Ngakuku (a.k.a. Wiremu Maihi (William Marsh))

Missionary in Mataatua


Missionary in Mataatua
Ngakuku known also by his baptismal name of Wiremu Maihi (William Marsh), or Wi Maihi

Picture courtesy of via, Thatcher, Frederick (Rev), 1814-1890 :Album of portraits of clerics and Maori. Ref: PA1-q-232-10-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Ngakuku was according to church records, chief of Waikato, from the Ngati Haua people living near Waharoa. The original research was dependent almost entirely on missionary records for details of his life, in particular the diaries of the CMS missionary, A.N. Brown. Our quotes at the bottom of our prayer pages today from and about Ngakuku come from his diaries. My research found that the great chief Te Waharoa was Chief of Ngati Haua during this time and Ngakuku must have been a lesser chief, however there is a William Marsh (Wiremu Maihi), Te Rangikaheke (pictured) a notably great man who is recorded as being in this area also at the time. It is recorded that Ngakuku was eventually baptised on Good Friday 1839. He took the baptismal name of William Marsh, William from Henry and William Williams, and Marsh because that was the name of A. N. Brown’s only son. If they are the same person, his fuller history is available in Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. The extensive writings he undertook for Governor Gray seem to match the style of his speech as recorded for Ngakuku by A.N. Brown. I apologise to the descendents of Ngakuku and William Marsh Te Rangikaheke if I am incorrect, in my identification of them as the same person.

Brown was stationed at Matamata from 1835 till October 1836, then at Te Papa, Tauranga, from January 1838 till his death in 1884. Brown reports that Ngakuku “put away one of his two wives immediately on his professing a desire to become a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ”. On the 1st anniversary of his arrival in the Matamata area, Brown lists Ngakuku as one of the two men for whom “we have reason to hope the Gospel is proving under the influence of the Holy Spirit, a saviour of life into life . . .

Frequent inter-tribal skirmishes in the district led to the decision to close the mission station at Matamata and evacuate the school children. On 18 October 1836 Ngakuku left with John Flatt, one of the missionaries, and 20 children to travel from Matamata to Tauranga. They stopped in the Kaimai Range overnight and were attacked by a war party from Rotorua, and Ngakuku’s daughter Tarore was killed (honoured in the Lectionary Calander on 19 October). At 9 a.m. the next day Ngakuku returned to Matamata carrying his daughter Tarore’s body, from which some parts had been cut out by her killer.

At her burial Ngakuku urged that there be no revenge but the making of peace. He commended trust in God rather than “utu” (revenge). Brown attributed this remarkable plea to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Ngakuku was a keen traveller, and on more than one occasion Brown cautioned him “lest he should acquire a vagrancy of habit that would prove detrimental to his growth in grace”. Nevertheless, Ngakuku helped to found the Opotiki mission station and was a teacher there before J.A. Wilson took up residence. He also frequently accompanied Archdeacon Brown on his journeys and assisted wherever he could in forwarding the work of the missionaries, including work in the Te Whaiti area of the Urewera Range. Ngakuku was also asked to Tolaga Bay to teach and preach there. In later years as Archdeacon Brown was confined to Tauranga by his bad eyesight, it was Ngakuku and others who carried on the work further afield.

Uita, the man who was responsible for Tarore’s death and who took her copy of Luke’s Gospel, is said to have had the Gospel read to him by a slave called Ripahau. He was moved by what he heard to a sense of repentance for Tarore’s death, and was converted to Christianity. This experience led Uita to send a message asking if he could visit the church at Ngakuku’s pa to worship and to confess his faith in God. After some hesitation on the part of Ngakuku’s people, his request was granted. He arrived at the pa a visibly changed man and asked Ngakuku in great humility to forgive him. It is said that they knelt in the little church and prayed together.

Ngakuku is remembered as a recorded witness to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in his area in 1840 and as a faithful witness to the gospel. If he and William Marsh Te Rangikakeke are one and the same, we can now date his birth and death more acturately. Archdeacon W. L. Williams spoke at his Tangi, He was described as a remarkable and many-sided man, one who was truly great.

BORN: c.1815, Puhirua or Te Awahou, Rotorua district, New Zealand.

DIED: 2 February 1896, Te Awahou, New Zealand.