Story: Tohi Te Ururangi

Page 1: Biography

Tohi Te Ururangi


Ngati Whakaue leader, assessor

This biography, written by Jenifer Curnow,  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.

Tohi Te Ururangi was a renowned warrior and leader of Ngati Whakaue section of Te Arawa. He was born probably in the early nineteenth century. Through his father, Te Piere II, he was descended from Whakaue, through Tutea-iti. His mother, Hinepapa, had connections with Ngati Pikiao and other sections of Te Arawa. Tohi and his first wife, Haukau, had two children: a son, Ngaki, and a daughter, Ngatai. Ngatai married Retireti Tapsell, the eldest son of the Maketu trader Phillip Tapsell and Hine-i-turama (Hineaturama) Ngatiki of Ngati Whakaue. The second wife of Tohi was Ngapi; there were no children of this union.

Tohi Te Ururangi was regarded by both Maori and Pakeha as a man of great mana. He was described by Mary Martin, who met him in the 1840s, as 'a thickset, short man, with a keen, strong-willed expression, the eyes bloodshot and fierce, but the whole expression was rather thoughtful and intelligent than savage.'

After the killing of Te Hunga of Ngati Haua probably by Haerehuka of Ngati Whakaue, at Parahaki in December 1835, Te Arawa's pa at Maketu was raided in a combined attack by Waikato and Ngai Te Rangi, led by Te Waharoa of Ngati Haua, in March 1836. In August, at the battle of Mataipuku, near Ohinemutu, Tohi Te Ururangi rallied his men, who were being pursued across the Utuhina Stream. Tohi turned and faced the pursuers. One Ngati Haua leader, Raerae, was wounded by a shot fired by Te Arawa. Without hesitation Tohi sprang back across the creek and put Raerae to death with his tomahawk. This caused Ngati Haua to pause in their pursuit long enough for many Te Arawa survivors to escape to the safety of their pa. In the battle of Te Whare-uru-rua in February 1839 Tohi Te Ururangi also took a prominent part. Standing near the Irohanga gate to the Maketu pa, he shot and killed one of the attackers.

In November 1842 Ngaki, the 11- or 12-year-old son of Tohi Te Ururangi, was captured at Katikati by Ngai Te Rangi when the trading cutter Nimble, on which he was a passenger, put ashore there. When Tohi heard of the loss of his son, his sorrow and anger led him to seek revenge. With a small raiding party he sailed to Tuhua (Mayor Island) and attacked the Ngai Te Rangi people of Te Whanau-a-Tauwhao. Some of the casualties were later eaten. Hori Tupaea of Ngai Te Rangi was eager to retaliate, and extensive warfare was only narrowly averted.

In 1845, when it was confirmed that his son had been killed and eaten by Ngai Te Rangi, Tohi threatened to attack Tauranga and destroy his enemies. He gave up this intention after talking with Governor Robert FitzRoy in Auckland in June, and attending a service at St Stephen's Chapel there. About this time he was converted to Christianity and baptised.

In 1852 a dispute arose between Tohi Te Ururangi and Te Amohau of Maketu over the ownership of stones to be used to build a new chapel at Maketu. Tohi showed his displeasure by leading an expedition to Motiti Island where the graves of ancestors of Te Amohau were desecrated by his party. Te Amohau appealed to Hori Tupaea at Otumoetai for support, and war seemed imminent. A tense peace was, however, maintained through the interventions of Archdeacon A. N. Brown, the Anglican missionary T. Chapman, and T. H. Smith, resident magistrate at Maketu. By 1856 Tohi had withdrawn from Motiti and made his peace with Tupaea.

Because of the authority and respect that Tohi commanded, about 1858 he was appointed an unofficial magistrate, on the recommendation of T. H. Smith. His headquarters were at Maketu. From there he travelled both on the coast and inland, attempting to settle disputes, and often succeeding. He lessened the conflict between Ngati Awa of Whakatane and Te Whakatohea of Opotiki, and partially settled the conflict over a land dispute at Lake Tarawera. He also went to Matata and persuaded local Maori to pay their debts to a local Pakeha trader. Initially this work was unpaid, causing Tohi some hardship when his wife was ill for a period in 1858: his work left him no time to cultivate his own garden. Tohi continued in this work for two or three years. He became known as Pekamu Winiata (Beckham Wynyard) or Pekamu Tohi, and attended the Kohimarama conference in Auckland in 1860. In January 1862 he was appointed a court assessor in Maketu at a salary of £10 a year. He remained in this position until his death, working with T. H. Smith, and H. T. Clarke, the resident magistrate at Tauranga.

Tohi Te Ururangi supported the government during the wars of the 1860s. During 1863 many tribes from Matata to Wairoa pledged their support to the Maori King. Tohi talked of going to Auckland for troops and ammunition to fight them. In February 1864 a large party of 700 or 800 tried to pass through Te Arawa territory on their way to Waikato. Tohi was one of the leaders who led the attack against them, when they assembled near Maketu. On 28 April 1864 the King's supporters made their final stand at Te Kaokaoroa, near Matata. During the battle Tohi, standing on a low sandhill to direct his men, was mortally wounded by a burst of gunfire. He was carried back by his people to the Pua-kowhai Stream, where he died that evening. His wife, Ngapi, took utu by immediately shooting Te Whakatohea leader Te Aporotanga, who had been taken prisoner.

The death of Tohi Te Ururangi was a great loss to Te Arawa and to Pakeha who had worked with him. T. H. Smith wrote that, 'Maketu will not be the same place without him'. Tohi Te Ururangi is buried at Ohinemutu. In 1876 a stone memorial to him was erected at the government's expense in the enclosure surrounding St Thomas's Church at Maketu.

How to cite this page:

Jenifer Curnow. 'Tohi Te Ururangi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 31 July 2021)