Patuone was the eldest son of Tapua, leader and tohunga of Ngati Hao of Hokianga, and the elder brother of Nene. Through his father he was descended from Rahiri, ancestor of Nga Puhi; through his mother, Te Kawehau, he was descended from Te Wairua, the ancestor also of Rewa (Manu), Hongi Hika and Hone Heke. By marriage as well as descent Patuone was related to many neighbouring hapu, including Ngati Pou of Whangaroa, and Te Roroa of Hokianga and Kaipara. The Hokianga chief to whom he was most closely related was Muriwai. His life extends across the first century of contact between Maori and Pakeha. When he died in 1872, estimates of his age varied between 96 and 112. He was probably at least 108. He said that when he was a child his father, Tapua, saw 'Cook's vessel' near Cape Brett. When gifts were exchanged, Tapua received a joint of pork which he gave to Patuone and his sister Tari.
During Tapua's lifetime Nga Puhi, originally of Kaikohe, were establishing their hegemony over the other Bay of Islands peoples. Patuone first made his mark as a warrior and a leader in the wars between Nga Puhi and Te Roroa, initially taking the side of Nga Puhi. In the battle at Waituna around 1806 he killed Tatakahuanui in hand-to-hand fighting with a greenstone adze, a deed which was to become famous. His relations with Nga Puhi leader Hongi Hika were not without strain. The killing of Te Tihi, a relative of Patuone, was one of the unresolved issues between them. Hone Heke later said that this was why Patuone opposed his campaign in 1844–46.
Patuone took part in at least one of the great war expeditions of northern Maori to the south in the early nineteenth century – from 1819 to 1820. He led the Hokianga contingent, which was accompanied by a group of Te Roroa led by Tuwhare. The expedition passed down the length of the North Island as far as Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour). The vessels they saw in Cook Strait may have been the Russian ships led by Bellingshausen. When the expedition moved north up the Hutt Valley, capturing pa and taking captives, Tuwhare of Te Roroa and Te Rauparaha of Ngati Toa shared the military leadership. On the return journey Tuwhare was mortally wounded on the Wanganui River; Patuone made peace with the Taranaki people, returning some of the captive children in exchange for greenstone weapons and fine cloaks, and arranging marriage alliances.
Patuone may have taken part in other campaigns during this decade. However, he was mainly interested in the advantages to be gained from European settlement. When missionaries visited him in 1819, he extended his hospitality to them, spoke of his desire to visit Port Jackson (Sydney), New South Wales, and inquired about growing grain. (He was already experimenting with wheat.) Samuel Marsden, chaplain of New South Wales, was impressed with his kindness and good nature. As early as 1819 the shipbuilding and trading centre of Thomas Raine, David Ramsay and Gordon Browne may have been established under Patuone's patronage. Certainly, in 1826, he gave his protection at Hokianga to the 'Scotch carpenters', the more hardy of the intending settlers who came on the Rosanna under the auspices of the ill-starred first New Zealand Company. Patuone accepted, together with Nene and Muriwai, a payment of 36 axes from Thomas Kendall on behalf of Charles de Thierry in 1822, and put his mark on a deed purporting to sell Thierry 40,000 acres. All three later claimed that they regarded this payment merely as a present, or at best an earnest of intention to purchase.
In the later 1820s Patuone was involved in a complex series of events, all related to his desire for trade, and, to a lesser extent, to his rivalry with Hongi. He travelled to Sydney with Captain J. R. Kent in 1826 and offered to leave his son there as an assurance to the merchants that his harbour, Hokianga, would be safe for them. Hongi had similar ambitions; he wanted to take back Whangaroa and make it a popular anchorage for visiting ships. The Wesleyan mission station was at Whangaroa, under the protection of Ngati Uru, led by the brothers Te Puhi and Ngahuruhuru. Hongi asked the brothers to assist him against Ngati Pou and when they refused he threatened to drive them from Whangaroa. In the course of the fighting Te Puhi and some of his people fled to Patuone for protection. Those whom Te Puhi left behind took the chance to plunder the mission. The missionaries fled, but on the road to Kerikeri they met Patuone who was escorting Te Puhi back to Whangaroa. Patuone protected them from the hostility of some of his own people.
This protection persuaded the missionaries to re-establish their mission under Patuone's protection. But when they arrived at Hokianga in 1827 their presence awakened the smouldering rivalry between the chiefs. Patuone was not the senior chief; Muriwai and Te Taonui had more power and influence. He knew that he had become an object of envy. He tried to preserve peace. He did not meet the Wesleyans when their vessel arrived at the heads, and he agreed that they should be located closer to Muriwai. Still, Te Taonui was not appeased, and set fire to the Scottish carpenters' timber to spite Patuone.
Tension remained between Patuone and Hongi over their rival commercial interests, and over Patuone's continued protection of Te Puhi. Hongi's death, in March 1828, brought matters to a crisis. Fearing a plundering raid, Hongi's people prepared their defences and made plans to bury him secretly. Patuone arrived with a strong force, but rebuked the mourners for their fears, and took part in the obsequies for three days. While the mourning was going on, news arrived that Tiki, son of Pomare I, had been killed at Waima, Hokianga. In seeking to recover the body, Te Whareumu of Kororareka (Russell), had become involved in further fighting, and had been killed with some of his relatives; on the Hokianga side Muriwai was mortally wounded. The situation was one which could have led to a general war between Hokianga and the Bay of Islands. Patuone was a peacemaker; with the assistance of the Church Missionary Society missionaries he negotiated a peace with Rewa.
That year, 1828, brought other troubles. Patuone's first wife, Te Wheke, died in May; his adult son, Toa, and a younger daughter died in August. When another adult son, Mata, died in October, Patuone grieved beside the body all night. These deaths were probably the result of tuberculosis.
Perhaps because of these losses, Patuone became restless in the 1830s. It is likely that he visited Sydney again in 1830 or 1832. In the early 1830s he took part in fighting in the Thames area as an ally of Ngati Paoa against Te Waharoa of Ngati Haua. He married a young Ngati Paoa woman, Takarangi, the sister of the chief Te Kupenga, of Whakatiwai, a very large pa near Maraetai in the Hauraki Gulf. For the rest of his life he was closely associated with Ngati Paoa, spending most of his time in the Hauraki Gulf, trading in flax and spars, living in a number of places for short periods, and returning to Hokianga from time to time.
Before he left the north he was one of the 13 Maori leaders who signed a petition in 1831 to William IV asking for protection from the French. To the alarm of the missionaries the naval vessel La Favorite had paid a visit to the region. Later, Patuone was seen to be helping Moetara to protect the settlers at Koutu, near Opononi, against Te Rarawa. But later in that year, 1833, he was back at Whakatiwai with his young wife. He was anxious because she had not yet provided him with a new family. In 1835 he appears to have fallen out with the Wesleyans and decided to stay in the south for a time. But two years later he was in Hokianga again, punishing Te Hikutu leader Kaitoke (a follower of the Nakahi belief) who had shot dead two Christian missionaries, Matiu and Rihimona, at Mangamuka. Patuone stormed Kaitoke's pa, killing 11 and wounding Kaitoke. But he also prevented the affair from going any further. Late in 1837 he was in the south again, and at Maraetai received from the Crown a gift of armour and a suit of green clothes as a token of appreciation for his help in supplying naval ships with timber and other necessities.
Patuone signed the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand in 1836 (which asked for British protection). A visit to the north in 1840 enabled him to be present in February at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. He had been baptised on 26 January by Henry Williams according to Church of England rites. He took the names Eruera Maihi (Edward Marsh) and his wife the name Riria (Lydia), both Williams family names. At the Waitangi debate on 5 February Patuone, now an old man, played a supportive role to his younger brother, Nene, whose intervention was crucial for the acceptance of the treaty. Patuone had met William Hobson, the lieutenant governor, on Hobson's earlier visit. After the signing on 6 February Patuone presented him with a mere for the Queen and was taken on board the Herald to dine.
In the early 1840s Patuone lived and traded at various places around the Hauraki Gulf, including Matiatia on Waiheke Island and Takapuna. In 1841 his wife had sold to the Crown 9,500 acres of what was to become Auckland's North Shore, but Patuone continued to live at Te Katu by Lagoon Bay (on the harbour side of Takapuna). No doubt because of his age he played only a marginal part in the northern war of the 1840s. In Auckland, in May 1845, he was a member of a deputation which interceded with Governor Robert FitzRoy for the release of Pomare II, seized by Colonel William Hulme at the Bay of Islands. But the next year Patuone was arrested in the streets of Auckland by the police magistrate, Thomas Beckham, to be questioned about a rumoured attack by Hone Heke. This illegal act angered the new governor, George Grey, who had Beckham demoted.
Grey valued Patuone's presence in Auckland. It gave some assurance of safety to the unprotected town. When Riria died in 1849, Patuone's relatives urged him to return to Hokianga. Grey dissuaded him with a gift of 110 acres at Waiwharariki (Takapuna Beach), although the grant was only for his lifetime. Patuone lived his last two decades on this land, and in a small pa, called Riria after his wife, on Ngati Paoa land at Devonport. He was a familiar sight on the Auckland streets, his tall frame bent with age and dressed in a military uniform. He did help to bring security to Auckland. He persuaded a party of Ngati Paoa to withdraw after they had invaded the town, enraged by the wrongful arrest of a chief. There was further turmoil in 1854 over the delay in convicting a Pakeha accused of murdering a Maori. It seems that the victory of Patuone's racehorse, New Zealander (given to him by Grey), helped to calm things down. However, the subsequent verdict of manslaughter and the sentence of life imprisonment left a sense of dissatisfaction among many Maori.
Patuone was still called on for advice from time to time in the 1860s; he is said to have begged Grey in 1863 not to be the first to cross the Mangatawhiri Stream and attack Waikato, for this would put the Pakeha in the wrong. The capital was shifted to Wellington in 1865, depriving him of many of his influential friends, but the provincial government still consulted him.
Patuone died on 19 September 1872. Of his four wives and nine children only one son, Hohaia, survived him. His funeral was of a European kind; he lay in the Devonport Hall, attended by 500 mourners – Maori and Pakeha – and was buried in the Mt Victoria Cemetery, Devonport. The government enclosed the grave with an iron fence and erected a plaque which celebrated Patuone as a 'warm friend of Europeans, supporter of the Queen's laws, and Peacemaker'.