Te Tau Ihu Maori and the Taranaki Wars


On 17 March 1860 Government troops attacked the pa Te Kohia at Waitara, North Taranaki, stronghold of Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitaake of Te Atiawa  and his followers.  Te Rangitaake was deemed a rebel because he refused to acknowledge a Crown purchase in November 1859 of the Waitara Block from Te Teira Manuka (also Te Atiawa) and others.  The right of individuals to sell communally-owned land, and the Government's breach of its guarantee not to purchase disputed land, underlay the conflict.

Possibly Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake, [ca 1880].  Possibly Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake, [ca 1880]. Alexander Turnbull Library. 1/2-022668-F
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The conflagration spread as Government forces and volunteer militia increased and Maori flocked from throughout Taranaki and Waikato to support Te Rangitaake.  Some Maori supported Te Teira and fought alongside Government troops.

Maori of Te Tau Ihu, especially Te Atiawa, had to make difficult decisions.  Some supported Te Teira while others agreed with Te Rangitaake, often according to whakapapa connections.  A particular course of action could estrange them from whanau, hapu or iwi, jeopardise their lands, put them at risk of imprisonment or death, and see them labelled rebels or traitors. While many made choices based on whanau or iwi responsibilities, their circumstances in Te Tau Ihu, and/or past associations, some were inspired by principles of justice, and a desire to resist Government and settler greed.  Maori success at the Aorere, Takaka, and later the Te Tai Tapu and Buller goldfields was another factor to be considered.

James MacKayJames MacKay
Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-018088-F.
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When war broke out, Assistant Native Secretary in Nelson, James Mackay Jr, worked tirelessly to prevent Te Tau Ihu Maori from joining the fray.  He succeeded in stopping Nelson and Marlborough European militia from going, arguing that if they did, Maori would travel north to defend their relatives.

Mackay organised hui throughout Nelson-Marlborough to deter Maori from participating, and although most chiefs made public declarations of allegiance to the Queen, some defied him.  At least two - Wiremu Parana of Marahau (also known as Ngamamaku)  and Hemi Kuku Matarua of Pakawau (a.k.a. Kakawhero, son of Wiremu Kingi Te Koihua) - took arms and ammunition to support Te Rangitaake;  Hemi Kuku was killed at No. 3 Redoubt on 13 January 1861.  Others sent waka  filled with supplies for war and survival.  The Ngati Rahiri community at Anakiwa sold their land and returned to Taranaki to assist Te Teira.

Despite the chiefs' protestations, Mackay doubted their sincerity:  "I invariably find that when they receive intelligence ... favorable to the Native cause at Taranaki, they become elated in spirits, and at contrary news, they are just the reverse".1

Influenced by inflammatory, derogatory accounts in local papers, European attitudes to Maori hardened, widening the gap between the races.  Every Maori action was viewed with suspicion, and rumours were rife:  that Europeans would murder all Maori to obtain land, that local Maori were planning uprisings, that Government troops would invade the Wairau.  Mackay posted warnings against fomenting unrest among Maori through provocative acts (arson, theft, cattle trespass, and verbal and physical abuse), or rumours of impending evictions from their Native reserves.

The lasting legacy of the Taranaki Wars was a deterioration in relationships between Maori and Europeans in Te Tau Ihu.  Fear and mistrust intensified, and Maori became increasingly marginalised and sceptical of Government intentions.


Sources used in this story

1. Mackay, J. Jr (1860) Letter to Native Secretary, Auckland. 13 September.

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Further sources - Te Tau Ihu Maori and the Taranaki Wars




  • Mackay, J Jr:  "Outwards Letterbook". Doc. No. MA-Collingwood 2/1.  Archives New Zealand, Wellington

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