Story: Solomon, Tommy

Page 1: Biography

Solomon, Tommy

1884–1933

Moriori leader, farmer

This biography, written by Michael King, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

According to family tradition, Tame Horomona Rehe, subsequently and better known as Tommy Solomon, was born at Waikaripi on Chatham Island on 7 May 1884. He was the only surviving child of Rangitapua Horomona Rehe and Ihimaera Te Teira, who were members of both the Owenga and Otonga Moriori tribes. Young Tame grew up on the Moriori reserve at Manukau on the south-east coast of Chatham Island among about two dozen of his kinsfolk.

He received a primary education at Te One School, to which he rode on horseback from Waikaripi (where his parents camped during the birding season) and Manukau. At the beginning of 1897 he left school to help his father work the land at Manukau, and to look after his mother, who was now chronically ill. Tommy was energetic and strong: he was a powerful back in the Owenga rugby team, and from his mid-teens joined the older men and women on birding expeditions. He was one of three survivors of a disastrous expedition, made against the advice of his elders, in August 1900, when two boats capsized and nine young men drowned at Tupuangi Beach, on their return from an unsuccessful foray to The Sisters.

Tommy's high spirits led him into trouble with the law during visits to the South Island with his father in 1901 and 1902. Because of his apparent irresponsibility, after his mother's death in 1903 his succession to her land was delayed, and his father, Rangitapua, was given lifetime ownership of her shares.

On 30 September 1903, at Waitangi, Chatham Island, Tommy married Ada Fowler, a Ngai Tahu woman from Arowhenua, near Temuka. They moved to leased land at Whareama, where Tommy served his apprenticeship as a sheep farmer. As the number of Moriori of unmixed descent declined from 32 in 1883 to 12 in 1900, the size of the Rehe holding at Manukau increased to 1,800 acres. By 1910 Rangitapua had cleared and developed the block as a highly successful sheep run and built a sizeable homestead. In 1915 both Rangitapua and Ada died. Tommy had by this time returned to the family farm at Manukau and taken over his father's house and stock, and was running up to 7,000 sheep and a small herd of cattle.

Tommy and Ada had had no children. Tommy remarried on 21 October 1916 at Temuka. His second wife, Whakarawa (Rene) Fowler, was Ada's niece. They had three sons and two daughters: Charles Te Teira, Thomas Tutanekai, Ngamare, Eric Rangitapua, and Flora who died in adolescence.

Throughout the 1920s Tommy Solomon's reputation grew throughout New Zealand – as one of the most skilled farmers on the Chathams, and after the death of his father's sister, Paranihia Heta, as the so-called last Moriori. He was a member of the Owenga School committee, the foundation Chatham Islands County Council (in 1925), the Wharekauri Maori Council, and the Chatham Island Jockey Club. He coached the Owenga football team, was a champion pistol shot, and bred successful racehorses. In 1924 Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana asked him to call a meeting to establish the Ratana movement on Chatham Island, and he remained a Ratana advocate until his death. He travelled to Christchurch each year to organise farm business and purchase new equipment, and he cut a memorable figure in his dark suit and homburg hat. Visitors who came to Chatham Island to investigate Moriori culture were always directed to him, and others of Moriori descent looked to him as their leader.

In addition to his physical stature (in later life he weighed about 30 stone), his community commitments and his mana as a Moriori, Tommy Solomon was widely respected for his conciliatory nature, generosity and sense of humour. He died of pneumonia and heart failure at his home in Manukau on 19 March 1933.

While he remained proudly Moriori in identity, Tommy Solomon was culturally Maori. It was his descendants, and those of Riwai Te Ropiha, a contemporary of his father, who were responsible for maintaining a Moriori presence on the Chathams and – 50 years later – initiating a revival of Moriori culture.

How to cite this page:

Michael King. 'Solomon, Tommy', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2s35/solomon-tommy (accessed 17 October 2018)