Story: Taratoa, Hēnare Wiremu

Page 1: Biography

Taratoa, Hēnare Wiremu

?–1864

Ngāi Te Rangi missionary, teacher, war leader

This biography, written by Ngahuia Dixon,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Hēnare Wiremu Taratoa was a leader of Ngāi Te Rangi of the Tauranga district. He was born about 1830; a photograph taken of him about 1860 shows a young man possibly in his 30s. His mother was Hera; his father's name is unknown. He resided at Ōpounui, a settlement on Matakana Island. Taratoa was taught and baptised by the CMS missionary Henry Williams, whose names he adopted at baptism, and later studied at St John's College in Auckland. There he married a Māori woman, whose name is not recorded, in a service conducted by Bishop G. A. Selwyn. He later married another woman named Rāhapa. It is not known who was the mother of Taratoa's son, Hēnare.

Taratoa travelled extensively with Bishop Selwyn, assisting with Selwyn's religious mission. In June 1852 he sailed in the Pacific with the bishop, and with the missionary William Nihill was left on Mare Island in the Loyalty Islands to teach the islanders who had already been converted to Christianity by Samoan lay preachers. Taratoa was there for several months.

In 1858 he was appointed lay reader and native school teacher at Ōtaki. He had links with Ngāti Raukawa and may have earlier attended Octavius Hadfield's mission school at Ōtaki. Despite his involvement with the Church of England Taratoa did not become a clergyman, as he was considered too impetuous for the ministry. In 1860, at a meeting at Ōtaki, he spoke against the actions of Governor Thomas Gore Browne in Taranaki, and, with others, demanded his recall. During George Grey's second term as governor, Taratoa opposed his system of indirect rule which brought British law and officials to Māori districts. He went back to Tauranga in 1861 and set up a school for teaching arithmetic and Christianity. He also organised a system of councils which regulated civil and religious matters.

According to one source Taratoa was back in Ōtaki by 1863, but returned to Tauranga after the Māori leaders at Ōtaki announced that there would be no rising against the government in their district. The Tauranga district supplied the King movement with food and ammunition during the Waikato war in 1863–64. Contingents of warriors were allowed to move through Ngāi Te Rangi territory to aid the King movement. When British troops were sent to stop this, the warriors of Ngāi Te Rangi gathered at Te Waoku pā near the Waimapu River. At Pōterīwhi, the pā of Pene Taka Tuaia on the lower Wairoa River, a code of conduct was drawn up. Taratoa wrote a copy of it which was sent to Lieutenant Colonel H. H. Greer. It said that captured soldiers would not be killed and that unarmed Pākehā and women and children would not be attacked. He also wrote a challenge to the colonel, giving as the reason for war aggression by the British troops.

Taratoa was present at the Māori victory at the battle at Pukehinahina, or the Gate Pā, on 29 April 1864. The wounded British troops left behind after the retreat were treated with consideration and courtesy. It is recorded that Taratoa narrowly escaped being shot by soldiers to whose wounded colonel he was carrying a calabash of fresh, cold water. This act is also attributed to Hēni Te Kiri Karamū. It is likely that numerous acts of kindness were performed after the battle.

On 21 June 1864 the battle of Te Ranga was fought. British troops caught Ngāi Te Rangi and their allies in the open before their fortifications were complete. Ngāi Te Rangi were defeated and Taratoa and over 100 warriors killed. A copy of the rules of conduct was found on Taratoa's body. The writing included a prayer and ended with the words, 'if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink' (Romans 12:20). His body, initially buried in the filled-in trenches of Te Ranga, was later placed in the mission cemetery at Ōtamataha pā.

As a memorial to the chivalrous conduct of the Māori at the Gate pā, Selwyn, as bishop of Lichfield, had a stained glass window, depicting King David giving water to soldiers, put into a chapel at Lichfield Palace. In 1914 Māori and Europeans combined to erect a granite monument over the tomb of Rāwiri Puhirake, who had led the Māori at Gate pā. A plaque was added later to commemorate Taratoa's chivalry.

How to cite this page:

Ngahuia Dixon. 'Taratoa, Hēnare Wiremu', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t15/taratoa-henare-wiremu (accessed 19 September 2020)