Rescue of the crew of the Delaware 1863
The best known Māori rescue in the region was the dramatic deliverance of the crew of the Delaware when the ship was driven onto rocks at Wakapuaka on 4th September 1863.
Hūria Mātenga, her husband, Hemi Mātenga, and Hohapata Kahupuku swam out in extremely stormy seas to grasp a line thrown out by the crew. They returned to shore to secure the line to a large rock and then entered the water again and again to assist the crew to make their way to land by means of a second stronger rope attached to the line.
Shortly after the Captain, the last of the nine to make the journey, reached the shore the rope frayed and disappeared into the sea. The only casualty was the mate who had been badly injured in a failed attempt to swim to shore; he was presumed dead and left on the ship, but later revived only to be swept away. Other Māori from Wakapuaka assisted on shore.
‘… In paying a tribute to their conduct, Captain Baldwin, master of the Delaware, said that but for the bold and unwearied exertions of the Maoris, he did not believe one man would have been saved from the wreck’.
Hūria Mātenga became a national heroine as a result of her great bravery; at a packed official ceremony presided over by the Superintendent of Nelson, supported by her father Te Manu, chief of Wakapuaka, she was presented with a specially inscribed gold watch by the citizens of Nelson and £50 by the Government. Hemi and Hohapata received silver watches from Nelson and £50 from the Government; two other helpers, Eraia and Kerei, received silver watches and £10 each. The watches were purchased from public subscriptions in Nelson and the Government’s contribution came, ironically, from the Native Reserve Trust Fund. At the ceremony the rescuers were congratulated on the goodness of their hearts and the clearness of their heads, and there were speeches about good relationships between the races.
Hūria and Hemi Mātenga were widely respected in the Nelson Anglican community and in the city as a whole. They were invited to official occasions to represent Māori, and frequently entertained important guests at Wakapuaka. After Hūria’s death in April 1909 the Mayor of Nelson paid a tribute to “Mrs Martin who had done so much for humanity”, the maritime professions unveiled a memorial photograph of her in Wellington, and the Suter Art Gallery Board commissioned a portrait by Gottfried Lindauer, funded by public subscription.
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