Protection for south coast massacre site urged

HISTORIC REMINDER: Local historian Allan Jenkins at Rangitatau Reserve in Tarakena Bay, the site of a Maori pa.
HISTORIC REMINDER: Local historian Allan Jenkins at Rangitatau Reserve in Tarakena Bay, the site of a Maori pa.

A massacre of 50 Maori on Wellington's south coast has been brought to light thanks to a lucky Google search.

Historian Elsdon Best wrote a comprehensive history of Wellington Maori, The Land of Tara and They Who Settled It, in about 1919.

However, an incident in which northern Maori swept into Wellington and killed 50 Ngati Ira iwi at Tarakena Bay about 1820 came to his attention only after his book was published.

He told fellow historian Henry Christie, who wrote about it in 1931. Miramar military historian Allan Jenkins came across Christie's record of the massacre about 30 years ago but, despite numerous searches, was unable to find it again.

He was researching old pilots' cottages at Tarakena Bay and stumbled via Google across the translated passage that not only cited a first-hand witness to the massacre - HT Whatahoro - but also the names of many of the 50 or so slain in the Tarakena Bay pa.

Mr Jenkins is calling on Forest and Bird and Wellington City Council to halt its penguin habitat restoration project, Places for Penguins, which includes digging for planting, until local iwi have been consulted. "You don't see them doing planting projects at Gallipoli," he said.

Forest and Bird Places for Penguins co-ordinator Ken New said his committee had agreed to halt any further work at Tarakena Bay until the various parties had been consulted.

He understood the sensitivities about the area, its history, and importance to iwi, and pledged to discuss any concerns with iwi.

A Wellington City Council spokesman said the council was happy to have discussions with iwi, Mr Jenkins and councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer.

Mr Ahipene-Mercer - believed to be the only living descendant of Ngati Ira and Ngai Tara, another Wellington iwi - said he was aware of the massacre only "in general terms".

While applauding the Places for Penguins project, he said human history also needed to be protected. "As the only living representative in the area of the local iwi, I look forward to [Forest and Bird] contacting me."

Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust natural resource adviser Liz Mellish said the massacre happened when northern iwi with guns swept down the west of the North Island and returned north through Wairarapa.

Of those who survived, some moved to the South Island to their kin Ngai Tahu, and some were assimilated into the incoming iwi.

Mrs Mellish said the site should be recorded in the District Plan as a site of significance to protect it.

The Dominion Post