Story: Te Kiri Karamū, Hēni

Page 1: Biography

Te Kiri Karamū, Hēni

1840–1933

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. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Hēni Te Kiri Karamū, also known as Hēni Pore (Jane Foley) and as Jane Russell, belonged to Ngāti Uenukukōpako and Ngāti Hinepare of Te Arawa. She was descended from Ngātoroirangi of Te Arawa canoe. She was born probably on 14 November 1840 at Kaitāia, where her mother Maraea (also known as Pihohau or Pikokau) had been taken as a child by Ngāpuhi after the capture of Mokoia Island. The identity of Hēni'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. Hēni's death certificate records that her father was an Irish sea captain named Thomas William Kelly.

Hēni was at Henry Williams's mission at Paihia in 1845 and witnessed the burning of Kororāreka (Russell), after which she was evacuated with her family to Auckland. Her parents remained there, but she was taken by her kinsman, Ārona, to Maketū. 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 Māori children. Fluent in Māori, English and French, she became an assistant teacher there and also worked as a governess. When her parents went north again Hēni accompanied them, and there married Te Kiri Karamū, of Ngāti Rangiteaorere 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 Hēni Te Kiri Karamū left her husband in 1861 and took her children to Maraetai to live with her mother.

When war began in Waikato in July 1863, Hēni Te Kiri Karamū and her family supported the King movement. They fought with Ngāti Koheriki, a section of Ngāti Pāoa led by Wī Kōkā, in the Hūnua Range. Along with her mother and sister Hēni had her young children with her. After several weeks of skirmishes Ngāti 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 Ōtau, on the lower Wairoa River, on 14 December. The red silk flag named Aotearoa, made by Hēni Te Kiri Karamū for Wī Kōkā and now held in the Auckland Institute and Museum, was captured. The force regrouped at the headwaters of the Mangatāwhiri 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 Ngāti Hauā leader, Te Raihi, advised them to go to Wiremu Tāmihana Tarapīpipi's village, Pēria, near Matamata, where the King's followers were gathering. They remained there for the summer of 1863–64, and during this time Hēni Te Kiri Karamū translated captured military documents for Wiremu Tāmihana.

In 1864 Hēni Te Kiri Karamū and Ngāti Koheriki joined the King's forces at Te Tiki-o-Te-Ihingarangi pā at Maungatautari. After the fall of Ōrākau on 2 April this pā was abandoned, and they accompanied a force of Ngāi 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.

Hēni Te Kiri Karamū has been remembered in written history primarily for her involvement in the battle at Pukehinahina, or the Gate Pā, on 29 April 1864. The women who had helped construct the fortification at Pukehinahina had been ordered to leave by Rāwiri Puhirake before the British force attacked. Hēni Te Kiri Karamū, 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 Tīmoti Te Amopō, who saw the cannon fire and pulled her down into a trench. When the British troops were repelled, their wounded, left behind in the pā, were treated with kindness and humanity by the defenders, in accordance with a code of conduct drawn up before the battle by Rāwiri Puhirake and Hēnare Taratoa, a former mission teacher. Hēni Te Kiri Karamū, at risk to her own life, gave water to Colonel H. J. P. Booth and several other wounded men. Some records name Hēnare Taratoa for this act of kindness.

After the battle of the Gate Pā Hēni Te Kiri Karamū went to Rotorua, where she lived at Hapokai, on Mokoia Island. In 1865–66 she fought in support of the government against the Pai Mārire movement, alongside her uncle, Mātenga Te Ruru. They captured Ngāi Te Rangi leader Hōri Tūpaea 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 Hēni Te Kiri Karamū fought with Te Arawa forces led by Major William Mair against the Hauhau at Matatā and Te Teko, near Whakatāne.

After the wars Hēni Te Kiri Karamū married Denis Stephen Foley, who kept a hotel and was in charge of the military canteen at Maketū. They were married on 28 December 1869 at Maketū, and had three daughters and three sons. In 1870 they moved to a farm at Katikati. About this time Hēni Pore, as she was now known, also attended a theological school. She reclaimed family land at Hauānu, 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, Rangiteaorere Te Kiri.

On 20 November 1870 Denis Foley, who was a heavy drinker, attacked Hēni 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. Hēni 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 Māori mission and of the Rotorua Union. Hēni 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 Māori at the Gate Pā 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 Karamū, Hēni', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t43/te-kiri-karamu-heni (accessed 29 October 2020)