One Maori family strongly connected with St Paul’s was the Porutu family. One of the first immigrant ships to arrive in Wellington harbour was the Adelaide, which arrived in 1840. The people of Pipitea Pa, the Maori pa in Thorndon, located near the eventual site of Old St Paul’s, were employed to build a home for Dr George Evans, a representative of the New Zealand Company, who was on board the Adelaide, soon after its arrival.
Two of the other passengers on the ship, a carpenter, Edwin Ticehurst, and his 13 year old assistant Thomas McKenzie, mistakenly broke Maori rules of tapu by attempting to sleep in the house before the tapu of the house had been lifted by the chief of the pa, Te Rira Porutu, a rangitira (chief) of Ngati Hāmua and Te Ati Awa.
McKenzie later recalled the incident, in 1901:
In trooped a Maori Chief and about twenty followers, his two wives bringing up the rear … The chief threw off his mat; and, in a nude state, commenced the war dance. His posteriors were beautifully tattooed, and he had a mere in his right hand, fastened to his rist [sic] with a thong of leather, which he flourished ominously. His two wives moved towards us, and sat down at our feet crying.
“The chief then ran up and down the room in the most excited state, jumping at times three or four feet from the ground and smacking his posterior. The various contortions of his body, his tongue protruding, and eyes fiercely rolling, was one of the most diabolical scenes that could be witnessed.
“Just as he had wound himself up to the pitch of frenzy sufficient to let us have the mere [a Maori weapon], one of his wives dexterously took off her mat, and threw it over us, and then submitted her own head to receive the blow. By this act she had saved our lives, for we were tabooed, and he dare not touch us.
The woman, actually Te Rira’s daughter-in-law Ruhia, (pictured above), who had earlier become a Christian, saved the men by her action. Ruhia, with her husband Ihaia and her father in law Te Rira, became Anglicans and a whole pew of St Pauls was later apparently filled by various members of the Porutu family. Thomas McKenzie became a newspaperman in Wellington as well as becoming a City Councillor. When McKenzie died in 1911 the cloak was laid over his casket (as pictured below).
The funeral of McKenzie, with the cloak laid on the casket.
Both the cloak, made of flax, and Te Rira’s pounamu (greenstone) mere, named Horokiwi, are on loan to Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.
This image of the cloak is from Te Papa, see http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/3661
See also a video “Cloak of Protection” about the cloak here:
Information taken from the Old St Paul’s Conservation Plan, 2015. Images: main image of Ruhia Porutu, Ref: PAColl-5345-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22884114. Other image: Thomas Wilmor McKenzie’s funeral procession, 1911. Ref: PAColl-5345-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23089993