Story: New Zealand wars

Page 8. Pai Mārire, South Taranaki and Whanganui, 1864–1866

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The war now entered a new stage. A number of Māori prophetic movements emerged, each imbuing its followers with a renewed commitment to expel the Europeans. Many Māori tribes, strongly committed to traditional Christianity, resisted these movements. There was an increase in the numbers of kūpapa (Māori fighting in alliance with the Crown). As the British government withdrew its troops, fighting on the Crown side was increasingly in the hands of colonial forces and kūpapa.

Pai Mārire in Taranaki

Taranaki was the first region to see the impact of the new religions with the emergence of the Pai Mārire (goodness and peace) or Hauhau faith. Founded by Te Ua Haumēne of Ōakura, Pai Mārire promised to deliver a victory over the Pākehā. On 6 April 1864 British forces were attacked by Hauhau at Te Ahu Ahu near Ōakura. The severed head of Captain Thomas Lloyd was taken round the North Island to assist Pai Mārire recruiting.

Island battle

When lower Whanganui Māori sought to prevent Pai Mārire forces sweeping down to wipe out Whanganui town, the two sides agreed to fight it out on Moutoa Island in the middle of the river. Several hundred supporters watched from the banks. After each side occupied one end of the island, the battle commenced. At first the Hauhau appeared to be winning but then Tamehana Te Aewa rallied his men and the kūpapa achieved victory. The relieved inhabitants of Whanganui honoured their Māori defenders with a monument and a flag.

Battle of Moutoa

Pai Mārire influence soon spread to the upper reaches of the Whanganui River. A Pai Mārire war party intent on attacking Whanganui town, led by a prophet named Matene, was intercepted by Whanganui Māori at Moutoa Island on 14 May 1864. Led by Haimona Hiroti and Mete Kīngi Te Rangi Paetahi, the lower-river Māori were victorious.

East Coast

Despite the defeat at Moutoa Island, Pai Mārire influence continued to spread across the North Island. Kereopa Te Rau and Pātara Raukatauri were appointed as apostles to the East Coast tribes. Lutheran missionary Carl Völkner of Ōpōtiki was hanged outside his church on 2 March 1865 after being accused of spying by Pai Mārire adherents.

Other killings followed, including that of government interpreter James Fulloon several weeks later. Colonial troops sent to Ōpōtiki on 8 September 1865 forced Pai Mārire followers to retreat to the east and south. Their occupation of Waerenga-a-hika , near Gisborne, in November 1865 proved especially costly, with over 100 Pai Mārire adherents killed in the ensuing battle. Amongst those arrested after the battle was Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki, who was accused of collusion with Pai Mārire and sent into captivity on the Chatham Islands in 1866. Two groups of Pai Mārire followers were intercepted near Napier on 12 October 1866, ending a Pai Mārire attack on the town.

Weraroa pā

On 5 January 1865, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron arrived in Whanganui, having been ordered by Governor George Grey to attack ‘hostile’ Māori in South Taranaki. On 24 January a surprise attack launched by Māori against his encamped forces at Nukumaru was beaten off. Cameron later faced Weraroa pā, which sat atop a huge cliff-like embankment above Waitōtara. He decided against attacking the pā, preferring to isolate it. When Grey disagreed, Cameron resigned his commission. He was replaced by Major-General Trevor Chute in August 1865.

March around Mt Taranaki

Chute brought new resolve to the last phase of British army operations in New Zealand. On 30 December 1865 he left Whanganui to undertake a route march around Mt Taranaki, first striking inland and returning down the coast. The purpose of Chute’s march was to destroy the capacity of Taranaki Māori to wage war by burning villages and destroying livestock. His ragged and exhausted troops reached New Plymouth on 26 January 1866. After being fed and watered, Chute’s men resumed their march and by 9 February they were back in Whanganui.

How to cite this page:

Danny Keenan, 'New Zealand wars - Pai Mārire, South Taranaki and Whanganui, 1864–1866', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/new-zealand-wars/page-8 (accessed 28 May 2022)

Story by Danny Keenan, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 8 Feb 2017