OLIVER, Richard Aldworth

Te Rangihaeata, Chief of Ngati Toa

c.1850
Watercolour
490 x 320mm

Captain R.A. Oliver was stationed in New Zealand between April 1848 and August 1851 in command of the fourteen gun naval sloop H.M.S. Fly. He carried out surveys in New Zealand waters, transporting Governor Grey around the country and providing a military presence when reports of Maori-Pakeha disagreements were received. He came from a naval family (his father was an admiral) and entered the navy while in his teens, rising to become an admiral himself at the end of his career. In 1852 he published A Series of Lithographic Drawings from Sketches in New Zealand, a folio volume containing eight hand-coloured lithographs. The watercolour portrait of Te Rangihaeata formed the basis of the first plate of this volume. Oliver probably received training in drawing with pencil and watercolour as part of his naval education. He particularly favoured portraits of Maori subjects and interiors of pa. In his private journal he commented on the beauty and dignity of Te Rangihaeata in his native dress, adding “There is no none with the least feeling for the Picturesque who would not lament the change in the native costume.” The letterpress associated with the volume of lithographs indicates that Te Rangihaeta’s [ sic ] name may be translated “The Heavenly Dawn” . Oliver described him as being “from both descent and energy of character the most influential native in the Southern district of New Zealand … Te Rangihaeata had not embraced Christianity up to the point of my departure and still affected to despise the Manners, Customs, Arts and Religion of the Pakehas.”

Te Rangihaeata (?–1855) was born probably in the 1780s in the Kawhia district. His youth was dominated by a struggle between the people of Kawhia and other Waikato districts for control of the fertile and sparsely populated coastland north of Kawhia towards Whaingaroa (Raglan). In 1819, already regarded as a war leader, Te Rangihaeata joined Te Rauparaha on a joint war expedition with Northern tribes through Taranaki, Wanganui, the Kapiti Coast, Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) and Southern Wairarapa. During a period of months they killed and captured many people, eventually returning to Kawhia, having cemented alliances with their opponents, Te Rangihaeata himself marrying Te Pikinga, sister of the captured Ngati Apa chief Te Arapata Hiria. By 1821 both chiefs had suffered serious defeats from Waikato tribes and Te Rangihaeata agreed to accompany Te Rauparaha on the migration Te Heke Tahu-tahu-ahi to the Kapiti coast. In 1822 Te Rangihaeata helped defeat the pursuing Waikato tribes at Motunui. About 1824 Te Rangihaeata and Te Rauparaha successfully defended their people against a concerted attack on Kapiti by their enemies, thus inaugurating seven years of struggle between Ngati Toa and local tribes. Shortly after this both chiefs became involved in a feud with Southern tribes which resulted in their devastation of the Kaikoura coast and later Kaiapoi.

In the early 1830s Te Rangihaeata probably took part in the three separate campaigns against Ngai Tahu. In the 1830s he lived on Mana Island, spent time on Kapiti and visited the mainland where he had cultivations at Taupo, Porirua. A small whaling station was established at Mana Island with his permission, although Te Rangihaeata was both feared and disliked by the whalers for his exacting of tribute in the form of gifts. Europeans who encountered him regarded him as Te Rauparaha’s lieutenant; Te Rauparaha being credited with the greater cunning and Te Rangihaeata with ferocity. In October 1839 with the arrival of the New Zealand Company ship Tory, Edward Gibbon Wakefield sought to purchase land on the Kapiti coast for European settlement. He induced Te Rangihaeata to sign a deed purporting to purchase all his rights and claims on both sides of the Tasman. Te Rangihaeata intended only to grant Europeans rights to certain areas. Later this deed was invalidated as being inadequately translated and too sweeping in its description of what had been purchased. On 19 June 1840 Te Rangihaeata signed the Treaty of Waitangi on board the Herald. He probably intended to do no more than accept the Governor’s authority to rule over the turbulent whalers and keep the company settlers in check.

Gradually he learned that in European terms land purchase meant permanent alienation of land and that his signature on the Treaty had transferred much more than kawanatanga to Queen Victoria. He travelled about encouraging objections to proposed land sales; he ordered followers to destroy bridges and block routes preventing surveys; many settlers blamed him for their troubles and demanded his arrest. Both Te Rangihaeata and Te Rauparaha had consistently denied that the Wairau Valley had ever been sold. After they burned a surveyors’ hut which had been erected on the land, they faced charges of arson and were on the point of arrest by a force of 47 special constables when a stray shot killed Te Rangihaeata’s wife Te Rongo as she sat by a fire. Firing broke out and nine Europeans were taken prisoner. Te Rauparaha spoke against killing them but Te Rangihaeata silently moved behind each prisoner and clubbed them to death. Furious settlers demanded his arrest and execution but Governor FitzRoy rebuked the Nelson magistrates who issued the warrants explaining that persons who burnt their own property could not be charged with arson and affirming that indeed the Wairau Valley had never been purchased. Te Rangihaeata also opposed the settlement of Hutt Valley by Europeans, claiming that it too had not been paid for. Coolness developed between Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata after Te Rauparaha had offered to give up the Hutt without Te Rangihaeata’s agreement.

Maori refused to leave and Europeans constructed forts; Te Rangihaeata camped in the Upper Hutt Valley with more than 500 followers. Agreements made with Sir George Grey in 1846 were subsequently disrupted when settlers looted Maori houses, their church and plantations. Although Te Rangihaeata never attacked in revenge he did build a new pa at Pauatahanui which was itself never attacked out of fear that Te Rauparaha might abandon his neutrality. Eventually Te Rauparaha was captured and a force moved against Pauatahanui but Te Rangihaeata retreated to another fortification. After several clashes his followers dispersed to settle on the south coast of Manawatu. Here, despite pleas for assistance from Maori allies his people suffered from starvation. In 1847 he asserted his power by raiding Kapiti and imposing tolls on settlers using the Foxton-Levin road. He was induced by the missionary Octavius Hadfield to consent to the sale of the Rangitikei block and thereafter ceased active opposition to European expansion. He visited Otaki to farewell Governor Grey in 1853 and attended church without ever becoming Christian. Te Rangihaeata died on 18 November 1955 as the result of pneumonia after lying in a stream to reduce a fever caused by measles. He was thought to be in his early 70s. He was buried at Porou-ta-whao beside his wife Te Pikinga.