The Sunday Series: The Te Pahi Medal


“…The silver medal presented to Te Pahi was stolen during the raid by the whalers in 1810, and its whereabouts remained unknown until 204 years later when an auction house in Sydney offered it for sale.   Ngapuhi representatives and Te Pahi descendants intervened to try to return the taonga back to New Zealand, and they negotiated with Te Papa and the Auckland War Memorial Trust who jointly purchased the medal. The medal was purchased at an auction in Sydney in 2014 and put on display at Te Papa in 2017″.  (Wikipedia) 

I spent many hours of my teenage years in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the Domain, the Auckland City Library and the Auckland Art Gallery – all free and within walking distance of my home.    These were the days when you could  “touch” the wood of the waka and the carving of the whare.   Despite all those hours,  I’d never heard the name of Te Pahi or knew anything about the medal given to him by the Governor of New South Wales. I found out about them through the Museum’s contemporary online presence.

“The story (the medal) tells is literally inscribed on its two sides. Its patron, Philip Gidley King, Governor of New South Wales (1758–1808) (Fig. 3),recorded the circumstances behind it thus:    To give [Te Pahi] some proof of the estimation he was held in by me and the inhabitants of this place, I caused a medal to be made of silver with the following engraving:‘Presented by Governor King to Tip-a-he, a Chief of New Zealand, during his visit at Port Jackson, in January, 1806’:and on the reverse: ‘In the reign of George the Third, by the Grace of God King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. This medal was suspended by a strong silver chain around his neck…….

“The inscription spells out the immense historic interest of the medal, as one of the very first official taonga associated with Mäori and trans-Tasman relations.”  A silver slice of Maori History: The Te Pahi Medal,  Mark Stocker, 2015  (Make sure you read Stocker’s article  which share images of the medal and of Te Pahi

 So who was Te Pahi?

Te Ara  The Dictionary of New Zealand says  “Te Pahi was by 1800 one of the senior chiefs of the north-western Bay of Islands. He was the son of Wharerau, a descendant of the ancient ancestral Ngāti Awa, the original people of the area, and of their Ngāpuhi conquerors, a combination which gave him great mana over the land and its people. He was related to Ngāti Rēhia, and probably to Te Hikutū and Ngāti Rua.

Te Pahi’s principal pā was on a small island called Te Puna or Te Pahi’s island, situated between Rangihoua Bay and Moturoa. He usually resided at the inlet nearby, but he kept his weapons store and other treasures on Te Puna…..

In 1805 Te Pahi and four of his sons took passage in a small colonial vessel, the Venus, intending to visit Philip King, lieutenant governor of Norfolk Island; King’s reputation for generosity towards the Māori attracted Te Pahi. However, the master of the vessel ill-treated his passengers and threatened to retain Te Pahi’s eight-year-old son to pay for their passages. At Norfolk Island the commandant, Captain John Piper, rescued the boy and welcomed the visitors. Hearing that Te Pahi wished to visit King, now governor of New South Wales, Piper helped him to obtain passages to Port Jackson in the Buffalo; the group arrived there on 27 November 1805.

Te Pahi, the first influential Māori leader to visit New South Wales, and the proprietor of a safe anchorage frequented by the colony’s whaling ships, was of value to King. With the safety and comfort of European visitors to New Zealand in mind, King spared no effort to convince Te Pahi of the benefits of an association with Europeans. Te Pahi and his sons were guests at Government House during their three month stay. The chief was presented with iron tools, fruit tree seedlings, livestock and many other gifts. He was also given a small prefabricated house to erect in a safe place under his protection, for the use of European visitors to the Bay of Islands. For his part Te Pahi gave the governor a number of fine cloaks and a stone mere.

Te Pahi was keenly interested in a cultural and technological exchange. He suggested that several of his people should visit New South Wales to learn the skills of shepherds (a meeting with the influential sheepbreeder John McArthur probably prompted this interest). He welcomed King’s plan to settle an official party of observers for a few months under his protection at Te Puna, a plan which came to nothing when King was replaced by William Bligh. Many European customs and institutions shocked and disgusted Te Pahi; he was horrified by the severity of sentencing in cases of minor theft. He also had scant tolerance for those Aborigines he encountered, and was critical of their mode of (un)dress, their weapons and way of life.

At Port Jackson Te Pahi also met Samuel Marsden, chaplain of New South Wales. He attended church services regularly and had long discussions with Marsden on the subject of religion. Marsden was so impressed with Te Pahi’s ‘clear, strong and comprehensive mind’, and his eagerness to hear about English laws and customs, that he began to plan the establishment of a Church Missionary Society mission under Te Pahi’s protection at Te Puna.

To ensure a safe return for Te Pahi and his sons, King put at his disposal the Lady Nelson, which departed on 24 February 1806. Te Pahi and his many acquisitions arrived at Te Puna safely, the prefabricated house was erected, and the Lady Nelson loaded with spars and seed potatoes, then very scarce in Port Jackson. Governor Bligh dispatched further gifts to Te Pahi when opportunity offered, but his intention that the association would soon become a workable alliance was disappointed.”

“Te Pahi was incorrectly blamed for the burning of the Boyd incident in 1809[3] and his pā on Motu Apo was stormed by crew from several whaling ships in retaliation in 1810. The whalers murdered many people, looted the island and destroyed houses including the gift from King. Te Pahi was wounded in the attack on his island but his death several weeks later was as the result of other wounds he received in a conflict with Māori from the Whangaroa region over the Boyd affair.[1] He was succeeded as chief of the Rangihoua Bay area by Ruatara.”  Wikipedia

In 2014 the medal of Te Pahi was retrieved….

This article for The Sunday Series on ARTbop has been compiled from text, image and YouTube video material available online.

Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand


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