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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Tom Ralph: An Adventurer

Tom Ralph: An Adventurer

Some dramatic experiences befell Tom Ralph (Tame Rawhi), whom Captain Harris placed at Muriwai as a flax trader in May, 1831. His stay there was brief. The next that was heard of him was that he had become Montefiore and Co.'s agent at Mokau. According to the Journal of the Polynesian Society (March, 1910, p. 16), he was landed there from the Ameri Kiwata (“Admiral Gifford”) in November, 1831; that he was called Tame (Tommy) by the natives; and that he took unto himself two wives. Taranaki was, at that time, being invaded by Waikato tribes under Te Wherowhero. They took Pukerangiora pa at Waitara in December, page 153 1831, but were repulsed when, early in 1832, they attempted to take Ngamotu pa. Its defenders were assisted by Dicky Barrett and some other whalers, whose armament included cannon.

Daniel Henry Sheridan (Sydney Monitor, April, 1833) says that the Maniapoto tribe deserted Mokau to share in the spoils at Pukerangiora. As only two old men and a decrepit woman had been left behind, the Ngati-Tama raided Mokau. The old men escaped, but the woman was slain. When Ralph and a native woman emerged from their whare they were made prisoner. His wife was taken from him; he was stripped of all his clothes except his shirt and trousers; his store was plundered of muskets and goods; and his flax (20 tons) was set on fire. Whilst he was being taken by his captors to their settlement, a dispute arose concerning the woman. A native came up behind him and snapped his musket, but it missed fire, and another native snatched it away. Ralph sent a message to Captain J. R. Kent, whose store was on the Kawhia River, and he at once furnished him with the means of ransom.

Polack, who met Ralph at Tolaga Bay in August, 1836, describes him as “a young man respectably connected in Sydney.” He narrates (New Zealand: Travels and Adventures, Vol. 2, p. 57) a strange incident in which Ralph figured at Maihia (Mahia), whither he had moved from Kawhia. A chief named Werowero quarrelled with a neighbouring chief, who threatened to cut off his head and sell it to the pakehas. Werowero decapitated his “enemy,” and secreted the head in Ralph's whare. When fatty matter mingled with the food that he was cooking, Ralph was puzzled. To his disgust, he found that Werowero had placed the head within his chimney!

Upon giving up whaling at Mahia, Ralph worked for Joseph Carroll on Hurumoa, and, subsequently, had charge of the ferry at Wairoa. He ended his days at Whangawehi.