Charles and Edward Davis were two of the four sons of John Charles Davis (Hōne Hāre Rēweti) and his wife, Te Riutoto Aihe. John was the son of Merekaimanu of Ngāti Whanaunga and Ngāti Pāoa and Edward Telford Davis, of Welsh and Irish descent. Te Riutoto was of Ngāti Kinohaku and Ngāti Te Kanawa hapū of Ngāti Maniapoto. John and Te Riutoto were both descendants of Tainui ancestors. The eldest son, Edward Charles (sometimes known as Erueti Haare Rēweti) was born at Ōtorohanga on 16 May 1887. Becoming a tall, well-built man, he reflected his Celtic rather more than his Māori ancestry. Charles Richard was the third born, on 26 March 1895 at Waitomo. He grew as tall as Edward and had the same commanding demeanour, but favoured his mother's Māori looks.
Following the opening up of the King Country to European settlement in the early 1880s, much of the land was brought before the Native Land Court and customary titles were individualised. By 1894 the Davis family had moved to Tionui, on land designated by the court as Te Riutoto’s share of the Ruapuha block.
The family farm began as a piggery which supplied the growing towns of Ōtorohanga, Te Awamutu and Te Kūiti, but John Davis also became a pioneer dairy farmer in the district. His sons were raised in an atmosphere of hard work. Edward, being the eldest, took on a heavy responsibility at an early age. With his younger brother Joseph (Hōhepa) he delivered the farm’s produce by wagon to the railway station in Hangatiki six miles away. Edward assisted his father to drive cattle to and from the sale yards in Ōhaupō 40 miles away, crossing numerous swamps and streams. Formal education was not available to the brothers; instead, their father taught them in the evenings after work. He also taught them many of the skills which ensured them a reasonable return in later life: farming, animal husbandry, blacksmithing.
Through her connection with Ngāti Ruapuha and Ngāti Uekaha, Te Riutoto had an interest in the land where the Waitomo caves are located. Because the government decided that the caves, a major tourist attraction, would be best managed by the nation, this land was steadily acquired from the 1890s. John Davis, who had been an assessor in the Native Land Court before his marriage, unavailingly fought in the court on behalf of his wife's interests. When the caves were opened to tourism in 1891, Te Riutoto became a guide. She died about 1900, and at her request was buried on Tionui, the highest hill on her land, rather than in Ngāti Te Kanawa's customary cemetery in Marokopa. It was her way of ensuring that her heritage of ownership would remain in the family forever. Tionui remains the burial place of her many descendants.
Perhaps in 1906 or 1907, John Davis arranged with Natanahira Te Moerua the marriage of their children, Edward and Matatira (Tira). Natanahira was a man of status and the wedding was attended by the Māori King, Te Rata. Edward and Matatira had 14 children, four of whom died in infancy. They lived with Edward's father, Hurihia Green, his second wife, and seven half-brothers and -sisters in the family home at Tionui until John Davis’s death in 1913. Te Riutoto's land was then divided equally among the four brothers, and Edward decided to move on to his own block. He built his house on a hill considered by the hapū to be historically important. It was named Te One Hāpai, for the sand brought many generations earlier from the beaches of Marokopa to aid in the cultivation of kūmara; some say the sand came from Tahiti.
Edward Davis was deeply religious. Although Anglican, he was influenced for a time by Pai Mārire. When the Rātana church was established in 1925 he and many others from Ngāti Kinohaku found faith in a religion they believed would be the salvation of their people. Edward became an apostle, ministering to his people until his death.
Matatira was a landowner in her own right. When Edward judged his farm to be reasonably productive, he left it in the care of his younger brothers and went to Hangatiki to bring Matatira's land into production. He built a house there and helped his brothers-in-law to build the meeting house Korapatu. The house was opened by Turi Carroll, who was accompanied by a large contingent of Ngāti Porou. That hui made a tremendous impression on Edward, focusing as it did on inter-tribal marriages such as that of Tūrongo and Māhinārangi in the seventeenth century and the important whakapapa deriving from that marriage.
During the early 1930s Edward’s eldest son, Mākare, his wife, Matekino, and a younger brother farmed on the Waitomo property while Edward and other sons continued to manage Matatira’s property at Hangatiki. During the Second World War Edward commuted between the two farms regularly to ensure that both were producing to capacity. He was in complete control of the farming business until his retirement in the mid 1940s. According to his sons he was a hard taskmaster but fair.
Edward was a prolific writer, and left his family an account in Māori of events during the opening up of the Waitomo district for farming. The bulk of his writing, including entries into whakapapa volumes, was done during the last 10 years of his life, semi-retired from the heavy physical work on the farms.
After the Second World War he became increasingly involved with the affairs of Ngāti Maniapoto and Tainui. As the chairman of the Hangatiki Tribal Committee he endeavoured to ban alcohol entirely from marae areas over which it had jurisdiction. Edward was elected chairman of the Maniapoto Tribal Executive, a position he held for some years. He also chaired a land development advisory committee for Maniapoto–Waikato.
Edward and others with whom he worked believed strongly in the need for education for Māori. He managed to send his two youngest sons to boarding school and the younger of them went on to university, with financial aid from the Tainui Māori Trust Board. Edward became the chairman of the Maniapoto adult education committee, and one of the tutors in the waiata classes. His brothers, Charles and Thomas, were also masters of waiata and Charles occasionally tutored classes when Edward was busy. In 1950 Edward represented Ngāti Maniapoto on a delegation to Wellington to seek provision for better educational facilities for Māori.
The late 1940s were very busy years. Edward became involved with Te Puea Hērangi and her various committees. He chaired an advisory committee whose role was to assist in uniting the people under the mantle of the Kīngitanga. Among its members were historians, genealogists, waiata experts, orators, carvers, farmers and canoe builders.
In 1949 Edward, as chairman of the runanga nui (council) at Tūrangawaewae, spearheaded the preparations for the celebrations to mark the sexcentenary of the arrival of the 'Great Fleet'. Maharaia Winiata took on much of the organisational work, with Edward as his mentor. They travelled to the major marae to discuss canoe traditions and whakapapa. There were also many meetings in Tūrangawaewae and at Edward's home in Hangatiki. Edward compiled five large volumes of whakapapa as a result of these meetings. Miniature canoes were carved to present to the tribes. The celebrations began at Te Kaha on 21 January 1950. They continued at Gisborne, Ōtaki and Hastings and culminated at Tūrangawaewae over 5–10 October.
In 1950 Edward Davis supported a request by Te Puea that Tūrangawaewae be included in the itinerary of the planned royal tour by Princess Elizabeth and her husband. In the event, the young Queen Elizabeth and the duke of Edinburgh did briefly call in to Tūrangawaewae on their visit in 1953 and met the Māori King. Later, in Te Kūiti, Edward and Matatira Davis were both presented to the Queen.
Edward’s health began to fail in 1954, although he remained active on many committees. He died in hospital in Hamilton on 6 May 1958, survived by Matatira, four sons and a daughter. While his family were preparing for a large gathering of mourners for the tangihanga, King Korokī and his people in Ngāruawāhia had already collected Edward's body and had taken it to Tūrangawaewae. This was Māori protocol and no one in the family had the mana to breach it. Worse was to come. Tokoroa Poihipi, a close relative, died at about the same time. His body, too, was taken to Ngāruawāhia, where he lay in state with Edward. During the four days of the tangihanga Charles spoke of the family’s desire to take the two men home to be buried among their family. He knew it was futile since it was a breach of protocol; both were buried on Taupiri mountain. When Matatira died in 1963 she was also buried there.
Tribal elders who had worked with Charles Davis knew of his commitment to many of the causes to which Edward had devoted much of his life, and decided that he must fill the vacancy left by his brother. Charles agreed, but with some reluctance. In his youth he had been a farmer, carpenter and blacksmith. He joined the army with his younger brother Thomas about mid 1918 and sailed to England on 3 October, arriving after the armistice. They came home to life on the farm, working as blacksmiths and carpenters to supplement their income.
Charles met and fell in love with Edith Florence Servaes (née Peel), an English nursing sister. At the beginning of the depression they moved to Australia where their only child, John Charles, was born. Charles was a successful building contractor during the 11 years they spent in Australia. They came back to Waitomo after Joseph’s death in 1940.
It soon became obvious to Charles that their two farms, which had been farmed by Joseph during his absence, were not large enough to sustain the two families. He sold his farm to his nephews, bought a property in Te Kūiti and quickly established a building business. Thomas supervised the out-of-town building contracts while Charles concentrated on the joinery and administrative side. Edith opened a maternity hospital. She also adopted two children.
By the time of Edward’s death Charles was already involved in the affairs of his people. In 1949 he had opposed the government’s decision to hold a referendum to determine whether the King Country would remain a no-licence area for alcohol. In spite of opposition marshalled by Te Puea, the decision remained unaltered. Charles represented Ngāti Maniapoto on the New Zealand Māori Council and now took on many of his brother’s responsibilities, especially in Māori adult education programmes and the problem of under-utilised Māori lands. He also began working with the advisory committee on history and genealogy established by Te Puea.
Charles Davis became chairman of the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion Association and devoted much of his time to it, organising a very successful reunion in Te Kūiti. He was also a trustee of the Te Kūiti marae, Te Tokanganui-a-noho, and was partly responsible for setting aside an area of marae land for returned servicemen and -women. He was the prime mover and builder of the new meeting house, Auau-ki-te-rangi, at Maketū, Kāwhia, in the early 1960s. Above its site is a knoll, Ahurei, on which the first shrine was built when the Tainui canoe arrived. Below it, on the northern side of the knoll, Tainui itself is buried. Ahurei stands as a sentinel guarding them all. Charles's last major project, in the 1960s, was the promotion among his people of the Māori Education Foundation. He worked with tremendous energy until it became established, and was recognised as one of its foundation members.
Charles Davis and Edith Servaes solemnised their marriage at Hamilton on 11 October 1962. He died at Te Kūiti on 22 July 1964. His tangihanga was held at Tokanganui-a-noho and he was buried in the returned servicemen's cemetery which he had helped to set aside. When Edith died in 1975 she was buried in the same cemetery.