Heni's mother Maraea was born on Mokoia Island on Lake Rotorua, the daughter of a chief. As a young child she was captured by Hongi Hika and taken to his pa in Kaikohe, where she was educated at a mission school.
When she was 17, Hongi gave Maraea as a wife to the Irish captain of a whaling ship to help secure an arms deal. The captain later sailed south to his whaling station, promising his pregnant wife that he would return. She never saw him again.
Her missionary schoolmaster and his wife took her with them to their new mission station in Kaitaia. Here Heni was born. Later they moved to Kororakia, where a kind businessman named Richard Russell adopted them and other abandoned slaves.
When the town was sacked after the cutting down of the British flagpole he moved them to Auckland, setting up refugee homes and a school for them.
A few years later, members of Te Arawa sought out Maraea and took them home to Rotorua for a year. There Heni was trained in the conduct, customs and responsibilities of her people.
Her foster father, Richard Russell, invited them back to Auckland to rejoin his family. There Heni became fond of her foster brother, Neri, whom she fought alongside during the Battle of Gate Pa.
Heni was a bright scholar and by the age of 16 was herself teaching school. A handsome warrior on his way to the gum-fields up north won her heart and she soon became Heni Te Kiri Karamu. She helped him to get a job as a farm manager on Waiheke Island where three boys and a girl were born to them.
Heni became a strong supporter of the Maori king movement, and helped translate letters and documents for the leaders. A few years later her marriage broke up.
When the government made a law ordering all supporters of the Maori king to move to the Waikato, Heni had to flee for her life through heavy bush and rough country with her 4 young children, her brother Neri and some friends. After much hardship they joined up with the king supporters, just as the call came out to cross the Kaimai's and help the Ngai te Rangi, as vast numbers of British soldiers were being landed at Tauranga preparing to fight. This is where the story 'Battle at the Gate' fits in.
After the battle Heni returned to Mokoia Island where her mother was looking after her children.
Heni volunteered soon after to help capture a group of Hauhau who were murdering pakeha. On her way home, following the capture, she stayed at a hotel in Matata, belonging to an Irishman, Mr Foley. Over time their friendship grew.
They married and settled on a farm north of Katikati, raising a new family. When Heni's, (now known as Jane Foley) children had grown, her husband drowned while crossing a flooded stream one night in a storm. Heni shifted to Rotorua where she lived for the remainder of her days, surrounded by her family.
Heni became a court interpreter and helped many Maori people negotiate the baffling process of gaining legal titles to their multiple owned land. She passed away in Rotorua at the age of 92. Heni lived a life of unselfish service to others, and deserves to be remembered.
Read more about Heni in the book 'Jane's Story' written by her grandson, Alfred Foley. There are copies in the Tauranga library.
Ref. 'Jane's Story' by Alfred Foley. Heni Te Kiri Karamu