Topic: Apa Taiaroa

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Apa Taiaroa of Taumutu


It will be remembered that some four or five months ago news was brought from the Chatham Islands of Apa Taiaroa's death by suicide. When it was afterwards learnt that delegates had been jested by the different Maori tribes in the South Island to accompany the brothers George and Richard Taiaroa to the Chathams, rumours obtained circulation suggesting foul play as the cause of Apa's end. That such rumours were without any foundation in fact will be learned from the following narrative of the objects and intention of the expedition.


The parly that proceeded to the Chathams consisted of J. Koona (a chief representing all the pahs from the Bluff to Taieri), H. Kaahu (representing the natives from Waikouaiti to Temuka), G. Rupene and P. Mutu (representing the Kaiapoi natives), J. Rapatini and Maka Waaka (representing Taurnutu), and the brothers George and Richard Taiaroa.

The delegates accompanying the Taiaroa brothers had their expenses defrayed by the different pahs they represented, while the whole expense of exhumation and tangi was borne by the father of the deceased, the Hon. H. K. Taiaroa.

The object in disinterring the remains was to conform to a Maori custom which provides that the body of a member of a tribe shall be buried in the ground within its own territory, and Apa Taiaroa being the son of a great chief of the once powerful Ngaitahu tribe, claiming to trace a line of descent 400 years back, it was befitting that he should be removed from the Chatham Islands and brought back to his own tribe with proper ceremony.

The party left Lyttelton by the SS ' Kahu ' at midnight on the 1st of August, and arrived at Waitangi (the port of the Chathams) on the 4th, where they were met with every sign of friendship by the natives of the Chathams, and. after the customary Maori ceremonies, set out for Ngaio, the residence of the relicts of Apa Taiaroa, and where the body had been buried.

The Chatham Islanders lent every assistance, parties going on in advance to start fires, in order to make suitable resting-places along the route. Natives numbering nearly 100 followed the party, and the whole expedition was remarkably reminiscent of the primitive times of the Maori. Arrived at Ngaio that night, the delegates had every assistance from Apa's widow, who provided them with everything they required.

The next morning the party proceeded to the grave and a number of volunteer native workmen soon dug up the grave and lifted the coffin to the surface, when the Taiaroa brothers opened the coffin and found the body in a state of perfect preservation, there being no trace of decay after having been in the ground for five months.


The body was then placed inside a load covering, and a wooden frame erected to admit of 16 bearers, relays being provided every half-mile, and the solemn procession proceeded thus through the bush. The coffin was deposited m the meeting house at Waitangi, where a tangi commenced, and lasted three days, until the ' Kahu ' left on her return journey.


 An inquest was held at Ngaio on the 20th of February last, before Robert Stone Florence, ESQ , to make inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Apa Taiaroa of Ngaio, sheep farmer. The widow of the deceased deposed: " I was in the kitchen yesterday morning about breakfast time. I was going to cook some mushrooms for breakfast when I heard a gun fired. I thought it was in the room or in the passage, it sounded so close. I screamed and fell in the porch, Whetu Tuham came across from this shed where the inquest is held to me at the house. Tuey on to the second step of the house and Whetu said to him, " Apa has shot himself!" I said to Whetu " You had better go and see Reynault (a neighbour) and fetch him, And Reynault came back with Whetu and they found me lying on the ground, where I had fell when they told me Apa had shot himself.

Whetu and Reynault carried the deceased into the house. I did not notice how the gun was. I handed the helpers a shawl to cover the face. I was duly married to the deceased about a year ago, ever since when we have lived together. Sometimes we were happy, sometimes we were not. We did not quarrel just before Apa's death, but I could see there was something preying upon his mind that he would not tell me. He looked silent and reserved.

 The morning of his death he got up and lit the fire, and sat on a chair by the fire wrapped in thought. I told him to bring 'my skirt, which was alongside of him in the kitchen, but he did not hear me. Whetu heard and brought me the skirt then Mr Taiaroa went to the men's shed to wake Letcham to gather some mushrooms for our breakfast.

After that he told me he was going to gather the mushrooms himself, as that man (meaning Letcham) had not gone yet. I tol-dhim Letcham had gone, but he did not answer me, and went on with the kit. * I stayed and waited m the kitchen with Whetu about ten minutes, then I went into the porch, where Letcham was peeling the mushrooms. I took the mushrooms from Letcham. Letcham said "I'll go out and get some for myself," and I told him Mr Taiaroa had gone out to gather some. Letcham said " Mr Taiaroa is in the room " (meaning the bedroom). I told him I did not know that. Letcham came out of the porch at the back of the house and went to the men's shed, and I went into the kitchen to cook the mushroom and then I came into the porch again. I saw Mr Taiaroa standing at the back door. He was looking at Whetu and Sam. I into the kitchen with the spoon, in a few I minutes I heard the gun fired before I had time to use the spoon.

I have noticed him suffering from temporary insanity when he drank heavily. H e also suffered from piles. Deceased had asked her to apply for a prohibiiion order against him but she had not done so. 

To a juror:

The deceased had all his front teeth Up to the late of his time he had a bad temper, to take his own life shearing during shearing time. At the house and threatened to destroy himself. The gun with which he did the deed was given to the deceased by me when in Southbridge about six months ago.


Frank Reynault deposed to finding the body of deceased lying face downwards, with his head on the front doorstep, his body lying at an angle, the fowling-piece (produced) lying underneath him, the s'tock being under his breast close up to his chin, with the muzzle pointing out between his legs. Whetu and witness then examined him and found that he had shot himself through the head. The left side of his head was completely smashed, having fallen in. Witness did not examine the wound much, and did not see where the charge entered. He noticed no marks of powder about the face. He noticed no stick about. He conjectured that the deceased pulled the trigger with his hand whilst the mouth of the weapon was pointed at his head and when he fell forward witness concluded that he still clutched the stock and the gun came over with him, thus turning it end for end. Samuel Ledsham, of Te Ngaio, labourer, gave corroboratire evidence as to the tits of melancholy from which the deceased had been suffering, and also as to the finding of the body.
The jury found that Apa Taiaroa came to his death by his own hand while suffering from temporary insanity. .
The remains of Apa Taiaroa were interred in the Maori Church Cemetery at Taumutu last Sunday afternoon. The funeral was largely attended by Natives and Europeans. Preparations had been made to conduct the funeral in a way befitting the burial of a son of an important chief, and chiefs and representative Maoris were present from almost every South Island pah. About 500 or 600 people must have been present when the coffin was taken from the Hon. Mr Taiaroa's house to the hearse, being borne by a party of chiefs, wearing various gaudy coloured mats over their European dress, and green wreaths (the Maori mourning colour) on their head?.
The procession was headed by Mr George Robinson, and a number of chiefs walked on each side of the hearse, which was closely followed by the Hon. H. K. Taiaroa, the brothers and their wives, and other relatives of the deceased. The plaintive wailing of the Maori women, which started as the body was being borne from the house to the hearse, gave a weird effect as the procession proceeded slowly down the drive on to Tauinutu road, where a number of photographers, amateur and professional, had stationed themselves at points of vantage to take snapshots as the procession passed. The body was met at the Taumutu Maori Church by the Rev. P. J. Cocks, who conducted a short service over the remains, and afterwards gave the last rites of the Anglican Church as the body was laid to rest in the cemetery attached to the Taumutu Maori Church.

Ellesmere Guardian, Volume XX, Issue 2078, 16 August 1899, Page 3, Papers Past)




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Apa Taiaroa

First Names:Apa
Last Name:Taiaroa
Place of Birth:New Zealand
Date of Death:1899
Place of Death:Chatham Islands
User Name:Selwyn Library