Topic: Philip Tapsell (1777-1873)

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Philip Tapsell was a mariner, whaler and early trader. He first landed in New Zealand in 1809, arriving in Maketu in 1830. His marriage in 1823 was the first registered marriage in New Zealand. This story researched and written by Debbie McCauley.

Born in Denmark, Hans Homman Jensen Falk changed his name to Philip Tapsell (topsail) to gain employment on British vessels. He was working as a mate on a whaling ship when he first arrived in New Zealand in 1809. He then captained boats trading between the Bay of Island and Sydney.

Philip was working as first mate aboard the ship 'Asp' when on 23 June 1823 the first registered marriage in New Zealand took place between him and Maria Ringa. Maria was a Ngapuhi of high birth. The ceremony was carried out by Rev. Thomas Kendall at Oihi Bay (Marsden Cross). Unfortunately the bride absconded and later died. Maria was quite possibly the first Māori baptised in New Zealand on 14 September 1825. 

Philip's Māori name was Te Tapihana. 

In the late 1820s Philip bought an eighty foot waka (canoe) from Hori Kingi Tupaea (c1800-1881) in exchange for four muskets.

In 1830 Philip arrived in Maketu with his new bride, Ngapuhi chieftainess Karuhi, whom he had married in the Bay of Island. She was a sister of Waikato and Wharepoaka (in 1820 Waikato went to England with Hongi Hika and met King George IV).

Philip set up a trading post at Maketu, accepting dressed flax in exchange for muskets, gunpowder and lead, blankets and tobacco. The musket wars meant Maketu Māori worked hard in the flax trade in order to obtain enough muskets to defend themselves from well armed enemy tribes. The flax would be traded in Sydney and London and was mainly used for making ropes and twine. Local Māori traded with iwi in Rotorua. 

The Tapsell's had made their home on the 'flat top of Maketu hill' which was 'the ancient pa of the Arawa people'. In around 1831 Philip purchased from Sydney and various ships twelve cannon which he place around the hilltop on which he lived in order to deter attack from the direction of Tauranga. 

In March 1832 an attack was made on Otumoetai Pa in Tauranga. Matheson (1975) wrote: "The missionaries in the schooner "Active", dedicated to brining peace and the light of Christianity to all the tribes; Tapsell in the cutter "Fairy", the tough European trader, deliberately irritating the missionaries (he was not alone in this) by taking a fiendish delight in stoking the fires of tribal war" (p. 5). 

Around this time Philip's second wife Karuhi became very ill. After she died Tapsell sailed with her body back to the Bay of Islands. Karuhi was buried at Rangihoua, at the top of a very high hill. 

A topsail schooner from Sydney (about 200 tons), named the Falcon arrived at Whakatane and unloaded goods to trader Phillip Tapsell in February 1840. Tapsell then took the vessel up the Bay of Plenty coast to Maketu to take on a load of flax fibre. Before loading, a gale of hurricane force drove the schooner ashore at Te Tumu (3.5 kilometres westnorthwest of Maketu) shortly before dawn on 1 March 1840. This was the same hurricane that the ship Ulitea was wrecked in. The ship was a total loss, but the passengers and crew, including Tapsell and his children, all survived.

Philip married for a second time in 1840 to Hineiturama Ngatiki (1818-1864), said to be an eighth descendant of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. They had six children together (the descendants are often called the Children of Tapihana):

  1. Kateraina Tapsell (1834-1917). (Katherine). Born in Maketu in 1834. She married George Simpkins in 1853. Kateraina died in Whakatane in 1917.
  2. Retireti Tapsell (1836-1913). (Retreat). Born on Mokoia Island in 1836 and named 'Retreat' after the family's escape from Maketu. He married Ngatai Tohi te Ururangi Pekamu Winiata. He worked as a policeman and customs officer and fought with the British during the New Zealand Wars. Retireti died in Maketu on 21 April 1913 and was buried in the family burial ground, Wharekahu, at Maketu.
  3. Perepe Tapsell (1838-1913). (Piripi/Phillip). Born in Whakatane in 1838. He married Rua Manuahura in 1853. He joined the British and fought against Maori in the Waikato and at Gate Pa and Te Ranga. He died in Maketu in February of 1913.
  4. Ewa Tapsell (1839-1864). (Eve). Born in Whakatane in 1839. She married Dr Robert Richardson Hooper in 1855. Ewa was killed during the Battle of Orakau in 1864 after accompanying her husband and mother to the pa to provide medical attention.
  5. Ieni Tapsell (1841-1911). (Hans). Born in Whakatane in 1841. He married Te Hake Teaokorewarangi Mataiawhea in 1862. Ieni died in 1911.
  6. Tote Tapsell (1842-1872). (Dorothy). Born in Whakatane in 1842. She married Thomas Smith. She died in Maketu on 14 March 1872. Her death notice appeared in the Daily Southern Cross (23 March 1872, p. 2).   

Maketu was sacked in late March of 1836. Philip's warehouse and trade goods were plundered and his house and flax store set alight. He was ruined. Philip, along with his heavily pregnant wife and daughter Kateraina, managed to escape with their lives to Mokoia Island (Lake Rotorua).

The family later went to Whakatane where Philip established himself as a trader at Matata and Whakatane. Unfortunately a schooner from Sydney was wrecked during a hurricane off Maketu after taking on board a load of flax. Philip was unable to save much of his goods. At this stage his Sydney business agent was declared bankrupt owing him hundreds of pounds.

The following year Hineiturama and Tapsell separated and she went to the Waikato to visit her daughter Ewa and husband Dr Hooper who were providing medical services at Orakau. Hineiturama took a new husband, called Ropata. They were caught up in events and both Hineiturama, Ropata and Ewa were killed on 2 April 1864 during the Battle of Orakau. Cowan writes in A Trader in Cannibal Land:

On the fatal April 2nd, 1864, when the fort was evacuated by nearly all the defenders, Hine-i-turama and another woman were bayoneted to death by British soldiers when the place was rushed by troops. The late Major William Mair told me that he attempted to save poor Hine from the maddened soldiers, but when he was attending to one fatally wounded woman the other was killed. All who perished in the siege and the final attack, numbering about forty (another 120 were killed during the retreat) were buried in the trenches they had dug; there were several women among them. So perished Hine-i-tumara, third wife of Tapsell of Maketu, and foremother of many a brave man and beautiful woman (pp. 100-101).

Philip later lived with his daughter Kataraina on Motutohora (Whale Island) and then his son Retireti in Maketu.

He died, aged 94, on 6 August 1873 and was buried at Wharekahu Cemetery in Maketu.



A Trader in Cannibal Land by James Cowan (pp. 52, 70, 75).

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Bay of Plenty Shipwrecks (1987) by Alistair Matheson.

Bush, Ernest (1973, November). The Three Wives of Philip Tapsell (Te Ao Hau, No. 74).

Clement, Christine (2011). The Pioneers, Settlers and Families of Te Puke and District (p. 340).

Cowan, James (1935). A Trader in Cannibal Land.

Cowan, James (1973, July 17). Stories of New Zealand. Captain Tapsell, the Trader of Maketu - his adventures with the Maoris - how flax was bartered for muskets (Enzed, 17 July 1937).

Daily Southern Cross (1 April 1869, p. 4).

Daily Southern Cross (5 April 1869, p. 4).

Daily Southern Cross (28 July 1869, p. 6).

Daily Southern Cross (12 October 1872, p. 3).

Matheson, A. H. (1975, Aug-Sept). Otumoetai pa and the early times in Tauranga. Part 2: the tribal wars, 1832--3, and the lives of the Otumoetai traders John Lees Faulkner and Joseph Cochrane Journal of the Tauranga Historical Society No 54: OT(2)1--20.

Obituary (Reprinted in the Bay of Plenty Times, 9 March 1973, 100 Years Ago)

Parham, W. T. (1990). Phillip Tapsell (Te Ara - Encyclopaedia of New Zealand).

Philip Tapsell (Tauranga City Libraries Research Collections, Vertical File, Biographical File).

Tapsell,  Pāora (2015). Te Haupapa by  (In The Lives of Colonial Objects, pp. 27-33).


How to cite this page: McCauley, Debbie (2015). Philip Tapsell (1777-1873). Retrieved from (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (McCauley, 2015)


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Philip Tapsell (1777-1873)

First Names:Hans Homman Jensen
Last Name:Falk
Date of Birth:1777
Place of Birth:Copenhagen
Country of birth:Denmark
Date of death:6 August 1873
Place of death:Maketu, New Zealand
Place of burial:Wharekahu Cemetery, Maketu
Date of Arrival:1809
Date of arrival in Bay of Plenty:1830
Spouses name:1823 - Maria Ringa, 1830 - Karuhi, and 1840 - Hineiturama
Spouses date of birth:1818
Spouses place of birth:Maketu?
Spouses date of death:2 April 1864
Spouses place of death:Orakau
Spouses place of burial:Orakau battlefield
Date of marriage:1840
Fathers name:Jens Hansen Falk
Fathers date of birth:1761
Fathers date of death:1832
Mothers name:Maria Dorothea Esmarck (or Giertrud Homand?)
Mothers date of birth:1760