Time Travels

What happened when the first Māori visited Britain

Imagine leaving the lush green meadows and crystal clear waters of New Zealand and setting foot in London, the largest city in Europe and second-largest in the world.

The day was 27 April 1806. The man’s name, Moehanga of Ngāpuhi – the first recorded Māori visitor to England (and first to ever reach the Northern hemisphere).

London slums, late 1800s – you get the gist.

Moehanga had boarded the whaler Ferret from the Bay of Islands, bound for Britain, just a few months before. On the other side of the globe, the industrial revolution was fast gaining steam. At the core of it all, like a furnace spitting fire, was London – the original ‘Big Smoke’ – already plagued by toxic air pollution from coal- and wood-burning. Picture it overcrowded, disease-ridden, and crime-infested. It was, by all accounts, a hot mess, with an estimated 885,000 inhabitants packed into filthy shared houses. And who needs a working sewerage system, when the River Thames can serve as an open sewer?

You got it. London was anything but a pretty sight (or smell). So…

Was Moehanga impressed?

Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika, the second Māori to visit London, in 1820.

Historian Tony Ballantyne says Moehanga “disliked London’s rowdiness”, but was intrigued by music and culture, as well as a keen observer of the sights and people he came across. He later claimed to have met with King George III and Queen Charlotte, though it’s not clear what came of it. Some say the royals gave him tools and money; others claim that Moehanga performed a haka for the Queen.

However things played out, Moehanga soon caught a ride back to the Bay of Islands, again on the Ferret, and by March 1807 he was finally home for good.