Story: Ngā tāone nui – Māori and the city

Page 1. Māori visit overseas cities

All images & media in this story

Māori explore Sydney and London

New Zealand did not have a city until 1856, when Christchurch achieved city status. (Its population was only a few thousand.) By then, however, London and Sydney were well established as important cities for New Zealand.

Sydney – known by Māori as Poihākena (Port Jackson) – was a major trading centre and the port of call through which New Zealand accessed British goods and services, government and missionaries. London – Rānana – was the home of the British royal family and the political and cultural centre of the British Empire. Sydney and London were the two cities Māori travellers visited most frequently from the late 1700s. Both cities now have long histories of Māori visiting and relocating to them.

Māori visitors to Sydney

From the late 18th century Māori travelled the world, often as crew on board ships. From the 1800s Māori sought opportunities to trade with Sydney, and acquire new technologies and skills such as carpentry and gardening. Sydney was also a place where individual Māori met with British officials and missionaries. For instance in 1804 Te Pahi, a chief of Rangihoua, sent his son Maatara to Sydney to observe the British. The governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, looked after him, and sent him home with tools and other gifts. In 1805 Te Pahi himself went to Sydney, where he stayed with Governor King for several months. With his companions he learnt carpentry, gardening, weaving and spinning.

In 1805 another northern chief, Ruatara, set out. Working on whaling and sealing ships, he visited Sydney twice but he did not get to London until 1809, where he was not allowed ashore. In 1810 he reached Sydney again and stayed with Samuel Marsden at Parramatta for eight months. He did not return home to the Bay of Islands until 1812. His travels as a crew member were more fortunate than those of a Māori sailor on board the Atlantic, who was killed by lightning in Sydney Harbour in 1806.

In Sydney, Ruatara acquired eight muskets and borrowed a couple of pistols. Though significant at the time, his small armoury would soon be outdone by Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika, who traded gifts he received in London for muskets, which were selling cheaply after being dumped on the Sydney market.

By the 1810s the Māori language could be heard on Sydney’s docks. By the 1840s an estimated 1,000 Māori had travelled overseas, with the majority going to Sydney. The presence of Māori there had become so common it was no longer recorded. Sydney has remained an important city in Māori lives. By the early 2000s many Māori had migrated there, and Māori cultural activities and media thrived.

Fourth estate


In 1859 two Waikato Māori, Wiremu Toetoe and Hemara Te Rerehau, travelled to Austria on the frigate Novara, and were trained in printing techniques at the state printing house in Vienna. As a parting gift, in May 1860 Archduke Maximilian gave them a printing press, which was shipped to Ngāruawāhia. Late in 1861 the press was used to print a newspaper, Te Hokioi e Rere Atu Na, which was a mouthpiece for the Kingitanga, the Māori King movement. The young chiefs’ plans to import a lion were unsuccessful. During the Waikato war the press was broken up by troops.


Māori in London

One of the first Māori to visit London was Moehanga of Ngāpuhi in 1806. He was presented to King George III. Hongi Hika visited London in 1820 with another chief named Waikato and missionary Thomas Kendall. They helped with the compilation of a Māori alphabet and grammar, and Hongi met King George IV.

In 1846–47 Hoani Wiremu Hīpango helped protect the new town of Whanganui from attack by another iwi. Partly because of this, he accompanied missionary Richard Taylor on a visit to England in 1855. When he arrived in London, Hīpango had an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Other Māori reported in London included Māui, or Tommy Drummond, who taught Sunday school in London in 1816, and Tuai and Titeri, who visited in 1818. In 1863 there were two Māori performing groups in London.

For Māori London was the cultural centre of the British Empire, and also the home of the queen, their partner in the Treaty of Waitangi. Māori visiting London hoped to, and often did, meet royalty.

London and Māori culture

When members of the British royal family have visited Rotorua they have participated in a Māori cultural experience. In 1959 Māori in London set up the cultural group Ngāti Rānana, a name which loosely translates as the London tribe. In the 2000s Ngāti Rānana was a thriving kapa haka group.

How to cite this page:

Aroha Harris, 'Ngā tāone nui – Māori and the city - Māori visit overseas cities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Aroha Harris, published 11 Mar 2010