Tāmati Waka Nene

Photograph of the important Ngāpuhi chief Tāmati Waka Nene, c. 1870. Elizabeth Pulman, possibly our first woman photographer, was one of many early New Zealand photographers who sold portraits of Māori. After her husband’s death in 1871, Elizabeth built up the two-year-old business by producing powerful portraits of Māori. This photo of Tāmati Waka Nene was one of Pulman’s many cartes de visite. The Pulman collection was purchased by the government in 1900.

Waka Nene

Nene fought in the Musket Wars of the 1820s. After the death of Hongi Hika in 1828 he assumed responsibility for protecting the Wesleyan mission at Hokianga. During the 1830s he became an adherent of the Wesleyans, although he was not baptised until 1839. Nene took the baptismal name of Thomas Walker (Tāmati Waka) after an English merchant who was a patron of the (Anglican) Church Missionary Society.

Nene had seen the advantages of a Pākehā presence and was anxious to maintain peace in the region. As well as offering protection to the Anglican and Wesleyan missionaries he supported the work of the British Resident, James Busby.

Nene spoke out strongly in favour of the Treaty of Waitangi during the debate at Waitangi on 5 February 1840. Discussions were at a delicate stage when he arrived at the hui. He argued that British intervention was needed to protect Māori from lawless Pākehā. He maintained that it was impossible to turn back either Pākehā or time. Māori chiefs had largely lost control. While the governor should be a ‘father, judge and peacemaker’ for Māori, their customs and lands should be preserved. His speech was the turning point of the debate and influenced many of those present to sign the Treaty the following day. Nene was among the first signatories.

Nene was sympathetic to many of Hone Heke’s concerns during the build-up to the Northern War. However, he disagreed with Heke’s actions and after the sacking of Kororāreka fought alongside the British against his Ngāpuhi kinsman.

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