Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945

Money or a Mare?


(Contributed by the late Mr W. H. Taylor).

In the Year 1842.

From a bay on the Coromandel Coast a small vessel weighs anchor, setting a course due south and sailing up the firth of Thames. Passing Miranda, she veers slightly to the east, then enters the Waihou to continue her course up the river, finally coming to anchor at Te Puke. Those on board the vessel are Mr. Joshua Thorp, his wife and several children. They also have some animals, among which are a mare and her foal. It will be shown later in this narrative that the animal referred to will mark an outstanding feature of Mr. Thorp's negotiations with the local chief for a block of land on which to build his future home.

Arrangements were soon completed as to the approximate area, and it was agreed to include in the purchase the present high land, where Mr. John Wight's residence now stands. On the other high point, which has been the home of the Thorp grandchildren, stood a formidable, strongly-palisaded pa, the head-quarters of a noted cannibal chief, Taraia, whose life-size portrait in oils may be seen in the Auckland Art Gallery. It would appear that this strong and courageous pakeha, Mr. Thorp, came prepared to tender cash for his purchases and at once handed the chief, notes, gold and silver to the amount of £200, in return for which he was to become the owner of about 2000 acres. On receipt of the money the chief dispatched couriers requesting the presence of all head men at Te Puke; and after checking the money as correct they squatted in a ring and commenced the operation of dividing it equally among the clans and families. They soon discovered that the task was not a simple one, and several days passed with little material progress being made. It seemed the more they laboured the more confused the problem became, and finally they gave up all further attempts to unravel the knotty problem. Taraia sent for Mr. Thorp and addressed him in the following manner: "Homai Te Hoiho na me tana Kuao Hei whakarite ia tana take! Ke whakahokia-atu omoni." ("Hand me over the mare and foal. I will accept the animals in full settlement of all our land agreements and your money is returned). Thus Mr Thorp became a landed proprietor in the very early days of Ohinemuri at the small cost of a mare and foal, which the Maoris were evidently convinced were worth £200.

A Fierce Old Cannibal

I will not enter into details regarding Mr. Thorp's career. It is however, sufficient to state that he was an outstanding Christian and feared nothing but his God. His conduct during his earlier years of residence in Ohinemuri reveals a noble and praiseworthy effort to reform the savages and save them from the revolting and vicious custom of cannibalism, often carried out under his very nose. His energies spreading the knowledge of Christ and the Bible among the Maoris of Paeroa never flagged, but Taraia, fierce old cannibal, alone stood aloof. He was not to be turned so easily from the ruthless path he had followed all his days, spreading slaughter and rapine. It is related that in 1835 Taraia led the last cannibalistic raiding party to Katikati, where he engaged a small, weak tribe in a hand-to-hand encounter and slaughtered the entire population of the settlement. Immediately after the battle the war party feasted on their victims, saving the heads and other portions, which they placed in kits and carried back to Paeroa. Heavily laden with the gruesome spoils of the chase, they were yet some distance from home when they were met by the women and children who had foregathered in eager expectation to welcome home the victors.

Challenge to White Man's God

Mr. Thorp, knowing the nature of the expedition and hearing that the party was approaching with its grisly burdens, determined to save the native children from contamination. He ordered them to be taken across the river to another pa. Taraia, on his arrival, quickly noticed the silence and absence of the younger folk and curtly enquired what had become of them. He was told that the missionary had ordered them across the river so that contact with human flesh would be avoided, and that, as many of the tribes had embraced the new teaching, which strictly forbade as obnoxious and repulsive the traffic in human flesh, the missionary had considered it his duty to save the children. Nothing unusual occurred till the following evening, but while a prayer meeting was in progress in the large meeting-house, Taraia unexpectedly appeared on the scene. All eyes were turned towards him, standing there defiant, and presently he unburdened himself in this manner: "Eki, Eki. They tell me this Christ you are praying to can give life back to those who are dead;" (taking up a bowler's stance, he rolls the captured head of a Katikati chief among the people) "that is Hakaraia's head; his body is in my belly! See if your Christ can bring him back to life. With this last challenge, Taraia flung out and went his way - whether rejoicing or not I am not prepared to hazard an opinion.