War in Whanganui

Page 5 – Moutoa Island

Peace on the Whanganui River was shattered once more in May 1864. Upriver Māori had adopted the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) faith, which had been established by the Taranaki prophet Te Ua Haumēne in 1862 in response to the continuing loss of land. Some Māori supported it and sought to spread its message; others mistrusted its political intent and believed that it threatened the mana of individual iwi. Conflict between supporters and opponents broke out in several parts of the North Island in the mid-1860s.

In May 1864, Mātene Te Rangitauira of Taumarunui led an upriver party which intended to attack Whanganui. The Pūtiki chiefs Hōri Kīngi Te Ānaua and Hoani Wiremu Hīpango refused their cousins passage and inflicted a heavy defeat on the Hauhau at Moutoa, a small island in the Whanganui River between Hiruhārama (Jerusalem) and Rānana (London). About 50 Pai Mārire followers were killed, as were 15 lower-river Māori and one European, a lay brother from the nearby Catholic mission.

For Te Ānaua and Hīpango, protecting the European settlers of Whanganui was a secondary concern. They were reacting to what they saw as a threat to their personal mana and that of their hapū. Te Ānaua had shown a similar resistance to pan-tribalism when he rejected the advances of the Kīngitanga in the 1850s.

The European citizens of Whanganui were happy to interpret the victory at Moutoa as a sign of the absolute loyalty of the down-river Māori. They dug deep into their pockets and commissioned a statue and flag to honour the local Māori who had stood firm against the Pai Mārire threat.

The memorial (New Zealand’s first war memorial) erected in what became known as Moutoa Gardens reads:

To the memory of those brave men who fell at Moutoa 14 May 1864 in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism.

This characterisation of Pai Mārire believers would be the source of ongoing controversy.

How to cite this page

'Moutoa Island', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/wanganui-war/moutoa-island, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 28-Apr-2023