Wi Tako Ngatata ME023859; Writing Compendium [presented to Wi Tako Ngatata]
This writing slope belonged to Wi Tako Ngātata, one of Wellington’s most influential tribal leaders during the early colonial period. It commemorates his appointment to the New Zealand Legislative Council. Wi Tako (with Mokena Kohere, Ngāti Porou) was the first Māori to be appointed to the Council in 1872. Later that year they were joined by Wiremu Parata (Ngāti Toa, Te Āti Awa) and Wiremu Katene (Ngā Puhi).
A brass plate on top of the slope is inscribed with the name ‘Wi Tako Ngatata’ in bold type; while a brass shield bears the inscription ‘TE TEOTEO, APPOINTED TO THE UPPER HOUSE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL 11th OCTOBER 1872’, referring to Wi Tako in the less known familiar name, Te Teoteo. Wi Tako remained a member of the L.C. for the remainder of his life.
Wi Tako migrated to Wellington as a young man with his father, Makoare Ngātata-i-te-rangi, in the inter-tribal migrations of the early 1830’s with Ngāti Te Whiti and Ngāti Tawhirikura sections of Te Āti Awa. Initially settling at Waikanae they later resettled the Wellington harbour precinct, following the Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama migrations to the Chatham Islands in 1835.
These migrations formed one of the largest inter-tribal translocation events in recorded Māori history. This intense influx of people, and the subsequent displacement of others, created tensions that erupted in conflict and violence. Inter-tribal war broke out on the Waikanae-Ōtaki coast in two major events, the battle of Haowhenua in 1834, and Kuititanga in 1839. It is thought that Wi Tako played a prominent part in both events.
Wi Tako was among those who welcomed the New Zealand Company to Wellington in 1839 and signed the Port Nicholson Deed of Sale for Wellington, receiving the payment on behalf of his tribe. By now Wi Tako was already asserting his authority as a prominent tribal leader of the district alongside his elder relatives Mātangi, Te Wharepōuri and Honiana Te Puni, and others. However, like other chiefs he later felt mislead by the terms of sale which weren’t adequately explained during the translation.
Wi Tako was sorely challenged during the 1840’s and 1850’s. Wellington had become a populous colonial settlement with a Pākehā population of about 2,000 in 1840, and more than 5,000 by 1850. Despite his prominent role in assisting and facilitating the settlement of Wellington, the New Zealand Company and later the Crown capitalised on the Wellington Purchase, appropriating large parcels of land within blocks originally reserved for Māori, along with lands deemed to be ‘waste land’ not occupied by Māori.
Wi Tako’s frustration is clearly expressed in his response to Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the grand architect of the New Zealand Company, when he said, “I ask you Pakeha, what did the Queen tell you, did she say go to New Zealand and fraudulently take away all the land of the natives?” Many years later he frustratingly exclaimed, “You buy as much as you can of our lands, then try and cheat us out of the rest!”
Throughout all of this Wi Tako managed to display extraordinary levels of tolerance in spite of the sometimes outright contempt shown Wellington Māori by some of its settler community. When hostilities broke out in Wellington 1845, Wi Tako rallied local Te Āti Awa forces to ensure the settlement of Wellington was protected.
However, Wi Tako remained deeply disillusioned and resentful at the reality of colonial settlement and the treatment of Māori by Pakeha. During the 1850’s Wi Tako gravitated toward the Māori King movement, and became one of its ‘Seven Pillars’ of support. The carved pātaka Nukutewhatewha carved for Wi Tako by the paramount chief Horonuku Te Heu Heu of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, is one of several built as a tangible expression of support for the movement, and today stands in the Dowse Museum in Lower Hutt. It remains the only known surviving example of these ‘seven pillars’ today.
Throughout the New Zealand Wars of the 1860’s, Wi Tako remained a moderate. He continued to support his relative Wiremu Kingi in Taranaki, while urging his tribesmen not to participate directly in the conflict. His support for the Kingitanga continued, although his continued pacifist stance distanced him from many within the movement. None the less Wi Tako’s continued advocacy for peaceful resolution strongly influenced local Māori in the lower North Island, and directly contributed to the Wellington region remaining outside of the conflict.
Wi Tako’s formidable customary oratory skills, classical knowledge, and keen intellect marked him out as an outstanding statesman; and his counsel was sought by Māori and senior government officials alike.
Wi Tako Ngātata died in 1887. His funeral was a State affair attended by more than 4,000 people. His body was carried on a gun-carriage, drawn by a detachment of the Petone Naval Artillery, and followed by the Kaiwharawhara Volunteers and the Heretaunga Light Horse. The Legislative Council adjourned as a mark of respect.
Dr. Isaac Featherston, politician, Superintendent for Wellington, and New Zealand Cross recipient, was quoted as saying of Wi Tako that he was the cleverest man in the Colony.
The Legislative Council was the Upper House in the New Zealand parliament when it operated under a bicameral two-tier political system; and is modelled on the British House of Lords. The role of the Legislative Council was to scrutinise and amend Bills (proposed legislation) passed by the House of Representatives (the Lower House), with the exception of those that related to finance and expenditure. New Zealand abolished the Legislative Council in 1951. Today New Zealand operates under a unicameral, or single-tiered, parliamentary system.