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Warbrick, Alfred Patchett


Ngāti Rangitihi; boatbuilder, rugby player, tourist guide

This biography, written by R. F. Keam, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Alfred Patchett (Patiti) Warbrick told the historian James Cowan in 1934 that he had been born on 24 February 1860 near, and given his first bath in, the warm water basins of Te Tarata, the white terrace at Rotomahana. Other evidence indicates that he was in fact born at Matatā. He was to have, nevertheless, almost a lifelong association with the thermal springs district of New Zealand. His English father, a one-time medical student, Abraham Warbrick, had arrived in New Zealand in 1849 and set himself up as a trader near Matatā. There he met and married Rūhia Ngākarauna (Karauna), daughter of the local Ngāti Rangitihi chief Paerau Mokonuiārangi; she was also of Ngāti Pourua. Alfred was the second son of this union.

Alfred Warbrick was educated in Auckland at the Catholic school at Takapuna, the Wesleyan Native Institution at Three Kings and St Matthew's Boys' School. He then returned to live for a short time with his father, who was now in Tauranga. Donald McLean, the minister for native affairs, arranged for him to become apprenticed to an Auckland boatbuilder, Charles Bailey, at the age of about 14. For 10 years Warbrick learned a shipwright's skills and eventually he became foreman in Bailey's yard. His recreational activities included rowing, yachting, hunting and rugby football. In 1888 he, along with four other Warbrick brothers, was included in the New Zealand Native Football Team which toured Great Britain; his younger brother Joseph captained the team.

About 1885 Alfred moved to Te Wairoa, partly to exercise his boatbuilding skills in the Rotorua lakes district, and partly to assist his brother Joseph, who was representing Ngāti Rangitihi land claims there. He also built a public hall at Te Wairoa.

When the violent volcanic eruption at Mt Tarawera and Rotomahana occurred during the early hours of 10 June 1886, Warbrick and three hunting companions were sheltering for the night in a slab hut deep in the forest on Makatiti hill, north of Lake Tarawera. The four safely emerged when the volcanic storm abated, and Alfred made his way to Ōhinemutu, where he met up with Joseph and another brother, Arthur. There had been several Ngāti Rangitihi and Tūhourangi settlements in the vicinity of Lakes Tarawera and Rotomahana, and the three Warbrick brothers immediately set out to ascertain their fate. Four days after the eruption a rescue party including Alfred and Arthur reached by boat the sites of Moura and Te Ariki, and confirmed that no one had survived there or at neighbouring Waingōngongo. Earlier the same day Alfred had helped to rescue the elderly Tūhourangi tohunga, Tūhoto, from his buried whare at Te Wairoa.

A few weeks later Alfred acted as guide to J. A. Philp, a special correspondent for the Auckland Evening Star who was intent on exploring the great crater at the site of Rotomahana. After descending into a minor crater, they had a narrow escape when a prolonged and violent eruption suddenly commenced from the main crater as they were approaching. Undeterred, Warbrick explored as far as a prominent hill within three miles of Mt Tarawera. These exploits became widely known, and, having put a whaleboat on Lake Tarawera, Warbrick quickly became the accepted guide for visitors eager to view the post-eruption wonderland. Over the next few years he took innumerable parties onto Mt Tarawera, into Rotomahana basin, and to many other parts of the central volcanic region. Initially there was some resentment from Tūhourangi of this Ngāti Rangitihi intrusion into their claimed territory, but gradually the objections ceased.

Warbrick never accepted that the Pink and White Terraces at Rotomahana were completely destroyed, and he would initiate or become involved in the intermittent public debates concerning their fate. In 1903 the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts inaugurated the Round Trip, a tourist excursion traversing the scene of the 1886 eruption and visiting the new hydrothermal prodigy, Waimangu geyser. Warbrick was employed as guide and placed in charge of the boats. In August 1903, as the result of a dare, he and a companion spent 12 minutes rowing about on the geyser lakelet and taking soundings. Three weeks later his brother Joseph and three other tourists approached the geyser too closely and perished in an outburst.

Alfred Warbrick remained employed as a guide until his retirement. Shortly thereafter James Cowan recorded and wrote the guide's autobiography, Adventures in geyserland, which was published in 1934. Warbrick died on 19 May 1940 at Knox Home, West Tāmaki, and was buried at Whakarewarewa.

At the age of 20 Warbrick had married Florence Sarah Mays, the daughter of a storekeeper, on 30 December 1880 at Devonport, Auckland. The births of three sons are recorded between 1882 and 1885. The date of Florence Warbrick's death is unknown. Another son was born to Alfred Warbrick and Ngāpuia Tūpara in 1893 or 1894. Warbrick also had at least four children with Georgina Te Rauoriwa Strew, a concert party performer and well-known guide at Whakarewarewa. Georgina Warbrick died in 1953. Another wife, Iripu Edie Warbrick of Whakarewarewa, died in 1958.

Other Maori guides – all of them women – became more famous than Alfred Warbrick, but their territory was more limited. Rash, venturesome, energetic and possessed of great stamina, Warbrick established for himself a place in tourist guiding in the central North Island volcanic region that has never been matched.

How to cite this page:

R. F. Keam. 'Warbrick, Alfred Patchett', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2w7/warbrick-alfred-patchett (accessed 29 May 2024)