Page 1: Biography
Uru, Henare Whakatau
Ngai Tahu; sportsman, farmer, native agent, politician
Uru, John Hopere Wharewiti
Ngai Tahu; sportsman, farmer, native agent, politician
This biography, written by Christine Elizabeth Lock, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
John Hopere Wharewiti Uru and Henare Whakatau Uru were two of twenty-one children born to Hoani Uru, a farmer, and his wife, Kataraina (Kata) Kaiparoa. They were born at Kaiapoi: Hopere probably on 26 March 1868, Henare in 1872. With their elder sister, Timaima Potanga Waiata, and a brother, Marakaia Hape, they were the only children to survive to middle age. Their great-uncle, Apetara Kautuanui, had signed the Port Cooper deed in 1849. They belonged to Ngai Tuahuriri hapu of Ngai Tahu.
The family lived at Tuahiwi (near Kaiapoi), where the children attended the local school. Hopere attended Te Aute College in Hawke's Bay from 1889; Henare went to Rangiora High School. The Uru family were Catholics, but later in life Hopere and Henare became Anglicans. On 24 June 1891 at Kaiapoi Henare married Ruita Te Aika. The following year on 4 February Hopere married Rahera (Rachel) Muriwai Mutu at Kaiapoi. Ruita and Henare were divorced in 1896.
Both brothers excelled at sport. In 1891 they were members of the Kaiapoi Rugby Football Club's winning team; they later belonged to the N'Tu Ahuriri club. Hopere, also known as Billy, represented Canterbury at cricket in 1894 as a fast bowler and in 1896 at rugby, and was a well-known wrestler and athlete. Henare, also known as Harry or Tau, was involved in athletics, rugby, tennis and wrestling, and gained fame as a cyclist.
Henare and Hopere Uru belonged to the North Canterbury Mounted Rifle Volunteers, Hopere serving as captain. He travelled to England in 1897 as sergeant of the Maori contingent attending Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee; in 1902 he returned as second in command of the New Zealand contingent for the coronation of King Edward VII. The brothers attended the 1901 opening of the federal Parliament in Australia, with Hopere commanding the Maori contingent.
Music was important to the Uru family. Henare and Hopere played the violin and the piano, Henare was manager of the Rapaki Music Company and supported the Port Levy Concert Party, and their brother Marakaia took concert parties around North Canterbury raising funds. Henare is credited with having introduced to New Zealand from Australia the popular tune 'Now is the hour'.
Henare Uru farmed, and developed a business selling boots, drapery and fruit. For 25 years he was a Native Land Court agent with practices in both the North and South Islands. Hopere Uru farmed near Kaiapoi. He was chairman of the Tuahiwi School Committee and from 1902 to 1905 was secretary of the Mahunui Maori Council as the member representing Poutini Ngai Tahu interests.
The Uru family became involved in legal and political battles over Ngai Tahu claims to land and resources. In 1892 Henare was bequeathed a section of land at Kaiapoi in the will of Mikaera Turangatahi. The validity of this was disputed by Hohepa Te Rangi and others, who asserted their right to the land under Maori custom. In 1904 the Supreme Court decided the case against Henare. However, conflicting court decisions had resulted in confusion over titles in the Kaiapoi area, leading in 1911 to a royal commission.
The South Island Landless Natives Act 1906, intended to settle Ngai Tahu land claims, resulted in much dissatisfaction with the inadequacy of its awards. Hopere Uru was elected as secretary of Te Kereeme o Ngai-Tahu raua ko Ngati-Mamoe (the claim of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe), formed at Temuka in 1907. A petition heard by the Native Affairs Committee of Parliament in 1910, asking for an investigation of Kemp's Purchase in 1848, was referred to the government for favourable consideration.
By 1913 Hopere Uru had moved to Wellington as a native agent. He and his wife, Rahera, were divorced in 1915; there appear to have been no children of the marriage. On 5 September 1916 he married Riwaka Anaha Tauwhare at Wellington. Henare had moved to Auckland around 1915, and there on 31 March 1915 married his secretary of six years, Gladys Constance Mary Rogers. He was soon joined by both Hopere and Marakaia. They set up a practice, Uru Brothers, Native Agents. This dissolved in 1918 when Hopere was elected as the member of Parliament for Southern Maori, succeeding Taare Parata who had died that year; Hopere had been defeated for the seat in 1905, 1908 and 1911. Marakaia Uru returned to Christchurch and Henare went dairy farming at Ahikiwi in Northland.
In Parliament Hopere successfully urged the appointment of the 1920 commission into Kemp's Purchase. A hui at Rapaki in 1921 authorised him to report Ngai Tahu's acceptance of the commission's recommendation of £354,000 as full compensation for the claim. Hopere Uru died in office on 29 November 1921, survived by his wife, Riwaka, and their son and daughter.
On Hopere's death, Henare Uru was asked to stand for the Southern Maori seat, which he won. He rarely spoke in Parliament, his work having been done in committee beforehand. Nevertheless, a creditable record of success with Ngai Tahu issues ensured his re-election in 1925. The Ngai Tahu claim progressed slowly but steadily with, in 1923, a statute empowering the Native Land Court to determine the beneficiaries. A settlement was agreed on at a hui and Native Land Court hearing held at Tuahiwi in 1925. Appeals delayed the payment, but in 1929 the Ngaitahu Trust Board was established to represent the beneficiaries. Henare Uru had, however, been defeated in the previous year's election. He suffered a seizure while attending the funeral of Hopere's widow, and died in Wellington on 7 March 1929, survived by Gladys, two daughters and two sons. He was buried near Hopere at Tuahiwi.
Hopere and Henare Uru were successful in many fields. Most notably, they, along with other Ngai Tahu leaders, kept alive the issue of compensation for the loss of their lands, finally achieving a measure of justice after years of dogged effort.