This studio portrait of Hūria Mātenga (Ngāti Tama, Te Ati Awa and Ngāti Toa), the granddaughter of Ngāti Tama Rangatira, Te Pūoho, was taken in the 1890s in a studio in Nelson . The background setting of rope, rocks and sea evoke her involvement in rescuing the crew of the wrecked Delaware, in 1863.
In 1863, a newly-built brig, the Delaware, was wrecked shortly after leaving Nelson. Seeing the ship in danger, local Māori hurried to where the boat was in danger of wrecking on the rocks. Some of their party swam out towards the ship in order to pull in the heavy lead line which enabled the crew to escape the ship and reach land. Hūria Mātenga was the only woman of the group of five. While sources differ on specifics, it seems fairly certain that Mātenga, along with her husband, Hemi, and Ropata, another member of the party, swam out multiple times to help the crew members crawl along the lead line. Hūria’s brother Eraia worked to keep the line off the rocks while Kerei lit a fire and looked after the men when they arrived on shore. All but one crew member survived. Mātenga became the face of this ‘good news’ story, one which was said to represent good relations between Māori and Europeans, at a time of armed conflict in Waikato and Taranaki. However, it is important to note that stories such as these would have been documented by European, anglophone press, and many of the reports, and subsequent history notes, whitewash and deemphasise Mātenga’s standing, autonomy and standing in Māoridom.
For more on Hūria Mātenga, see: https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m24/matenga-huria