Story: Kaikoura Whakatau

Page 1: Biography

Kaikoura Whakatau


Ngai Tahu leader

This biography, written by Harry C. Evison, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

Kaikoura Whakatau was the leader of Ngai Tahu in the Kaikoura district throughout the first 25 years of European whaling, and pastoral settlement commencing in the 1840s. The date and place of his birth are not known. Both of his parents, Tahere, or Te Haere, and Aniwaniwa, were descended from the Ngai Tahu leader Turakautahi. His lineage therefore entitled him to share in the deliberations of the senior leaders of Ngai Tahu.

Kaikoura Whakatau was absent when his pa at Mikonui, south of Kaikoura, was destroyed by Te Rauparaha early in 1830 and the inhabitants surrounded and killed or captured at Otama-a-kura (Goose Bay); he returned to bury the remains of the victims. As senior surviving leader Whakatau then successfully shouldered the responsibility of rebuilding the shattered remnant of his community.

Whakatau protected Ngai Tahu interests in the Kaikoura district. He regulated the concession of shore whaling rights among European whalers, and firmly resisted (but without violence) the occupation by pastoralists of places which Ngai Tahu considered important to themselves. Thus he declined to provide guides to the hinterland for W. J. W. Hamilton in 1849 and Frederick Weld in 1850, when they were prospecting the country for sheep runs. Kaikoura Whakatau was presented by his kinsmen with some of the money they received from Commissioner W. B. D. Mantell in payment for the Canterbury purchase in 1849; not being a principal owner in the district, Kaikoura was not a signatory to the deed of sale.

Land purchases increasingly became a source of vexation. In October 1852 Whakatau visited Governor George Grey in Wellington to reaffirm Ngai Tahu rights to the Kaikoura coast. Ngai Tahu of Canterbury were protesting strongly against European occupation of unpurchased territory north of Kaiapoi, and the Canterbury authorities feared violence. In Wellington Whakatau was appointed an assessor on the recommendation of the New Munster native secretary Henry Tacy Kemp because of his 'uniformly good behaviour…toward the Europeans', and given a payment of £60. Kemp considered that Whakatau had thereby relinquished his claims in the Kaikoura area, but Whakatau was under the impression that the payment was only for the site of Alexander Fyffe's whaling station at Waiopuka on the Kaikoura Peninsula. When a government surveyor arrived to begin an extensive survey along the Kaikoura coast he was sent off by Whakatau and his people.

At the representative tribal hui at Lyttelton in December 1856, which preceded W. J. W. Hamilton's purchase of the North Canterbury block for the Crown, Kaikoura Whakatau was the acknowledged spokesman who defined the Ngai Tahu claim to the disputed territories. Ngati Toa had claimed the land by right of conquest and sold it to Grey in 1847 as part of the Wairau block. Whakatau also informed Hamilton of the rights of Poutini Ngai Tahu on the West Coast, as yet unacknowledged by the government. He was present at the North Canterbury purchase in February 1857, as having an interest but no occupational rights of ownership, and was one of the 20 who signed the deed of sale and received £10 of the initial £200 payment.

Hamilton's report to Chief Land Purchase Commissioner Donald McLean led to the government's repurchase by James Mackay of the disputed Kaikoura block from Kaikoura Ngai Tahu in 1859, and of the Arahura block in 1860 from Poutini Ngai Tahu. When Mackay arrived at Kaikoura in February 1859 to begin his negotiations Whakatau was aware that the Nelson provincial authorities had already sold or leased much of the 2½ million-acre Kaikoura block to European settlers and had received many thousands of pounds in return. He therefore requested £5,000 for the block, and asked to retain the 100,000 acres between the Kahutara and Conway rivers so that the Maori people could themselves engage in pastoral farming. Mackay, however, was under McLean's instructions to pay if possible no more than £150, and threatened to obtain possession from Ngati Toa and Te Ati Awa if Ngai Tahu did not accede to his terms. Unwillingly Ngai Tahu signed Mackay's deed in return for £300 and 5,566 acres of coastal reserves, which, though favourably situated for collecting karaka fruit and seafood, were in Mackay's words 'of the most useless and worthless description', 'barely sufficient for the wants of the native population'.

Kaikoura Whakatau was well respected and popular among Maori and European alike. As an expert on tribal custom and traditions his standing among Ngai Tahu chiefs was of the highest, and his official reputation 'very upright and trustworthy'. Weld described him in 1850 as having a light complexion, blue eyes, a portly presence and most powerful build: his bluff, handsome countenance and hearty welcome were unlike those of any Maori he had previously seen. While acquainted with the Old Testament to the point of disputation, it appears he was not converted to Christianity, insisting on his right to have two wives: Matairena, and Kararaina, with whom he had a daughter, Hariata. He died, probably in early 1868, following a fall from his horse on a dangerous part of the Haumuri Bluffs, and is buried at Waihiria near Mikonui. The signature 'Kaikoura' appears on the Treaty of Waitangi signing of 10 June 1840 at Ruapuke, and there is a tradition among Kaikoura Whakatau's descendants that it was he who signed the treaty.

How to cite this page:

Harry C. Evison. 'Kaikoura Whakatau', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 30 May 2020)