Story: Ngāti Ruanui

Page 3. A new order emerges

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Economy and education

Despite early invasions Ngāti Ruanui established a profitable settlement. They adapted readily to European agriculture. By 1849 they were significantly involved with the two wheat mills that had been built in the area. As money replaced barter as the main means of exchange, Ngāti Ruanui began working in New Plymouth as paid labourers. Education was eagerly embraced. Māori-run schools flourished. This was partly because of Māori independence and mistrust of European schools. When commenting on a Māori school at Kākaramea, the Rev. Richard Taylor pointed out that its motivation was as much political as educational.

The first missionary

The first resident Wesleyan missionary, John Skevington, arrived in New Plymouth in February 1842. The Ngāti Ruanui people soon learned of his presence and were so keen to bring the missionary to Waimate that more than 100 carried his belongings down from New Plymouth. Skevington built a mission house at Heretoa on the banks of the Inaha Stream, where he served a huge parish extending from Ōeo to Waitōtara.

War over land

Ngāti Ruanui were always wary of selling land to European settlers. As early as 1851 one chief told the Rev. William Woon that they ‘had made an oath not to sell, and that the land is tapu [sacred] from Tātaraimaka to Kai iwi!’ 1 And at Ketemarae Taylor observed: ‘The natives of this place are very well off …The country we passed through is lovely … the natives are aware of it and are very jealous of Europeans obtaining a footing amongst them’. 2

Consequently, when the war broke out between Te Āti Awa and the Crown in 1860, Ngāti Ruanui sent men north to fight alongside Te Āti Awa, partly to dissuade any of their own kin from selling land.

The loyalty of Ngāti Ruanui to Te Āti Awa exacted a heavy price. In 1865, and again in 1866, the British army came through south Taranaki, destroying fortifications and villages in their path.


In 1868, Europeans suffered defeat. Fighters under the leadership of Tītokowaru (of Ngāti Manuhiakai hapū of Ngā Ruahine, a section of Ngāti Ruanui) attacked an outpost at Turuturumōkai, near Hāwera, killing 10 European soldiers. Colonial troops later ventured into the forest to attack Tītokowaru at his , Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, near Kaponga. The attack was a fiasco and 24 men, including Major Gustavus von Tempsky, were killed. Panic swept the European community and over the next few days many fled south.

Tītokowaru moved south to Moturoa, inland from present-day Waverley, where he built a pā and waited for an attack by Colonel George Whitmore, who had been campaigning against Te Kooti in Poverty Bay. Whitmore led his troops to the pā at dawn. When they were within a few metres of the palisades a hail of fire cut down 20 men, and Whitmore retreated.

Tītokowaru moved further south to Taurangaika, near Pākaraka (later known as Maxwell). But on the night before Whitmore’s planned attack the combined Taranaki tribes withdrew from the fort, retreating deep into Ngāti Maru country in central Taranaki. The settler government soon had control of the province. Within a few years Ngāti Ruanui had lost most of their land. Tītokowaru died in 1888 and was buried in a secret place after a funeral attended by over 2,000 Māori.

  1. William Woon, Letter to Donald McLean, 23 July 1851. Copy-Micro-MS-0535-99, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. › Back
  2. Richard Taylor, Journal entry for 26 and 28 April 1851. In Journal, vol. 7, qMS-1991, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. › Back
How to cite this page:

Tony Sole, 'Ngāti Ruanui - A new order emerges', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Tony Sole, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 22 Mar 2017