'H' in Wanganui


The name "Wanganui" was spelt without the "H" on the copy of the Treaty of Waitangi that chiefs in the area signed in 1840, Ross Baker of the One New Zealand Foundation points out. Here is a copy of the signatures of the chiefs that signed the Tiriti o Waitangi under the name, “Chiefs of Wanganui”.

Their signatures were witnessed by the Reverend Henry Williams.

Maori never had a written language and Wanganui was written by Williams from how the Wanganui Maori pronounce Wanganui, then put it to English spelling.

When Rev Henry Williams spoke to the chiefs at Wanganui before they signed the Treaty he would have made sure he use the correct pronunciation and spelling of Wanganui otherwise he would have lost all credibility.

Professor Samuel Lee and Hongi Hika wrote an English to Maori dictionary in 1820 but this was in the Ngapuhi dialect and would have been different than the Wanganui Maori or other southern tribes.

If it sounded like the word "where, "what" or “whale” then Williams would have spelt it with an "h" but it must have sounded like "watch", "water" or "wave", therefore no "h".

As the Wanganui Maori chiefs were happy with this spelling in 1840, then who are we to change it 175 years later.

Meanwhile, a look at the composition of the New Zealand Geographic Board suggests that Maorification of place names will gather pace such as Aoraki Mt Cook or Te Wai Pounamu South Island......


Prior to the arrival of the European, Maori did not have a written language and it was the missionaries who took up the challenge using the sounds and symbols of the English alphabet.

William Kendall, missionary and trader, published a book in 1815 entitled "He Korao no New Zealand", which was in essence a pidgin Maori guide. In 1820 Kendall travelled to England taking with him Hongi Hika and Hongi's junior relative Waikato. Hongi Hika and Kendall spent five months in Britain, mostly working with Professor Samuel Lee of Cambridge University, establishing a definitive orthography based on Northern usage. Lee and Kendall's "A grammar and vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand" was published in 1820. Neither of these publication used the "Wh".

The first book published in New Zealand was, William Williams', Archdeacon of Waiapu, "A Dictionary of the New Zealand Language". This was printed in 1844 by the Christian Missionary Society at Paihia. On the Alphabet page, for "W" it says the sound is 'as in water', or "wh" 'as in the Irish What'. In the preface it says " the letter w, when it is sounded as wh is printed with an inverted comma." Clearly Williams saw "W" as having one spelling but two different sounds. Similar to "C" in English, hard as in cat, soft as in cellphone.

The History of New Zealand by J.H.Wallace published as part of the Brett's Historical Series in 1890 says that late in the year 1840, 200 Wellington settlers migrated by sea to Wanganui and established a settlement on the Wanganui river. The settlement was named Petre. In old maps the river was called Knowsley. The settlers petitioned to change the name to Wanganui from 1844 partly because they didn't like the name Petre and partly because they felt being named the same as the river was more appropriate. It seems the name of Petre was changed to Wanganui in 1854. Nowhere does Wallace spell the river, district or the town with a "wh". Interestingly he does use the "wh", in for eg. Whangarei and Whangaroa.

Clearly the town was named after the river and the correct early spelling of the river as evidenced by Kendall, Lee, and Williams in his 1st edition was without a "h". While Williams uses the "wh" in his 2nd edition in 1852, Wallace's work clearly shows that this was not adopted for Wanganui. It may of course mean that the "wh" sound was not used in pronouncing Wanganui, a view is also supported by the NZ Geographic Board.

The claim that Whanganui means big bay or big harbour is historically questionable. Its does seem an inappropriate name for a river. Williams gives kokorutanga or tunga kaipure as meaning harbour or bay. He also defines the substantive meaning of wanga (later whanga in his 1852 2nd Edition) as "on one side". So the original meaning may be a reference to a big/large (nui) village or settlement on the side of, or bank of, the river.

It seems the mistake was in putting the "h" into the name of the river. For the Board to suggest that consistency demands the name of the city be changed is to compound the error. Consistency would be for the name of the river to revert to its original historic spelling of Wanganui, same as the City.

Contributed by R P


The great "WH"and "F" delusion

With Wanganui now officially "Whanganui", pronounced on TV and radio as "Fonganui", as decreed by the semi-educated Geographic Board and approved heartily by the politically correct amongst us, it is still necessary for the truth to be told.

1. The Stone Age culture of Maoris before the arrival of missionaries in New Zealand had no written language. Thus nobody today with some Maori descent has no greater authority or right than anybody else to dictate on the spelling of Maori words and placenames today.

2. While the sounds in any two unrelated languages are never quite the same, missionaries and others who wrote Maori words, spelled them as they heard them. For instance, Nicholas writing in 1815 used "rungateeda" and "etua"1. For the name of the great cannibal chief usually written "Hongi Hika" today, the forms "Shunghie", "Shungi Ika", "Chongie" and "Chunghie" were all used2. This does not imply that writers were careless. Clearly the pronunciation of native speakers varied considerably.

3. The Treaty of Waitangi which was signed on 6th February by upwards of forty chiefs was translated by Henry and Edward Marsh Williams into the Ngapuhi dialect of Maori from Hobson's final draft of 4th February 1840. Having lived in New Zealand for 17 years, Edward since the age of four, they were both well-versed in the language, Edward being described by one writer as "facile princeps" or "without equal".3 So what did they write? Few people even bother to look!

4. For "land" the Williams wrote consistently"wenua". The form "whenua" does not appear. Again, the word chosen for "confederation" at Busby's request was "Wakaminenga. "No "WH". Those who claim to be "tangata whenua" should note. There was no "WH" as in English "whip" in the 1840 Ngapuhi dialect.

5. As these events occurred in the month of February, clearly it was necessary to transliterate "February" in dating the document. Believe it or not, they wrote "Pepueri". They would have used "F" had there been one in the Ngapuhi dialect - there was no reason to do otherwise. "P" was the nearest they could get to "F". Ngapuhi did not have an "F" sound.

6. Those with lips thickened by tattooing, particularly women, could not say "F" anyway!4

7. As Maori tribes had few contacts with others except in warfare, a variety of dialects of their language developed. Notably, in the Taranaki dialect, a "W" was often followed by a glottal stop as in Tongan and Samoan, usually denoted by an apostrophe (') (Thus "Ma'a Nonu").5 So "Te W'iti" is a more accurate rendering of the name of the Parihaka cult leader than "Te Whiti".

8. Surveyors in the bush who often had contact with the local Maoris, picked up local words and spelt them as they heard them. Thus "warre" is recorded as the name of a Maori house - no "WH" there!6

9. Foremost surveyor in the Wanganui district, Archie Bogle, consistently used "Wanganui" in his book, only noting "Whanganui" as a possible alternative in the index.7

!0, Other examples of spelling variants occur in the Maori word for "long harbour" as distinct from "wanganui" or "big harbour". Thus we have "Whangaroa" in Northland, "Wangaloa" in Otago, "Akaroa" and "Little Akaloa" in Canterbury. "Harbour of bulrushes", the local name for Lyttelton was "Whakaraupo". Who is there to decree that just one of these is "correct" and all the rest are wrong?

11. However, petty-minded bureaucrats who value uniformity above all else and who kowtow to apparent experts with a touch of Maori blood have decreed that "Wanganui" is to be no more - "Whanganui" it must be, with "WH rendered as "F". There are simply no grounds for this change.

12. Moreover and equally importantly, in a poll of Wanganui residents, 80% stated that they did not want the name of their city to be changed. The democratically expressed wish of the great majority has been flouted with contempt.

If New Zealanders are content to have their rights over-ridden in this way by false and flawed arguments, then so be it. For those who value liberty, democracy and the truth, it is surely time to speak up and say that such manipulation is to cease.
Bruce Moon
18th November 2015

1J L Nicholas, "Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand", London, 1817
2Judy Corballis, "Tapu", 1997, ISBN 0 7493 8678 9
3Hugh Carleton,"The Life of Henry Williams", 1874
4I am indebted to Jean Jackson for this information.
5"Puke Ariki", "Taranaki War 1860-1912 Our Legacy - Our Challenge", New Plymouth, 2012
6N.Easdale, "The Measurer of Land - 'Kairuri'", NZ Institute of Surveyors, 1988, ISBN 0 7055 1402 1
7A.H. Bogle, "Links in the Chain", NZ Institute of Surveyors, 1975