Story: Te Horeta

Page 1: Biography

Te Horeta


Ngati Whanaunga leader

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

Te Horeta, also known as Te Taniwha, was a leader of Ngati Whanaunga, one of the Maru-tuahu confederation of Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel Peninsula tribes. The names of his parents are not recorded. He may have been born about 1757, for he told Captain James Cook he was aged about 12 when the two met on Cook's visit to Mercury Bay in November 1769. In later years Te Horeta recalled his wonder at seeing these new people. Once others of his people had returned safely from the Endeavour, he overcame his fears and ventured on board with other children. He remembered Cook's kindness to him and his companions, and Cook's puzzlement, having asked the men to draw a chart of the coast on the deck, at the concept of reaching the Maori underworld via Te Reinga. Cook also gave the people a double handful of potatoes. This Te Horeta believed to be the decisive introduction of the potato into the Coromandel area. The potatoes were kept for seed, and within three years Ngati Whanaunga were able to hold a feast incorporating the new food. Te Horeta may have encountered Cook again when the Endeavour visited the Thames estuary two weeks later.

Te Horeta was probably involved in the many wars in which Ngati Whanaunga and the Maru-tuahu tribes participated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By about 1790 he had a daughter, Te Tahuri, who was of marriageable age. The name of Te Tahuri's mother is not known, but she had connections with Waikato and Ngati Whatua. Through these ties Te Horeta was drawn into a series of battles, in one of which Te Tahuri and her husband were killed. He was probably also involved in the wars of Ngati Paoa against Te Kawerau, a tribe of the Auckland isthmus. In the mid 1790s, after the murder of a Ngati Whanaunga leader, Ngati Paoa, Ngati Maru and Ngati Whanaunga embarked on a campaign against Nga Puhi of the Bay of Islands. The Maru-tuahu tribes twice invaded the Bay of Islands, first attacking the people of Te Rawhiti, and then inflicting a heavy defeat on Nga Puhi in their heartland at Puketona, in a battle known as Wai-whariki. Some years later, about 1819, Korokoro of Te Rawhiti, allied with Te Haupa of Ngati Paoa, led a war party against the Coromandel tribes to avenge these defeats. They attacked various Ngati Maru pa as well as those in the Colville area, in the north-west of the Coromandel Peninsula, and Te Horeta's people at Waiau further south. Korokoro's party had returned to the Bay of Islands by January 1820.

In March 1820 Te Horeta appears to have joined the expedition of Te Morenga of Taiamai, Bay of Islands, on its return from Tauranga. On 25 May 1820, with Te Morenga, he visited the British naval storeship Dromedary, which was anchored near Waikare, in the Bay of Islands. He may have played some part in convincing Captain Thomas Downie of the Dromedary's companion ship Coromandel to seek the desired cargo of kauri spars in his area, for on 7 June 1820 he returned home on the Coromandel with Te Morenga and the missionary Samuel Marsden. On his arrival he found that Te Haupa had attacked Te Puhi of Ngati Maru, whose village at Taruru was not far from a settlement of Te Horeta. Marsden visited both villages and described Te Puhi and Te Horeta as 'very tall, fine, handsome men'.

Te Horeta assisted Downie to obtain his cargo by directing him to the finest and most accessible stands of kauri, and the Coromandel then moved on to Te Horeta's main settlement at Waiau, which was afterwards known as Coromandel Harbour. When Marsden expressed his desire to visit Waikato Te Horeta sent a messenger to inform Waikato leaders; Marsden was persuaded to abandon this journey, however, because of the bad weather and rough terrain. After the missionary's return from his visit to Tauranga with Te Morenga he carried out his promise to make peace between Te Puhi and Te Hinaki of Ngati Paoa. Marsden brought the two leaders together, but it was Te Horeta and Te Morenga who mediated between them. Te Horeta also helped to mediate between the local ariki and a subordinate leader accused of theft.

When the Dromedary entered Coromandel Harbour on 23 August Te Horeta, accompanied by all his people, performed a waiata of welcome on the deck. Ngati Whanaunga were encouraged by the protection offered by the ships' presence to emerge from the inland valleys, to which they had fled from Nga Puhi attacks, and they played generous hosts to their visitors. On the departure of the Coromandel in December, Te Horeta, together with Te Hinaki and two other leaders, took the opportunity to visit Sydney, New South Wales. He was still there when Hongi Hika and Waikato arrived in May 1821 on their way home from London, England. Te Horeta had intended to visit Europe, but Hongi and Waikato dissuaded him from going because of the length of the voyage and the severity of the climate. Marsden intervened, obtaining passages to New Zealand for Te Horeta and his companions on the Westmoreland, but Te Horeta objected to this unless he was landed at Thames, fearing being killed at the Bay of Islands because of the unresolved conflict between Ngati Whanaunga and Nga Puhi. Marsden subsequently arranged him a passage on the Active, but it is not clear when Te Horeta and Te Hinaki returned to New Zealand. They were still in Sydney when the Westmoreland arrived at the Bay of Islands with Hongi and Waikato on board on 11 July 1821.

Ngati Maru tradition states that Te Horeta and Te Hinaki were guests of Hongi at the Bay of Islands on their return to New Zealand. It is said that Hongi placed a bucket of milk before them as a test, and when they refused to take this strange food, took their rejection as an omen for his projected attacks on Maru-tuahu. He lined up his muskets, naming one for each of the battles in which Nga Puhi had been defeated by Ngati Paoa, Ngati Maru and Ngati Whanaunga. Te Hinaki and Te Horeta were thus warned that they were about to pay for the battle of Wai-whariki.

When Hongi Hika led the massed Bay of Islands tribes against Mau-inaina and Te Totara, the pa of Ngati Paoa and Ngati Maru at present day Panmure and Thames, the local tribes, including Ngati Whanaunga, withdrew into Waikato. No record remains of Te Horeta's role in these two major battles. It is known that he was in Waikato for the marriage of Te Wherowhero to Ngawaero, probably in late 1821. It may have been in these wars that he earned the sobriquet Te Taniwha. On one occasion he dived from a high bank into a river, and, avoiding the spears of his foes, climbed from the water into the bow of an enemy canoe and drove off the defenders. Te Horeta's people, watching from the pa, thought the feat to be that of a taniwha.

Records are silent concerning Te Horeta's activities in the later 1820s. There is some evidence that at this time his people took refuge from marauding war parties at Haowhenua, on Little Barrier Island. From 1830 his principal residence appears to have been Kauaeranga. He was visited there by various missionaries. In January 1834, in his speech of welcome to William Yate, Te Horeta asked his people the rhetorical question: 'what have the missionaries come for'? His answer, as recorded by Yate, was that 'they have come to break our clubs and establish peace here'.

In the late 1830s Te Horeta was patron to William Webster, an American who established himself as a trader at Herekino Bay, Coromandel Harbour, with other stations at Waiomio and Kauaeranga. Webster, known as Wepiha to local Maori, married a Ngati Whanaunga woman. To the growing number of European timber workers and traders in the area the Ngati Whanaunga leader was known as 'old Hooknose'. Te Horeta welcomed the visit of Major Thomas Bunbury in April–May 1840, and on 4 May 1840 signed the copy of the Treaty of Waitangi taken by Bunbury to Coromandel Harbour.

Probably in the mid 1840s Ngati Whanaunga began gum-digging in the Colville area. While this provided an alternative economic activity for Te Horeta's people, it also renewed an old dispute between Ngati Whanaunga and Ngati Mahanga over land at Ahirau and Otautu. When Ngati Whanaunga diggers established houses at Otautu, Te Waka of Te Uringahu and Ngati Mahanga went there with a war party and set fire to them. Ngati Whanaunga then pulled down a boundary marker of Te Waka, west of the Tauwhare range. Te Waka then went to Mekemeke and in an act of ritualised warfare fired his guns into the ground. After further acts of provocation on both sides peace initiatives were begun, with Te Horeta eventually agreeing to retain Ahirau, and Te Waka, Otautu and Tauwhare.

It was in Te Horeta's territories that gold was first discovered in New Zealand, in 1852, in the Kapanga River, near Coromandel Harbour. Intense interest followed the discovery, and a meeting was arranged by the government in November 1852 to negotiate access with the Maori owners of the land. Te Horeta and other influential Maori leaders met with the lieutenant governor of New Ulster, Colonel R. H. Wynyard, Bishop G. A. Selwyn and Chief Justice William Martin. By this time Te Horeta was 'bowed and enfeebled by age', being probably in his 90s. He willingly consented to his land being mined by the transient Pakeha, whom he compared to wandering albatross 'seeking food merely'.

Te Horeta Te Taniwha died at Coromandel Harbour on 21 November 1853. He had been baptised by the Anglican missionary Thomas Lanfear some four to six weeks before his death. Te Horeta had a second wife, Tuhi of Ngati Naunau, and he was succeeded by their son, Kitahi Te Taniwha. On his deathbed he dictated a letter to a European friend in Auckland, asking him to guard the interests of both Europeans and Maori so that they could dwell together in peace.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Te Horeta', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 February 2020)