Story: Faulkner, Ruawahine Irihāpeti

Page 1: Biography

Faulkner, Ruawahine Irihāpeti

?–1855

Ngāi Te Rangi woman of mana, landowner

This biography, written by Laurie Barber,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Ruawahine, of Ngāi Tūkairangi hapū of Ngāi Te Rangi, was the daughter of Tāwaho and Parewhakarau. Also known as Puihi, she was born probably in the early nineteenth century and became an important link between Māori and Pākehā in the Tauranga district. About 1834 she met John Lees Faulkner, a Yorkshire boatbuilder and coastal trader. Ruawahine began to accompany him on his sailing expeditions. For a time she lived at Kororāreka (Russell) where Faulkner obtained land in January 1835. On 20 May 1835 Henry Williams baptised their first child, Joseph, and over the next 20 years they had 12 more children – Elizabeth, Maria, Jane, Jarvis, Eliza, Alfred, George, Isabella, Christopher and John, and two children who died in infancy. In 1842 Ruawahine was married to John by the Reverend A. N. Brown, CMS missionary at Tauranga. She became a Christian, taking the name Irihāpeti (Elizabeth).

In late 1840 Ruawahine and John Faulkner had moved back to Tauranga. They stayed briefly at Maungatapu before taking up permanent residence on her land at Ōtūmoetai, where they established a trading-post on the waterfront. Ruawahine and her husband became tribal trading agents, transporting cargoes of flax, pigs, kumara, maize and wheat to Kororāreka and Auckland, and sending produce to New South Wales, Australia.

The marriage was advantageous to the Māori people of Tauranga for the Faulkners' trading activities helped them to obtain the muskets, gunpowder, clothes and agricultural implements that the northern tribes had already acquired. As for Faulkner, Ruawahine's status as a woman of mana and as a landowner gave him the protection and sponsorship needed to allow his trading ventures to prosper. He became Ngāi Tūkairangi's Pākehā, accepted as a member of the tribe and valued for his expertise in trading, boatbuilding, and agriculture. By the mid 1840s trade was of such paramount concern to local Māori that Brown complained of his Māori flock, whose thoughts seemed 'fully occupied in growing wheat and salting pork for the Auckland market'.

Ruawahine moved easily in both Māori and European communities. Despite her husband's opposition to their children's learning Māori customs and language, the children were fluent in both Māori and English, and with ease adapted the usages of both cultures to changing situations. In the early 1840s the family home was built on Beach Road, Ōtūmoetai, and there Ruawahine welcomed travellers. Mary Martin, wife of Chief Justice William Martin, appreciated her care when, one stormy night in 1846, she took the Martins in. Constantly bearing children, Ruawahine sometimes had to cope with her growing family single-handed while her husband pursued his trading interests.

On 24 September 1855 Ruawahine died at Tauranga and was buried in the mission cemetery. By her marriage she had forged a bond between Māori and European in the Bay of Plenty. This was furthered by the marriages of several of her children with those of leading settler families, and by the Faulkner family's involvement in local and coastal shipping.

How to cite this page:

Laurie Barber. 'Faulkner, Ruawahine Irihāpeti', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1f3/faulkner-ruawahine-irihapeti (accessed 29 July 2021)