Tuturau Māori reserve and war memorial

Detail of the tablet on the Tuturau Maori War memorial Detail of the tablet on the Tuturau Maori War memorial Detail of the tablet on the Tuturau Maori War memorial Detail of the tablet on the Tuturau Maori War memorial

Tuturau Māori War memorial, which was erected in 1934 to mark the centennial of the battle of Tuturau.

The following text is adapted from the account by Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips cited below.

The one major memorial (as distinct from wooden markers) to the Musket Wars of the 1820s and 1830s stands in Southland on the back road between Mataura and Wyndham. The ‘battle’ of Tuturau was more of a scuffle, but it came at the end of an epic journey. Te Pūoho was a chief of Ngāti Tama, a subtribe of Te Āti Awa which had moved south from Taranaki at the same time as Te Rauparaha and Ngāti Toa.

Eventually Te Pūoho, squeezed for land around Waikanae, moved across Cook Strait to Golden Bay. After accompanying Te Rauparaha on his journey to capture Kaiapohia, a large Ngāi Tahu settlement in north Canterbury, Te Pūoho developed his own ambitions for conquest. Despite Te Rauparaha’s opposition, Te Pūoho set off with a taua (war party) to the far south in the hope of skinning the Ngāi Tahu ‘eel from tail to head’. After an epic journey down the West Coast, over the Haast Pass, and through Central Otago, Te Pūoho captured the few inhabitants of the Ngāi Tahu settlement at Tuturau in December 1836. His victory was short-lived. Three days later Te Pūoho was woken at dawn by the sound of men on the roof. When he came out to investigate he was shot dead by two Ngāi Tahu warriors. Tūhawaiki, the Ngāi Tahu chief, entered the kāinga unopposed.

On 4 December 1937, the centenary of these events was marked – a year late. A concrete and stone obelisk was unveiled in the ‘Maori Centenary Reserve’ before a crowd of at least 3000. A concert party and several descendants of Te Pūoho’s killer represented the Southland Māori community and a Māori meeting house had also been erected on the new reserve, but this was very much a Pākehā affair.

The wharenui, built of wooden slabs and thatched with tussock, soon decayed and collapsed. The obelisk, built for permanence, carries an inscription in English which does not mention Ngāi Tahu or Ngāti Tama. It reads as if it marks a mainland triumph in an interisland rugby match: ‘The last fight between North and South Island Maoris in which the southerners were victorious took place in this locality in December 1836’.

Further reading

  • Atholl Anderson, Te Puoho’s last raid: the march from Golden Bay to Southland in 1836 and defeat at Tuturau, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1986
  • Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials, GP Books, Wellington, 1990, pp. 17–18

Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about Tuturau Māori reserve and war memorial

What do you know?

Anonymous

Posted: 23 Oct 2020

Probably the reason for the inscription being as it is, is likely to be because of who built it. He was of European ancestry and married to a descendent of Reko. It was fairly likely to have been a family and local effort.