Tāmati Wāka Nene

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Tāmati Wāka Nene (c. 1785 – 4 August 1871) was a Māori rangatira (chief) who fought as an ally of the British in the Flagstaff War.

Tāmati Wāka Nene c. 1870

Origin and mana[edit]

Tāmati Wāka Nene[1] was born to chiefly rank being connected to most of the notable Māori families in Tai Tokerau, the Bay of Islands and Hokianga regions of the North Island of New Zealand. His elder brother was Eruera Maihi Patuone. He was related to Hongi Hika and could trace his ancestry by a number of lines back to Rāhiri, the founder of the Ngāpuhi iwi. He rose to be one of the war leaders of the Ngāpuhi taking an active part in the Musket Wars of 1818–1820. He successfully took his warriors on a rampage the whole length of the North Island, killing and plundering as he went until he reached Cook Strait. It is said that he advised Te Rauparaha to acquire muskets to enhance his influence.

In 1828 he successfully averted a war between the Māori of the Bay of Islands and the Hokianga. Then his older brother moved south to what is now the Auckland region, Hauraki, and soon after the paramount chief of the area died of wounds received in battle. Wāka Nene now became the highest ranking chief among his own people and one of the three primary chiefs of the area. At baptism, he added "Tāmati Wāka" (Thomas Walker) to his name.

Support for the Treaty of Waitangi[edit]

Retro Pattern Crown: Tamati Waaka Nene shaking hands with Governor Hobson at Waitangi on 6 February 1840

Early on he had recognised the value of trade with Pākehā and used his position as chief to protect and encourage both the traders and the Methodist missionaries. He was baptised in 1839 taking the name Thomas Walker or Tāmati Wāka. He also worked with the British Resident, James Busby to regularise the relationships between the two races. In 1835 he signed the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand which proclaimed the sovereignty of the United Tribes.

At the negotiations leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi[2] Ngapuhi chief Te Wharerahi disagreed with his brothers Rewa and Moka 'Kainga-mataa' and spoke for peace and the acceptance of the European, and was duly supported by Nene and Patuone.[3] Nene's influence was significant in persuading many of the tribes to sign the Treaty.

The next few years saw a considerable loss of revenue and influence for the northern tribes. The capital of the new country was soon moved down to Auckland. Customs duties were also imposed. Then the Government began to manage the land, specifically they temporarily banned any further felling of kauri trees, (Agathis australis) after a glut formed on the Australian market.

Commitment to Governor FitzRoy[edit]

Main article: Flagstaff War

Most of the northern chiefs, including Nene, had serious concerns with workings of the new Treaty. However Tamati Waka Nene was still prepared to respect the commitments made in the Treaty.

On 24 August 1844 Governor FitzRoy arrived in the bay from Auckland upon the frigate HMS Hazard.[4] Governor FitzRoy summoned the Ngāpuhi chiefs to a conference at the Te Waimate mission at Waimate on 2 September and apparently defused the situation. Tāmati Wāka Nene and the other Ngāpuhi chiefs undertook to keep Heke in check and to protect the Europeans in Bay of Islands. Hone Heke did not attend but sent a conciliatory letter and offered to replace the flagstaff.

When Hone Heke cut down the flag pole for the fourth time and attacked Kororareka, Nene was offended, feeling that his mana had been trampled on. Nene was already at war with Heke when the British troops began to arrive on the scene.

Fighting between the warriors of Heke and Nene between Okaihau and Te Ahuahu[edit]

After the attack on Kororareka Hone Heke and Te Ruki Kawiti and their warriors travelled inland to Lake Omapere near to Kaikohe some 20 miles (32 km), or two days travel, from the Bay of Islands.[5] Nene built a pā close to Lake Omapere. Heke's pā named Puketutu, was 2 miles (3.2 km) away, while it is sometimes named as "Te Mawhe" however the hill of that name is some distance to the north-east.[6]

In April 1845, during the time that the colonial forces were gathering in the Bay of Islands, the warriors of Heke and Nene fought many skirmishes on the small hill named Taumata-Karamu that was between the two pās and on open country between Okaihau and Te Ahuahu.[7] Heke's force numbered about three hundred men; Kawiti joined Heke towards the end of April with another hundred and fifty warriors. Opposing Heke and Kawiti were about four hundred warriors that supported Tamati Waka Nene including his brother Eruera Maihi Patuone and the chiefs, Makoare Te Taonui and his Brother Aperahama Taonui, Mohi Tawhai, Arama Karaka Pi and Nopera Pana-kareao.[8] F. E. Maning,[9] Jacky Marmon and John Webster, of Opononi, Hokianga were three Pākehā Māori (a European turned native) who volunteered to fight with Nene and fought alongside the warriors from Hokianga.[8] Webster used a rifle (a novel weapon at that time) and had made two hundred cartridges.[8]

The colonial forces under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Hulme, arrived at Heke's Pā at Puketutu on 7 May 1845. Lieutenant Colonel Hulme and his second in command Major Cyprian Bridge made an inspection of Heke's Pā and found it to be quite formidable.[10] Lacking any better plan they decided on a frontal assault the following day. The attack was a failure and the forces retreated to the Bay of Islands. Lieutenant Colonel Hulme returned to Auckland and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Despard, a soldier who did very little to inspire any confidence in Tāmati Wāka Nene.

Nene's defeat of Heke on 12 June 1845 at Pukenui[edit]

After the successful defence of Puketutu Pā on the shores of Lake Omapere, Hone Heke returned to his pā at Te Ahuahu.[8] Te Ahuahu was a short distance from both Heke's Pā at Puketutu and the site of the later Battle of Ohaeawai.[11] Some days later he went on to Kaikohe to gather food supplies. During his absence one of Tāmati Wāka Nene's allies, the Hokianga chief, Makoare Te Taonui (the father of Aperahama Taonui),[12] attacked and captured Te Ahuahu. This was a tremendous blow to Heke's mana or prestige, obviously it had to be recaptured as soon as possible.

The ensuing battle was a traditional formal Māori conflict, taking place in the open with the preliminary challenges and responses. By Māori standards, the battle was considerably large. Heke mustered somewhere between 400 and 500 warriors while Tāmati Wāka Nene had about 300 men. Hone Heke lost at least 30 warriors.[13] Hugh Carleton (1874) provides a brief description of the battle: "Heke committed the error (against the advice of Pene Taui) of attacking Walker [Tāmati Wāka Nene], who had advanced to Pukenui. With four hundred men, he attacked about one hundred and fifty of Walker's party, taking them also by surprise; but was beaten back with loss. Kahakaha was killed, Haratua was shot through the lungs".[14]

Rev. Richard Davis also recorded that a "sharp battle was fought on the 12th inst. between the loyal and disaffected natives. The disaffected, although consisting of 500 men, were kept at bay all day, and ultimately driven off the field by the loyalists, although their force did not exceed 100. Three of our people fell, two on the side of the disaffected, and one on the side of the loyalists. When the bodies were brought home, as one of them was a principal chief of great note and bravery, he was laid in state, about a hundred yards from our fence, before he was buried. The troops were in the Bay at the time, and were sent for by Walker, the conquering chief; but they were so tardy in their movements that they did not arrive at the seat of war to commence operations until the 24th inst.!"[15][Note 1]

Tāmati Wāka Nene remained in control of Heke's pā.[13] Heke was severely wounded and did not rejoin the conflict until some months later, at the closing phase of the Battle of Ruapekapeka.[16] Tāmati Wāka Nene later described it as a "most complete victory over Heke".

Battle of Ohaeawai[edit]

Main article: Battle of Ohaeawai
A memorial for Tāmati Wāka Nene, in front of Christ Church, Russell (Māori-language side).

Tāmati Wāka Nene and his warriors supported troops lead by Lieutenant Colonel Despard in an attack on Pene Taui's Pā at Ohaeawai. Kawiti and Pene Taui had strengthened the defences of the pā.[5]

Nene and Despard, fought side by side, as allies although Despard had an almost complete incomprehension about Nene's experience in attacking fortified pās. At Ohaeawai Nene offered to make a feint attack on the rear of the pā, to divert attention from the soldiers' assault, but this suggestion, like all others offered by Nene, met with a refusal. Nene described the British commander, Lieutenant Colonel Despard, as 'a very stupid man'.[17] Despard on the other hand said "if I want help from savages I will ask for it". History tends to support Nene's opinion as he had achieve a decisive win against Hone Heke on 12 June 1845,[13] with no help from the British.

At the Battle of Ohaeawai after two days of bombardment without effecting a breach, Despard ordered a frontal assault. He was, with difficulty, persuaded to postpone this pending the arrival of a 32 pound naval gun which came the next day, 1 July. However an unexpected sortie from the pā resulted in the temporary occupation of the knoll on which Tāmati Wāka Nene had his camp and the capture of Nene's colours – the Union Jack. The Union Jack was carried into the pā. There it was hoisted, upside down, and at half-mast high, below the Māori flag, which was a Kākahu (Māori cloak).[17]

This insulting display of the Union Jack was the cause of the disaster which ensued.[5] Infuriated by the insult to the Union Jack Colonel Despard ordered an assault upon the pā the same day. The attack was directed to the section of the pā where the angle of the palisade allowed a double flank from which the defenders of the pā could fire at the attackers; the attack was a reckless endeavour.[18] The British persisted in their attempts to storm the unbreached palisades and five to seven minutes later 33 were dead and 66 injured approximately one-third of the soldiers and Royal Marines.[19]

Battle of Ruapekapeka[edit]

Main article: Ruapekapeka
A memorial for Tāmati Wāka Nene, in front of Christ Church, Russell (English-language side).

Tāmati Wāka Nene and his warriors supported troops lead by Lieutenant Colonel Despard in an attack on the pā at Ruapekapeka. Kawiti's tactics was to attempt to repeat the success of the Battle of Ohaeawai and draw the colonial forces into an attack on heavily fortified pā. The colonial forces started a cannon bombardment of Ruapekapeka Pā on 27 December 1845. The siege continued for some two weeks with enough patrols and probes from the pā to keep everyone alert. Then, early in the morning of Sunday, 11 January 1846,Tāmati Wāka Nene's men discovered that the pā appeared to have been abandoned; although Te Ruki Kawiti and a few of his warriors remained behind, and appeared to have been caught unaware by the British assault.[20] The assaulting force drove Kawiti and his warriors out of the pā. Fighting took place behind the pā and most casualties occurred in this phase of the battle.

After the Battle of Ruapekapeka Heke and Kawiti, were ready for peace.[21] It was Tāmati Wāka Nene they approached to act as the intermediary to negotiate with Governor Grey. Nene insisted that no action should be taken against Heke and Kawiti for leading the war.

Mana of Wāka Nene after the Northern War[edit]

The Government lost a great deal of mana and influence in the North as a result of the war, much of which flowed to Wāka Nene. He and Heke were recognised as the two most influential men in the Tai Tokerau region. He was given a pension of one hundred pounds a year and had a cottage built for him in Kororareka (Russell). He continued to advise and assist the Government on matters such as the release of Te Rauparaha in 1848.

When George Grey was knighted he chose Nene as one of his esquires. Then when he returned for his second term of governorship in 1860 he brought Nene a silver cup from Queen Victoria. Nene accompanied Grey to Taranaki to negotiate a truce with Wiremu Tamihana (the King maker) to end the First Taranaki War in 1861. En route to New Plymouth the ship struck a huge storm but survived which was taken as a favourable omen.

Tāmati Wāka Nene died 4 August 1871 and is buried at Russell. The then Governor, Sir George Bowen said the Nene did more than any other Māori to promote colonisation and to establish the Queen's authority.


  1. ^ The comment by Rev. Richard Davis that ‘Three of our people fell’ can be assumed to be a reference to Ngāpuhi that had been baptised as Christians by the CMS mission.


  1. ^ Tamati Waka Nene biography from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
  2. ^ [1] – Maori Signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi
  3. ^ Colenso, William. (1890). The Authentic and Genuine History of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington: Government Printer
  4. ^ "The sacking of Kororareka". Ministry for Culture and Heritage – NZ History online. 3 April 2009. Retrieved 16 Sep 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c Kawiti, Tawai (October 1956). "Hekes War in the North". No. 16 Ao Hou, Te / The New World, National Library of New Zealand. pp. 38–43. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  6. ^ Cowan, James (1922). "Chapter 5: The First British March Inland". The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Maori campaigns and the pioneering period, Volume I: 1845–1864. Wellington: R.E. Owen. p. 42. 
  7. ^ Cowan, James (1922). "Chapter 5: The First British March Inland". The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Maori campaigns and the pioneering period, Volume I: 1845–1864. Wellington: R.E. Owen. p. 38. 
  8. ^ a b c d Cowan, James (1922). "Chapter 6: The Fighting at Omapere". The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Maori campaigns and the pioneering period, Volume I: 1845–1864. Wellington: R.E. Owen. p. 39. 
  9. ^ NZ Herald (13 November 1863)
  10. ^ Reeves, William Pember (1895). "F. E. Maning "Heke's War … told by an Old Chief"". The New Zealand Reader. Samuel Costall, Wellington. pp. 173–179. 
  11. ^ A. H. McLintock (1966). "HEKE POKAI, Hone". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 
  12. ^ Binney, Judith. "Aperahama Taonui". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved December 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c "Puketutu and Te Ahuahu – Northern War". Ministry for Culture and Heritage – NZ History online. 3 April 2009. Retrieved 17 Sep 2011. 
  14. ^ Carleton, H, (1874) The Life of Henry Williams, Vol. II. pp. 110–111. Thomas Walker was a name adopted by Tāmati Wāka Nene.
  15. ^ Coleman, John Noble (1865). "IX". Memoir of the Rev. Richard Davis. Early New Zealand Books (ENZB), University of Auckland Library. p. 293. 
  16. ^ Rankin, Freda (1 September 2010). "Heke Pokai, Hone Wiremu". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Cowan, James (1922). "Chapter 8: The Storming-Party at Ohaeawai". The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Maori campaigns and the pioneering period, Volume I: 1845–1864. Wellington: R.E. Owen. p. 61. 
  18. ^ Carleton, Hugh (1874). Vol II, The Life of Henry Williams. Early New Zealand Books (ENZB), University of Auckland Library. p. 112. 
  19. ^ King, Marie (1992). "A Most Noble Anchorage – The Story of Russell & The Bay of Islands". The Northland Publications Society, Inc., The Northlander No 14 (1974). Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  20. ^ Tim Ryan and Bill Parham (1986). The Colonial New Zealand Wars. Grantham House, Wellington NZ. pp. 27–28. 
  21. ^ Kawiti, Tawai (October 1956). Hekes War in the North. No. 16 Ao Hou, Te / The New World, National Library of New Zealand Library. pp. 38–46. Retrieved 10 October 2012.