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Tūkāroto Matutaera Pōtatau Te Wherowhero Tāwhiao


Tūkāroto Matutaera Pōtatau Te Wherowhero Tāwhiao, about 1880.

Tāwhiao, of the Tainui hapū (sub-tribe) Ngāti Mahuta, was born near the end of the Musket Wars between Tainui and Ngāpuhi. A Christian, he was also well-versed in the rites of the Tainui tribe and had the status of a prophet. His father Pōtatau was the first Māori King, and on his death in 1860 Tāwhiao inherited the kingship and the spiritual leadership of his people. He was king for the next 34 years, the first decade of which was the most turbulent period in New Zealand’s race relations history.

Invasion, military defeat and the confiscation of about 1.2 million acres (half a million hectares) of Waikato land in 1864 reduced Tāwhiao and his people to refugees in Ngāti Maniapoto territory, which became known as the King Country. They remained there for many years.

Despite a number of meetings with government ministers and officials, there was no reconciliation. Tāwhiao’s insistence on the return of the confiscated land was rejected by the government. Not until 1881 did the king and his followers lay down their weapons and return to Waikato. But they did not give up their efforts to obtain compensation or their adherence to the Kīngitanga.

In 1884 Tāwhiao led a deputation to England to petition Queen Victoria. He sought an independent Māori parliament and a commission of inquiry into the land confiscations. He stressed that the Kīngitanga was not separatist and did not reject the Queen’s authority. It was, rather, an attempt to unify Māori so that they might more effectively claim the Queen’s protection. In his view the Māori King and British Queen could peacefully coexist, with God over both. Tāwhiao’s petition was referred back to the New Zealand government, which dismissed it.

Tāwhiao continued to help Māori address their concerns and petition the government. Notably, he established a Māori parliament, Te Kauhanganui. He died in 1894.


Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: 1/2-051147-F
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

How to cite this page

Tūkāroto Matutaera Pōtatau Te Wherowhero Tāwhiao, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated