Timeline: The Te Pahi Medal
The Te Pahi medal is a taongataonga treasure of national importance: the first official state gift given to a Māori chief.
Explore the history of the Te Pahi Medal (in English and te reo Māori) in this timeline.
January 1806: The medal is gifted
The Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, had the medal made to mark Te Pahi’s three-month visit to Sydney. John Austin, a convict silversmith, probably crafted it from two watch cases.
King hoped to secure resources for his colony from Te Pahi, and protection of whalers and traders in the Bay of Islands. Te Pahi aimed to establish trade ties and acquire new technology.
About 1810: The medal disappears
In 1810, tragedy struck in Northland. A local chief’s son had been flogged on the Boyd, a cargo ship. In retaliation, his tribe massacred all on board. Te Pahi was wrongly blamed.
Revenge was swift – British whalers sacked Te Pahi’s island pāpā fortified village, killing up to 60 Māori. Te Pahi was fatally wounded. During the turmoil, the medal vanished.
1810–2014: Where was the medal?
Te Pahi’s medal all but disappeared between 1810 and 2014. It was only mentioned once, in an Australian will dated 1899. How it got to Australia from the Bay of Islands is a mystery.
April 2014: The medal reappears
In 2014, the medal resurfaced at Sotheby’s Sydney auction house. Te Pahi’s iwiiwi tribe, Ngāpuhi, explored a legal challenge to its sale, fearing the taongataonga treasure could be lost to a private collector.
On auction day, Ngāpuhi performed a hakahaka defiant chant outside the sale venue. Meanwhile, Te Papa and Auckland Museum, with Ngāpuhi’s endorsement, put in a joint bid – and won.
November 2014: The medal returns
Te Pahi’s descendants welcomed his medal back to the Bay of Islands in November 2014. Afterwards, it was handed into the care of Te Papa and Auckland Museum, its new co-owners.
Currently, Te Papa is custodian of the Te Pahi medal – a tribute to a leader of great manamana prestige, and a symbol of friendship between two peoples.
Te Pahi Medal
The hole in the medal shows it was designed to be worn: Governor King wrote that it ‘was suspended by a strong silver chain around [Te Pahi’s] neck.’
Te Pahi Medal, 1806, New South Wales, by John Austin. Collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira. Purchased 2014. Te Papa (GH024416)
Philip Gidley King
Philip Gidley King, Governor of New South Wales, had the medal made for Te Pahi ‘to give him some proof of the estimation he was held in’.
Philip Gidley King, about 1800-05, artist unknown. State Library of New South Wales (a8300002)
Te Pahi, rangatira of the Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Awa tribes, brought his host Governor King fine gifts – a ceremonial patu and several kākahu.
Tippahee A New Zealand Chief, 1827, engraving by William Archibald from an original drawing by George Harris. Alexander Turnbull Library (A-092-007)
Philip Gidley King
When Philip Gidley King hosted Te Pahi, he was already unwell, and exhausted from governing the unruly New South Wales colony. He died two years later, in 1808.
Philip Gidley King, about 1800, artist unknown. State Library of New South Wales; (IE204307)
Te Pahi fascinated many in Sydney with his striking physical presence – he was nearly six feet tall and wore a mokomoko facial tattoo.
Tippahee [Te Pahi] a chief of New Zealand, 1808, by James Finucan. State Library of New South Wales (SV*/Mao/Port/14)
Government House in Parramatta, Sydney
Te Pahi was a guest of Philip Gidley King at Government House in Parramatta, Sydney, from November 1805 to February 1806.
First Government House, Sydney, about 1807, by John Eyre. State Library of New South Wales (SV/31)
The blowing up of the Boyd
In Northland, Ngāti Pou iwi [tribe] attacked the Boyd, triggering a gunpowder explosion. Te Pahi was wrongly blamed for the ship’s looting and crew’s massacre.
The Blowing Up of the Boyd, 1889, Auckland, Louis John Steele and Kennett Watkins. Purchased 1992 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds (1992-0019-2)
Te Pahi’s roherohe territory surrounded Rangihoua Bay in the Bay of Islands. It included Rangihoua PāPā fortified village, shown in this landscape 11 years after his death.
Ranghe Hue [Rangihoua] a New Zealand Fortified Village, The Residence of Warri-Pork [Wharepoaka], 1827, by Augustus Earle. National Library of Australia (T178 NK12/141)
Rangihoua Pā, one of Te Pahi’s villages, is visible on the highest peak in this watercolour. It was deserted when Edward Ashworth painted this landscape.
Hemioramic view of the North part of the Bay of Islands New Zealand, 1844, by Edward Ashworth. Alexander Turnbull Library (E-042-036/037)
Augustus Earle, Tepoanah
Reverend Samuel Marsden had befriended Te Pahi in Sydney. In 1814, he founded New Zealand’s first missionary settlement below the late chief’s village, Rangihoua Pa.
Tepoanah [Te Puna] Bay of Islands New Zealand a Church Missionary Establishment, about 1827, by Augustus Earle. National Library of Australia (T176 NK12/139)
Te Pahi’s sacked island pā was on Motuapo, the island in the foreground in this image. Today, this area is Rangihoua Heritage Park.
Rangihoua Bay, Bay of Islands. Image from the 2014 documentary Tippahee, directed by Komako Silver