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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 3 (June 1, 1934.)

Famous New Zealanders — No. 15 Wiremu Tamehana — The Maori King-maker. — The Story of a Patriot

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Famous New Zealanders
No. 15 Wiremu Tamehana
The Maori King-maker.
The Story of a Patriot.

The most admirable character among all the high Maori chiefs with whom our pioneers came in contact in the adventurous days of New Zealand colonisation was the head of the Ngati-Haua tribe, Wiremu Tamehana te Waharoa, the King-maker, as he came to be called. He was the leading figure in the cause of Maori nationalism before the Waikato War; he was essentially a peacemaker, and had his plans for native self-government been adopted there would have been no war. This sketch of his life explains in brief his altruistic aspirations, and the disappointment of all his hopes for the peaceful progress of the tribes.

Wiremu Tamehana te Waharoa. (Died 1866.) From a photo at Tauranga by the Rev. J. Kinder about 1865.

Wiremu Tamehana te Waharoa. (Died 1866.) From a photo at Tauranga by the Rev. J. Kinder about 1865.

Te Whakapono, te Aroha, me te Ture” (“Religion, Love, and the Law”) was the watchword of the political faith promulgated by the patriotic Wiremu Tamehana Tarapipipi te Waharoa, the principal founder of the Waikato Maori Kingdom seventy-seven years ago. It was a gospel founded on peace and a fine love of country, a desire to live on friendly terms with the pakeha, and at the same time to preserve national self-respect by establishing a kind of home rule for the Maori, under the supreme mana of the White Queen. Tamehana, a man inspired by pure love of country and imbued with a sense of justice and a desire for progress in the ways and industries of civilisation, was one in advance of most of his contemporaries in the colony, pakeha as well as Maori. He was a man of high principles and keen intellect.

One who knew him better than most of his pakeha acquaintances in New Zealand, the late Sir John Gorst, held him in very great esteem for his qualities of head and heart. When Gorst was in New Zealand on a visit in 1906, after more than forty years’ absence, he told me that in all his long life he had never met a more able debater or a more logical thinker than Wiremu Tamehana, a man whom most pakehas of his day—the men who did not know him—would have considered little better than a savage.

With all the powers of a wellbalanced intellect the chief of Ngati-Haua argued for the right of the Maoris to administer their affairs within their own boundaries. “The Queen for the pakeha, the King for the Maori, and God over all,” was his motto of peaceful campaign. It was not in any way inconsistent with loyalty to the accepted principle of British supreme domain. He had seen the evils of disunion and feuds among the tribes. “Religion, Love and the Law” —there was not much to quarrel with in that, surely. But an unsympathetic, and indeed actively hostile, government on the one hand and war-loving chieftains and tribes on the other, brought all the benevolent Tamehana's hopes to naught.

A Great Warrior's Peaceful Son.

Tamehana's father was that most vigorous and determined of warriors, Te Waharoa, the head of the Ngati-Haua tribe, a numerous clan which held the country between the Upper Waihou and the Waikato River, including the now rich farming districts of Matamata. From Te Aroha to the Maunga-tautari ranges and to the present site of Hamilton, Ngati-Haua were the people in possession.

Te Waharoa led his tribe in many a cannibal campaign, and his son, Tarapipipi, as a young man, marched in some of those fighting expeditions with gun and tomahawk. He possessed courage and determination, and as future events proved, diplomatic gifts. When the first white missionaries went to the Matamata country, just a century ago, the young chief gave thoughtful ear to them, and he adopted the new religion and declared that he would never fight again. Ever after he worked for peace among his people. He adopted the pakeha name of Wiremu Tamehana (William Thompson), a missionary suggestion: he learned to read and write and he became a great student of the translation of the Bible, hence the remarkable extent to which he used Scriptural quotations—always apt and to the point—in his letters to the Government on Maori affairs. He was a peacemaker and worker, and he was continually employed in settling feùds and in leading agricultural industry among his people.

About the origin of his pakeha name, there is some obscurity. It is uncertain who the William Thompson was whose name appealed to his missionary leaders and himself as a fitting name. The Maori spellings differ slightly; he himself usually spelled it “Tamihana,” but the customary Maori version of Thompson is “Tamehana,” so that form is adopted here and in the histories.

Tamehana's Early Efforts.

While the scheme for a Maori King for the Maori people originated with two chiefs of the Ngati-Toa, Tamehana te Rauparaha and his kinsman Matene te Whiwhi, at Otaki, in the Fifties, it was not long before the head of the Ngati-Haua tribe at Matamata emerged as the great advocate of the doctrine page 18 of native self-government. In one of his letters to the Governor of the day, Gore Browne, Tamehana described how he had striven for peace, ever since the first missionaries came, and were driven out by the constant wars and the looting of their stations.

“That war (with Rotorua) had been carried on for two years when I commenced to worship. The name of my minister was Joseph Brown. He was plundered by my tribe. … I worked at quarrels about land, and through my exertions these troubles were with difficulty ended. … I then sent my thoughts to seek some plan by which the Maori tribes should become united, that they should assemble together and the people become one like the pakeha. … Various meetings were held, but the quarrels and the flow of blood continued. At last I looked into your books, when Israel cried to have a king for themselves, to be a guide over them, and I looked at the words of Moses in Deut. 17, 15, and I kept these words in my memory for many years; the land, feud continuing all the time and blood still being spilt. I still meditated upon the matter.” Then came the conference of tribes at Pukawa, Lake Taupo, at the end of 1856. Twice 800 were assembled there. He read the book of Samuel, 8, 5, “Give us a king to judge us.” “That was why I set up Potatau. On his being set up the blood flow at once ceased, and it has so remained up to the present year. Potatau was a man respected by the tribes of the island.

“That, O friend, was why I set him up—to put down my troubles, to hold the land of the slaves, and to judge the offences of the chiefs. The king was set up; the runanga [councils, courts] were set up, also the Kaiwhakawa [judges], and religion was set up. The works of my ancestors have ceased; they are diminishing at the present time.”

Aspirations and Disappointments.

Early in 1857 Tamehana went to Auckland to see the Governor and lay before him the condition of the country, in order that some plan might be arranged to advance the Maori tribes and weld them into peace. He was anxious also to have a European magistrate stationed at his own village, Peria, in the Matamata district. He was prevented from obtaining access to the Governor, and his various requests were slighted. He returned disappointed and offended, and realised then that he would have to work out a scheme for the betterment of his people without the favour of the pakeha. The Government, presently, disturbed by reports from the Waikato, made a half-hearted effort to establish a system of laws in Waikato, but did not persevere with it, and in the meantime great tribal meetings had been held, and the selection of Potatau te Wherowhero, the venerable warrior chief of Waikato, as head of the Maori Confederation was confirmed at Rangiaowhia, Rangiriri and Ngaruawahia, and the last-named place became the headquarters of the Kingite councils. The rest is recorded history, the coming of the war despite all the efforts of Tamehana, who never ceased to work for peace.

All Tamehana's advances were rejected. A peacemaker by instinct and intention, he was forced into the position of a belligerent. At Tamahere, before the war began, he explained the position to Europeans who paid him friendly visits. He and his people were not breakers of the Treaty of Waitangi, for neither they nor any of the Chiefs of Waikato had ever agreed to it or signed it except seven old men who had been given red blankets to do so. There was, however, no enmity on their part towards the Queen. They had simply constituted Potatau their head and called him King, as a centre round which they might rally, in order that they might do for themselves what the Government had neglected to do namely, make laws to take the place of their old Maori customs and which were obsolete or injurious. He thought that their King should be to them what the Governor was to the Europeans; that the two races should be united by one general law and that the Queen's mana should be a hedge and a shelter round them all. At the same time they would not be the subjects of the white colonists; they would administer English laws themselves, that is, take the pakeha laws so far as were suitable to their circumstances and carry them out without being responsible to the pakeha law-makers and administrators.

Presently, a proclamation by Governor Gore Browne made it clear that the pakeha administration was not only opposed to the King movement but that unless the Maoris gave up their King the Governor had no option but was commanded by the Queen to make war on them. The land would remain theirs “so long only as they are strong enough to keep it.” This “monstrous theory,” as Sir John Gorst described it, meant that but for the obligation of the Treaty of Waitangi the Europeans would help themselves to land when ever strong enough to do so. This indeed became an accomplished fact in Waikato and Taranaki immediately British artillery, rifles and bayonets had quelled the Maoris’ legitimate aspirations for local self-government.

Eloquent Appeals to the Governor.

There are blended pathos and logic in Tamehana's letters to the Governor appealing for sweet reasonableness in this matter of a Maori King. He could not understand why the Government should fly into a rage whenever mention was made of the Maoris desire for a head of their own in their own district. It was not antagonistic to the white Queen. He had read translations of the history of other countries, and he knew that each people had a king or queen of its own. “What harm is there,” he asked, in a letter to the Governor in 1861, “that, you are so angry about? I suppose that God's things were for us all. God did not make night and day for you only. No; summer and winter are for all; rain and wind, food and life for us all. … My friends, why have you grudged us a King, as if it were a greater name than that of God? If it were that God did not permit it, then it would be right to object, and it would be given up. But it is not He who forbids; and while it is only our fellow-man that is angry, it will not be given up.”

Tamehana went on to administer a dignified yet stinging rebuke to the Governor who had hastily authorised the war in Taranaki in 1860, without properly investigating the causes of dispute. He quoted St. Paul on charity, which “is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” Hasty wrath (Governor Gore Browne had been nicknamed by the Maoris “Puku-Riri,” or “Angry-Belly”) had been condemned in the Bible; moreover it was childish. A proverb of the Maoris said, “It is a child that breaks calabashes; it is a child that cries for food.” That was the way of children, but it was not fitting for the Governor to do likewise. “Rather is it for you to act deliberately, as you have an example to go by. The Word of God is your compass to guide you—the laws of God.”

Such letters should have convinced the white administrators that Tamehana possessed a calm and judicial mind and that he was anxious to come to an amicable and rational arrangement with the Government for the control of Maori affairs. But all his pleas and attempts to infuse calm reason into the consideration of the crisis were treated as words of defiance.

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Tawhiao, the second Maori king. (Died 1894.) From a photo, about 1885.

Tawhiao, the second Maori king. (Died 1894.) From a photo, about 1885.

The Conquering Road.

As time went on and all overtures were rejected, Tamehana and his fellow-Maoris profoundly distrusted the pakeha, and with good reason, as Sir John Gorst set forth in his book “The Maori King,” published in 1864. They had seen too much of the white Government's methods to expect any good thing to come out of the colonial Legislature, the majority of whose members were strongly anti-Maori. They had a few friends, such as Sir William Martin, Chief Justice, and Bishop Selwyn. Their distrust was deepened by the construction of the Great South Road towards the Waikato, which had been begun, as an obviously military measure, long before the war actually began. The Waikato chiefs regarded this road, made by General Cameron's troops, much in the same light that the Scottish chieftains did the strategic road constructed through the Highlands two centuries ago by General Wade's redcoats. The clansmen resented those roadmaking activities, they did not want their fastnesses laid bare and an easy passage made for invasion. They regarded bridges as unnecessary and effeminate. Exactly in that way did the Maoris look on Grey's and Cameron's forest-felling and road-forming.

“What do we want of roads?” they asked. “A foot track is all we want to drive our pigs to market, and there are the rivers for our canoes.” So when Tamehana and his people saw the redoubt-building and the new road they formed the opinion, and it was soon confirmed, that the Government intended eventually to invade the Waikato, no matter what the Maori did.

The Fruits of War.

Sir John Gorst summed it up accurately. “Though the Waikato War,” he wrote in 1864, “may have added somewhat to our reputation for power, it has destroyed what little credit we previously had for benevolence or justice. … The government of an uncivilised people must, as Sir William Martin says, be built upon confidence. There is among the Maoris at the present moment absolutely no confidence upon which to build.” It was the arbitrary confiscation of a huge area of land, practically the whole of the Waikato, which destroyed any confidence that might have lingered in spite of the war, and the effects of this ruinous confiscation have not yet been remedied, although a manful effort is being made by both the Native Minister and the Maori tribal leaders to re-establish the old industrious age on a new basis.

Peacemaking and Last Days.

Soon after the end of the Waikato War, Tamehana had returned to his village in deep sorrow at the ruin of all his hopes. His fighting men wished to renew the war, but Tamehana realised that the native ideal of independence was a hopeless cause, and he decided to make his peace with the pakeha. He was induced to meet the Commander of the British troops, Brigadier-General Carey, chiefly through the mediation of Mr. George Graham, a prominent Auckland settler and one-time Superintendent of the province. Carey and a few officers rode to Tamahere and there they met Tamehana, who had ridden from Matamata to meet them. The King-maker advanced with uncovered head to meet them, and he laid his taiaha, his carved hardwood halbert, at the General's feet, saying that he hoped it would be accepted as his gun, in token of submission. He shook hands with his “fighting friend,” and a brief peace covenant was written and signed at the foot of a flagstaff at which the Union Jack had been run up. The covenant was but a few lines in length, written on the fly-leaf of a private letter. But it was sufficient, and Wiremu Tamehana's peace was never broken in Waikato.

The patriot leader did not long survive the war. He employed some of his last months of life in pleading with the Government for the return of Waikato. He made a visit to Wellington in 1866 for that purpose. He returned disappointed, though all who met him were impressed by his single-heartedness and sincerity and his deep love for his people. He died at the Upper Waihou on December 27, 1866, and his monument stands at Turanga-Moana, on the beautiful Matamata plains, the land of his birth.

The King-maker's Sons.

Tamehana had two sons, Hote and Tupu Taingakawa te Waharoa. They were young lads when the Waikato War began, but they both went into the fray, and carried their doublebarrel guns in the campaign. We used to see a good deal of them in the Waikato in after years; I was acquainted with both of them and frequently talked with them about the page 20 page 21 events of the war. They were men who differed greatly in character. Hote, the elder, was a born warrior, a firebrand, rowdy, always eager for a fight. He used to go off to Taranaki campaigns every season by way of a jaunt, “to shoot soldiers,” as he told the pioneer settlers in Waikato. Taingakawa, the other son, strongly resembled his father in character. He was a quiet-mannered man and an altruist. Like his father, he was not a big man; his head was well-shaped and intellectual. Up to the time of his death in Waikato in 1929, he was the principal guiding force in the dwindled Maori Kingite organisation.

A story told of Tupu Taingakawa's youth is some index to his character. When Wiremu Tamehana, brokenhearted at the ruin of his hopes and schemes, lay dying at the Waihou in 1866, he called his two sons to him. To the elder boy, Hote, he put this question:—

“What will you do about the pakeha when I am dead? Is it peace or war with you?”

Young Hote passionately replied: “I shall continue to make war. I shall fight the Government.”

To the younger lad, Tupu (usually known as Tana in those days): “How will your path lie? Will you, too, fight against the Queen?”

“I am for peace,” was Tupu's reply. “You have made peace, and I shall not tread upon it. I shall not make war against the Queen.”

“That is well,” said the King-maker. “You shall be head of the tribe, to follow after me.”

The younger son kept his word; and it was certainly just as well for the settlers of the Waikato frontier that he did so, and that he and not the turbulent Hote was the controlling chief of Ngati-Haua during the anxious times on the border a few years later.

Taingakawa did not live to see his lifelong wish realised, the return of confiscated land to his people. They are still starved for land whereon to make a living. But he lived to see the justice of his father's cause realised to a considerable degree and recorded by the Royal Commission of Enquiry into land confiscations. Those confiscations—they rankle still, though the races have long been at peace and the Maori is embarking on the good life of the land again. As that fine character the Waikato chieftainess Te Puea Herangi told the latest Commission enquiring into Native affairs: “They never forget.”

“Smoking shortens life according to the non-smokers, but as I've been smoking since I was a lad, and am now eighty-three it doesn't seem to have shortened mine much,” remarked an old identity in the smoke-room of an Auckland club the other afternoon. “But then,” continued the veteran, “I always smoke New Zealand toasted tobacco— Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead)——and if there's any better I'd like to know where I can get it. When I meet a non-smoker I'm always sorry for the poor beggar—he doesn't know what he's missing!” They all laughed. This old smoker has discovered what thousands of other smokers have found out—that toasted tobacco is the best because not only does the toasting immensely improve flavour and bouquet but it largely eliminates the nicotine in the leaf. “Toasted New Zealand” is as innocuous as it is fragrant and delicious. The four brands are: Riverhead Gold, Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, and Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead). No other toasted tobaccos are manufactured. But there are several imitations!*