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 drive off the Europeans. Many Māori tribes, strongly committed to traditional Christianity, resisted these movements. There was an increase in the numbers of kūpapa (Māori fighting alongside the Crown). In addition the British government began to resent the costs of the New Zealand wars and started to withdraw its troops. The fighting on the government 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 (kūpapa) 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 river banks. Each side occupied one end of the island, and 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 memorial 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 upon 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, lower-river Māori successfully fought at Moutoa Island in defence of the town.

East Coast

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

Other killings followed, including that of government interpreter James Fulloon several weeks later. Colonial troops sent to Ōpōtiki on 8 September 1865 engaged Pai Mārire, forcing their retreat east and as far south as Napier. Their occupation of Waerenga-a-hika , near Gisborne, on 22 November proved especially costly, with over 100 adherents killed in the ensuing battle. Amongst those arrested after the battle was Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki, who was sent into captivity on the Chatham Islands in 1866. Two groups of Pai Mārire followers were intercepted near Napier on 12 October 1866, ending the Pai Mārire incursion into the East Coast.

Weraroa pā

On 5 January 1865 Lieutenant General Duncan Cameron arrived in Whanganui, ordered by Governor George Grey to move north in order to engage hostile Māori in South Taranaki. On 24 January a surprise attack launched by Māori against his encamped forces at Nukumaru was beaten off. Cameron next faced Weraroa pā, which sat atop a huge cliff-like embankment above Waitōtara. He decided against attacking the pā, instead preferring to march around 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 final years of British army operations in New Zealand. On 30 December 1865 he commenced 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. By 26 January 1866 Chute’s force had reached New Plymouth and on 9 February his ragged and exhausted troops returned to 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, (accessed 27 October 2021)

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