Story: Taratoa, Henare Wiremu

Page 1: Biography

Taratoa, Henare Wiremu

?–1864

Ngai Te Rangi missionary, teacher, war leader

This biography, written by Ngahuia Dixon, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Henare Wiremu Taratoa was a leader of Ngai Te Rangi of the Tauranga district. He was born about 1830; a photograph taken of him about 1860 shows a young man possibly in his 30s. His mother was Hera; his father's name is unknown. He resided at Opounui, a settlement on Matakana Island. Taratoa was taught and baptised by the CMS missionary Henry Williams, whose names he adopted at baptism, and later studied at St John's College in Auckland. There he married a Maori woman, whose name is not recorded, in a service conducted by Bishop G. A. Selwyn. He later married another woman named Rahapa. It is not known who was the mother of Taratoa's son, Henare.

Taratoa travelled extensively with Bishop Selwyn, assisting with Selwyn's religious mission. In June 1852 he sailed in the Pacific with the bishop, and with the missionary William Nihill was left on Mare Island in the Loyalty Islands to teach the islanders who had already been converted to Christianity by Samoan lay preachers. Taratoa was there for several months.

In 1858 he was appointed lay reader and native school teacher at Otaki. He had links with Ngati Raukawa and may have earlier attended Octavius Hadfield's mission school at Otaki. Despite his involvement with the Church of England Taratoa did not become a clergyman, as he was considered too impetuous for the ministry. In 1860, at a meeting at Otaki, he spoke against the actions of Governor Thomas Gore Browne in Taranaki, and, with others, demanded his recall. During George Grey's second term as governor, Taratoa opposed his system of indirect rule which brought British law and officials to Maori districts. He went back to Tauranga in 1861 and set up a school for teaching arithmetic and Christianity. He also organised a system of councils which regulated civil and religious matters.

According to one source Taratoa was back in Otaki by 1863, but returned to Tauranga after the Maori leaders at Otaki announced that there would be no rising against the government in their district. The Tauranga district supplied the King movement with food and ammunition during the Waikato war in 1863–64. Contingents of warriors were allowed to move through Ngai Te Rangi territory to aid the King movement. When British troops were sent to stop this, the warriors of Ngai Te Rangi gathered at Te Waoku pa near the Waimapu River. At Poteriwhi, the pa of Pene Taka Tuaia on the lower Wairoa River, a code of conduct was drawn up. Taratoa wrote a copy of it which was sent to Lieutenant Colonel H. H. Greer. It said that captured soldiers would not be killed and that unarmed Pakeha and women and children would not be attacked. He also wrote a challenge to the colonel, giving as the reason for war aggression by the British troops.

Taratoa was present at the Maori victory at the battle at Pukehinahina, or the Gate Pa, on 29 April 1864. The wounded British troops left behind after the retreat were treated with consideration and courtesy. It is recorded that Taratoa narrowly escaped being shot by soldiers to whose wounded colonel he was carrying a calabash of fresh, cold water. This act is also attributed to Heni Te Kiri Karamu. It is likely that numerous acts of kindness were performed after the battle.

On 21 June 1864 the battle of Te Ranga was fought. British troops caught Ngai Te Rangi and their allies in the open before their fortifications were complete. Ngai Te Rangi were defeated and Taratoa and over 100 warriors killed. A copy of the rules of conduct was found on Taratoa's body. The writing included a prayer and ended with the words, 'if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink' (Romans 12:20). His body, initially buried in the filled-in trenches of Te Ranga, was later placed in the mission cemetery at Otamataha pa.

As a memorial to the chivalrous conduct of the Maori at the Gate Pa, Selwyn, as bishop of Lichfield, had a stained glass window, depicting King David giving water to soldiers, put into a chapel at Lichfield Palace. In 1914 Maori and Europeans combined to erect a granite monument over the tomb of Rawiri Puhirake, who had led the Maori at Gate Pa. A plaque was added later to commemorate Taratoa's chivalry.

How to cite this page:

Ngahuia Dixon. 'Taratoa, Henare Wiremu', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t15/taratoa-henare-wiremu (accessed 17 November 2018)