Story: Te Kiri Karamu, Heni

Page 1: Biography

Te Kiri Karamu, Heni


Te Arawa woman of mana, teacher, warrior, interpreter

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

Heni Te Kiri Karamu, also known as Heni Pore (Jane Foley) and as Jane Russell, belonged to Ngati Uenuku-kopako and Ngati Hinepare of Te Arawa. She was descended from Ngatoro-i-rangi of Te Arawa canoe. She was born probably on 14 November 1840 at Kaitaia, where her mother Maraea (also known as Pihohau or Pikokau) had been taken as a child by Nga Puhi after the capture of Mokoia Island. The identity of Heni's father is not clear. She identified her father as Russell, who is also named in an obituary as Richard Russell, a ship's chandler from Sunderland, England. Heni's death certificate records that her father was an Irish sea captain named Thomas William Kelly.

Heni was at Henry Williams's mission at Paihia in 1845 and witnessed the burning of Kororareka (Russell), after which she was evacuated with her family to Auckland. Her parents remained there, but she was taken by her kinsman, Arona, to Maketu. She attended Thomas and Anne Maria Chapman's school at Te Ngae, Rotorua, before returning to Auckland in 1849. There she attended two mission schools, including the Three Kings Native Institution, a boarding school for Maori children. Fluent in Maori, English and French, she became an assistant teacher there and also worked as a governess. When her parents went north again Heni accompanied them, and there married Te Kiri Karamu, of Ngati Rangi-te-aorere of Te Arawa, who was working as a gum-digger. They lived at Katikati, Bay of Plenty, where their three sons and two daughters were born. After a quarrel Heni Te Kiri Karamu left her husband in 1861 and took her children to Maraetai to live with her mother.

When war began in Waikato in July 1863, Heni Te Kiri Karamu and her family supported the King movement. They fought with Ngati Koheriki, a section of Ngati Paoa led by Wi Koka, in the Hunua Range. Along with her mother and sister Heni had her young children with her. After several weeks of skirmishes Ngati Koheriki split into small groups to withdraw to Waikato. One party, who ignored the advice of the tohunga as to the route they should follow, was severely defeated at Otau, on the lower Wairoa River, on 14 December. The red silk flag named Aotearoa, made by Heni Te Kiri Karamu for Wi Koka and now held in the Auckland Institute and Museum, was captured. The force regrouped at the headwaters of the Mangatawhiri River and continued their way south. Finding themselves hemmed in by a cordon of military posts, they camped for some time in a deep, forested valley, south-east of the Wairoa River, living mostly on wild honey and cold water as they could not light fires or shoot game for fear of attracting the British troops. One night they were able to slip through the soldiers' lines, moving so close to the sentries that they could hear them talking. They waded through a swamp and crossed Lake Waikare by canoe. A Ngati Haua leader, Te Raihi, advised them to go to Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi's village, Peria, near Matamata, where the King's followers were gathering. They remained there for the summer of 1863–64, and during this time Heni Te Kiri Karamu translated captured military documents for Wiremu Tamihana.

In 1864 Heni Te Kiri Karamu and Ngati Koheriki joined the King's forces at Te Tiki-o-Te-Ihinga-rangi pa at Maungatautari. After the fall of Orakau on 2 April this pa was abandoned, and they accompanied a force of Ngai Te Rangi warriors to Tauranga. British troops had landed at Tauranga in January to prevent the King's allies from the East Coast from sending aid to Waikato.

Heni Te Kiri Karamu has been remembered in written history primarily for her involvement in the battle at Pukehinahina, or the Gate Pa, on 29 April 1864. The women who had helped construct the fortification at Pukehinahina had been ordered to leave by Rawiri Puhirake before the British force attacked. Heni Te Kiri Karamu, however, stayed, as she was recognised as a woman warrior, and refused to leave her brother Neri. She was nearly killed by the first shot of the bombardment but was saved by the tohunga Timoti Te Amopo, who saw the cannon fire and pulled her down into a trench. When the British troops were repelled, their wounded, left behind in the pa, were treated with kindness and humanity by the defenders, in accordance with a code of conduct drawn up before the battle by Rawiri Puhirake and Henare Taratoa, a former mission teacher. Heni Te Kiri Karamu, at risk to her own life, gave water to Colonel H. J. P. Booth and several other wounded men. Some records name Henare Taratoa for this act of kindness.

After the battle of the Gate Pa Heni Te Kiri Karamu went to Rotorua, where she lived at Hapokai, on Mokoia Island. In 1865–66 she fought in support of the government against the Pai Marire movement, alongside her uncle, Matenga Te Ruru. They captured Ngai Te Rangi leader Hori Tupaea at Rotoiti, as he attempted to cross Te Arawa territory to join the Hauhau leader Kereopa Te Rau on the East Coast. Later in 1865 Heni Te Kiri Karamu fought with Te Arawa forces led by Major William Mair against the Hauhau at Matata and Te Teko, near Whakatane.

After the wars Heni Te Kiri Karamu married Denis Stephen Foley, who kept a hotel and was in charge of the military canteen at Maketu. They were married on 28 December 1869 at Maketu, and had three daughters and three sons. In 1870 they moved to a farm at Katikati. About this time Heni Pore, as she was now known, also attended a theological school. She reclaimed family land at Hauanu, Mokoia Island, to which she had rights from her ancestor Whakatauihu, and built a house there for her mother. She also claimed the land known as Patoroa, which was later farmed by her son, Rangi-te-aorere Te Kiri.

On 20 November 1870 Denis Foley, who was a heavy drinker, attacked Heni with a bill-hook, breaking her arm and severely cutting her about the head and body. He claimed she was bewitching him; he was certified insane, and committed to the Auckland Provincial Lunatic Asylum. Heni subsequently applied for a protection order against him and was granted maintenance of 10s. a week.

She returned some time after this to Rotorua. She purchased a 30 acre block of land at Katikati in 1888, but lived for the remainder of her life at Rotorua. In her later years she worked as a licensed interpreter, and was active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, becoming secretary of the Maori mission and of the Rotorua Union. Heni Pore lived to see five generations of her descendants, and died on 24 June 1933 at the King George V Hospital, Rotorua. She is buried at the Rotorua cemetery. The chivalrous conduct of the Maori at the Gate Pa is commemorated by a brass plaque in the church there, and a stained-glass window in the chapel at Lichfield Palace, England.

How to cite this page:

Steven Oliver. 'Te Kiri Karamu, Heni', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 February 2020)