Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 42, 1909
This text is also available in PDF
(557 KB) Opens in new window
– 40 –

Art. VII—On some Armour presented to Titore, a Nga Puhi Chief, by H.M. William IV in 1835.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 6th October, 1909.]

Dr. Maui Pomare deposited in the Dominion Museum in November, 1908, some pieces of “armour” which was supposed to be the armour belonging to the great Nga Puhi chief Hongi.

Dr. Pomare stated that Hongi's armour descended to his relative and fighting chief, Tuwhare. About the end of the twenties this chief led an expedition against the Whanganui Tribe, and, in a bloody battle which resulted, his nephew Tokiwhati, with others of the Nga Puhi, was taken prisoner. Tuwhare, who was wounded in the same fight, and died shortly afterwards at Mokau, on his way to the Bay of Islands, learned that Tokiwhati was still alive, and entered into negotiations for his release. Either as a gift or ransom the treasured suit of armour was handed over to Hori Kingi te Anaua, uncle of the late Major Kemp. The armour was placed in the sacred house at Pukehika, opposite Jerusalem, till the walls of that edifice were tumbling down, and Hore Pukehika, a relative of the late Hori Kingi, and the present Native Sanitary Inspector for that district, hearing that some Europeans were planning how to carry off the relics, concealed them very carefully near the pa. This was thirty or forty years ago, and the armour lay undisturbed till a few weeks ago. Then Hori Pukehika and Dr. Pomare sought out the place, and, after laborious searching—for the scrub and other features had changed a great deal in the interval—discovered the old armour, rusty, but quite recognisable.

The armour consisted of plate armour for the back and chest, and pieces for the arms. It is much eaten with rust, but, considering that it is stated that it has been buried, is in fair preservation. It is fastened together with brass studs.

On looking into the details of the story given, and comparing them with the known and recorded facts concerning Hongi's armour, it became apparent that the history of the armour was incomplete, and that there were serious discrepancies.

In the first place, Earl, in 1827, speaking of the visit of Hongi to England in 1821, mentions that George IV gave him, amongst other presents of value, “a superb suit of chain armour and a splendid double-barrelled gun.”* Taylor also speaks of Hongi giving the coat of mail to one of his sons when on his death-bed in 1827. There are at least two other notices, the earliest of which is in Angas's “Savage Life and Scenes,” 1847; and I must give this in full, as it contains several details which are of interest. Angas writes from Paripari, Mokau, “At a small pah not far from the abode of his pakeha (Lewis), Taonui the chief has his residence. He is one of the most powerful and superstitious of the old heathen chiefs…. He has also in his possession the original suit of armour that was given by King George IV of England to the Bay of Islands chief (E'Hongi), when that warrior visited England. The subsequent history of this armour is somewhat

[Footnote] * Earl, “New Zealand,” p. 62. 1827.

[Footnote] † R. Taylor, “Te Ika a Maui,” pp. 310 and 315. 1855.

[Footnote] ‡ Angas, “Savage Life and Scenes,” p. 86, vol. ii. 1847.

Picture icon

Pl. VIII.
Armour Presented to Titore.—Hamilton.

– 41 –

what curious: it passed from the Nga Puhi to Titore, and from Titore to Te Whero Whero, at the Waikato feast, and came into Taonui's hands under the following circumstances: On the death of a favourite daughter, To Whero Whero made a song, the substance of which was that he would take off the scalps of all the chiefs except the Ngaweka and fling them into his daughter's grave to revenge her untimely death. The words of the song highly insulted the various individuals against whom it was directed, more especially as it was a great curse for the hair of a chief, which is sacred, to be thus treated with contempt. But the only chief who dared to resent this insult from so great a man as Te Whero Whero was Taonui, a chief of Nga Puhi and Ngati Whatua, who demanded a taua or gift as recompense for the affront, and received the armour of E'Hongi in compensation. I made a drawing of the armour, which was old and rusty: it is steel inlaid with brass; and, although never worn by the possessors in battle—for it would sadly impede their movements—it is regarded with a sort of superstitious veneration by the Natives, who look upon it as something extraordinary.”

There is another extract which I will give, from Thompson's “Study of New Zealand,” as it relates to information obtained by him in 1849.* “This armour” [Hongi's] “is now scattered about the country. In 1849 I found the breastplate in the possession of a chief living near the source of the Waipa River; in 1853 Waikato, the chief who accompanied Hongi to England, told me he had buried the helmet with his son's bones a few weeks before my visit to him at the Bay of Islands.”

Both of the latter extracts refer to Hongi's “armour.” The first gives the details of its passing from Titore to Te Whero Whero at the Waikato feast, but both extracts describe the armour sufficiently to make it clear that it was not chain armour, but plate armour.

It is evident, therefore, that, if the relics deposited by Dr. Pomare were Hongi's, he must have had a suit of mail and a suit of plate armour. Earl, in his book published about the year of Hongi's death, distinctly mentions “chain armour,” and in this he is supported by Taylor. Angas and Thompson speak quite as positively to its being plate armour.

Then, it is stated by the Whanganuis that the armour was given as a ransom for Tokiwhati. Now, Tokiwhati was wounded and captured by the Whanganuis in the course of Tuwhare's third expedition or war party, the survivors of which reached their homes at the Bay of Islands about October, 1820. Now, we know that Hongi, who returned from England to the Bay of Islands 11th July, 1821, wore his coat of mail at the capture of Mokoia Island, at Lake Rotorua, in August or September, 1823. It is also recorded that Hongi had a narrow escape at this battle. He was struck by the bullets of the Arawa from one of their few guns, and one bullet fired by the hand of Te Awa-awa struck his steel cap and knocked him over into the hold of the canoe. Mr. Percy Smith thinks that Hongi probably used the armour at Mauinaina, November, 1821, and at Te Totara. It is therefore quite clear that the ransom of Tokiwhati could not have been the armour of Hongi.

The whole question at this time seemed to turn on deciding who was correct, Earl and Taylor or Angas and Thompson.

[Footnote] * Thompson's “Study of New Zealand,” p. 256.

[Footnote] † This is the great feast held at Remuera, 11th May, 1844.

– 42 –

I made inquiries as to Hongi's armour from Mr. Stowell (Hare Hongi), a descendant of Hongi-nui, and by great good fortune was able to obtain from him some documents which settle the question. The first document is from Titore to King William IV: “Letter from Titore, Chief of Nga Puhi, to King William IV.” Undated, probably 1834.

King William,—Here am I, the friend of Captain Sadler. The ship is full, and is now about to sail. I have heard that you, aforetime, were the captain of a ship. Do you therefore examine the spars, whether they are good or whether they are bad. Should you and the French quarrel, here are some trees for your battleships. I am now beginning to think about a ship for myself: a Native canoe is my vessel, and I have nothing else. The Native canoes upset when they are filled with potatoes and other matters for your people. I have put on board the ‘Buffalo’ a mere pounamu and two garments: these are all the things which New-Zealanders possess. If I had anything better, I would give it to Captain Sadler for you.

“This is all mine to you—mine, Titore, to William, King of England.”

[“True copy of translation.—Henry M. Stowell, 3 Sterling Street, Berhampore. 7/12/08.”]

The following is the reply:— “The Earl of Aberdeen, one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, to His Highness Titore.