Page 1: Biography
Ngāi Te Rangi warrior, farmer, orator
This biography, written by Steven Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.
Hōri Ngātai was from Ngāti Hē hapū of Ngāi Te Rangi, and was born at Maungatapu, near Tauranga. His ancestry can be traced to both the Mātaatua and Te Arawa canoes. He was the son of Tūtahi, who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in April 1840 at Tauranga.
In the wars of 1863 and 1864 Ngātai supported the King movement. In August 1863, at the start of the Waikato war, he led a group of Ngāi Te Rangi and Pirirākau warriors to fight beside the King's forces in the Hūnua and Wairoa ranges, south of Auckland. He was at Ōtau, near Te Wairoa (Clevedon), when Waikato was defeated, and afterwards fought at Meremere on the Waikato River. Ngātai was at Te Tiki-o-te-Ihingarangi pā, near Cambridge, waiting for a British attack, when news came that troops had landed at Tauranga. He and other Ngāi Te Rangi warriors returned home and defeated the British at Pukehinahina, or the Gate Pā, on 29 April 1864. The battle was notable for the sophistication of the Māori trenchworks and for the humanity shown to wounded British soldiers. However, on 21 June 1864 Ngāi Te Rangi and their allies were defeated by the British at Te Ranga. Some laid down their arms at the British camp at Te Papa on 21 July, and others, including Ngātai, on 25 July. Ngātai addressed the second surrender ceremony and said that Ngāi Te Rangi would never return to warfare: 'Let there be peace in the land.' When Pirirākau and some Ngāi Te Rangi supported Tauranga Hauhau in 1867, Ngātai was issued with arms by the government, but did not participate in the campaign against them.
After the wars Ngātai committed himself to maintaining his tribe's ancestral rights and to promoting understanding between Māori and Pākehā. He developed a marae at Whareroa, a well-used staging post for travellers, opposite Te Papa mission station. Close to the water he built a meeting house, which was opened in 1873. It was named Rauru Kītahi, after an ancestor famous for never breaking his word; Rauru Kītahi had also been a rallying cry during the Gate Pā battle. Ngātai would not allow alcohol to be brought into his settlement and often spoke against its use. With local settlers he sat as a commissioner of the Tauranga and Te Papa licensing districts.
In 1866 Ngātai and other Ngāi Te Rangi had sold the Katikati and Te Puna blocks for £7,700. Some 6,000 acres of good agricultural land were set aside for reserves. At Whareroa Ngātai became a highly successful farmer and for years was the largest producer of wheat and maize in the Tauranga district. By 1888 he was planning a mill on the Wairoa River, west of the town settlement.
As a leader of Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngātai acted as spokesman for his people. He was the tribe's correspondent with the Māori King. At numerous meetings with government officials he defended Ngāi Te Rangi rights. He also expressed his personal irritation with anomalies arising from general legislation and from local government action. Rates levied on Māori landowners holding a Crown grant particularly annoyed him, because he was one of the few affected at Tauranga. In February 1885, at a meeting with John Ballance, minister of native affairs, Ngātai expressed his concern about fishing rights: 'I…look upon the land below high-water mark as being part of my own garden…. My mana over these places has never been taken away…. But now, in consequence of the word of the Europeans that all the land below high-water mark belongs to the Queen, people have trampled upon our ancient Māori customs'. Ngātai told Ballance that Māori custom should be upheld; the Tauranga Harbour had been apportioned to various hapū and the Queen's sovereignty should 'remain out in the deep water away beyond Tuhua [Mayor Island]'.
Ngātai married three times. His first wife was Kimi, who had six children – Heeni, Te Rēweti, Te Wētini, Ngāhuia, Puha and Te Tatau; his second wife, Hohi, had Ēnoka; Waiari, his third wife, had Rātapu, Hirini and Mākere.
Hōri Ngātai died on 24 August 1912 at his home at Whareroa. He was thought to be in his late 80s. He is buried on the site of Ōtamataha pā which became the mission cemetery at Tauranga. The site is marked by a granite monument, erected by the government and the Māori people of Tauranga, and unveiled in August 1920. A large gathering of Māori and Pākehā expressed their respect for Ngātai. A life-size portrait of the leader was unveiled at the same time. A tall, square-shouldered man with a short beard, Hōri Ngātai was tattooed on his cheeks and chin with the patterns known as rerepehi and kauae, and on his nostrils with pongiangia. He wrote an account of the battle of the Gate Pā which appeared in Gilbert Mair's work, The story of Gate Pā, published in 1926.