Focusing on the heroine of an 1863 New Zealand sea rescue, this article is concerned with gender, race and the colonial encounter. The rescue became an example of harmonious race relations, advocating Maori service as part of settler society governance. The article analyses Huria Matenga's place in the rescue as white settlers endorsed, rewarded and constructed her in relation to the imperial reference point of British heroine Grace Darling. It is argued that the gendered imperial narrative of Grace Darling combined with transcultural representations of women and the sea to accord Huria Matenga a central place in the rescue. While in the early twentieth century Grace Darling's memory was more entrenched in mainstream New Zealand society than Huria Matenga's, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, Grace Darling as imperial signifier had disappeared, and the legend of Huria Matenga existed alone in a state of postcolonial irony. The article demonstrates that mythologies of and commemoration for heroines are constantly recast and operate across a complex network of local, national and transnational levels.