One of Otago’s most famous graduates is Peter Buck, also known as Te Rangi Hiroa. Of Ngati Mutunga and Irish descent, he grew up in Taranaki and the Wairarapa before heading to Hawke’s Bay to attend Te Aute College. In 1899 he arrived at Otago to study medicine, together with another Te Aute old boy, Tutere Wi Repa. Buck completed his MBChB in 1904 and then an MD in 1910. He worked as a medical officer to Maori and, along with Maui Pomare (who had studied medicine in the USA), became an active campaigner for Maori health and development. They were key members of the group known as the Young Maori Party, a driving force behind the Maori renaissance of the early twentieth century. Buck, whose career also included five years as Member of the House of Representatives for Northern Maori and service in both medical and combat capacities during World War I, later became a distinguished anthropologist, serving as director of the Bishop Musuem in Hawaii for many years.
Tutere Wi Repa had a much quieter but still significant career. His iwi links were to Te Whanau-a-Apanui and Ngati Porou and he grew up in the Bay of Plenty. After graduating MBChB from Otago in 1908 he spent a year working at Dunedin Hospital, then headed back north. He had a long career in medicine in Gisborne, Te Karaka and Te Araroa.
Peter Buck and Tutere Wi Repa were Otago’s first Maori medical students, but were they the first Maori students at Otago? One possible earlier claimant to that honour is Teone Wiwi Taiaroa, also known as John or Jack Taiaroa. Taiaroa came from much closer to home. He grew up in Otakou and had a distinguished Kai Tahu whakapapa – his grandfather was the leading warrior chief Te Matenga Taiaroa and his father was Hori Kerei Taiaroa, long-serving parliamentarian for Southern Maori and a tireless campaigner for Kai Tahu land claims. After an education at Otago Boys’ High School, Jack Taiaroa trained as a lawyer and practised in Hawke’s Bay for some years before returning to Otakou. He was a famous rugby player, representing Otago while he was still at school. In 1884 he played with distinction in the New Zealand team which toured New South Wales.
A newspaper report of Taiaroa’s tangihanga in 1908 noted that he had “distinguished himself at the University of Otago”. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any confirmation that he was ever enrolled as a student in the university records. It is possible that he attended some lectures without being formally recognised as a student. Aspiring lawyers of the nineteenth century had to “serve articles” – work under the supervision of a qualified lawyer – and pass the required exams, but a university degree was optional. Taiaroa served articles in the office of Robert Stout in the 1880s. Stout had a long career in politics and the law and was Premier of New Zealand from 1884 to 1887. He was also a University of Otago pioneer, as he was one of the first students enrolled in 1871 and served as the first law lecturer from 1873 to 1875 (the Otago law library is named in his honour). Perhaps this connection between Taiaroa and Stout led to later confusion over Taiaroa’s connection with the university.
If Teone Taiaroa did not attend the University of Otago himself, a link came through the next generation, for his daughter Tini Wiwi Taiaroa married Edward (Ned) Pohau Ellison. Ned Ellison, son of a Kai Tahu mother and Te Ati Awa father, was another Te Aute old boy and Young Maori Party member. He was Otago’s third Maori medical graduate, obtaining a MBChB in 1919 and later returning for postgraduate studies in tropical medicine. He had a long career in public health, mostly in the Pacific Islands.
Students from the north like Peter Buck and Tutere Wi Repa must have felt far from home in Dunedin, but they made the most of their time and took an active part in university life. It no doubt helped that both were fine athletes – Buck was national long jump champion during his Otago years and Wi Repa played rugby for Otago and captained the university team. They also received a warm welcome from local Maori. Indeed, the presence of Maori students from the north at Otago over the years was to have important consequences on both sides, as some of these students married into well-known Kai Tahu families. For instance, Leonard Broughton of Ngati Kahungunu, who graduated in medicine from Otago in 1944, married Margaret Evans, whose mother Ani Parata Evans was the daughter of Tame Parata of Puketeraki, Member of the House of Representatives for Southern Maori. Broughton was one of several Maori medical students from the north who boarded at Te Maraenui, Ani Parata Evans’s Dunedin home, in the 1930s (others included Golan Maaka and Henry Bennett). Leonard and Margaret Broughton’s son, Professor John Broughton, is an Otago dental graduate and lecturer, a playwright, and Director of the Ngai Tahu Maori Health Research Centre, a partnership between Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu and the Dunedin School of Medicine.
In 2012 just under 8% of Otago students identified as Maori – a higher percentage than at the University of Auckland. Some are local, while others are attracted from far away to Otago, often to its health science, physical education and law courses. Until the second half of the twentieth century, though, Maori students were a rare sight at Otago. Do you know of any others who attended the University of Otago in its first few decades? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Acknowledgement: my thanks to Prof John Broughton and Dr Michael Stevens, who directed me to information on various early Maori students and their whakapapa.