THOMAS RICHARD PORTER
On 25 February 1901Thomas Richard Porter attested to join the New Zealand Volunteers to serve with Imperial troops in South Africa . According to his attestation form he had been drafted from the Bechuanaland Police Force. His age was 32 years 1 month which would make his date of birth around January 1869. He was given the regimental number 4124. He gave his address as Heatherlea, Kaiti, Gisborne. Thomas’ rank was sergeant and he had been in service 18 months. His description was given as 5 foot 8 1/2 inches, 38 inch chest, dark complexion, dark brown hair and black hair. His trade was farmer. He was discharged on 15 September 1902 having been invalided to New Zealand after serving with Seventh Contingent NZMR reaching the rank of Sergeant Major and receiving the Transvaal and ORG clasps. He had served for 322 days and was given a war gratuity. On 16 February 1907 he signed for a clasp for South Africa in Opotiki and Olive Porter was his witness.
From the book “Moko” – Maori tattooing in the 20th century by Michael King we learn that Thomas Richard Porter became known as Tame Poata. He was the eldest of nine children born to Colonel Thomas William Porter and Herewaka Te Rangi Paia. Tame was born in a sailing scow off Tuparoa as his mother was hurrying back from Gisborne to the Waiapu district to have her first child among her own people. His relatives brought him up at Waiapu and according to his son, Tame identified more closely with his Maori side. He worked on the land around Tokomaru Bay and occasionally on the wharves at Gisborne. But at the same time he became an authority in most aspects of Maori lore, especially carving. In 1919 he published a book called The Maori as a Fisherman and his Methods.
From about 1920 onwards Poata earned a living almost entirely from carving and tattooing. His son Tom Porter remembers his father being trained to do chisel tattooing by one of his tipuna (he thinks it could have been Herewini).” Dad only tried two chisel tattoos, but he reckoned it was no good. The blood always beat him- it washed the lines away before he could fill them up. He had to do one woman again because the lines didn’t connect.
Poata then took up needle tattooing and became the first and only truly itinerant moko artist. He did not restrict himself to any particular tribe or region. From 1928 until his death in 1942, he travelled by car, train and horseback throughout the East Coast, Urewera, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and Waikato districts. His moko were distinctive. They were darker and sharper in outline than other needle tattoos and some of the East Coast and Urewera ones were far more elaborate than those attempted by his fellow artists.(More on his methods).
There is a photo of a young Tame Poata in soldiers uniform sporting a moustache.
From the book “Ta Moko,the art of the Maori Tattoo” by D R Simmons there are some paintings of two women who were tattooed by Tame Poata. We don’t learn anymore about him in this book.
Written by Coralie Smith of Motueka (descendant of the Poata (Porter) Family Public - Lorraine M - Researcher - 5 July 2015 - Coralie Smith's Family Research