James Francis Fulloon, also known as Hemi Te Mautaranui, is said to have been born on 12 August 1840 at Whakatane, the son of John Fulloon and his wife, Koka Te Mautaranui. John Fulloon, of Anglo-French parentage, had emigrated from London to Sydney in 1823 and reached New Zealand by 1839. Koka Te Mautaranui was a daughter of a major leader of Ngati Awa and Tuhoe.
John's brother Charles, a carpenter, worked for the missionaries. Probably because of this James Fulloon entered the Reverend Thomas Chapman's school at Te Ngae, near Rotorua, later moved to Maketu. When he was 12 he went with his father to Australia, and on his return was accepted as interpreter by Captain Byron Drury of HMS Pandora during the survey of the New Zealand coast. He remained with the ship until it left for England in 1856.
Fulloon then joined the government service as a junior clerk in the Land Purchase Department at Auckland. For the next three years he travelled almost constantly as personal assistant to Donald McLean, the native secretary and chief land purchase commissioner. At that time, before the rise of the King movement, Maori freely offered property for sale. Indeed, often there were insufficient funds available to purchase land.
When in 1859 McLean contracted rheumatic fever, Fulloon was employed as an interpreter. With other government interpreters he began a series of journeys to 'trouble spots'. His first such journey was with Henry Hanson Turton, who was investigating a dispute at Whakatane between Ngati Awa and a trader, Thomas Black. Fulloon next went with John White through difficult country to the Piako River, taking £800 for land purchases to District Commissioner George Hay. After trips to Coromandel and Ngaruawahia, he assisted the resident magistrate Major James Speedy with a murder inquiry at Patumahoe.
Fulloon's father died in 1861, and while settling the estate at Whakatane the young man began reporting to his superiors on Maori politics. Thus began another phase in Fulloon's career. He became more actively involved in promoting government policy and acquired new responsibilities.
From 1861, in response to the King movement, George Grey sought to encourage a system of partial self-government for the tribes based on assemblies. During 1862 the resident magistrate for Wairoa, Charles Hunter Brown, with Fulloon as interpreter, went to explain the proposal to Tuhoe, Te Whakatohea and Te Whanau-a-Apanui people in the Bay of Plenty. Brown relied heavily on his companion's insight and tribal connections to persuade the Maori to give the new system a fair trial. The following year Fulloon was sent to the Waikato to look into a dispute about building a courthouse at Te Kohekohe. At a time of growing racial tension he acted initially as a conciliator. He joined Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi and Te Paea in their unsuccessful attempt at persuading Rewi Maniapoto to keep the mission school at Otawhao open.
In June 1863 Fulloon sent Grey a report of a planned Maori night attack on Auckland. The hazards of such an operation against a town garrisoned by imperial troops make it doubtful if the move was ever seriously considered. Nevertheless Grey gave prominence to the report when justifying an invasion of Waikato the next month. Although designated an army interpreter during the Waikato campaign, Fulloon saw little of military operations. After the battle of Orakau he spent some weeks at Whatawhata, caring for destitute victims of the war and trying to prevent looting of Maori property.
Back in Auckland Fulloon's domestic arrangements were unusual. His sister Elizabeth kept house for him at Parnell. He had formed a liaison with Teni Rangihapainga of Ngati Maniapoto, with whom he had a daughter. Because of Elizabeth's opposition to his marrying a Maori, his de facto wife and child lived with Teni's foster parents on the North Shore.
In 1865 the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner was killed at Opotiki while Fulloon was with the governor at Wanganui. On returning to Auckland Fulloon was sent to help apprehend the suspects, but no arrests could be made. Fulloon then persuaded Grey to commission him as a captain in the militia, his object being to recruit a company of Ngati Awa to counter Pai Marire influence in the Bay of Plenty. He set off from Tauranga in the cutter Kate, bound for Whakatane. His own people had, however, embraced the Pai Marire faith. On 22 July 1865 Fulloon and most of his shipmates were killed, and the vessel was burned in the Whakatane River.
Fulloon is noteworthy as one of the first people of mixed descent to achieve standing in the public service. His early death cost the government a source of useful advice on Maori affairs at a critical juncture in race relations.