Story: Taurua, Ngawaka

Page 1: Biography

Taurua, Ngawaka


Ngati Ruanui leader

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

Ngawaka Taurua was a member of Pakakohe, a hapu of Ngati Ruanui who lived at Hukatere, south of the Patea River in South Taranaki. The names of his parents are not recorded. He also had connections with another Ngati Ruanui hapu, Ngati Hine, and by the mid 1840s, while still relatively young, he had supplanted Kireona, the hereditary chief of Ngati Hine, as leader of that group. Taurua was a well-built man of medium height, with a fine face and somewhat sad expression. He was always softly spoken, and noted for his kindness and keen interest in intellectual discussions. His wife was Hinepounamu, and they had at least one daughter, Miriama Hinekorangi Taiko, and a son, Anania.

In the 1840s Taurua was a teacher at Patea under the Wesleyan catechist William Hough. His baptismal name, Rihari Watoni (Richard Watson), came from a noted Wesleyan scholar. Always keen to engage in religious debate, he observed to the missionary William Woon in 1846 that there would be no sectarian distinctions in Heaven.

In 1864 Ngati Hine land was included in the Taranaki confiscation. In February the following year Taurua joined other leaders at Weraroa, a Hauhau pa on the Waitotara River, in urging Lieutenant General Duncan Cameron to withdraw his troops south of Kai Iwi. Cameron suspended his planned assault on Weraroa, and instead marched his troops north, occupying both sides of the Patea River. Taurua was an observer at the battle at Te Ngaio, between Patea and Kakaramea, on 13 March in which Ngati Hine, Pakakohe and Nga Rauru were decimated. His people took refuge inland, but in January 1866 Major General Trevor Chute destroyed their stronghold of Putahi, above the Whenuakura River.

In the uneasy peace that followed Taurua returned to Hukatere; the native minister, J. C. Richmond, promised him the land between the Patea and Whenuakura rivers in recompense for the land he had lost through confiscation. Trouble arose when surveyors cut a baseline through this district to link the Patea and Waitotara surveys. Taurua and others met at Putahi and Whakamara, north of Hawera, and at Hukatere in May 1867 they informed James Booth, the resident magistrate at Patea, of their determination to resist any survey across the Patea River.

Titokowaru's campaign in South Taranaki the following year placed Taurua in a difficult position. On 10 June 1868 Booth issued a notice stating that Taurua and other leaders would protect Europeans between Mokoia, 12 miles north of Patea, and Waitotara. Taurua offered to stay in Wellington or Patea, but Lieutenant Colonel Thomas McDonnell told him he would be held responsible for any bloodshed in the district. Titokowaru swept victoriously southwards and took Taurua and his people virtual prisoners. They were in Tauranga-ika pa, Titokowaru's stronghold west of Weraroa, when a boy in Taurua's party was among a group of children killed by volunteer soldiers at William Handley's woolshed. When Tauranga-ika was abandoned in February 1869, Taurua took refuge at Te Kurunui, about 60 miles up the Patea River. The Wanganui Native Contingent burnt Hukatere in October 1868 and took away Taurua's firewood.

Taurua was held responsible for Pakakohe, who, according to Major Maillard Noake, had taken a prominent part in Titokowaru's resistance. In June 1869 he was surrounded at Te Kurunui by 270 men who seized 31 weapons and 18 canoes. While being held at Patea he was escorted by soldiers to Whakamara where he brought in a number of men and their families. In October 1869, 94 men were tried for treason in the Supreme Court in Wellington. Seventy-four, including Taurua, were found guilty, and sent to the Dunedin gaol in the Rangatira at the beginning of November.

Taurua was imprisoned in Dunedin gaol until March 1872, during which time he acted as overseer of road building gangs around Otago Harbour. When Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi leaders interceded on his behalf after the trial, the premier, William Fox, told them: 'Taurua's offence was great… He had gone to the government at Wellington and swore to be faithful but then joined Titokowaru in his evil work.'

Taurua was sent back to Wanganui by the native minister, Donald McLean, in 1872, and promised reserves at Otauto, Wai-o-Turi and Matangirei. The surveys, however, were unsatisfactory. Taurua refused to take any payment for the confiscated land but accepted £226 for his share of the Opaku–Waingongoro block. This survey enabled his people to re-establish themselves at Hukatere, where they grew grain and potatoes, fished, and harvested flax. In 1876 reserves totalling 3,315 acres were granted at Little Taranaki, Otauto, Hukatere, Potakataka and Okoia. In 1882 an additional 1,062 acres were granted to Taurua and his heirs in recompense for the removal of eel weirs to allow navigation of the Patea River. Nevertheless Taurua continued to press the injustice of the original confiscation at every opportunity.

His relations with the Patea settlers were generally friendly. He would be paddled by his female crew down to the township, where he would make purchases for his people. He and his wife, Hinepounamu, held shares in the Patea Steam Shipping Company, and at the welcome for their new steamer Patea in February 1879 he spoke of the exploits of his ancestor, Turi, and of the Aotea canoe, which, he said, would be remembered long after the iron ship was forgotten. In January 1884 he took part in Patea's civic welcome of Titokowaru in his reconciliation circuit of Taranaki.

Taurua had retained his Christian faith, and he petitioned the Wesleyan Church for a minister. He and his brother, Te Rangitawhe, welcomed the appointment of T. G. Hammond to South Taranaki in 1887. They tackled the problems of their people by forbidding recourse to tohunga and by condemning drunkenness, theft, adultery and profanation of the Sabbath; fines of up to £10 were imposed for breaches of conduct. Hammond considered Taurua a man 'of more than ordinary ability and integrity' who had been 'driven into the camp of our opponents' and made 'a rebel'.

Taurua was responsible for the construction of three churches. Tutahi, which stands opposite Nukumaru, south of Whenuakura, was built in 1883. Te Takerei-o-Aotea was built in 1888 at Manutahi, while Te Kapenga, at Hukatere, was completed in 1889, the year after Taurua's death. His wish for a permanent memorial to Turi and the Aotea canoe was not accomplished until 1933. Ngawaka Taurua was thought to be in his 70s when he died on 3 May 1888. He was buried on 7 May at Hukatere before a large gathering of Maori and Pakeha.

How to cite this page:

Ian Church. 'Taurua, Ngawaka', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 8 July 2020)