Te Tau Ihu Māori and the Taranaki Wars


On 17 March 1860, Government troops attacked the pa Te Kohia at Waitara, North Taranaki, stronghold of Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke of Te Ātiawa  and his followers.  Te Rangitāke 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 Ātiawa) 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 Māori flocked from throughout Taranaki and Waikato to support Te Rangitāke.  Some Māori supported Te Teira and fought alongside Government troops.

Māori of Te Tau Ihu, especially Te Ātiawa, had to make difficult decisions.  Some supported Te Teira while others agreed with Te Rangitāke, often according to whakapapa connections.  A particular course of action could estrange them from whānau, 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 whānau 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.  Māori success at the Aorere, Tākaka, 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 Māori from joining the fray.  He succeeded in stopping Nelson and Marlborough European militia from going, arguing that if they did, Māori would travel north to defend their relatives.

Mackay organised hui throughout Nelson-Marlborough to deter Māori 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 (also known as Kakawhero, son of Wiremu Kīngi Te Koihua) - took arms and ammunition to support Te Rangitāke.  Hemi Kuku was killed at No. 3 Redoubt on 13 January 1861.  Others sent waka, filled with supplies for war and survival.  The Ngāti 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 Māori hardened, widening the gap between the races.  Every Māori action was viewed with suspicion, and rumours were rife:  that Europeans would murder all Māori to obtain land, that local Māori were planning uprisings, that Government troops would invade the Wairau.  Mackay posted warnings against fomenting unrest among Māori 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 Māori and Europeans in Te Tau Ihu.  Fear and mistrust intensified, and Māori became increasingly marginalised and sceptical of Government intentions.


Updated April 2020

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 Māori and the Taranaki Wars




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

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