escaped up the river, and he had retired behind the King Country border before the Siege of Orakau.

From 1863 until he made peace with the Government in 1881, Tawhiao lived at Para-tui pa – about 3 miles north of Te Kuiti – where he succeeded in maintaining a prosperous Maori “principality” in a state of peace. During these years there were few official contacts between the “King” Maoris and the Government, and relations remained strained. On 2 February 1875 Sir Donald McLean, the Native Minister, visited Para-tui, where he offered Tawhiao a scheme which would have virtually given the Maoris “home rule”. Tawhiao was satisfied with the offer, but because his Ngati Maniapoto allies, Wahanui and Taonui, objected, the plan was not proceeded with. Further meetings between the “King” and Government were held in 1879 and 1881 and in the latter year peace was concluded.

After the peace of 1881 Tawhiao paid a state visit to Auckland where he and 600 followers were féted and made much of. In 1884 he visited England with several chiefs and, while there, he put the Maoris' grievances before the Secretary of State for Colonies. On his return he refused all the honours – including a seat in the Legislative Council and a pension of £1,000 a year – that the New Zealand Government offered him because he felt that acceptance would prejudice his kingship and strain the loyalty of the Maori people.

All his life Tawhiao steadfastly remained the independent representative of his people. He died on 26 August 1894 at Parawera (near Kihikihi) and was succeeded by his son, Mahuta Tawhiao. For all these biographies on Te Wherowhero line, see alsoMaori King – Election and Coronation.

by Walter Hugh Ross, Journalist, Taupo.

  • The Maori King, Gorst, J. E. (1959)
  • The New Zealand Wars, Cowan, J. (1956)
  • Sir Donald McLean, Cowan, J. (1940)
  • The King Country, Kerry-Nicholls, J. H. (1884).


Walter Hugh Ross, Journalist, Taupo.