Story: Te Rato, Wiremu Te Koti

Page 1 - Biography

Te Rato, Wiremu Te Koti

?–1895

Ngati Kahungunu; Wesleyan minister

This biography was written by John H. Roberts and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Wiremu Te Koti Te Rato, of Ngati Kahungunu, was born in Wairarapa, probably about 1820. His father was probably Te Rato. His mother's name is not known. Te Koti Te Rato may have been one of a group of 100 women and children captured with his father in Wairarapa in the early 1830s by a party of Te Ati Awa under Wi Tako Ngatata and Te Puni-kokopu. In another tradition, Te Koti Te Rato and his parents became captives of Ngati Toa, in the Porirua area.

The Wesleyan missionaries John Hobbs and John Bumby met Ngati Toa leader Te Rauparaha at Mana Island in June 1839, and were well received. Te Rauparaha expressed his wish for a missionary to serve among Ngati Toa and a young Maori teacher named Paul (probably with Ngati Toa connections) was appointed. Through him both Ngati Toa and their captives were introduced to the Christian faith. The influence of Christianity's message of peace contributed to the ending of intertribal hostilities and the liberation of captives, and it is likely that Te Koti Te Rato came into contact with Christianity in this way. He became a devout Wesleyan, and was baptised Wiremu (William) by the Reverend Samuel Ironside at Tory Channel on 10 December 1841. He became known as Te Koti (Scott).

In 1854 Wiremu Te Koti Te Rato entered the Wesleyan Native Institution at Three Kings in Auckland. He was sent to the Chatham Islands as a missionary in 1859, and performed his first baptism there on 27 November. His time there was spent travelling, preaching and conducting schools. He increased the number of chapels from one to four, and established a day school for Maori. In 1862, having attracted a following of 30 church members and 300 adherents, he returned to the mainland and visited Maori congregations in Marlborough. In November 1863, in Christchurch, he was ordained. Te Koti intended to return to the Chathams, but travel to the islands was infrequent and uncertain, and in the meantime he travelled and preached in Canterbury. His services were so much valued by Canterbury Maori that they guaranteed to support him, and from 1864 provided for him an income of £100 a year. He was replaced in the Chathams by Hetaraka Warahi (Shadrach Wallace).

At Rapaki on 18 April 1864 Te Koti married Irihapeti Mokiho of Ngai Tuahuriri and Ngati Puneke, hapu of Ngai Tahu. The people of Rapaki, Ngati Wheke, gifted a generous reserve of about 20 acres for the use of their minister. On this land Te Koti grew crops and grazed cows to help support himself. In 1865 the Wesleyans decided to shift the centre of their mission to the Maori of the South Island from Otakou on the Otago Peninsula to Rapaki. Soon after Te Koti's arrival the people of Rapaki had decided to build a church, and the building was eventually opened in May 1869.

Once or twice a year Te Koti ventured from Rapaki to visit his wider charge in Canterbury and Otago, travelling great distances on horseback. As he travelled he baptised, married, buried the dead, began Sunday schools, trained lay preachers and opened schools. Until the mid 1870s Te Koti met with a positive response. But by 1879 he was reporting that the numbers of his people were few. One reason for this was undoubtedly the rise of the prophet Te Maiharoa, for whom hundreds of Ngai Tahu, including many leaders and lay preachers, deserted their churches.

Te Koti was prominent in the affairs of Rapaki, and was present, often as a speaker, at all formal occasions. He also attended church and civic functions further afield, taking part in welcoming visiting dignitaries to Christchurch. His position and mana made him an essential participant at any event involving Maori interests.

In January 1886 Irihapeti died. She and Te Koti had had no children. Te Koti's own health was failing, after almost 30 years as an active missionary, travelling great distances in the cause of his faith. In 1891 he retired, returning about 1892 to Wairarapa, where he died, at Greytown, on 4 May 1895. Throughout his life Wiremu Te Koti Te Rato was sustained by a simple but deep faith which he expressed in the words, 'What a tree is to the leaf, the Great Father is to me; I have everything in my Father'.