Jean Guerren NZ Wars memorial

This memorial stands on Taneatua Road, about 5 km south of the eastern Bay of Plenty town of Whakatāne. It commemorates French miller Jean Guerren, who died defending the Te Poronu flour mill on 11 March 1869.

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki of Rongowhakaata raided Whakatāne and Mōhaka in March and April 1869, seeking new recruits and supplies of guns and ammunition.

On 9 March he led an attack on the Ngāti Pukeko pā of Rauporoa, about 5 km south of Whakatāne. Rauporoa was defended for several days before being abandoned at the cost of four lives. At the same time, less than 1 km to the south-east, Ngāti Pukeko’s flour mill at Te Poronu was attacked by a 100-strong war party led by the Ngāti Tuwharetoa chief Wirihana Koikoi.

Ngāti Pukeko had employed Guerren – also known as ‘John the Frenchman’, ‘John the Oui Oui’ and ‘Hoani Te Wiwi’ – to erect and run Te Poronu flour mill around 1867. The mill stood on a mound above a dam on the Poronu Stream which supplied water to turn the wheel.

Machinery for the mill had been gifted to Ngāti Pukeko by the government as part of an initiative by Governor Sir George Grey. In late 1868, the Armed Constabulary constructed a small redoubt next to the mill as a means of defence. This was not garrisoned in March 1869.

At the time of Koikoi’s raid, Guerren was about 45 years old. Of ‘short and sturdy build’, he was ‘an excellent mechanic’ with a good working knowledge of flour mills.  Guerren’s wife was Erihapeti (Elizabeth) Manuera (‘Peti’), the daughter of Manuera Kuku, a Ngāti Warahoe chief of the upper Rangitāiki Valley. Her sister Monika (‘Nika’) lived with the couple in a house beside the mill.

Only seven or eight people were at Te Poronu when Koikoi’s war party descended on the mill. Along with the Guerren family, they apparently included two Ngāti Pūkeko men – Tautari and Te Mauriki – and two women – Maria Te Ha, wife of Kaperiera, and Pera.

Sources provide conflicting accounts of the engagement and its aftermath. However it is known that Guerren led this small group in ‘a heroic fight against overwhelming odds’. They defended the mill for two days against an enormously superior force before being overrun.

Of the mill’s defenders, it is thought that only Te Mauriki escaped. Guerren appears to have been shot dead during the fighting, while most of the others were probably killed immediately following the mill’s fall. Peti and Nika were captured by Te Rangihiroa from Tarawera; later, apparently on Te Kooti’s orders, he killed Nika and took Peti as his wife.

It is thought that seven men from the war party were killed. They included Koikoi and another chief, Paora Taituha, whose bodies were later found in the mill dam.

After the Rauporoa siege, Te Kooti’s men looted and burned Whakatāne village at the mouth of the river.

This memorial stands about 100 m from the site of the mill. It incorporates one of the grindstones supplied by the government to replace those destroyed by Te Kooti’s men during the attack. (The second millstone lies at the base of the flagpole at Ngāti Awa’s Wairaka Marae – also known as Te Whare o Toroa – at Whakatāne.)

The Whakatane & District Historical Society claims a significant role in the creation of the Jean Guerren memorial. Its unveiling in June 1965 ‘brought to a successful conclusion a dream the Society [had] cherished for ten years’. D.C. Butler, Chairman of the Whakatane County Council, accepted the memorial on behalf of the district before formally handing it over to Society President Ken Moore for safe keeping.

Inscription

Erected to the memory / of a gallant son of France / Jean Guerren / who died March 11th 1869 / heroically defending the Te Poronu Mill / on this site, against the rebel forces / under Peka Makarini, Lieutenant of the / Maori insurgent leader, Te Kooti / Erected by Y Squadron / Legion of Frontiersmen

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