Story: Turoa, Topia Peehi

Page 1: Biography

Turoa, Topia Peehi


Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi leader

This biography, written by Ian Church, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

Topia Peehi Turoa was a chief of Ngati Patu-tokotoko hapu of Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi of the upper Wanganui River. His influence extended to Lake Taupo. Born probably in the second decade of the nineteeth century, he was known in his youth as Te Mutumutu. His father was Te Peehi Pakoro Turoa and his grandfather was Te Peehi Turoa. He traced his descent from Wanganui lines and from Turi of Aotea; he was also descended from Takitimu, Te Arawa and Tainui ancestors. His mother's name may have been Utaora.

Topia Peehi Turoa was engaged throughout his life in a series of conflicts, in which it seems his principal aim was to assert his authority and that of his tribe within the Maori world. However, he also recognised the importance of Maori unity to counter the threat posed by European law and culture. The tension between these aspirations is illustrated in the events of his life.

He grew up in the turbulent era of the musket wars, and was involved in fighting when his father opposed the sale of land for Wanganui township in 1847. He married Makarena Ngarewa, daughter of Te Kahuti and Te Rangi. Two of their children, Wiari Hohepa and Hipirini, were baptised by Father P. J. Viard of the Catholic mission in September 1857; on 14 November 1858 Turoa and his wife accepted baptism from Father Jean Lampila, and in April 1860 another child, Ateraita, was baptised by Father J. E. Pezant. Turoa took the name Topia (Tobias) at baptism. There were at least two other children, Makarena and Kiingi Topia.

Turoa emerged as a man of resolve and an influential leader. When Tamihana Te Rauparaha mooted the idea of a Maori king in 1854 it is said that he had Turoa in mind; other sources say that Matene Te Whiwhi put his name forward. Although Turoa declined in favour of Iwikau Te Heuheu he believed that unity under a king would enable Maori to retain both land and mana. At Pukawa in November 1856 he was again offered the kingship, but he signalled his support of Potatau Te Wherowhero's nomination by receiving Waikato emissaries in 1857. He led 60 men from Ohinemutu, near Pipiriki, in June 1858 to show allegiance to King Potatau.

It is likely that Turoa was with the Wanganui contingent at Peria in October 1862 when the King movement discussed its attitude to the Waitara dispute, and again at Tataraimaka in 1863. He told the Reverend Richard Taylor that the Taranaki quarrel involved all Maori and that their mana was at stake. The outcome was that his people became adherents of Pai Marire in May 1864. They were defeated at the battle of Ohoutahi in February 1865, where Topia Turoa was wounded. He met Governor George Grey on 15 March but, unlike his father, refused to take the oath of allegiance. Grey believed that he was implicated in the killings of James Hewett and the Reverend C. S. Völkner and (after giving him a day to get away) declared him outlawed with a reward of £1,000 for his capture.

In April 1865 Pipiriki was garrisoned by colonial troops. Turoa regarded this as a challenge and responded by assembling some 1,000 Wanganui, Ngati Pehi, Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Raukawa at Pukehinau and Ohinemutu. They besieged Pipiriki for 12 days from 19 July, withdrawing beyond Ohinemutu when government reinforcements arrived. One consequence was the exclusion of Topia Turoa's father from Grey's general pardon of October 1865.

From his bases near Pipiriki Turoa hoped to reclaim the Wanganui coast. However, the majority of the Taupo people opted to live peaceably, while retaining their Hauhau beliefs. Only Topia Turoa and eight others vowed to carry on to the death. Responding to the warning of his relative Takuira that if Ngati Pehi followed Turoa they would 'see the men in boots marching round this lake [Taupo] in less than a month', Turoa exclaimed 'I and my people will never submit to the Pakeha; we will never make peace with the Governor. No; never! never!!'

In 1868 the King movement declined to support Titokowaru: Rewi Maniapoto sent word that Turoa was the only recognised spokesman for the Wanganui tribes. Turoa, however, remained aloof from the King movement, with which he had become disillusioned. He felt that he had been wrong to submit his mana to unworthy Waikato chiefs. Te Kooti's killing of a relative near Lake Taupo in September 1869 provided the opportunity to reassert the mana of Wanganui. By taking this opportunity, Turoa transferred his allegiance from the King movement to the colonial government. He agreed to bring 200 men and join Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp) in the pursuit of Te Kooti after Te Keepa's success at Te Porere in October 1869.

In November, at Ohinemutu and Ranana, Turoa discussed several issues with William Fox, including the grievance over the imprisonment of Ngawaka Taurua and his Pakakohe people at Dunedin. Fox, however, refused to agree to their release. As a symbol of unity with the lower Wanganui people Turoa had an effigy of Hori Kingi Te Anaua carved on the centre pole of his new house, Te Ao Marama, at Ohinemutu. Fox, to show the government's confidence in him, presented Turoa with 40 Enfield rifles and ammunition. Te Keepa's force, with Turoa nominally in charge, set off at the end of December to locate Te Kooti.

The village of Tapapa was taken on 24 January 1870 but Te Kooti escaped and the chase continued into the broken Mamaku range where scouting was difficult. In the Bay of Plenty Turoa's force was based at Ohiwa and made forays into the Urewera country. Turoa became a major in the New Zealand Militia, Native Contingent. He and Te Keepa were paid £15,000 for the service of their men and Turoa received a pension of £200 a year.

After the capture of Waipuna pa and 100 of Te Kooti's followers in the Waioeka Gorge in March 1870, the Wanganui force returned to Opotiki. It has been said Turoa refused to hand over the prisoners to Te Keepa for execution. In April he and his men were shipped home to Wanganui.

In April 1872 Turoa welcomed Governor George Bowen to Tokaanu saying: 'Men and land have been the cause of my troubles – Tawhiao and the boundaries of our land. I was a stray sheep that went astray, and more joy was shown at my return than for the ninety-and-nine that had remained in the fold.' While he praised the government's generosity Turoa warned Bowen that he looked upon Taupo 'with a jealous eye.'

The issue of land claims remained unresolved. Turoa tried unsuccessfully to persuade Te Whiti-o-Rongomai to seek redress for his grievances through the courts. But the government's failure to address the problem finally led Turoa to renew his covenant with King Tawhiao, and in 1884 he accompanied him to London. Although they met Lord Derby, their petition to Queen Victoria was simply referred back to the New Zealand government. After Tawhiao's party returned to New Zealand Turoa and Hori Ropiha convened a meeting at Poutu (near Lake Rotoaira) attended by a thousand people from the area. Turoa introduced resolutions to acknowledge King Tawhiao, to acknowledge Queen Victoria but not the colonial government, to withdraw from the Native Land Court, and to stop surveys, sales, or leases of land. He also proposed that the people should abstain from voting for the Maori representatives in Parliament and set up their own committees under Tawhiao to run local affairs. The meeting decided to resist the construction of the main trunk railway by declining to work or by demanding high prices for timber.

Major David Scannell, resident magistrate of Taupo, in his report to the government in 1886 offered the opinion that Turoa was annoyed because his pension had been stopped when he went to England. He suggested that Turoa was too cautious to act openly. The impact of the meeting was weakened because some invited chiefs, including Tawhiao, did not attend, and, as Scannell observed cynically, because some of the signatories to the resolutions were 'the first to apply to pass their lands through the Court.'

Turoa's influence in the southern Taupo region waned. In 1886 his claims to Mt Ruapehu were regarded as secondary to those of Ngati Tuwharetoa. The following year Topine Te Mamaku, chief of Ngati Haua-te-rangi from the upper Wanganui, died, whereupon Turoa became paramount chief of the Wanganui tribes; from this time he took less part in Taupo affairs. He chaired a meeting at Koriniti in September 1889 when the development of the Wanganui River to allow steamers to reach Taumarunui was discussed. The local people agreed not to hinder works provided that their eel weirs were protected. However, there was trouble between them and the contractors in 1892 and 1893. In March 1894, Richard Seddon, minister for public works and native minister, and James Carroll, member of the Executive Council representing the native race, went to Tieke to discuss the problem with Topia Turoa. They struck a deal by which it was agreed to establish a township and school at Pipiriki.

In his final years Turoa seems to have come to terms with the conflict of interests which had beset him. His relationship with the government remained amicable. At some stage his pension was restored and in June 1901 he attended the Maori welcome to the duke and duchess of Cornwall and of York at Rotorua. He moved down the river to Kukuta, then to Aramoho, where he died on 26 October 1903.

How to cite this page:

Ian Church. 'Turoa, Topia Peehi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 February 2020)