Te Wherowhero

He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene

On 28 October 1835 at the Waitangi residence of James Busby, 34 chiefs signed He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene (known in English as the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand). By 1839, 18 more chiefs had signed He Whakaputanga, which was acknowledged by the British government. This biography of one of the signatories was originally written for the He Tohu exhibition.

Signing details

Signature number: 
Signed as: 
Probable name: 
Te Wherowhero
Waikato, Ngāti Mahuta
1835 residence: 
Tohu (signature): 

Te Wherowhero was born in Waikato towards the end of the eighteenth century. He was the eldest son of Te Rauangaanga and Parengaope, and belonged to the senior chiefly line of Ngāti Mahuta. He had four wives – Whakaawi, Raharaha, Waiata and Ngāwaero – and his children were Matutaera (later known as Tāwhiao, the second Māori King), Makareta Te Otaota and Tiria. Te Wherowhero’s whakapapa connected him to all of the major waka from which Māori trace their descent.

As a young man, Te Wherowhero was schooled in tribal knowledge and trained in warfare. From around 1815 he led his Waikato people through two decades of frequent warfare known as the ‘musket wars’. A series of attacks by Waikato, culminating in their victory at the battle of Te Kakara, was a major factor in Ngāti Toa, under the leadership of Te Rauparaha, leaving Kāwhia around 1821. Further fighting against Ngāti Toa in northern Taranaki saw Waikato suffer a major defeat at Te Motunui. During this battle Te Wherowhero demonstrated his prowess in hand-to-hand combat, but he was fortunate to escape with his life; Te Rauparaha intervened on his behalf on two separate occasions.

After returning to Waikato, Te Wherowhero resisted the invasion of the musket-armed Ngāpuhi under Hongi Hika, who inflicted a heavy defeat on Waikato at Mātakitaki pā in May 1822, resulting in many deaths. Waikato retreated south for several years, for fear of further attacks. Te Wherowhero was living at Ōrongokoekoea on the upper Mōkau River when his son, Matutaera, the future King Tāwhiao, was born.

When peace was made with Ngāpuhi in 1823, Waikato gradually returned to their homes. The peace was cemented by the marriage of Te Wherowhero’s brother, Kati, to Matire Toha of Ngāpuhi. Despite this, fighting with some segments of Ngāpuhi continued intermittently through the 1820s.

In 1831 Te Wherowhero led an expedition to Taranaki to seek revenge for Te Motunui. After a three month siege, the Te Āti Awa pā of Pukerangiora fell to the Waikato invaders, with great loss of life. Te Wherowhero continued his attacks on Taranaki, but made peace after an unsuccessful attack on Waimate pā in 1836.

Ngāpuhi raided Waikato again in 1832 but were driven off by Te Wherowhero’s people, this time armed with muskets. By the late 1830s, conflict in the region had ceased, and Te Wherowhero personally escorted many of the northern people back to the Auckland area, Tamaki-makau-rau.

In Waikato, Te Wherowhero maintained the peace between different Māori communities, and after 1840 extended that role to local Pākehā. Missionaries had arrived in the region in the mid 1830s, but although Te Wherowhero attended church services he was never formally baptised.

On 22 July 1839 Te Wherowhero was the second rangatira from outside Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) to sign He Whakaputanga, signing through his representative Kahawai. He was also the final signatory overall. By this time Te Wherowhero was widely recognised as one of the most important rangatira in the land; by endorsing He Whakaputanga he extended its reach and significance greatly.

Although kindly disposed towards the government, Te Wherowhero refused to sign the Treaty the following year. It is said that putting his signature to He Whakaputanga seven months earlier was one of the reasons he refused to sign; he also resented not having been consulted about the Treaty earlier. When Governor William Hobson died in 1842, Te Wherowhero wrote to Queen Victoria, offering advice on the kind of man his replacement should be. In this way he made it clear that he and other rangatira expected to be consulted on important decisions of this kind.

When the settlement of Auckland was under threat of attack in 1845, Te Wherowhero vowed to defend it, referring to the area as the hem of his cloak and in this way placing it under his personal tapu. The government built Te Wherowhero a house in Auckland Domain, and hundreds of Waikato Māori moved to Māngere, where they provided military protection for the settlers and developed a flourishing trade in feeding them as well.

Inspired in part by the example of the British monarchy, in the 1850s some Māori advocated for the installation of a Māori king, who could serve as a symbol of unity across the many different iwi and hapū, while protecting their lands from alienation. Te Wherowhero’s status was such that he was a leading candidate for such a position. After lengthy negotiations, Te Wherowhero accepted the kingship, and was raised up as King Pōtatau by Wiremu Tāmihana of Ngāti Hauā at Ngāruawāhia in 1858.

Although Te Wherowhero and other Kīngitanga supporters made it clear that their movement was not intended as a challenge to Queen Victoria, many government officials chose to interpret the King movement as a direct challenge to British rule. Their view came to dominate Crown thinking, especially after some Kīngitanga supporters from Waikato went to the aid of Te Āti Awa after the outbreak of the first Taranaki War in March 1860.

Pōtatau Te Wherowhero did not live to see conflict spread to the Waikato. He died at Ngāruawāhia on 25 June 1860 and was succeeded by his son, King Tāwhiao, who went on to lead his people during the 1863–64 Waikato War.

Community contributions

23 comments have been posted about Te Wherowhero

What do you know?

Can you tell us more about the information on this page? Perhaps you have a related experience you would like to share?

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments will be reviewed prior to posting. Not all comments posted. Tell me more...


Posted: 16 Aug 2023

My grandfather Harry Trevor Gordon was the son of Amy Charlotte Wade, who was the daughter of Harriet Polly McKay, who was the daughter of Irihapeti Peti Te Paea Hauhau who was the daughter of Potatau Te Wherowhero and Hinepau Te Paea Who died 3 days after giving birth to Irihapeti seems wrong that she is not included in Potatau's list of wives

Sian McIntosh

Posted: 09 Nov 2022

Kia ora all,
In what order did Potatau have his wives. Where does Hinepau fit in the order? I descend from Sam Joy and Hariata Pataroma children through Polly Joy/Waters Whanau.


Posted: 27 Feb 2022

28 Dec 2021 poster Belief and actual whakapapa are two different things.


Posted: 28 Dec 2021

Kia Ora I believe I whakapapa to hinepau and potatau the 2nd child hui hui who had waati who had Tiki who had my nan pohutukawa who had my mum waati and me

Raymond McKay

Posted: 10 Sep 2021

A link or an article from one of the NZ Herald newspapers Te Awamutu Courier


Please if you don’t know all of the whakapapa and to anyone who has commented on here without the full knowledge, arohamai, it’s been a long time coming where there has been a public article about our whanau. Read the whole article and to see our family name being honoured.

Raymond McKay

Posted: 28 Oct 2020

Kia ora to all commenters on here.

Here is the thesis carried out on behalf of Tainui and Massey University that correlates with my whakapapa and has been acknowledged by kaumatua from Tuurangawaewae over a 10 year study.


Raymond Otene McKay

Posted: 12 Aug 2020

Kia Ora Bronwyn.

There are a few mistakes in that McKay book. I have it on great authority that it is in fact incorrect. My cousin Dr. Marie Nixon produced a thesis for Massey University and Tainui Research College and kaumatua, which proves her whakapapa is correct therefore another proof of whakapapa for among other experts in the whakapapa field.

Irihapeti my great, great grandmother Hinepau's daughter was 2 years older than Kiingi Tawhiao, my great Uncle. Hinepau was definitely the Wāhine of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero.

Mauri ora!

Raymond Otene McKay

Posted: 12 Aug 2020

You are correct Nicholas, this refers to the nights he counted before his beloved Hinepau passed away, as a result of the child birth.


Posted: 30 Jul 2020

Koro Tawhiao had a few wives Hinepau of Ngati Pukeko did marry him and had Iruhapeti Te Paea Hauhu. Yet i also acknowledge his other wives too Hera and Rangiaho and other.
The fact is they all married him just that Hera was known as the principle wife at the time and others were known in their hapu.
You know back in those times that is how it was just the way things were. Of course our great great great grandfather was not only a maori king but he was a maori prophet as well and a visionary man.
Irihapeti she married her 2nd husband Sam Joy aka Joyce and had 3 sons i come off one of the sons Haami Joy he married Waimarama Analoch Joy nee Emery.
At the end of the day we all related.

Nicholas Drinnan

Posted: 11 Jul 2020

I am another descendent of Hinepau's daughter Irihapeti, through the line of Maria Louisa McKay. I have an interesting thought I would like to share. I believe that the name "Potatau" could well be a reference to the death of Hinepau. I do not believe it refers to any of his later wives? That wouldn't make any sense?


Posted: 18 Jun 2020

Hi all. I'm interested in the possibility that Hinepau died in childbirth. Is there more information about this. The whānau book says Potatau took her as a first wife for his son. She is acknowledged on internet as a wife of Tawhiao

Hemi Rahui Bailey

Posted: 17 Jun 2020

Maybe regarding Te Wherowhero wives the four mentioned are the recognized wives but does not mean he did not sire children from other wahine


Posted: 11 Apr 2020

The problem with the official version is that people's whakapapa doesn't lie and those who want so badly for it not to be true, they start believing their own official version, haha, jealousy is not the trait of people who descend from the King.


Posted: 11 Apr 2020

A famous Turangawaewae kaumatua Kamira Henry aka 'Binga Haggie' said that the McKay family line should be acknowledged and also a Dr Marie Nixon who carried out a thesis for the Tainui Research College had her Whakapapa acknowledged by Tainui, so where did you get your info from anonymous Jan 18 2020?


Posted: 18 Jan 2020

Te Wherowhero's acknowledged wives were Whakaawi, Raharaha, Waiata and Ngaawaero.


Posted: 09 Oct 2019

Is it possible the records of Hinepau have been purposefully left out of many articles due to the fact that she died at childbirth aged 13?

Justin Patrick Heffernan

Posted: 29 Aug 2019

Kia ora whanau, i have also my whakapapa which has myself as a descendant of the The First Māori King also through Catherine McKay, daughter of Inihapeti & John Mckay, which Hinepau was mother to Inihapeti. I have little information other than a family tree my mother has given me. All i have is that Hinepau was one of 4 wives of Tewherowhero Tawhiao. I am keen for myself and family to learn more.

Rachel J. Harrison nee Mckay (Tainui, Ngati Kahungunu).

Posted: 03 Jul 2019

I am curious why there is no mention of Hinepau as well. This whakapapa seems to be relatively unknown by most historians and writers.

Marlisse Tanya Trower

Posted: 04 Apr 2019

I concur with Raymond Otene McKay regarding the lack of mention of Hinepau Hahau (Ngati Pukeko). I whakapapa directly back to The First Maori King through their daughter Irihapeti Hahau who married John Horton McKay. Irihapeti and John's daughter Annie McKay is my great, great, great grandmother.

Raymond Otene McKay

Posted: 23 Feb 2019

Kia ora, I noticed reading this excerpt it mentions the wives Te WheroWhero had, you missed his wife Hinepau Hahau. I whakapapa back to The First Māori King directly. His daughter Irihapeti Hahau married my great, great grand father John Horton McKay.