Ropoama's Spring


Ropoama Te One, a rangatira of Te Ātiawa, was one of the signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi, and one of the main signatories to the Waitohi Purchase, by the New Zealand Company, in 1850.

After the latter the Māori resident in Waitohi (Picton) moved to Waikawa, and it was soon after this that typhoid broke out amongst them. Māori oral history tells that Ropoama found a spring of fresh water and encouraged his people to use it, so ending the spread of disease. We do not have a date for this particular epidemic, as there were few written records of the Māori population at the time, and the Marlborough newspapers did not start publication until the 1860s.

ropoamas well

Ropoama's well. The plaque. Image supplied by Picton Historical Society

Ropoama himself died in 1868, so we know the typhoid outbreak was before this time. However, an event does not have to be written down to have occurred, and it remained strong in the memories of the kaumatua and was passed down to their children and grandchildren.

In 1978, when there was a strong Māori presence in the  Picton Historical Society and its President was Meteria (May) Horrey née Tonga Awhikau, the Society decided to mark this unscripted past event with a monument. At that time most people knew from their elders what had occurred, and the Society Minutes of 2 May 1978 record:

"After a discussion in Committee it was decided that subject to the approval of the land owner and the Elders of Waikawa the Society would erect a plaque on or near the site of Ropoama’s well in Waikawa where fresh water was discovered and broke the Typhoid epidemic that occurred when the Maoris shifted to Waikawa after the Waitohi purchase."

This plaque cost the Society $257 that year, a considerable sum for a small voluntary organisation.

It is believed that the actual site of the spring was on the other side of Waikawa Road from where the plaque was placed. The monument remains as the only solid reminder of the episode.

This story by Loreen Brehaut was first published in Picton in the Seaport Scene. (updated August 2020)

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  • where on Waikawa Road is the memorial

    Posted by Thomas Fairweather, 26/02/2022 9:39pm (2 years ago)

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Further sources - Ropoama's Spring


  • Whakapapa of Ropoama Te One. In Mitchell, H & J (2007) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka:  A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, volume II: Te Ara Hou  Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatu Incorporation, p.39


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