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Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century:

Te Morenga’s Expedition to Tauranga. — January and February, 1820

Te Morenga’s Expedition to Tauranga.
January and February, 1820.

“Te Morenga commenced by telling me that the last time he was at Mercury Bay (Tauranga) was on a military expedition, the motives for which he explained as follows:–Some years ago one of his nieces was carried off from near Cape Brett (Whangarei) by a brig from Port Jackson, (the “Venus”) and subsequently sold to a chief of Mercury Bay (Tauranga) named Shoukori (Hukori or Hukere) who still lives there, and she became his slave. Hukori and another chief named Waru having quarrelled, in consequence Te Morenga’s niece was killed by Te Waru, or some one of his tribe, and afterwards roasted and eaten. It was some time before Te Morenga heard of this, but he felt bound to avenge her death, as much for the honour of his tribe as for justice to the memory of his relative, so soon as he felt in a position to do so. Nearly 16 years (14 really) elapsed before he felt himself sufficiently strong, and then he declared page 157 war against Te Waru. A sister of Te Morenga’s had also been carried off by the same vessel from the Bay of Islands, and she met the same fate as her niece further toward the south; he had already avenged her death (in 1818).

“In January, 1820, Te Morenga reviewed his forces consisting of 600 men, 200 of his own tribe, 200 from other parts of the Bay, and 200 from Whangarei, the last 400 being auxiliaries. With this force he advanced on Mercury Bay (Tauranga) and landed on an island situated at its mouth (probably Matakana is intended). Te Waru came out in his canoe to see what brought this force to Mercury Bay (Tauranga) Te Morenga replied, that Te Waru had roasted and eaten his niece and that he had come to demand satisfaction for the insult, and he desired to know what sort of satisfaction Te Waru proposed to give him. Te Waru replied as follows: ‘If that is the object of your expedition, the only satisfaction that I am disposed to give you, is to kill and eat you also.’ Te Morenga considered this a very insulting reply, and told Te Waru that as such was his resolution, their dispute could only be settled by an appeal to arms. Te Waru replied that he was ready this day. Te Morenga answered this by saying he was not prepared then but would meet Te Waru on the morrow. Te Waru consented to this. Te Morenga showed me the point of land which he chose for the encounter; it was a level space just opposite where Captain page 158 Cook had anchored. (In this Marsden is wrong, for Captain Cook was never very near the coast at Tauranga).

“The following day the two parties found themselves at the place fixed. When they had arranged their forces, Te Morenga gave orders to his men not to fire until he gave the order. He had 35 muskets, whilst Te Waru had only his spears and patus. Te Waru made the first charge, accompanied by a volley of spears, and one of Te Morenga’s chiefs was wounded. He then gave the order to fire, and 20 of Te Waru’s men fell dead, and amongst them two chiefs, one named Nuku-panga, father of Te Waru, (?) and the other Hopu-nikau. Directly their two chiefs fell, Te Waru’s party fled from the field of battle. Te Morenga ordered his men to halt and not to follow the flying enemy. He was content with the sacrifice already made, seeing that two chiefs had already been killed, and he did not desire to shed more blood. His allies, however, were not satisfied with this leniency; a council of war was convened by the chiefs, who blamed the conduct of Te Morenga for not having profited by the advantage which they had gained. They contended that even if Te Morenga was satisfied with the death of the chiefs as payment for his niece, nevertheless Te Waru ought to be chastised for his insolent language at their first interview, and they demanded that the attack should be immediately renewed.

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“Te Morenga desired first to know the disposition of Te Waru, his father (?) having been killed, and fancied he would easily consent to terms of peace. For this reason he went forth from the camp in search of Te Waru, who had fled with his warriors. Te Morenga came across the wife and children of Te Waru and about 30 of his people, all of whom he conducted into the camp, assuring them of their safety. He demanded of them where they kept their store of potatoes. Te Waru’s wife showed them the place, and from there they obtained some. On Te Morenga asking if Te Waru was now disposed to make peace, he was told that he was not.

“The day following, whilst the Nga-Puhi chiefs were assembled in their camp they perceived that Te Waru had rallied his forces, and was descending to encounter them. They immediately flew to arms, and in very short time a great number of their enemy were killed by the muskets, and the rest put to flight, Nga-Puhi following them up. Many of the fugitives jumped into the sea and were drowned, whilst nearly 400 remained dead on the battlefield, and 260 were made prisoners. Of this number, 200 were divided amongst the Bay of Islands people, and we saw them disembark at Rangihoua on the 2nd March, 1820. Sixty-five of the prisoners remained as the share of the Whangarei chiefs.

“Te Waru was thus completely conquered, and fled to the woods with the few people who page 160 remained to him. After the battle, Te Morenga went in search of him, and having found him in the end, a conversation ensued between them. Te Morenga demanded if Te Waru would surrender, and reminded him of the insolent language which he had held at their first interview. Te Waru, recognising that he was conquered, replied that he had no idea muskets could produce such an effect, and up to this time had rather under-valued them as instruments of war, but he asserted that it was impossible to resist them, and, in consequence, he would submit himself. He asked Te Morenga news of his wife and children, and, on learning of their safety in the Nga-Puhi camp, he acceded to Te Morenga’s desire that he should accompany him thither to receive them back. On their arrival, he was reunited to his family. Te Waru remarked that the death of his father (?) had rendered him very sad, and asked Te Morenga to give him something in compensation for his loss. Te Morenga gave him a musket, which, with other presents received, seemed to satisfy him. Afterwards Te Waru retired home with his family and friends.

“Te Morenga told me that they remained three days on the field of battle feasting on the flesh of those who had been killed, and subsequently made sail with their prisoners and Te Waru’s canoes for the Bay, where they arrived three days after the ‘Dromedary,’ on the 2nd March, 1820.

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“I may be permitted to remark that I noted the particulars of that affair whilst I was sitting on the heights (above the scene), and that on my return to the ‘Coromandel’ I revised my notes with Te Morenga, in order to report the facts after his own expressions as accurately as possible.”

Such is Mr. Marsden’s account of Te Morenga’s raid on Tauranga, and allowing for his inability to understand all that Te Morenga told him—though it is said the latter could speak English, learnt on his visits to Port Jackson and on whalers—it is probably correct in the main. It rather appears as if Te Morenga’s other expedition in 1818, in which he killed Te Tawhio, had got confused with this account, where Te Morenga refers to Te Waru’s “father” having been killed. However this may be, there is one incident that Marsden omits, which is worth repeating, as it throws quite a strong light on the chivalry of the old Maori, and reminds us of the knight errantry of the Middle Ages. I take this story from Mr. J. A. Wilson’s “Life of Te Waharoa,” and it refers to that part of Te Morenga’s history, where he relates how he went in search of Te Waru after his second defeat.

Mr. Wilson says: “Again Nga-Puhi invaded Tauranga and encamped at Matua-a-ewe, a knoll overhanging the Wairoa river, a mile and a-half from the Ngai-Te-Rangi pa, Otumoetai. Such was the state of affairs when, in the noontide heat of a summer’s day, Te Waru, the page 162 principal chief of Ngai-Te-Rangi, taking advantage of the hour when both parties were indulging in siestas, went out alone to reconnoitre the enemy. Having advanced as far as was prudent, he sat down among some ngaio trees near the beach, and presently observed a man, who proved to be a Nga-Puhi chief, coming along the strand from the enemy’s camp.” (Mr. Wilson does not give the Nga-Puhi chief’s name, but it was Te Whare-umu, a well known chief.) “The man approached, and turning up from the beach, sat down under the trees, without perceiving the Tauranga chief who was near him. Instantly the determination of the latter was taken. He sprang unawares upon the Nga-Puhi, disarmed him, and binding his hands with his girdle, he drove him towards Otumoetai. When they arrived pretty near the pa, he bade his prisoner halt; he unloosed him, restored his arms, and then, delivering up his own, said to the astonished Nga-Puhi, ‘Now serve me in the same manner!’ The relative positions of the two chiefs were soon reversed, and the captor driven captive entered the Nga-Puhi camp, where, so great was the excitement and the eagerness of each to kill the Ngai-Te-Rangi chief, that it was only by the most violent gesticulations, accompanied with many unmistakable blows delivered right and left, that the Nga-Puhi chief compelled them for a moment to desist. ‘Hear me,’ he cried, ‘hear how I got him, and afterwards kill him if you will.’ He then made a candid page 163 statement of all that had occurred, whereupon the rage of Nga-Puhi was turned away, and a feeling of intense admiration succeeded. Te Waru was unbound, his arms restored; he was treated with the greatest respect and invited to make peace—the thing he most anxiously desired. The peace was concluded; the Nga-Puhis returned to the Bay of Islands; and, though in after years they devastated the Thames, Waikato and Rotorua districts, yet Tauranga was unvisited by them until 1831, when they attacked Maungatapu.”

In Marsden’s narrative of this incident, no doubt, from his inability to understand Te Morenga’s language perfectly, he has accredited the latter with Te Whare-umu’s adventure.