Page 1: Biography
Te Umuroa, Hōhepa
Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi youth, political prisoner
This biography, written by Ruth Wilkie, 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.
Hōhepa Te Umuroa was a member of Ngāti Hau of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi. He may have been born in the early 1820s. The names of his parents are not known. He grew to be a tall man of over six feet, with a fine, large head and an incomplete moko on the left side of his face. According to his people he did not marry.
Te Umuroa worked for a time as a labourer, but when Te Rangihaeata of Ngāti Toa began armed resistance to the settlers in the Wellington area in 1846, he joined other Wanganui Māori who travelled to Te Rangihaeata's pā at Taupō, Porirua. In May 1846 he took part in the attack on Almon Boulcott's farm in the Hutt Valley. It was this incident which prompted Governor George Grey to arrest Te Rauparaha in July that year, and keep him captive without trial, first on the Calliope and then in Auckland.
The following month Te Umuroa also fell victim to Grey's questionable activities. On 14 August 1846 he was captured near Paripari, in the Pāuatahanui hills, Porirua, along with six other Wanganui Māori: Te Waretiti, Matiu Tikiaki, Te Kumete, Tōpi, Matai-umu and Te Rāhui. Their captors were a party of Te Āti Awa led by Āperahama Ngātohu and Nepetarima Ngauru, part of a force of over 100 Te Āti Awa assembled by Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke to assist the government in searching for supporters of Te Rangihaeata. When this party approached the huts where Te Umuroa and his companions were sheltering, they shook hands with the men before taking them prisoner. On the return march to Waikanae they were met by Sergeant R. B. Sayer of the Armed Police Force, who took the captives to the police station at Waikanae. Later they were sent to join Te Rauparaha on the Calliope.
Under the terms of the martial law operating in the area, the Wanganui men should have been treated as prisoners of war. Grey, however, chose to regard them as rebelling against the Queen's authority, and ordered a court martial of questionable legality, directing the court as to its verdict should they plead guilty. Te Umuroa and his companions had only an interpreter to plead their cause; none spoke sufficient English to conduct a defence and they were not given legal counsel. They pleaded guilty, and on 12 October 1846 were convicted of rebellion against the Queen, aiding Te Rangihaeata, and possession of one of Her Majesty's firearms. They were sentenced to be 'transported as Felons for the Term of their Natural lives.'
After the trial the seven were taken to Auckland, to be sent to Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), and on to a penal colony. The Castor arrived at Hobart Town on 16 November with five of the group and seven other convicts on board. Grey kept Matiu Tikiaki and Tōpi in Auckland, supposedly to testify in a coming trial of Te Rauparaha.
The arrival of the Māori prisoners, wearing traditional dress, created much interest. They were visited by the local press, who were concerned at their living conditions and vigorous in their criticism of the transportation. Normally convicts were sent on to Norfolk Island, but the acting lieutenant governor of Van Diemen's Land, C. J. La Trobe, decided to send the men to Darlington probation station, on Maria Island off the coast of Van Diemen's Land, which was regarded as a more humane institution. There they were given separate huts from the main dormitory, which housed 400 convicts. They remained subjects of attention. All five were painted by the colonial artist John Skinner Prout; these paintings are now held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Another portrait of Te Umuroa, thought to have been painted by William Duke, also survives.
In mid April 1847 Te Umuroa fell seriously ill with tuberculosis. His health deteriorated through the winter. On 19 July 1847 the prison foreman, J. J. Imrie, wrote in his diary: 'At 4 am visited the Māoris. Found Hōhepa very nearly gone. At 5 am he breathed his last without a struggle.' Te Umuroa was buried the next morning, in the small public cemetery on the island, on a bleak hillside, rather than in the convict cemetery. The funeral service was read in Māori by Imrie at the graveside. An anonymous benefactor later erected a headstone over the grave.
Te Umuroa's death prompted the Australian authorities to action. Both La Trobe and the Colonial Office queried the legality of the court martial and transportation. Eventually the four remaining prisoners were released and returned to Auckland in March 1848. Te Umuroa's return was not until 1988. After three years of negotiations within and between the New Zealand and Australian governments, six elders of Te Umuroa's tribe travelled to Tasmania to bring him back to his home. He was reburied on 8 August 1988 at Roma cemetery, Jerusalem, on the Wanganui River.