Postmaster, sailor, freedom fighter: The man behind Waikato's first newspaper video

CHRISTINE CORNEGE/STUFF.CO.NZ

The press used to print Te Hookioi now sits in Te Awamutu Museum.

The tale of two Maori in Vienna has been passed down through generations in the Waikato; a story told around a bonfire or a yarn spun at a family reunion, until, ultimately, the tale teetered on the edge of fact and fable.

It had faded to mere memories in the older generations of my family, right up until I got a job on the Waikato Times. 

My intention had been to study broadcast media and then snag a starring role on the 6pm news slot. Instead, I fell in love with the way words sat on a page; each character had its place and every line married up perfectly.

Wiremu Toetoe Tumohe - a photo taken in Britain 1860.
BRITISH MUSEUM.

Wiremu Toetoe Tumohe - a photo taken in Britain 1860.

"It's in the blood," Aunt Noeline said. And then she told the story about the Waikato's first newspaper, its printing press a gift of foreign royalty, and a great, great, great grandfather who learned to dance in Vienna ballrooms and consorted with archdukes. 

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And it was not just the stuff of bonfire bonhomie. It gained substance in an Auckland University research paper by Anne Morrell in 2002, and in a 2003 book called Bravo, by Dr Helen Hogan, and then in a documentary by film-maker Tearepa Kahi titled The Flight of Te Hookioi, which was screened in 2009.

The press, a gift of the Emperor of Austria, is now in Te Awamutu Museum.
CHRISTINE CORNEGE/FAIRFAX NZ.

The press, a gift of the Emperor of Austria, is now in Te Awamutu Museum.

But what I know of Wiremu Toetoe Tumohe was told to me by my aunty Noeline Takahi, my uncle Stephen Clark - who is a Maori Land Court judge - and my nan's aunty Lukhi Tapu. The writings and research papers kept at the Te Awamutu Museum, where that historic press wound up, fleshed out the details.

My great, great, great grandfather, you see, published Te Hookioi, the first newspaper printed in the Waikato. It was in te reo Maori and reflected the interests of the Maori King while highlighting the greed of the Pakeha landowners. It also brought about the first media war in New Zealand.

Wiremu was baptised by an English missionary at 15. This part of his life is what sealed his fate, because it would be the missionary who would teach him to read and write.

Letters from the historical society regarding the location of the press.
CHRISTINE CORNEGE/FAIRFAX NZ.

Letters from the historical society regarding the location of the press.

Wiremu was born in 1826 and lived in Rangiaowhia near Te Awamutu, a village that was later attacked during the Waikato War. He was the chief of the two smaller tribes of Ngaati Apakura and Ngaati Wakohike. 

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He learned to cultivate wheat and, at 20, married and had a son. He took up a job as postman for the colonial government and then, two years later, was the postmaster for the district. It was through his influence that the first roads were built in New Zealand. He was essential in getting the approval from other chiefs in the district.

But Wiremu dreamed of sailing to foreign places. The arrival of the Novara, an Austrian Imperial navy frigate on a scientific voyage was his way to do that. The New Zealand government agreed that five Maori men could join the expedition, but when it was time to sail, only Wiremu, then 32, and Te Hemara Rerehau Paraone, 20, remained keen. The two were signed on to the ship as first-class seamen.

Once in Europe, because they were literate, Wiremu and Te Hemara were sent to Vienna to learn the printing trade at the Austrian State Printing House. Te Hemara kept a journal during this trip and both he and Wiremu made entries in the journal. The entries were written in Maori but the translated version sits in Te Ao Hou, the National Library of New Zealand.

"We began our stay in this country in the month of September 1859, and were taken to a leading chief of the land who was to arrange the place of our stay," Wiremu wrote.

"He did so and we were made welcome at the printing house of that great gentleman. And here these two Maori stayed until it was near the time for them to return to their homeland, when a visit to the Emperor was to be arranged.

"The occasion was a welcome to the officers of this warship which had returned after seeing all the lands of the Earth. Part of the welcome was for us, the first tattooed Maori they had seen."

"Our host, Ferdinand von Hochstetter, had been away for two months," Wiremu wrote.

"He had been in a town near Italy, called Trieste. This Italian town is very far away and cut off from Austria, yet the people belong to the Austrian Empire: they have the same ruler, Francis Joseph."

The two Waikato Maori had found themselves thrust into another world. They journeyed eight months from a lightly populated land of bush and mountains to one where "the buildings are beautiful and the people are undoubtedly the highest standing in the world".

"Hard liquor is not found amongst them," Wiremu wrote, "Nor did we see one drunk on the road during the nine months of our stay and we did not see anything bad in that land."

Wilhelm Toetoe and Samuel Rerehau were the German names given to the pair. They were in hot demand. Their pictures were printed in newspapers and people of importance, from Bohemia, Hungary and Syria, visited them.

They were drawn into the Viennese social circle and attended balls, where they danced with ladies in grand gowns.

At one point, the two Maori men stood adrift in the Viennese entertainment quarter known as the Prater, alien to their surroundings. They were guests at the party given by Friedrich Schiller, a German poet and dramatist who was celebrating his 100th birthday.

The crowds were more captivated by their dark skin and the green lines that swivelled around Wiremu's cheeks, chin and forehead.

The "mountain of gnats" - as Te Hemara described the mob in a journal that he kept - had never seen Maori men in the flesh.

They were shown the sights by the Archduke Maximilian and he asked the pair what they would like as a parting gift, to which they answered, "a printing press and type".

The gift was granted by the Emperor and ordered from London to be shipped and waiting for the pair on their return to New Zealand.

On the way home, Wiremu and Te Hemara travelled to Bavaria via railway and then to England, where they were granted an audience with Queen Victoria.

Wiremu became aware of conflicts in the Taranaki and took the opportunity to declare his loyalty to the British Empire.

Wiremu in 1861 started up the region's first newspaper - Te Hookioi e Rere Atu Na (The Far-Flying Hookioi of New Zealand). Because he was still employed by the government as postmaster, he was tasked with disrupting the rebel troops in the heart of the Kingitanga.

Despite his pledge of loyalty to Victoria, Wiremu joined his people and lost his job as postmaster. 

The paper was printed on the banks of the Waikato River in Ngaruawahia and was laden with proclamations of Tawhiao and a stance against British settlement. Wiremu was identified as "stirring and exciting the Maori to declare their independence".

And the argument that a legal interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi would limit the sovereignty of the colonial government over Maori caused a stir in Wellington. The early versions of Te Hookioi included the declaration, "printed with the loving gift of the Emperor of Austria to the Maori people".

To counteract Te Hookioi, the government set up its own Maori newspaper, Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke i Runga i te Tuanui (The Lonely Lark Perched on the Roof). This enraged Tawhiao and a media war ensued. An 80-man army led by Rewi Maniapoto raided the Te Awamutu office of Te Pihoihoi and put an end to the government publication.

But Te Hookioi would barely see its second birthday. 

The Waikato War, which began in July 1863, would spell its end. British forces fought their way south towards the Kingitanga's agricultural base around Rangiaowhia and Te Awamutu. 

On February 21, 1864, General Duncan Cameron's 1000-strong force of cavalry and foot soldiers attacked the village of Rangiaowhia. Villagers were killed and several houses were burned down - the people burned alive inside. What was left of Wiremu's land was confiscated by British troops.

This is where the tale gets hazy. The last years of Wiremu's life were far from the extravagance that surrounded him in Europe. Sometime after his return, however, he had a daughter, my great, great grandmother Pareputoetoe. 

A notice in the Waikato Times, published on February 24, 1881, read, "Toetoe has for some time past been down Waikato, gum-digging and flax-cutting. He was brought up here a few days ago, unwell, and died at Kaipiha yesterday on his way to Hikurangi."

And an obituary in the Herald, published in the same year and month, read, "Toetoe was individually a friend to Europeans. He was at one time a man of considerable influence and means. A large number of natives are collecting to the tangi today."

​In 1922, the press was found rusting on the banks of the Waipa. There are several versions of how it met its watery death. One version is that it was tipped from a boat as it was being moved across the river, that the type was melted down for ammunition, and that it was used to press torori cakes.

It was rescued in 1935 by the Te Awamutu Historical Society and placed in the Te Awamutu Museum, where it remains on display.

The tale of Wiremu Toetoe Tumohe (who lost his surname somewhere along the line), my great, great, great grandfather, was one of curiosity, of grandiosity, one of bloodshed and anguish. But it is our family tale, and one that gives me great privilege to share. 

 - Stuff

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