Henare Wiremu Taratoa

of Te Rangi


Henare Wiremu Taratoa
Henare Wiremu Taratoa by Horatio Robley
(Watercolour, Alexander Turnbull Library)

Picture courtesy of Tauranga Memories - Kete

Ngāi Te Rangi leader Hēnare Wiremu Taratoa was born to Hera and Hoani. Hera was connected to Otamataha Pa at Te Papa which was destroyed in 1828.

Taratoa came under the influence of Henry Williams in the Bay of Islands, was taught by him, and adopted his names, Henare Wiremu (Henry Williams), at his baptism. From about 1845 to 1853 Taratoa was taught at St. John's College and was married there on 3 April 1850 by Bishop Selwyn to Emily Te Rua, from the Kisslings' school in Parnell. Their daughter, Ani Paraneha Ann Frances Taratoa, was born on 19 January 1852. His wife Emily died in November of that same year, and was buried in the grounds of St John's College in Auckland.

Taratoa accompanied Bishop George Augustus Selwyn on several of his journeys, in-cluding a voyage to Melanesia. Several of the Maori students at St John’s were eager to travel with Selwyn, and Taratoa went with Selwyn and spent some months working with William Nihill at Nengone in the Loyalty Islands.

Taratoa graduated from college and became the schoolmaster and a Lay Reader at Otaki, where on 11 October 1854, he re-married her name was Rahapa Te Kawa. Bishop Selwyn was unwilling to offer Taratoa any prospect of ordination, for although he found Taratoa clever and thoughtful he also considered him rather excitable.

In 1861 Taratoa, Rahapa and their children moved back to Tauranga where he set up a Christian school and organised a local system of Maori councils. Then the War started in the Waikato and Te Rangi gradually became more involved in events. This is where his story becomes closely tied with the story of Heni Te Kiri Karamu (who is honoured on 29 April). British troops had arrived in the Tauranga district to prevent the transport of supplies to the Waikato tribes through the region. At Poteriwhi, the pā of Pene Taka Tuaia on the lower Wairoa River, Taratoa wrote up the Potiriwhi Code of Conduct for the coming battle. Taratoa also wrote a Challenge to Colonel Greer, giving as the reason for war, aggression by the British troops. The code was conveyed to the British commander by Taratoa at the request of the chief Rawiri Puhirake. It was his Code of Conduct that inspired the compassionate actions of Heni at the defence of Gate Pa.

To the Colonel,
Friend, salutations to you. The end of that, friend, do you heed our laws for (regulating) the fight.
  • Rule 1 If wounded or (captured) whole, and butt of the musket or hilt of the sword be turned to me (he) will be saved.
  • Rule 2 If any Pakeha being a soldier by name, shall be travelling unarmed and meet me, he will be captured, and handed over to the direction of the law.
  • Rule 3 The soldier who flees, being carried away by his fears, and goes to the house of the priest with his gun (even though carrying arms) will be saved; I will not go there.
  • Rule 4 The unarmed Pakeha, women and children will be spared.
The end. These are binding laws for Tauranga.

Taratoa carried on his person a copy of the “Orders of the Day” for the conduct of the fight. It was prefaced by a prayer, and at the bottom was what may have been the Christian inspiration of the code:

“If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink” - Romans 12:20.

The Maori defenders of Gate Pa regrouped at Te Ranga, and the British forces attacked and defeated them there on 21 June 1864. In that battle Henare Wiremu Taratoa lost his life. On his body were found the “Orders of the Day” and pages from his Bible. The words of Rawara Kerehoma speak of the battle of Gate Pa and its aftermath:

E tangi haere ana
Nga tai te uru ei
Ka mai angi nga mahara
Ano he paoa ahi
Kua makariri ke
Te okiokinga puehu kau?

The tide ebbs silently away,
Memories rise in the still air
Like smoke from many fires.
Is this the same place,
This place of ashes?

Bishop Selwyn later had a stained glass window made dedicated to Henare Taratoa in the private chapel of the Bishop in Lichfield Cathedral. Taratoa was initially buried at Te Ranga where he fell, but his remains were later placed in the mission cemetery at Otamataha pa, Tauranga. The monument erected by Maori and Pakeha in 1914 to Rawiri Puhirake, who led the Maori forces at Gate Pa, has on it a plaque added later, commemorating the compassion advocated by Taratoa.

BORN: 1830, Opounui on Rangiwaea Island, Tauranga

DIED: 21 June 1864, Te Ranga, Tauranga.