Topic: Rāwiri Puhirake Tuaia (c1814-1864)

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Ngāi Te Rangi leader Rāwiri Puhirake Tuaia was the most influential chief in Tauranga during the time of the Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina (29 April 1864) and Battle of Te Ranga (21 June 1864). His uncle was Reko who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in Tauranga in 1840. Story by Debbie McCauley.

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Puhirake Tuaia [also known as Whakatauhoe] was born in approximately 1814. His father was Te Muna [correction, could be Whakapa, chief of Mauao]. His uncle was Reko who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in Tauranga in 1840.

Puhirake was taken prisoner as a young boy when Mauao was attacked in 1820 and his father was killed. He was taken up north with Pene Taka Tuaia and Hakaraia. As they were highborn they came under the protection of Ngāpuhi chief Te Ruki Kawiti (1770s-1854). There they learnt the art of trench warfare. In c1828 they were swapped for other prisoners and returned to Tauranga.

Puhirake took the name Rāwiri (David) when he was baptised by Alfred Brown at the Te Papa Mission Station in the 1830s. 

In the 1850s Puhirake became a leader of his iwi.

Under Puhirake’s leadership, Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui began a campaign of provocation designed to entice the British force at Te Papa to attack them at a place of their choosing. He commanded his men to show mercy to wounded enemy soldiers as per the Poteriwhi Code of Conduct agreed upon by himself and other Ngāi Te Rangi leaders prior to the battle.

Puhirake was killed during the battle at Te Ranga on 21 June 1864 and buried in the trenches there. His remains were exhumed on 13 August 1874, 10 years after his death, and he was reburied in Mission Cemetery (Otamataha Pa). An imposing red granite memorial was erected over his grave, unveiled on the 50th anniversary of his death, 21 June 1914.

Rāwiri Puhirake New Zealand Wars memorial (1914)

Included is a white marble frieze of Gate Pā depicting a mortally wounded Booth lying at Puhirake’s feet whilst Henare Wiremu Taratoa brings a calabash of water.

Marble freize on Rāwiri Puhirake New Zealand Wars memorial (1914)

On 24 August 1874 the Daily Southern Cross reported the following:

A correspondent of our Tauranga contemporary writes:- “The final obsequies of the much-respected chief Rawiri Tuaia took place on Tuesday, the 18th instant, about 11 o’clock, in the Te Papa cemetery. The grave was selected near the fencing, abutting on to the ‘brave’ who fell at the Gate Pa and Te Ranga. All the hapus of Tauranga were represented, and concentrated on the wharf to meet the mournful cortege as it arrived from Whareroa. Enoka te Whanake had charge of the boat containing the corpse, and Hori Ngatai with Parira, Hamiora Tu, and Tupaea’s sons were present on the occasion. On the coffin reaching the end of the wharf, it was received by Mr Hopkins Clarke, of the Native Office. The pallbearers selected were gentlemen to whom the deceased was well known and respected for his bravery and humanity:- Messrs S L Clarke, Thomas Wrigley, A Warbrick, and Captain Turner. The natives seemed much affected, and everything passed of quietly, though there could not have been less than three hundred present.”

On 1 September 1874 the Thames Advertiser carried the following story about Puhirake:


We give, our readers this morning a brief sketch of the life of Rawiri Puhirake, whose remains, as we before stated, were exhumed at Te Ranga on the 13th instant, and conveyed by his relatives to Omamatua where a large number of natives had congregated to lament over him and otherwise honour his memory. This chief, without exception, was the most influential in Tauranga.

In appearance he was of medium height, rather stoutly built, fully tattooed, and of a most prepossessing countenance; his age would be about 50. All who knew him pronounce his manners to have been those of a perfect Maori gentleman. For a Maori he was considered a good scholar, being able to read and write his own language well. In disposition he was very taciturn, never speaking until he had heard both sides of a question, but when he did it was always to the purpose and his good common sense enabled him to carry the point in view; thus the natives tell the white man “his word was law”.

Rawiri was the lay teacher of his tribe, and to the day of his death strictly adhered to the Christian religion he professed, always refusing to join the Hauhau fanatics, who did their utmost to persuade him to swell their ranks.

All our old settlers, such as Mr Thomas Wrigley, Mr Warbrick, Captain Sellars, Mr Faulkner, and Mr Samuel Clarke, who were in the habit of dealing with him, will bear testimony to his character as being a straight forward honest man, and it is not too much to say that “he was respected by all who knew him."

During the Waikato war, time after time, William Thompson solicited Rawiri to join the rebel cause. He persistently refused making use of this memorable answer, "I do not wish to see any bloodshed in Tauranga. If my people wish to join you they may go. I do not wish them to return and bring back trouble with them." When the Waikato natives threatened to invade Tauranga, and Thompson sent a letter of warning to his European friends, the Government thought it advisable to send Mr Henry P Clarke on a mission of inquiry into a land question, it having been rumoured that certain disaffected natives had been nominated by the Waikato rebels to assassinate Mr Clarke on the first favourable opportunity. The Government hearing the Waikato had threatened to invade Tauranga, sent a large body of Imperial troops to that place.

Up to this time Rawiri maintained his neutral position, and, as his people justly contend, would have remained so had it not been for the arrogant impudence of the interpreter to the Imperial troops, who goaded him into rebellion, taunting him by calling him a spy, threatening to kick him out of the camp, and asking him the question why he did not go and join the Waikato rebels?

A proud spirit like Rawiri's would not submit any longer to such gross insults, and he was at last driven to join the disaffected natives. Previous to that he had always been the honoured guest of the old settlers, and whenever he chose to visit them there was always a place found for him at their tables.

After being driven to take up arms against us he entered heart and soul into the rebellion, considering that he was fighting for his "hearth and home." He would not allow his party to build their pa on the mission property, not wishing it to be polluted with human blood.

In consequence of this, they chose their position outside the mission boundary. Before any shots had been exchanged Rawiri wrote General Cameron telling him that when they fought he wished to fight fairly and honourable, that he should act very differently to what the rebels did in Waikato. Any European going about unarmed should be unmolested, that he would not allow any of his party to commit murder, and that any of our wounded falling into their hands should be respected. Right well did this noble Maori carry out his word at the Gate Pa. Before a shot was fired that memorable day - the 29th April, 1864 - he called out to his followers, “Take heed to my word. Respect the wounded; do not injure them when they fall."

The assault was led by, Colonel Booth and Captain Hamilton, R.N. The latter was shot dead; the Colonel fell mortally wounded within a few feet of the parapet of the pa. Rawiri carried him, or had him carried, to a place of safety out of reach of the bullets, and, to the best of his power, administered to his wants himself, going down to the stream at the risk of his life to allay the thirst of the sufferer!

That night the, pa was abandoned by the enemy. Before leaving it there was a wish expressed by some of Rawiri's allies to despatch the wounded. Rawiri’s reply was what you might have expected from such man: "Not a hair of their head shall you touch. You may take their firearms with you, but touch nothing else.”

The following day Colonel Booth was brought to Te Papa, and before his death he repeatedly spoke to General Cameron and his brother officers about the noble and humane manner he and other wounded men had been treated by the enemy. This was attributed alone to Rawiri's influence over the different tribes of the district.

After the desertion of the Gate Pa the natives retired to the woods until the month of June, when Rawiri again wrote to the officer commanding the district, telling him that in a few days he would try his strength with our troops. The natives accordingly commenced entrenching themselves at Te Ranga, but were discovered by the troops before they had completed their pa. They were immediately attacked.

The loss of the enemy was great - over a hundred were left dead on the field; amongst their number was the chief Rawiri. The following day he was buried on the battle-field, several of the neutral chiefs being present, also the officers of the different regiments then in Tauranga, who expressed their appreciation of his noble character by saying “Kapai Rawiri," “Very good Rawiri."

The Government provided a coffin for the remains of this worthy chief, and, by the kind permission of the Venerable Archdeacon Brown his (nearly literally) ashes were buried on Tuesday last close to the grave of Colonel Booth, whose sufferings he tried to alleviate.

We are sure that the interest shown for this brave and generous chief will go far to cement the good feeling now existing between the Europeans and natives of this district. Requiescat in pace. - [Communicated to the B. P. Times].



Bay of Plenty Times (19 August  1874, p. 2). 

Daily Southern Cross (24 August 1874, p. 3).

Mair, Gilbert (1926). The Story of Gate Pa, April 29th 1864 [Reprinted by the Bay of Plenty Times Ltd in 1937 & 1964. Reprinted by Cadsonbury Publications in 2010. Reprinted by Tauranga Charitable Trust in 2014].

McCauley, Debbie (5 August 2011). Identity and the Battle of Gate Pa (Pukehinahina), 29 April 1864 (Tauranga Memories: Battle of Gate Pa, 1864 kete).

Rorke, Jinty (1990. Updated 30 October 2012). Rawiri Puhirake (Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand). 

Thames Advertiser (1 September 1874, p. 3).


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Rāwiri Puhirake Tuaia (c1814-1864)

First Names:Rāwiri Puhirake
Last Name:Tuaia
Date of Birth:c1814
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:21 June 1864
Place of death:Te Ranga, Tauranga
Place of burial:Mission Cemetery, Tauranga
Occupation:Ngai Te Rangi leader
Fathers name:Te Muna or Whakapa
Fathers date of death:1820
Fathers place of death:Mauao, Tauranga
Military Service:New Zealand Wars