Story: Te Mamaku, Hemi Topine

Page 1: Biography

Te Mamaku, Hemi Topine


Ngati Haua-te-rangi leader

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

Te Mamaku, a chief of Ngati Haua-te-rangi, was born probably in the late eighteenth century, at Makakote, near the junction of the Wanganui and Retaruke rivers. His father was Te Ora Kairakau, and his mother was Kahukarewau. Te Mamaku was a grandson of the warrior chief Whakaneke, a descendant of Tamahina. He had connections with Ngati Maniapoto, Te Ati Awa and Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi. He was given the name Te Ika-nui-o-roto-o-te-kupenga (the great fish of the net), and was also known as Te Karamu, and Nga-tai. Te Mamaku had five wives; they were Tahanga, Te Ngohe, Rea, Anakarangahu, and Hera Matahinewau. Hera was the sister of Te Kere Ngatai-e-rua, a tohunga and leader of Ngati Tu. Te Mamaku and Hera were married at Putiki Wharanui, near the mouth of the Wanganui River, on 24 December 1855. Their son was Wharawhara Te Mamaku.

The pa of Te Mamaku, at Tuhua, on the Ohura River, north of Taumarunui, commanded a strategic position. Te Mamaku is said to have stated: 'Unuunu te puru o Tuhua maringiringi te wai e puta' (If you withdraw the plug of Tuhua you will be overwhelmed by the flooding hordes of the north).

In the early 1820s Te Mamaku wished his people to join the migration of Te Rauparaha and Ngati Toa to Kapiti, but was dissuaded by Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi leader Te Peehi Turoa. During the siege of Putiki by Te Rauparaha in 1829, Te Mamaku fought against Te Rauparaha and his Ngati Raukawa allies. Te Mamaku and Te Peehi Turoa were among those who managed to escape death by fleeing upriver.

Te Mamaku was in Wellington in the early 1840s, and by 1846 he had brought his Ngati Haua-te-rangi warriors down to join Te Rangihaeata in support of Ngati Rangatahi in their dispute with the European settlers in the Hutt Valley. On 16 May 1846 Te Mamaku commanded 200 warriors in a dawn attack on troops stationed at Almon Boulcott's farm, near Naenae. The raiders killed six soldiers and wounded four before reinforcements drove them off. The attack succeeded in demoralising the small Pakeha community. Te Mamaku's letters to other Wanganui chiefs requesting that they join him against the Wellington settlers were intercepted. The Wanganui missionary Richard Taylor passed one such letter on to the government, and this information is said to have influenced Governor George Grey's decision to arrest Te Rauparaha.

On his return to the upper Wanganui in late September 1846 Te Mamaku informed the settlers of Wanganui township, who numbered about 200, that he would protect them, but if soldiers were stationed there they would be attacked. Troops were sent to Wanganui in December 1846. After April 1847, when the young Maori from the upper Wanganui who had killed the family of J. A. Gilfillan were executed, there were sporadic raids, burnings and occasional killings on farms on the edge of the small settlement. In May Te Mamaku was one of the leaders of a war party which blockaded the town. Desultory and indecisive fighting culminated in July in an engagement at the foot of St Johns Hill, where two British soldiers were killed and eleven wounded. An equal number of casualties was sustained by the Maori party. Honour was satisfied, and a truce was called. Peace lasted in the district until 1864.

On Christmas Day 1853, at Putiki, Te Mamaku was baptised by Richard Taylor. He took the name Hemi Topine (James Stovin). He did not, however, renounce fighting. In the mid 1850s a dispute between Ngati Haua-te-rangi and Te Kere Ngatai-e-rua of Ngati Tu broke out. The dispute may have been caused by an insult, or by argument over a flour mill under construction at Maraekowhai. There was a battle at the old pa high above Kirikiriroa, on the upper Wanganui, and subsequently a siege of a pa downstream at Puketapu belonging to Ngati Tu. About eight lives were lost before a truce was called.

In 1857 Te Mamaku was offered the Maori kingship, which he declined, but he joined the King movement in 1858. He did not take part in the battle of Moutoa, on the Wanganui River between Hiruharama (Jerusalem) and Ranana, in May 1864, when Matene Te Rangitauira of Taumarunui led Hauhau forces against Maori of the lower Wanganui. However, he supported Te Peehi Pakoro Turoa (Te Peehi Turoa's son) and Hauhau forces in the battle at Ohoutahi, below Pipiriki, in February 1865.

In 1873 the upper Wanganui resident magistrate, Richard Woon, described Te Mamaku as 'our old friend' and 'all in favour of peace'. He was widely respected for his intelligence and mana. Woon confided to Donald McLean, the native minister, that 'I much prefer such men as Mamaku…as they have a nice sense of humour about them that you fail to perceive in younger chiefs.' Te Mamaku joined Topia Turoa in opposition to Te Kooti, but did not encourage European settlement above the King Country boundary line. In late 1878 Te Mamaku and Te Kere warned the land-grabbing millwright and powder-maker William Moffatt that he was not to return to the King Country. Moffatt's failure to heed the advice led to his execution in 1880. That year Te Mamaku joined Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui in a trust, which aimed to protect from sale two million acres of Maori land to the east of the central Wanganui River.

In the last years of his life Te Mamaku embraced the changes which were being thrust on the Wanganui King Country region. He urged that a steamboat be placed on the river, and that a school be started in Taumarunui. He was said to be almost 100 years of age when he died in late June 1887 at Tawhata, below Taumarunui. He is buried at Makakote.

How to cite this page:

David Young. 'Te Mamaku, Hemi Topine', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 May 2020)