Te Rangi Hīroa

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Te Rangi Hīroa
Te Rangi Hīroa in academic dress, circa 1904
Te Rangi Hīroa in academic dress, circa 1904[1]
Born c. October 1877
Urenui, Taranaki, New Zealand
Died 1 December 1951(1951-12-01) (aged 74)
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Nationality New Zealand
Other names Sir Peter Henry Buck

Te Rangi Hīroa, also known as Sir Peter Henry Buck KCMG DSO (ca. October 1877 – 1 December 1951), was a prominent member of the Ngāti Mutunga Māori iwi. He was a doctor, military leader, health administrator, politician, anthropologist and museum director.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Urenui, New Zealand, the only child of William Henry Buck. He was raised by William and his wife Ngarongo-ki-tua, though she was not his biological mother. According to local custom, when the couple found themselves unable to have children, one of Ngarongo's relatives, Rina, became part of the household and produced a child for the couple. Rina died soon after her child was born, and Ngarongo raised Peter as her own. He claimed to have been born in 1880, but it is more likely that an entry in the primary school register pointing to October 1877 is correct.[2]

Te Rangi Hīroa was descended on his Māori (maternal) side from the Taranaki iwi of Ngati Mutunga, whose elders renamed him Te Rangi Hīroa in honour of a notable ancestor. His paternal ancestry was English and Irish. Though he was largely brought up within the Pākehā community, Ngarongo-ki-tua and his great aunt Kapuakore instilled a love of Māori tradition and language in him.

After Ngarongo's death in 1892 he moved with his father to the Wairarapa. In 1896 he started attending Te Aute College, a school that produced many Māori leaders of the time. In 1899 he was named Dux and passed a medical examination, entitling him to attend the University of Otago Medical School. He was later associated with the Young Māori Party.

Medical school and practice[edit]

Buck did badly at Otago Medical School, where he also was kicked out of sport, becoming national long jump champion in 1900 and 1903. He completed his MB ChB in 1904, and an MD six years later. During this time, in 1905, he married Irish-born Margaret Wilson. Their long marriage was often fiery, but was strong, and it was Margaret who often gave the impetus to Peter's career.

In November 1905 Buck was appointed as a medical officer to Māori, working under Māui Pōmare, initially in the southern North Island, then in the far north. Between them Pomare and Buck campaigned successfully to improve sanitation in the small Māori communities around the country.

Parliament and war[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1909–1911 17th Northern Maori Liberal
1911–1914 18th Northern Maori Liberal
Te Rangi Hīroa holding a taiaha, circa 1930[3]

In 1909, Hone Heke Ngapua, Member of Parliament for Northern Maori died suddenly. Buck was singled out by Native Minister James Carroll to be his replacement. Buck accepted and was elected in the subsequent by-election.[4] He became a member of the Native Affairs Committee. He did not seek re-election to the seat in 1914, but stood for the Bay of Islands electorate, where he lost with a narrow margin.[5] By this time, Buck had developed an interest in Pacific Island peoples, working briefly as a medical officer in both the Cook Islands and Niue during parliamentary breaks.

During the First World War, Buck helped in the recruitment of a Māori volunteer contingent. Buck joined this contingent as medical officer, travelling to the Middle East in 1915. He took part at Gallipoli, later being awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his heroism. He later saw action in France and Belgium, before being posted to the No 3 New Zealand General Hospital at Codford, England in 1918.

Returning to New Zealand, Buck was appointed as Chief Maori Medical Officer, and in 1921 was named director of the Maori Hygiene Division in the Department of Health.

In 1935, he was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.[6]


One of the residential colleges of the University of Otago is named Te Rangi Hīroa College in his honour.

Te Rangi Hiroa Medal[edit]

The Te Rangi Hiroa Medal is a social sciences award by the Royal Society of New Zealand. First awarded in 1997 to Dame Joan Metge, it was initially granted annually and from 2001, it has been a biennial award. Award holders are:[7]

  • 1997: Dame Joan Metge
  • 1998: not awarded
  • 1999: Jack Vowles
  • 2000: not awarded
  • 2001: Erik Newland Olssen
  • 2003: Greta Regina Aroha Yates-Smith
  • 2005: Alistair John Cluny Macpherson
  • 2007: not awarded
  • 2009: Ian Pool
  • 2011: Colleen Ward
  • 2013: not awarded
  • 2015: Ruth Fitzgerald[8]



  1. ^ Photograph by kind permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, reference number: 1/2-037931-F
  2. ^ Sorrenson, M. P. K. (1 September 2010). "Buck, Peter Henry - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  3. ^ Photograph by kind permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, reference number: 1/2-078259-F
  4. ^ Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103. 
  5. ^ "Other contests". The Evening Post. LXXXVIII (141). 11 December 1914. p. 3. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  6. ^ "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post. 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  7. ^ "Te Rangi Hiroa Medal". Royal Society of New Zealand. Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "Spotlight on top New Zealand researchers" (Press release). Royal Society of New Zealand. 10 November 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Hone Heke Ngapua
Member of Parliament for Northern Maori
Succeeded by
Taurekareka Henare