1880: Death of Chief Tainui
December 7, 2018
Today in history: 8 December, 1880, Burial of Chief Werita Tainui in Greymouth where he had been a very early inhabitant. He had died on November 30th. Tainui’s brother, Tarapuhi had come seeking greenstone in the late 1700s but met with a lethal reception from the local Ngati Wairangi tribe. The brothers’ war party, perhaps with their father too, systematically exterminated the previous (indigenous?) settlement and claimed the territory for themselves.
Tainui’s people, Ngati Waewae, also took possession of the Ngati Wairangi’s ancestral burial cave. The bones and other remains within were cleared to be replaced by the noble dead culminating in Tainui himself, aged nearly 80yo.
In his glass-topped, zinc, coffin, “The old warrior looked as if he were asleep, his strongly-marked, tattooed features standing out in bold relief.” It is hard to make out such markings in this photo of the chief however (the flash powder washing out the contrast I suppose.) By middle age Tainui had been converted to Christianity with his tribe but I wonder what visiting priest/s accomplished that? So, Tainui’s burial was officiated both by Church of England as well as Maori.
The burial cave is gone now, blasted and quarried away for harbour works some time prior to the 1940s. The remains of the tribe left Greymouth taking the cave contents with them. For a while an iron fence and iron cross marked Tainui’s grave which was/is under the current south end of Cobden Bridge. Whatever is left now, I hear, is in poor repair and much neglected with nobody to take responsibility for it. A little cross marks the spot where the burial cave once was.
All that remains is a cross in the ground on the corner of Auto diesels opposite the old Cobden bridge. It is the place of the burial cave before the quarry work started in1880. I have a committee in place to erect a platform celebrating pre european history of Mawhera.- Tony Kokshoorn, Greymouth Mayor, 2014
Image: Chief Werita Tainui, 1864. Brian McIntyre