Porirua's History Pre-1840

"There is no history, only histories."

- Karl Popper.

Image of Kiu Piripi Kohe holding Kohe Webster and Turoa Webster, 1917.
Kiu Piripi Kohe holding Kohe Webster and Turoa Webster, 1917.
Kiu travelled with Te Rauparaha from Kawhia to Kapiti Coast twice. The first time when she was around 13 in 1819 and then again in 1822. She was also present at Parihaka when Government forces invaded to disperse the settlement in November 1881.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref P.2.37.

Te Awarua o Porirua: Porirua's taniwha

In Maori tradition the Porirua harbour is home to the taniwha, Te Awarua o Porirua. Many years ago, long before any human footprints appeared on the mudflats, Awarua decided that he would like to fly as his friends the birds did. In order to save himself from ridicule, Awarua practised his flying at night. Beginning at one end of the harbour he would race along until he reached the other end.

After much practicing Awarua felt his body lifting off the water. Delighted by his success, he called together all the birds to watch him fly. As he sped along the water he was cheered by the birds. He got so carried away with his flight that he forgot about the hill at the north end of the harbour, and he crashed into it in an ungainly heap. Undaunted, he tried again, this time facing the open sea. His great body rose into the air but not high enough to clear Mana Island and he crashed into it flattening it. After these embarrassing accidents he practised until he could at last fulfil his ambition and could fly without further mishaps.

Kupe: the first person to see Porirua Harbour

The great Polynesian explorer, Kupe, is credited with being the first human being to see the Porirua Harbour, naming it after the two flowings of the tide. Other reminders of his visit to this region can be found in the full name of Mana Island, Te Mana o Kupe ki Aotearoa , and in his landing place, which he named Komangarautawhiri (Komanga Point), situated south of Titahi Bay. The anchor stone from Kupe's canoe, Mātāwhaorua, rested for many years on what is now Ngati Toa Domain. Damaged in the 1840s by soldiers stationed at the nearby Paremata Barracks, it is now at Te Papa.

Porirua Harbour: a full seafood larder

Image of Porirua's bountiful harbour.
Porirua's bountiful harbour.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref P.2.94.

The combined area of the Porirua and Pauatahanui harbours presently measures some 15 square kilometres. About 30 species of fish can be found in these harbours. Many are migratory, entering and leaving according to the season. Others arrive and depart on the daily tides. As the two harbours offer very different environments each are inhabited by some species not found in the other. For example, the common sole is plentiful in the Pauatahanui arm but absent in the Porirua arm. Conversely, red cod are often caught by set net in the Porirua arm but seldom in Pauatahanui.

The first humans to settle on the shores of the harbours many hundreds of years ago would have found them to be an enormous food larder. In addition to the fish, shellfish were to be found around the shores. The bush, which reached the water's edge, was inhabited by many species of birds, and in prehistoric times moa roamed the Paremata lowlands. Middens or prehistoric rubbish dumps, which are sometimes found around the harbour's shores, reveal what types of shellfish and other food were eaten by early Maori.

Porirua's first people

The earliest known inhabitants of Porirua were Maori who made their camps in virtually untouched forests. By studying remnants of their camps, archaeologists believe these early inhabitants were living in Porirua at least as far back as 1450AD. From the forest they hunted birds, including moa, and gathered timber for shelter, tools and firewood. From the surrounding harbours and estuaries, they caught fish, eels and sting rays and gathered cockles and pipi. There is also evidence that they collected flax from the swamps to make clothing, baskets and nets. Stones were brought here and turned into fishing sinkers and adze heads for woodwork.

The earliest iwi name we know for this area is that of Ngai Tara, but by 1650 Ngati Ira had migrated from Hawke's Bay and intermingled with Ngati Tara. This remained the status quo until in the 1820s a group of migrating Ngati Toa under the leadership of Te Peehi Kupe, Te Rauparaha and gained control of the Porirua Basin. It was with Ngati Toa that the first Europeans who came to Porirua traded, purchased land from and sometimes married.

The first Europeans in Porirua: Captain Cook to the whalers

Image of Te Awaiti Whalers.
Te Awaiti Whalers.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref W.1.18.

Captain Cook visited the Porirua harbour when he was mapping New Zealand's coastline in 1769, but it was not until the late 1820s that Europeans began to settle in Porirua. In 1832 a trading station was established on Mana Island to offer goods to whalers passing through the Cook Straight.

In 1835 a whaling station was established at Paremata by Joseph Thoms (known as Geordie Bolts). Alongside Thoms' whaling station was the first ferry crossing at Porirua. Thoms took advantage of this crossing point by supplementing his whaling station with an inn, the only one in the area. This Inn was later used by James Walker as his family home. For more information see Papakowhai, Paremata and Mana.

The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi

Image of The copy of the Treaty that Te Rauparaha signed. Image of Te Rauparaha's signature.
The copy of the Treaty that Te Rauparaha signed (left) and a close up of Te Rauparaha's signature (right).
(Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 31-Jan-2008

On 6 February 1840 around 40 chiefs signed a Treaty between the Queen of England and Maori, purportedly ceding Maori sovereignty over New Zealand. There is much dispute over the Treaty because many key words, such as sovereignty and governorship, were mistranslated in the Maori text. For more information about the Treaty there are some great resources available on the web. Including New Zealand History online that has images of the copies of the Treaty that circulated around New Zealand. This includes the Henry Williams copy of the Treaty which was signed by Te Rauparaha 18 May 1840. Follow the link below to see this.


External websites:

Continue to Porirua's History post-1840 or return to Porirua's Natural, Cultural and Historic Heritage.