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Title: A Dark Chapter from New Zealand History

Author: James Hawthorne

Release date: January 11, 2018 [eBook #56359]

Language: English



E-text prepared by Donald Cummings
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
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Transcriber's Note: The cover image was created from the title page by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.


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Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.




Printed offset by The Caxton Press, Christchurch
from the copy in the Canterbury Public Library, Christchurch





These pages have been chiefly written for such as desire to forward to distant friends a brief connected account of one of those terrible massacres, accompanied by wholesale destruction of property, which bid fair to depopulate and lay waste the North Island of New Zealand.

It is possible that only vague, indefinite reports respecting the calamities which afflict this colony have reached the majority of far-away readers; more especially in Great Britain, impressions are known to prevail which are often opposed to facts. In this little work it is intended to tell a “plain, unvarnished tale;” to briefly review the causes which led to the perpetration of a great tragedy, and to shew how it might have been prevented. If the sad story contributes, even in a slight degree, to bring about an improvement in the future, the purpose for which it was written will have been accomplished.



Turanga, or Poverty Bay, lies between the East Cape and the Mahia Peninsula. North and south, the district consists of hills, and a circlet of hills bounds the interior; the hills are partly occupied as sheep runs.

The central portion of the district consists of a fertile plain, which stretches for about 25 miles inland, and averages from six to eight miles in breadth. The plain is traversed by several rivers, navigable for a few miles by small craft, and is diversified by clumps of forest in all directions.

The plain and adjacent valleys are richly clothed with grasses. Fruit groves abound, and wild honey is found in every forest. All descriptions of vegetables and fruits the production of temperate zones thrive to perfection, and require little culture; exotics are reared in gardens with little trouble or expense.

The climate resembles those of Hawke’s Bay and Nelson, but is sensibly warmer at all seasons; rain is more equally distributed than in Napier. All parts of the plain are accessible by dray to the coast; vessels of moderate draught can enter the principal rivers, and the roadstead is safe for large shipping in all weathers.

Turanganui, the village capital, is situated at the bottom of a deep bay, from which the district derives its English appellation, on the south bank of the Waimataha river. It contains several stores, a handsome hotel, fine court-house, post-office, etc. On the northern side of the Waimataha, opposite Turanganui, two redoubts are placed, named respectively Wilson’s and Hirini’s redoubts. The population of Poverty Bay in 1867 consisted of about 500 Maoris and 150 Europeans of all ages. Matewhero was situated about five miles from the sea, in the heart of the district. Many people resided there in houses surrounded with gardens and orchards.




Several settlers of thirty, and even forty years’ standing yet reside in Turanga, or Poverty Bay, as it is named by Europeans; and the description given by those settlers of its condition on their first arrival is interesting and instructive. In those days the Maoris were numerous and industrious; they manufactured a variety of elegant and useful articles; their houses, sometimes handsomely carved, were of a superior description, and their war canoes were magnificent specimens of ingenuity and beauty. Eighty of those canoes, each capable of carrying from 70 to 100 men, have been counted at one time in the Waimataha river. The natives exported large quantities of prepared flax and other produce, which was disposed of to Sydney traders by the earlier settlers.

Hostilities sometimes broke out between different tribes, but the settlers were slightly affected by their occurrence, and, on the whole, the whites found the Maori was a good neighbour. At that time the morality of the natives was of a higher standard than it subsequently became, and the power of the chiefs was in the ascendant.

At a later date the influence of the chiefs declined; another species of domination arose, under which the Maoris (probably the most acute people in the world where their temporal interests are concerned) learned to prefer their rights before their duties. From this period the natives rapidly degenerated: old customs were forsaken; industry declined; and immorality prevailed where before it was almost unknown. All these causes combined, sadly deteriorated the race. By the end of 1863, the Turanga natives were a remnant of what they had been. But if they had declined, the natives still far outnumbered the whites, and had become domineering to an extent unknown before. It is true they have learned to read and write, but it is questionable if their knowledge was beneficial to themselves or their neighbours. Of their religion it is sufficient to say that whilst minutely conversant with the forms of Christianity they knew nothing of its spirit. They were even then suspicious and distrustful of Europeans, and had become what they have since (with a few honorable exceptions) shewn themselves to be—a discontented and dangerous people.




In November, 1864, the Weld Ministry assumed office. At this time the war, being waged for Imperial objects, continued with varying success. It was at first viewed with alarm by the natives of Poverty Bay; at a later date they were imbued with the belief that their countrymen were victorious.

At the latter end of 1864, the Hauhau superstition had reached Poverty Bay. On the 1st of March, 1865, the Rev. Mr. Volkner was murdered at Opotiki, 100 miles from Turanga. On the 15th of the same month, the murderers came to Taureka, in Poverty Bay, carrying with them a European head. They were led by Kereopa, who had swallowed Volkner’s eyes. The object of the party was to win over Hirini te Kani, the principal chief of Turanga, to their side. By the end of March, most of the Poverty Bay natives had become Hauhaus, and the Bishop of Waiapu was obliged to fly the district; a sad commentary upon their presumed conversion to Christianity.

About this time, Mr. M‘Lean, then suffering from severe illness, was urgently requested by Mr. Weld to undertake the pacification of the East Coast; no light task. The Hauhaus were already in arms at Waiapu, and avowed their intention to exterminate loyal subjects of both races. The Hauhaus were daily gaining adherents. Assistance would not or could not be obtained from the officer commanding the Imperial troops; and, but for the unexpected stand made by Mokena, a chief of the Ngatiporou tribe, the East Coast settlements must have fallen; as it was, they were in great peril. Mokena, after defeating the enemy on several occasions, was compelled to act on the defensive, and barely held his pa, against overwhelming numbers. One pa of his, in which he had placed his women and children, had fallen, and a young chief of high rank, nephew to Mokena, had been literally cut to pieces. This occurred in June, 1865. On the 1st July, Lieut. Biggs, with a few volunteers, were ordered by Mr. M‘Lean to proceed to Mokena’s assistance, who was thus enabled to resume the offensive. His relief by Biggs was the commencement of that[7] long train of brilliant successes which brought the war on the East Coast to a glorious conclusion—a war which would have proved final if its fruits had not been frittered away by a Government without principle, a Government that has sacrificed every vestige of self-respect, and is guided principally by an unflinching resolve to retain office at whatever cost to the colony.

By the 11th October, the first stage of the victorious East Coast campaign had been reached, by the capture at Hunga-hunga-toroa of 500 Hauhaus, the greatest triumph ever achieved in New Zealand. It was won by Lieut. (afterwards Major) Biggs, who fell in the Poverty Bay massacre, and Rapata, a Ngatiporou chief, who avenged that massacre. The force that accomplished so much was mainly composed of loyal natives, and was assisted by a handful of Europeans (120), who were enthusiastic in the cause whilst directed by Mr. M‘Lean. Between July and October, 1865, that force had routed the enemy in every encounter; had stormed and captured Pukemaire Kairomiomi and other strong pas—had followed the enemy into what had been deemed inaccessible districts—had killed several hundreds of the enemy, captured many hundred more, and had compelled the remainder to swear allegiance to the Queen. Fraser, Biggs, Westrup, and other officers distinguished themselves in this campaign.

The second stage of the East Coast campaign commenced with the accession of the Stafford Ministry. On the 12th October Mr. Weld resigned, on the ground that his Ministry was not adequately supported by public opinion. He was the author of what is termed the “Self-Reliance Policy,” which might have issued differently to what it has hitherto done if a regiment or two had been left in the colony for a year or two, and the mother country had granted that pecuniary assistance to which New Zealand was fairly entitled when she undertook to establish the Queen’s supremacy, and to end an Imperial war after the British forces had failed, and for which the colonists have been heavily taxed.

It may be truly said that Mr. Stafford obtained office under false pretences. Whilst accepting the “Self-Reliance Policy” he promised to effect a reduction of £240,000 upon the Estimates, which (and no one could have known it better than himself) it was impossible for him to do. This was proved at an after date, when it was found that by a cheese-paring economy, calculated to impair the efficiency of the public service, his boasted savings amounted to about eight thousand pounds.


Mr. Stafford became Premier on the 17th October, 1865. During that month the Hauhaus in Poverty Bay were busy erecting three formidable pas, of which one named Waerenga-ahika was the strongest. On the 9th November Mr. M‘Lean arrived at Poverty Bay with the victorious forces from Waiapu. On the 10th he sent an ultimatum to the rebels, of which no notice was taken. Fighting ensued on the 17th, and continued five days, during which about sixty of the enemy were killed. On the 22nd Waerenga-ahika was surrendered, 180 men and 200 women and children being made prisoners; 160 guns and a vast amount of plunder stolen from settlers were likewise captured. Shortly after a spy named Te Kooti was taken. He was afterwards better known as the author of the Poverty Bay and other massacres.

Upon the fall of Waerenga-ahika a profound dread fell upon the remaining Hauhaus; the other fighting pas were precipitately abandoned, and their garrisons fled to Wairoa, there to stir up sedition; the remnant came in and submitted to European rule.

The last stage of the East Coast campaign of 1865-6, was marked by the severe defeats sustained by the Hauhaus at the Upper Wairoa and the Waikare-moana. Upon the borders of that lake, the Hauhaus suffered a heavy loss; the survivors escaped in their canoes, but were mostly killed or captured at Petane and Omaranui, on the 12th October, 1866.

Thus ended a campaign unmarked, as far as the author is aware, by a solitary reverse on our side. There has never been a campaign like it in New Zealand, before or since. It was won for us by friendly natives and a handful of Europeans, who numbered about 120 whites. The force was led by brave officers, and chiefs who secured the goodwill, respect, and confidence of their men, European and native. By uniform courtesy and a gentlemanly demeanour towards those over whom they were placed, such men as Biggs, Wilson, and the chiefs Mokena and Rapata, found that the men would follow them wherever those officers and chiefs were pleased to lead the way. Hunger and hardships were endured without complaint by all alike; districts unknown, and hitherto deemed inaccessible, were penetrated, no matter how savage or remote; and the murderous rebel was taught, for the first time, that no place could shelter him from the consequences of his crimes. In various ways, not less than 400 natives are believed to have been killed or to have died of their wounds. From first[9] to last the prisoners were not far short of a thousand, all ages. Of these the ringleaders were afterwards deported to the Chatham Islands. The grand result was perfect safety for life and property in the lately disturbed districts; that result was obtained for the colony in the wise selection made of brave and intelligent instruments to carry out his skilful combinations, by Donald M‘Lean.



The East Coast Hauhau prisoners were deported to the Chatham Islands in 1866, to the number of 187, of the worst characters; their women and children were permitted to accompany them. Land, seeds, and implements were allotted each man; they were well fed and clothed, and a guard of 25 men was placed over them. One of the prisoners was the spy Te Kooti, who had planned an ambush to murder an escort party.

The Chathams are well adapted for expatriation purposes, their nearest point being 400 miles from the mainland of New Zealand. When the prisoners arrived, the Chathams were inhabited by 46 Europeans and a small number of Morioris and Maoris; the former were aborigines of the Chathams, who had been conquered by the latter.

Upon the restoration of peace, a problem of difficult solution presented itself, viz., the administration of Hauhau lands. In accordance with Maori usage, those lands were so minutely divided and mixed up with lands owned by loyal natives, that the greatest tact and intimate acquaintance with native customs and land tenures were requisite in him who should be entrusted with the unpleasant task, in order that injustice might be avoided. There is no subject upon which a Maori is so sensitive as that of his land: but so confident were the natives in Mr. M‘Lean’s impartiality, that the whole of their lands were placed at his disposal, by the unanimous desire of all concerned. There is not another man in New Zealand to whom such a compliment would be paid; and if the land question remains unsettled to this day, the fault is attributable to Mr.[10] Stafford and his colleagues. It has been shewn that, by his conquest of the East Coast, Mr. M‘Lean had paved the way for its speedy and peaceful colonization. At this juncture ministers stepped in, and, jealous of his unrivalled influence with the Maoris, meanly tried to filch the laurels he had won. The administration of the East Coast was practically transferred to themselves, and Captain Biggs, a highly meritorious officer, but quite incapable of dealing with a question of such magnitude, was appointed to negotiate between them and the natives.

Consequences followed that might have been foreseen. The natives, irritated and bewildered at the seeming refusal of the Government to accept their liberal offer through Mr. M‘Lean, whilst another agent was treating for the very lands included in that offer, became first suspicious, and finally disaffected. Between the date, however, of their offer to place all their lands at Mr. M‘Lean’s disposal and the disaffection alluded to, the natives had taken an important step and petitioned the Assembly that Poverty Bay and East Coast districts might be annexed to the province of which Mr. M‘Lean is Superintendent. Such a proposal was “gall and wormwood” to ministers; accordingly, they played into the hands of Mr. Whitaker, and thereby prevented the proposed annexation and consequent settlement of those districts, though they were well aware that at that very time Mr. Whitaker, the Superintendent of Auckland and a General Government Agent, was breaking the law, and assisting to prevent a settlement of the Poverty Bay land question, by negociating, through his agent, with rebel Hauhaus, for the cession of the Poverty Bay oil springs and other lands.

The recognition of rebel claims by a person holding such a high position, led to similar dealings of the most irregular description, involving breaches of faith with the loyal natives, whose confidence became weakened by the treatment they experienced after the valuable services rendered by them in the East Coast campaign of 1865, while the assurance of those lately in rebellion greatly increased, and led both to deny what had been at first unanimously approved, viz., the justice of the principle embodied in the Outlying Districts Police Act of 1865, which assents, that “expenses incurred in suppressing rebellion should be borne out of lands of the insurgents.”

By 1867, manifold conflicting interests had grown up in Poverty Bay and East Coast districts, in the shape of land purchases and[11] leases of runs, which of necessity interfered with a settlement of out-standing claims. A committee of the House of Representatives had eschewed the right of East Coast settlers to compensation for losses sustained in 1865. This led to some of those settlers applying for and obtaining compensation from rebels in land. The consequence of all this was that complication after complication arose, until the land question became an unintelligible web of confusion to ministers, who, seeing no other way of escape from a serious dilemma, called Mr. M‘Lean to the rescue.

But though they had by their injudicious meddling marred the fairest prospect that ever presented itself for settling a question of vital importance to the whole colony, and were compelled to ask the assistance of the man whose influence they envied and tried to undermine, their peddling policy was perceptible to the end; even whilst they gave Mr. M‘Lean to understand they had no doubt though “the opportunity for carrying out good arrangements had long passed by,” and the question “had become complicated by circumstances which greatly increase the difficulty;” and whilst they were constrained to admit, that if any solution of the difficulties could be arrived at, it would be solely through his exertions.

In truth, the difficulties in the way of a satisfactory solution were well nigh insuperable. Nevertheless, Mr. McLean, whilst pointing out that in his opinion not much could be achieved in the settlement of the land question, agreed to go, if Ministers would indicate what they proposed to do. He afterwards proceeded to the East Coast, but fresh complications arose. Finally his exertions were rendered nugatory by the criminal negligence that precipitated the massacre of Poverty Bay.

There can be no doubt that Mr. McLean earnestly desired the settlement of the East Coast lands question, in common with every settler interested in the welfare of those districts, and it was essential for the welfare of his own province that the East Coast should be occupied by a European population. But apart from that consideration, the high and influential positions held by him for so many years must enable him to take a more comprehensive survey, embracing not a part only but the whole of the colony, and to act as he thinks best for the general welfare.

It has been insinuated that Mr. M‘Lean desired the annexation of a certain district to Hawke’s Bay province, from personal considerations, and that the petitions presented to the Assembly upon[12] the annexation question from natives and Europeans were fictitious. Both insinuations are false. With respect to the first, it ought to be known that Mr. M‘Lean desired the Poverty Bay district to be administered by a Commission. The annexation petitions were the spontaneous expressions of the opinions of a very large majority of native and European residents in the Poverty Bay districts, who, seeing the advantages enjoyed by their neighbours, desired to share in those advantages, and to have their district administered by the man who saved them from destruction.



It has been shewn that the Hauhau prisoners were considerately treated on their arrival at the Chatham Islands. But few and trifling restrictions were imposed upon their movements from the first; gradually even those restrictions were withdrawn, and they were always allowed to communicate with the main land. Moreover, a promise had been given, contingent on their good behaviour, that they would be permitted to return home at a specified period, which the writer understands to have been two years. In letters written by the exiles to their relatives in Poverty Bay, constant mention is made of the kind way in which they were treated.

By-and-by the small guard of 25 men was reduced to 15. This was ordered by Ministers from pitiful motives of economy. Mr. Stafford had promised to save £240,000, a sum which will perhaps be added to the heavy burdens of the colony before the subsequent mischief that ensued has been repaired. However, the reduction of the small guard most likely caused the prisoners to meditate an early escape, and a leader was soon found capable of executing the project.

In September, 1867, a waiata or poem was composed by Te Kooti, the burden of which was to the effect that Te Kooti was inspired and a prophet, and he appears to have been accepted as such by his brother Hauhaus without question. Being sent to prison for practising Hauhau rites, he affected, after his discharge, to have been delivered by the angel Gabriel. He was a man originally[13] of no importance, and bore a bad character in Poverty Bay as a thief and drunkard.

By the end of June, 1868, Te Kooti appears to have matured his plans. All the prisoners had become privy to the intended escape, which three of them declined to share. Information was even forwarded by a settler to Captain Thomas, the Resident Magistrate, of which he took no notice.

On the 3rd July, the schooner Rifleman arrived at the Chathams; on the 4th, the prisoners rose upon the guard, and clove the skull of the only one who offered resistance. The prisoners next secured the Resident Magistrate, the guard, and the male European residents, but left the women and children uninjured and free; they then boarded the Rifleman, and imprisoned the crew—her captain was on shore. On the afternoon of the same day, the prisoners, 187 in number, shipped their women and children. They next plundered the island, cut the cable of the only other vessel at the Chathams, in order to prevent pursuit, and set sail for Poverty Bay on the 5th July—to which place the mate of the Rifleman said he was compelled to navigate them on pain of death.

During the voyage, armed guards paraded the deck day and night, the crew were forbidden to cook, and a sentry with a drawn cutlass stood by the man at the wheel, to see the right course was kept. On the 9th, when in sight of New Zealand, Te Kooti ordered his uncle to be thrown overboard. The victim was one of the three prisoners who had objected to the escape and informed the authorities. He had been secured by Te Kooti before leaving the Chathams: revenge was the motive for the murder. The Rifleman arrived at Whareongaonga, six miles south of Turanganui, on the evening of the 10th. That night and the following day were occupied in landing the cargo, women and children, and everything portable: finally, two casks of water were shipped for the use of the Rifleman’s crew, and the mate was told to go where he liked.

At this time the wind blew fair for Turanganui, six miles distant, and it is noteworthy that, with a head wind, the Rifleman sailed for Wellington, 250 miles distant, leaving the inhabitants of an unprotected district to the mercy of a band of desperadoes who had committed two murders.




At the beginning of 1868, the inhabitants of Poverty Bay numbered about 450 natives and 200 Europeans. Most of the natives were Hauhaus of 1865, who had become once more exceedingly disaffected, owing to the non-solution of the land question. It appears probable that they were aware of the intended escape from the Chathams before that event occurred.

On the 9th July, 1868, it was rumoured in Poverty Bay that the prisoners had escaped, and were at Whareongaonga. The rumour was disbelieved. It was afterwards ascertained that a Taranaki chief, one of the prisoners, proposed, on the night of the landing, to march at once on Poverty Bay, and murder the European population; but was overruled. On the 11th, Major Biggs received a letter from Mr. Johnston, a runholder near Whareongaonga, stating 49 armed men had passed his house, but that he had been unable to ascertain their intentions. Next day, Major Biggs called at Johnston’s, on his way to Wairoa, and heard sufficient to prove the prisoners were really at Whareongaonga. He at once returned, and mustered what men he could on such short notice—120, of whom 40 were Europeans. With these he arrived at a spot within half-a-mile of Whareongaonga, at 10 a.m. July 13th.

Major Biggs found the prisoners camped in a hollow fronted by the sea, and backed by a semicircle of steep cliffs. By surmounting those cliffs and crossing a ridge, the prisoners could plunge into an almost impenetrable bush country, extending inland for about 20 miles. Major Biggs at once despatched a message demanding the surrender of the prisoners, who ridiculed the idea. They, however, said they had no wish to fight if left alone, and allowed to re-occupy Poverty Bay. All the prisoners were found to be well armed. As there was no reserve force in case of defeat, Major Biggs decided not to attack them whilst the prisoners were so nigh the settled district, but to wait in the vicinity and observe their movements. Messengers were also despatched to Wairoa and Napier.


On the night of the 13th, the ex-prisoners, fearing the arrival of reinforcements, crossed the coast range, and got into the bush unperceived, upon which Major Biggs decided to make a detour, after enrolling every available man, and intercept the ex-prisoners as they emerged from the bush inland. All the Europeans but the very aged, and at the most four or five others, volunteered at a few hours’ notice. About 150 professedly loyal natives were armed and ordered to pursue the retreating enemy. The Europeans numbered 65 at starting, and were but badly armed. They were mostly mounted.

On the 16th, the Europeans started for a point inland, distant about 30 miles. The route lay over a very rough country. On the 18th, they were lying in wait for the ex-prisoners at Paparatu, where they were expected to emerge from the bush. On the evening of the 18th, it was known our doubtful allies had treacherously abandoned the pursuit. Some of them had seen Te Kooti and accepted presents.

On the 20th, Major Biggs being absent, with the view of inducing the native deserters to resume duty, the Europeans were attacked by Te Kooti, who had been somewhat reinforced by quondam Hauhaus of 1865. At sundown the whites were defeated, with the loss of seven killed and wounded. The Europeans had expended all but a few rounds of their ammunition, and but for night must have been cut off. The enemy stormed the European camp, and captured horses, food, in fact everything but the men and their arms. The Europeans retreated all night through a fearful country, with their wounded, and pursued by the enemy. Their escape is due to the fidelity of Henare Kakapanga, a brave chief of Turanga, and universally esteemed by the whites.

On the 20th, Colonel Whitmore assumed command in Poverty Bay. He had volunteered his services, and they had been accepted by his friend the Defence Minister, Colonel Haultain. Very little was known of Whitmore in Poverty Bay at the time of his first arrival. He brought with him considerable reinforcements, sufficient to have crushed Te Kooti, if well directed.

The first thing done by Colonel Whitmore, was to announce that he would capture Te Kooti in twenty-four hours; his next was to heap the foulest abuse upon every settler and native with whom he came in contact. Having thus paved the way for a great success, he proceeded to the front. In rather less than a month,[16] he had advanced about ten miles further inland than Biggs had done in two days. On the 8th August, he was beaten by Te Kooti at Ruakiture. Seeing some of his men fall, Colonel Whitmore retreated, leaving his wounded to the mercy of the enemy. He afterwards asserted they had been killed; but, subsequently, the bones of Captain Carr were found on a hill nigh half-a-mile from where he fell. He was a gentle, brave officer, much beloved, and had distinguished himself whilst serving in the Imperial Army; and it is sad to reflect that such a man should have survived, perhaps for days, to find himself helpless and deserted by his commanding officer.

Major Fraser and his men are said to have remained at Ruakiture fighting with Te Kooti for several hours after Whitmore’s retreat from the field, and, it is believed, would have beaten and captured the enemy if he had been properly supported.

In the meantime, two expeditions started from the Wairoa to co-operate with Whitmore. Both failed; one through the cowardice of the natives, the other by reason of contradictory orders from Colonel Whitmore. Those expeditions were headed by Captain Richardson, a brave and able officer, who did good service in Mr. M‘Lean’s East Coast campaign of 1865.

Colonel Whitmore, in his after despatches, claimed to have driven “the enemy from his first position”—in short, he had won a victory. He also stated the enemy had “suffered severely.” He should have said it was our side suffered severely: what the enemy suffered was impossible for him to tell, because he did not wait to see. Such misrepresentations can deceive no one who looks below the surface. At a later date, we find Colonel Whitmore, after he had been beaten in fair fight on the West Coast, and had left eleven wounded men to fall into Titokowaru’s hands, stating that those men were “missing;” though it afterwards came out that nine of the eleven were taken into Tito’s pa and cooked! Colonel Whitmore left Poverty Bay after his defeat, all the forces were withdrawn, and Te Kooti retired to Puketapu, about forty-five miles inland of Poverty Bay, having lost eight or nine men in the two engagements, and carried with him his accumulated plunder.




By the withdrawal of all the forces, Poverty Bay was left in a precarious state. No one could tell when the victorious enemy would return to avenge the repeated attacks made by us upon the ex-prisoners. Whitmore’s conduct had exasperated the friendly natives, and increased the disaffection of the quondam Hauhaus, who very well knew that Whitmore had been defeated, notwithstanding his assertions to the contrary. Spies began to visit Te Kooti, and there were few arms in the district. Moreover, a large proportion of the able-bodied European population, alarmed at the threatening aspect of affairs, began to leave the district. By-and-by, Ministers, influenced it is believed by Whitmore’s asseverations, withdrew Fraser’s troop from the Wairoa, in spite of Messrs. McLean and Ormond’s urgent repeated protests. Thus the important East Coast settlements, by the infatuation of Ministers, were left a prey to Te Kooti.

In October, 1868, meetings of settlers were held to consider the state of affairs in Poverty Bay. A memorial was forwarded to Ministers, praying that 50 men of the colonial forces might be stationed in the district, and the settlers offered to build a redoubt and pay scouts. Little attention was paid by Ministers to the memorial, but after the settlers had organised a scout party, Government undertook its management, and agreed to pay the men.

In the same month the loyal natives agreed to erect the palisades of a strong redoubt at Matewhero, in the heart of the district, if the Europeans would assist. This was agreed to by the settlers, but after the natives, at great cost and labor, had built the heavy timber work, it was put a stop to by Major Biggs, acting by Government instructions. The non-erection of the Matewhero redoubt was a fatal mistake. If finished, it would have proved a sure refuge for every one who resided at Matewhero.

The scouts, twelve in all, were too few to watch the three great avenues of approach from Puketapu, seeing they are situated many miles apart, and divided by many precipitous and rugged ranges.


Early in November, Lieut. Gascoigne, who commanded the scouts, reported the enemy’s approach. Their fires were seen upon the hills by many settlers, some of whom watched nightly. Major Biggs was impressed with the conviction that Te Kooti would come by the Arai, instead of the Patutahi track; consequently, the scouts were detained at the former. There is little doubt now that Te Kooti purposely evaded the scouts, of whose movements he must have been informed by quondam Hauhau spies.

It has been said that Major Biggs received warnings from ministers of Te Kooti’s advance. There is ample proof, that in conversation held with settlers a few days before the massacre, Major Biggs shewed that he had received neither message nor warning, though it is perfectly well known that the Native Minister had received information which if forwarded to Major Biggs, would have prevented the destruction of a flourishing settlement, and the slaughter of its inhabitants.

A brief outline has thus far been given of causes which led to the massacre. On the night of November 9 the residents of Poverty Bay retired to rest, very few of them, it is true, without misgivings; but some trusted to the scouts, others thought the enemy were not within many miles. It was remembered, too, that as yet Te Kooti had committed no atrocity upon Europeans since his landing, and it was generally believed he would merely advance to the boundary of the settlement and build a pa before taking a more decisive step. It has since transpired that the murderers were lurking about Matewhero before its inhabitants had gone to their beds, and belated settlers passed that place on their way to their homes without noticing anything unusual even after the bloody work had commenced.



About midnight, November 9th, 1868, Mr. Firmin, a policeman, who resided near the Patutahi ford of the Waipawa river, which he and the male adults of three neighbouring families were accustomed[19] to watch, heard shots in the direction of Matewhero, two miles from Firmin’s house. He woke his wife, but as it was not unusual to hear the sound of shots by night, they considered the sounds heard on this occasion as proceeding from friendly natives, yet they were not entirely free from apprehension, and slept no more that night. At dawn of day, Mr. Firmin went out to reconnoitre. At the Patutahi ford, he saw a Maori, who appeared desirous of avoiding Mr. Firmin, who hailed him to know the meaning of more shots just then heard at Matewhero. The native stopped, and appeared excited. He said the Hauhaus were killing the white men. Nothing more definite could be extracted from him, Firmin being ignorant of the Maori language, so Mr. Firmin hastened to warn his neighbours, Wyllie, Stevenson, and Benson, all married men with very young children. These men and their wives, snatching up their children, fled along the bank of the Waipaua, making for Turanganui, but the firing before them became so heavy they feared they would be intercepted, so they decided to cross the Waipaua, and escape to Murewai, on the coast, by the right bank of the river. The Waipaua, except at the few fords, is generally deep, but although some of the women were nigh drowned, they got to the other side, and made for the village of Tutari, a good man and faithful chief. He received them kindly, and shewed them best how to escape. He was urged to fly with them, but, being very ill, declined. He afterwards lost his life and those of two children for assisting the Europeans. Messrs. Wyllie, Firmin, and the rest pursued their way, overtaking other families as they advanced. Finally, they overtook Major Westrupp. Under his guidance, the survivors south of the Waipaua retreated by a fearful bush country to Mahia, where most of them shipped for Napier, the capital of Hawke’s Bay province, at which place they safely arrived.

About an hour after Firmin and his neighbours left the village where the chief Tutari lived, Te Kooti and 12 Hauhaus arrived, and demanded where the Europeans had gone. Tutari declined to tell, though Te Kooti promised to save his life if he would say which route they had taken. Finding threats and entreaties of no avail, Tutari and his two children were taken a few yards away from the house, and killed by Te Kooti’s orders. Tutari’s wife sat near with her uncle, compelled to witness the murders. When her husband and children were dead, she was asked to reveal by[20] what road the white men went. She, too, was faithful. She pointed out a track which the fugitives had not taken. One of the Europeans, Mr. Wyllie, was especially obnoxious to Te Kooti, for it was Mr. Wyllie who helped to capture Te Kooti in 1865. After being mis-directed, Te Kooti rode off laughing, saying he would cut slices of flesh off Mr. Wyllie until the latter died. Tutari’s wife, Miriama, was spared, and afterwards escaped to Turanganui.

About half-a-mile from Firmin’s house, Messrs. Hawthorne and Strong resided. They, too, were warned on Tuesday morning, first by Mr. Benson, and directly after by Sergeant-Major Butter. Mr. Butter had been to Taureka, a station owned by Messrs. Dodd and Peppard, where he intended to assist in shearing. Arrived at the wool-shed, which stood about 400 yards from the dwelling-house, he was attracted by a furious barking from the chained-up sheep dogs, and wondered to see no one about. So he walked up to the house, and round it. At the back door he found Dodd and Peppard lying dead in their shirts on the threshold. Throwing down his shears, he rode away to the Mission premises at Waerenga-ahika, where he and other people usually resided. After warning the inmates of Waerenga-ahika, he made for Hawthorne and Strong’s, who with one friend and a servant lad escaped. It was afterwards ascertained that one of Dodd and Peppard’s men got away three miles on his road to alarm Major Biggs, but was overtaken in his night-clothes by the murderers of his employers and killed. Sergeant Butter pursued the road to Matewhero, and had a narrow escape. As he neared the residence of Major Biggs, where he was bound, he found the Hauhaus were inside the premises, and their horses fastened to the garden fence to the number of 12 or 14. He found all the habitations between Matewhero and Turanganui deserted; every one, Europeans and natives, who escaped, were flying for life, and several houses were already in flames. About two miles from Matewhero, he passed Mr. Mann’s house. Mann was lying dead, shot and tomahawked; his wife was mutilated and partly burnt; and their baby stabbed in several places. Mr. Mann’s family resided nearer Turanganui than other victims, and his place marked the limit of the massacre in that direction.

Captain Wilson’s house was the first attacked at Matewhero. It stood in a garden, and was nearly equi-distant from most of[21] the other residences at that place. The Wilsons’ premises, indeed, were centrally situated, being surrounded on all sides by those of their neighbours, at distances varying from a quarter to less than half-a-mile.

The assassins, guided by three resident and professed “friendly natives” of Poverty Bay, came to Captain Wilson’s house on the night of Monday, November 9th. The family had retired to rest with the exception of Captain Wilson, who sat up late writing letters for the English mail, which was to leave next day. It was probably 12 or 1 o’clock when the Hauhaus knocked at his door and told him they had brought a letter from Hirini-te-Kani, the principal chief of Poverty Bay. Captain Wilson appears to have suspected mischief, and told them to put the letter under the door. Looking out, he saw a great many natives flitting about, and, calling to his servant, Edward Moran, who slept in an out-building, told him the Hauhaus were upon them, and desired him to come to his assistance, which Moran immediately did, though the Hauhaus tried to catch him as he ran across the open space between the two buildings. They appear to have been afraid to fire, lest they might rouse the sleeping neighbours. Finding they could not induce Captain Wilson to open the door, the Hauhaus proceeded to burst it in with a log of wood. After they had battered down the door, however, they feared to enter the house, knowing it would cost some of them their lives, as Captain Wilson bore a well-deserved reputation for resolute bravery. For some time Captain Wilson and Moran kept the murderers at bay, but at last the Hauhaus set fire to both ends of the house. Captain Wilson even then defended his home to the last extremity, and only left it when the flames had singed his wife’s hair and scorched his children’s feet. Captain Wilson headed his family in their retreat from the burning mansion, revolver in hand, and his undaunted carriage appears at that terrible crisis to have cowed his murderers. The family comprised Captain Wilson, Mrs. Wilson, four infant children, and the servant Moran. As the little party left the house, the Hauhaus assured Captain Wilson they had made up their minds not to kill him or his family. There was just a chance they might keep their word; the enemy were numerous, and it is probable considerations connected with the safety of his wife and little ones induced him to put faith in the asseverations of the cowardly wretches, who were all armed with rifles and[22] bayonets. To prove their good intentions, one of the Hauhaus took up one of the children to carry. Captain Wilson, his wife, and Moran carried the others, and the party, Hauhaus included, proceeded towards Goldsmith’s house, about a quarter of a mile distant. After walking about 200 yards, a Hauhau rushed upon Moran and knocked him down. Another stabbed Captain Wilson with a bayonet in the back. He fell with his little son James (whom he carried) uttering a dying exclamation. The little boy extricated himself from his dying father, and got away in the dark to some scrub. Mrs. Wilson, hearing her husband’s death-cry, turned round and uttered an exclamation of horror. The same instant she was thrust through the body with a bayonet, her arm being likewise pierced whilst trying to defend her baby. She fell insensible, and received several other bayonet wounds, to the number of four or five, besides being beat on the breast with the butt end of a rifle. Yet she survived for several weeks, and related how, when she became conscious the following day, she saw all her family lying dead around her, with the exception of her boy James. All that day (Tuesday) she lay unable to rise, with the murderers in sight, busy at their awful work. Whilst she lay helpless, a “friendly” native came and robbed her of her shawl, leaving her attired only in her night-dress. On Wednesday she managed to crawl to what had been her home, and got some water. Still the Hauhaus were about, and many buildings were being fired, at or near Matewhero; but she contrived to reach a little outhouse left standing on her grounds, and hid herself.

In the interim, her little boy, eight years of age, after escaping from the murderers, wandered about for several days, unperceived by the Hauhaus, though one night he slept in a house to which they came. He appears to have confined his rambles to Matewhero and its vicinity, supporting himself by food found in those houses not then destroyed. He said he “did not think it would be exactly stealing,” as “everybody had run away.” He saw, he thought, “as many Hauhaus as would fill the Turanganui redoubt.” One day he went back to his old home, and found his “father, and brother, and sisters, with Moran, all dead,” and wondered “what the Hauhaus had done with his mother,” but “thought they must have eaten her.” After all the houses were burnt at Matewhero, he went “home,” and found his mother in the little out-house, to their mutual surprise and delight. Here[23] he subsisted her for several days upon eggs and whatever he could forage. At last the poor lady got a card and pencil from her husband’s coat-pocket, and contrived, after four hours’ labour, and many failures, to write the following:—

Could some kind friend come to our help, for God’s sake. I am very much wounded, lying in a little house at our place. My poor son James is with me. Come quick.

Alice Wilson.

We have little or no clothing, and are in dreadful suffering.

This note, after several attempts to reach Turanganui, six miles distant, was delivered to Major Westrupp, at that place, by the little boy, who had been picked up not far from Turanganui by a party sent out on the 16th to rescue missing settlers, if alive. On the same day, Mrs. Wilson was brought to Turanganui on a litter. She was tended with the greatest solicitude, but though she rallied for a time, and was at one time thought to be out of danger, she ultimately succumbed to the terrible injuries she had sustained. She died in Napier in December, and her death is thought to have been hastened by the intelligence of the Pipiwhakau affair, which occurred whilst Mrs. Wilson was on board the Sturt steamer, in which vessel she had engaged a passage for Napier. Few ladies have lived through such afflictions as those witnessed and suffered by Mrs. Wilson.

It appears to have been Te Kooti’s intention to first kill those officers who had distinguished themselves in 1865, judging the settlers, if deprived of their leaders, would become confused, and so fall an easy prey. There is no doubt Te Kooti was right in his conjectures, as the result proved. Had Biggs, Wilson, or even Walsh survived, many of the murders would not have occurred, for neither of those officers would have remained cooped up in the Turanganui redoubt to witness the wholesale destruction that ensued. Knowing this, they were marked first for destruction.

The dwelling of Major Biggs, the Resident Magistrate, was rather more distant than several others from Captain Wilson’s house, yet it was the second residence attacked at Matewhero; and it is a singular circumstance that no one at Matewhero seems to have known what transpired at Biggs’ or Wilson’s until all was over—screams, shots, and flames alike appear to have been neither heard or seen.


About dawn of the 10th, Major Biggs and family were roused from their beds by a knocking at the back door. Upon opening it, Major Biggs, who was followed by a servant lad, was immediately shot, and fell whilst telling the lad to get his rifle. The boy ran to the front door, but was met by a number of Hauhaus. Making for the back door, he fell over the wounded Major, but got up and ran out into a flax bush. As he lay concealed, he heard Major Biggs calling to his wife, “Emily, dear, the Hauhaus are here, run for the bush.” The poor lady would not leave her husband, but stood by him with her baby in her arms. She had not long been married. Her servant, Mrs. Farrell, in her turn, would not desert Mrs. Biggs, to whom she was much attached. So they all died together. They were awfully mutilated. From his retreat the boy heard their dying groans. Afterwards, settlers flying for their lives witnessed the ghastly spectacle. The boy alone escaped to tell the sad tale. He hastened as soon as he could emerge from his hiding place to warn the neighbours, and by his means many ladies and children escaped to Turanganui in their night-clothes. He was subsequently rewarded by the inhabitants of Auckland, who invested a handsome sum for his benefit.

It is not intended to enter into a minute relation of all the horrid butcheries which took place on that fatal 10th November. In two days, 29 Europeans and 32 loyal natives were killed under revolting circumstances. Subsequently, many loyal natives were butchered by Te Kooti at various times. Some hapus of tribes have been well nigh exterminated, and, including natives killed at Ngatapa, most of whom had been carried captives to that stronghold by Te Kooti, the loss of life must have been very great—probably not less than 250 people in all were slain. Some settlers escaped the massacre by miracle, but the instances are too numerous to record them all. Mr. Daniel Munn and Mr. T. Goldsmith were both riding towards Matewhero to ascertain the meaning of shots heard so early in the morning. The former found himself amongst the Hauhaus before he was aware, and barely escaped with a severe bullet wound. The latter rode up to the assassins of the Mann family, who were busy burning the body of Mrs. Mann. Goldsmith seems to have been stupified by the horrid sight, until a Hauhau snatched at his bridle. Fortunately his horse swerved and galloped off, and his master, being a[25] good rider, escaped, though he was chased for several miles. Mrs. James, who had not long been confined, hid with her children for hours in some scrub close to her burning house; and one old man named Garland passed Lieut. Walsh’s house whilst the murderers were firing into it.

The exact mode by which many people died we shall perhaps never know. Lieut. Walsh, who had greatly distinguished himself on one occasion, was shot with his wife and child. Mr. Walsh’s partner, Mr. Padbury, was killed at the same time. Mr. Cadel, a storekeeper, just about to be married, and a very amiable man, fell shot in front of his store. His faithful retriever dog preserved Mr. Cadel’s body from mutilation by pigs for eight days, having never deserted it from the 10th to the 18th November. Mr. M‘Culloch was shot whilst milking. His wife and child fled to the scrub, but were overtaken and killed. Mrs. M‘Culloch’s brother, a child, standing by her when she was bayoneted, escaped to reach Turanganui unhurt. Many people, after lying concealed for awhile, contrived to get off clear, all in a pitiable plight, with nothing on them but the clothes—chiefly night-dresses—in which they escaped. Mr. and Mrs. Newnham, an aged couple with an adopted child, were beguiled into the belief that the Hauhaus would not hurt them, by two old Maori spies. These spies brought the murderers to Newnham’s house on the succeeding day, November 11th. The Newnhams were killed; but Mr. Brown, a neighbour, saw the murderers coming from Newnham’s to his house, and escaped across a muddy river, whither the Hauhaus declined to follow him. One of the spies was afterwards taken, but was let off in a shameful way by the authorities, as were many other Hauhau villains. The reason why they were allowed to escape the halter was this—in most cases the murderers were connected with friendly natives, and it was thought desirable not to offend those “friendlies,” as they might prevent a settlement of the land question.

Two principal rivers divide the Poverty Bay plains—the Waipaua and the Waimataha. With the exception of Messrs. Dodd and Peppard, no Europeans were killed south of the Waipaua until a later date, when one man and three boys lost their lives at Pipiwhakau, whilst Colonel Whitmore looked on at the head of 400 men, he being busily engaged at the time settling the land question in conjunction with Mr. Richmond.


It was between the Waipaua and the Waimataha that the massacre of the 10th and 11th November, 1868, was perpetrated. All the Europeans who lived between those rivers and escaped the slaughter fled to Wilson’s redoubt, situated on the north side of Waimataha, opposite Turanganui, at a distance of a quarter of a mile from the sea. Most of the settlers reached the redoubt on the first day of the massacre, and were joined by the scouts on the evening of the same day. The scouts were 12 in number. They were commanded by Lieut. Gascoigne, some of whose relatives were lately destroyed in the massacre at the White Cliffs, Taranaki. The scouts had been set to watch the passes into Poverty Bay for a few weeks before Te Kooti’s arrival. No blame can fairly be attached to the scouts, because Te Kooti evaded their notice. They were far too few to keep efficient watch over a tract of country 40 miles by 20. The blame, if any, must be attributed to the Government, who would not even have appointed scouts if the Poverty Bay settlers had not first taken the matter in hand. Great credit is due to the men for forcing their way to Turanganui at all hazards, when intelligence of the massacre reached them, instead of escaping to Mahia, as they might have done. Their arrival was gladly hailed by the few survivors who escaped to Turanganui, and but for the scouts the redoubt could not have been held in case of an attack by the Hauhaus. On the second day of the massacre, several missing settlers reached the redoubt, after narrow escapes. At the same time, some doubtful friendly natives arrived. A few days later, all the remaining Turanga natives, except those residing at Muriwai, joined Te Kooti. Most of them voluntarily went over to the enemy. Of the latter, many afterwards fell into our hands, but were almost invariably “let off” whenever they chanced to be in a position to assist in “settling” the Poverty Bay land question, although some of them were known to be deeply implicated in the murders of Europeans or loyal natives. Others of those who joined Te Kooti of their own will deserted him afterwards, and “came in” with piteous tales of the compulsion used by Te Kooti to make them join him. These men, in almost every instance, deserted Te Kooti only through fear of losing their lands. Some of them were employed by Government in land negociations, and used their influence to enrich themselves by laying claim to lands belonging to defunct loyal or Hauhau natives. In this way, villains, who[27] deserved the halter, have attained a status they could never have acquired but for the massacre at Poverty Bay.

Those natives who resisted the blandishments of Te Kooti and his band retired to Muriwai, an almost (to natives) impregnable pa, and joined its defenders. There were several reasons for the Muriwai natives holding out against the Hauhaus. They possessed and believed in a rival prophet, who assured them Te Kooti would die by his hands. Besides, their pa was very strong, close to the sea, and only six miles from Turanganui, across the bay. From Turanganui they could and actually did receive assistance from time to time, and they were perhaps doubtful of the treatment they might receive from Te Kooti if they surrendered. They numbered about 70 men, and could easily hold their own; but although they remained nominally loyal, it by no means follows they were heartily attached to our cause, and there is good reason to believe that but for Mr. M‘Lean they might have fought against us. Had they done so immediately after the massacre, there is little doubt the quasi-Hauhaus who assisted to hold the Turanganui redoubt would have deserted, and left the little garrison of 40 Europeans to be overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers.

Through the exertions of Captain Read, all the women and children but a few, who would not leave their friends, were safely shipped for Auckland and Napier on the night of the 10th. During that day, Captain Read toiled for many hours to overtake two vessels in sight, and by his means the female part of the community were placed out of danger, and by his directions, there being no one else left to take command until Lieut. Gascoigne arrived, the redoubts were provisioned and prepared for defence from the threatened attack on the morrow. That night of the 10th will never be forgotten by the survivors of Poverty Bay. The whole plain was lit up by blazing homesteads, which illuminated the entire horizon, and enabled the pensive settlers cooped in the redoubt to trace the passage of the vessels far out to sea which were carrying away those loved ones they might see no more.

Every man who had them stood to his arms and lined the parapets that night. About half the garrison was armed, including the “friendlies.” Little dependence was placed in the native allies, as it was evident from their demeanour and language they[28] had no stomach for fighting. Afterwards, when reinforcements arrived, they plucked up a little more courage, but, as a rule, the friendly natives of Poverty Bay took care never to expose themselves. In the subsequent fighting with Te Kooti they had little if any share, which was reserved for the Ngatikahungunu and Ngatiporou tribes.

A faint outline has thus been given of events that occurred at the massacre of Poverty Bay. Some of the deeds perpetrated cannot be even hinted at, and will never be generally known until the great day of reckoning. Of the destruction of property, it is sufficient to say the settlement of Poverty Bay, with the exception of Turanganui and four or five houses, was annihilated; even the few houses left inland were gutted of their contents. Former visitors would scarcely recognize the district; friendly natives and Europeans alike suffered; cultivations and gardens have been swept away, and, most of the fences having been destroyed, live stock have been dispersed in all directions. The fertile lands, unsurpassed by any in the colony, now lie deserted and waste; and the few survivors, huddled together as close as possible near the coast, have been forced to build a blockhouse upon the margin of the sea; and the spot upon which Turanganui stands represents as much of the Poverty Bay district as the colony can fairly call its own.

It has been shewn that this massacre was brought on by the refusal of ministers to listen to repeated warnings. They were told by Mr. M‘Lean and others what would ensue if Fraser’s force was withdrawn from the East Coast. There is good reason to believe ministers were influenced by envy of Mr. M‘Lean’s unrivalled influence with the natives, and they have proved, by the animus shewn in their later dealings with that gentleman, an exhibition of petty spite and malevolence which have never been surpassed in the annals of New Zealand.

Nor are ministers alone to blame for such a sad calamity. There can be little doubt that it was mainly owing to the representations of their creature and tool, the officer commanding the forces, that Fraser’s force was withdrawn when most wanted. Colonel Whitmore, by his arrogant, insulting demeanour, had deeply offended almost the entire population, European and native, of Poverty Bay. After his disastrous defeat at Ruakiture, the Poverty Bay settlers were the first to expose what has since been demonstrated—his[29] utter unfitness for command; and he never forgave them or lost an opportunity of venting his petty spleen when he safely could. It is well known that previous to Ruakiture he addressed a flattering “order of the day” to those Poverty Bay settlers who accompanied him upon that disgraceful expedition, and that afterwards, in the Legislative Council, he gave them unlimited abuse.

Intelligence of the Poverty Bay massacre was received everywhere with feelings of horror for the victims, and commiseration for the unhappy survivors. The Province of Hawke’s Bay came forward with a large subscription, and immediate aid for those who were most in want of assistance; one lady, Mrs. Tiffen, raised a large sum in two or three days. Taranaki the ruined sent a beautiful and touching address of condolence, with offers of assistance. The kindness was keenly felt, though the assistance was gratefully declined—for the reason that Taranaki out of her slender means was already supporting many people who had lost their all in that province. The distant province of Otago offered homes to the survivors; and Auckland subscribed munificently. Other provinces aided in the good Samaritan work; but it must be said that Hawke’s Bay, a small province with not a numerous population, exerted herself to relieve so much distress with a benevolence and energy rarely seen; and it was natural it should be so, for the Hawke’s Bay people saw what others at a distance could not see, and reflected that the sad fate of Poverty Bay might some day become their own.



A detailed account of subsequent measures taken to punish the assassins lies not within the compass of this little work. The future historian will find ample materials for the interesting task whenever it becomes desirable to use them. At present it may suffice to summarise those operations which resulted in the capture of the mountain fortress Ngatapa, and led to other massacres by Te Kooti.

Intelligence of the raid and massacre at Poverty Bay reached Napier on the 11th November, one day after the outbreak. On[30] receipt of the news, his Honor D. M‘Lean, Esq., Superintendent of Hawke’s Bay province, and General Government Agent for the East Coast, immediately took steps for the relief of the survivors of the massacre and the capture of the murderers. So vigorous were his measures, that by the 13th the garrison in Wilson’s redoubt at Turanganui had been largely reinforced, and other active operations commenced, which caused Te Kooti to retire at once to Patutahi by the way he came. Taking with him the plunder of Poverty Bay, and strengthened by nearly the whole native population, Te Kooti retreated to a position named Makeretu. This position consists of three low hills forming a triangle, bounded on two sides by a river, and on the third by scrubby hills. Here Te Kooti entrenched himself with rifle pits and other defensive works. He was overtaken on the 23rd by a force of 250 loyal natives despatched by Mr. M‘Lean. Te Kooti was taken completely by surprise, and driven from his camp, which was somewhat in advance of the position. It was thought Te Kooti lost about thirty men, but as the country around Makeretu for miles is covered with impenetrable manuka scrub, his loss was not accurately determined. On our side the fighting was done by Ngatikahungunu, Hawke’s Bay natives, under Tareha and other chiefs. A dozen European and half-caste scouts led by Lieut. Gascoigne assisted.

It had been arranged by Mr. M‘Lean that 300 natives were to advance from Wairoa, and attack Te Kooti in the rear simultaneously with Tareha’s charge in the front, and orders had been accordingly sent to Major Lambert at Wairoa; but Major Lambert, acting under instructions from ministers at Wellington, refused to obey. The result was, Te Kooti escaped what might have been certain capture if Mr. M‘Lean’s skilfully-conceived plan had not been frustrated by Colonel Haultain and his coadjutors. Afterwards, when too late, Lambert was ordered to carry out Mr. M‘Lean’s directions. In the interim, Te Kooti somewhat altered his arrangements, but still retained Makeretu as the key of his new position.

Finding himself getting short of ammunition, Te Kooti planned a bold scheme to obtain some at our expense. On the 27th November, about 8 a.m., he contrived, at the head of 60 men, to get in the rear of Tareha’s force unperceived, and intercepted a convoy of stores proceeding to Tareha’s camp. The escort being overmatched by three to one, and badly armed, were forced to retreat,[31] and the depot at Patutahi fell into Te Kooti’s hands. 16,100 rounds of ammunition and a large supply of food stores were captured by Te Kooti on this occasion, and communication was cut off for several days between Turanganui and the force at the front.

On the 3rd December, the men composing the Wairoa expedition arrived. They were of the brave Ngatiporou tribe, and were commanded by Rapata, the chief who, it will be remembered, assisted Biggs to capture 500 Hauhaus at Hungahungatoroa, in Mr. M‘Lean’s East Coast campaign of 1865. Upon his arrival at Makeretu, Rapata announced that he would rest his men for two days, after their fatiguing march. The announcement was a ruse to disguise his real intentions from native traitors who might be in his camp. An hour afterwards, Rapata stormed the enemy’s position, and Te Kooti was forced to abandon Makeretu with heavy loss in men. It was not until some time after that the true nature of this gallant affair became manifest. It was thought 40, or at the most 50, men of the enemy had fallen; ultimately 97 bodies of the enemy were recovered, amongst them 14 chiefs, one of whom, named Nama, had been a turbulent and dangerous man. Most of the bodies were found in dense scrub, and there can be no doubt many more were killed besides those recovered. On the night of the day that the fight took place at Makeretu, the enemy retreated to an almost inaccessible mountain stronghold, named Ngatapa, whilst the force commanded by Rapata pressed forward in pursuit.



Ngatapa, to which Te Kooti retired after his severe defeat at Makeretu, is about 45 miles from Turanganui. It is a wooded mountain, whose summit is about 2500 feet above the level of the sea. The pa derived its name from the mountain on which it stood, and crowned its crest, which is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs of great altitude. On the side looking towards Poverty Bay the ground sloped away on this the only approach to[32] Ngatapa. The pa covered an area of about an acre and a quarter, and occupied the site of an ancient hill fort. The mountain is wooded to within 150 yards of the ruined pa.

The existence of Ngatapa was not suspected until discovered by Rapata in his pursuit of Te Kooti. It was then found that by strongly fortifying its only assailable side, Te Kooti had created a fortress which is believed by all who saw it to have been the strongest in New Zealand. Works of great magnitude protected the vulnerable side; they comprised three great earth-banks, running from side to side of the hill, powerful palisades, and deep trenches parallel with the earth-banks, which were about 15 feet in height, and placed one behind the other. There were also underground passages to facilitate communication between the trenches. The interior of the pa was a maze of rifle-pits, so arranged that a heavy fire could be concentrated upon any one pit, in the event of an attempt being made to storm the pa. Outside the pa, a space had been cleared for some distance in front by cutting down timber. The tree stumps had been left standing for three feet above ground, and the branches strewed between. The object was to prevent a night rush upon Ngatapa.

The mountain is surrounded in almost every direction by forest extending to an illimitable distance, and the entire district for many miles around is cut up by precipitous mountain ranges and profound ravines. Ngatapa mountain rears itself unconnected with neighbouring hills, from which it is separated by chasm-like gullies. No drawing can convey an idea of its tremendous strength, because a complete view of Ngatapa cannot be obtained from its base.

Events will prove Te Kooti retired to Ngatapa with not less than 400 men. He had forwarded on the women and children, amounting to 200, some days before his defeat at Makeretu. The women and children were set to work to strengthen the fortifications of Ngatapa, and to dig fern root to increase the supply of provisions, of which at this time the garrison were by no means deficient.

The distance to Ngatapa is six miles from Makeretu, through a very difficult country; the last two and a half miles are the worst. About half a mile from the pa, at a point termed the Crows’ Nest, the ground improves, until emerging from the bush at 200 yards’ distance from Ngatapa pa. At this point the ruins of the pa may[33] be seen situated upon a lofty mound. Between the Crows’ Nest and the pa the track is traversed by consecutive lines of rifle-pits.

On the 3rd December, Rapata and 70 of his men reached the Crows’ Nest, and by sundown had fought his way through the intervening rifle-pits to within a few hundred yards of Ngatapa. That night Rapata stormed the two lower trenches, and despatched a messenger for reinforcements. By some mistake, they did not arrive; and after retaining the important position he had so bravely won until noon of the 4th, Rapata was constrained to withdraw; but the enemy stood in such awe of him and his men, that they made no effort to bar his retreat.

There had been a slight misunderstanding between the Ngatiporou and Ngatikahungunu tribes, which may have affected Rapata’s arrangements. It was about to be rectified—indeed, both tribes were about to make a combined attack on Ngatapa, when the arrival of Colonel Whitmore rendered Rapata’s plans nugatory. The natives, almost to a man, disliked Whitmore’s domineering disposition. However, they subsequently served with him; but they fought under and received orders from their chiefs, who mainly arranged the plan of the siege and effected the capture of Ngatapa.

Whitmore assumed command of Poverty Bay district on 4th December. Of his reception in the district he had so greatly injured, the less said the better. This much, however, may be observed: he had been forced upon the district much against its will. His credentials had not improved since his first visit, but were much the worse for wear. He had in the interim been invariably defeated on the West Coast, and had retired with overwhelming forces before a despicable foe, leaving a wealthy, extensive district to be ravaged by Titokowaru. It was felt he had been despatched to reap laurels he knew not how to win, and by so doing prove that ministers had wisely selected their man; for if the current opinion could be diverted from its true course, ministers might hope the colony would endorse their pitiful policy.

On the 5th December Whitmore marched to the front; by the 9th he had returned. In the interval he had marched over a few miles of fine, easy country, chiefly level. Beyond this promenade, he made no attempt to find the enemy. Scouts who had been out reported fires in the direction of Ngatapa, and Whitmore gave out the enemy had retired to the interior. On the 10th the Constabulary were stationed at Makaraka, three miles from Turanganui;[34] the natives were paid off, and half the whites. Whitmore had brought 400 men from Wanganui: since their arrival they had not fired a shot. And now the expedition was at an end.

It has been shewn how the Poverty Bay land question remained unsettled. Here was a chance for ministers. Te Kooti had been beaten by Whitmore—no, not by him, by Rapata, but it was all the same; a great many of the native owners had been killed by Te Kooti; he himself had disappeared. Natives likely to be troublesome had been sent away, and Whitmore was present with 400 men to overawe dissentients. Operations accordingly commenced. At this time Te Kooti’s fires were seen not far distant; however, the land settlement was proceeded with until the arrival of a newspaper which commented severely upon the proceedings. By this time it had been decided to embark the Constabulary once more for the West Coast. The settlers now became alarmed at the state of affairs, and a deputation waited on Whitmore on the 12th, to learn if they were to be entirely abandoned. After much demur, it was agreed to leave 50 of the Constabulary. On the same day most of the European forces concentrated at Turanganui for shipment, and the first batch embarked on board the Sturt. In leaving the river the steamer sprung a leak, and had to put back. In the evening of that day too, some settlers struck off the militia roll departed for their former homes. At sundown a deserter from Te Kooti arrived and reported Te Kooti, at the head of 250 men or more, was in Poverty Bay.

The following morning, just before mid-day, a native arrived with news that one European and three boys had been murdered and horribly mutilated at Pipiwhakau, about four miles from Whitmore’s camp at Makaraka, on the open plain. The intelligence was, alas! too true.

Whilst 400 men had been kept inactive, the enemy had boldly come down and murdered the unfortunate victims in sight of Makaraka. About this time, Richmond telegraphed to Wellington, saying it would be “time enough to strike a blow on the East Coast five or six months hence.” As a commentary on this valuable telegram, on the 13th, or day of the Pipiwhakau murders, a party of the enemy attacked and put to flight about 20 of our scouts, despatched the evening before to scour the Patutahi track. Had Te Kooti remained quiet for a few days, until the steamers departed with the forces, he might have slain every soul in Poverty[35] Bay. The providential accident that delayed the Sturt alone prevented such a dreadful catastrophe.

The Pipiwhakau business effectually cleared the mist from the eyes of Messrs. Richmond and Whitmore, and from this date we may trace the real pursuit of Te Kooti. It required four more victims before it was set about, but it was initiated at last. The Constabulary were ordered to Patutahi, the Militia were re-enrolled, and the natives recalled. Rapata was once more in requisition, and, though severely ill, came forward at the call of duty. He became the life and soul of the later expedition, and brought it to a successful issue.

Much valuable time was lost by Colonel Whitmore, but by the 28th December the force, amounting to about 800 Europeans and natives, was concentrated at Ngatapa. Light cohorns were carried to the front, as were large supplies of ammunition and provisions. The enemy was known to be deficient of both.



Rapata was absent on Whitmore’s arrival before Ngatapa, and Whitmore could do nothing unless Rapata was present, and waited accordingly. That chief had been sick, and was slowly recovering. On his appearance at the front, Rapata at once led the way, by advancing gallantly within 50 yards of Ngatapa, unperceived by the garrison. He immediately seized the advantage, and entrenched a part of his men to the right of the pa by its only approach; then hurrying to the left of Ngatapa, prepared in like manner to fortify himself, when he was discovered by the enemy, who rushed from the pa pell-mell to drive him off, falling over each other in their eagerness. Extending his men in a line, he[36] advanced at their head with a steadiness and courage which elicited a burst of admiration from the European force, that, by orders from Whitmore watched the advance from a safe distance. The enemy were at length forced to retreat into Ngatapa, and opened a heavy fire from the triple tier of trenches. This affair occurred towards night, and is said to have been an interesting and beautiful sight.

The siege continued until January 5th. The garrison became nearly starved, and were driven to such desperation that some of them leaped from the cliffs, preferring death to being taken alive. The pa was at one time completely invested, and not a man could have escaped if proper precautions had been taken. On the 3rd, the water supply was cut off. Several desperate attempts had been made to break through the encircling lines, in one or two instances with partial success, proving that the pa was thoroughly surrounded, and that a strict watch only was required to starve the enemy into a surrender. So well were the garrison aware of this that they repeatedly urged our native allies to depart, saying it ought not to be a fight between Maoris, and that they could easily beat Whitmore if Rapata would go away.

At noon on the 4th, Rapata stormed the lower trench without European assistance, except a covering fire, and Whitmore looking on at some distance. That night, Colonel Whitmore was warned that the enemy would escape. He appears to have lost his senses, repeatedly starting up with apostrophes to his “unlucky star.” It had been arranged that Ngatapa should be stormed on the following morning at daylight. Just before dawn of the 5th, a woman cried from the pa that the garrison were escaping. The pa was rushed, but the Hauhaus were gone. 200 women and children and 7 men were taken. The men were shot. 57 dead bodies were found. It was likewise found the enemy had escaped at the exact spot to which Whitmore’s attention had been drawn.

Unaccompanied by Whitmore or any of the Europeans, Rapata started in pursuit of the flying Hauhaus. For a week he chased the enemy through one of the wildest regions in New Zealand. He overtook and killed 80 men, and captured 50 prisoners. 150 fighting men or more must have got away with Te Kooti, half of whom were perhaps Chatham Island prisoners.


By the end of January, 1869, Whitmore and his men had left Poverty Bay. Before their departure a meeting of Poverty Bay settlers was held, to consider once more the state of affairs. At this time, January 9, Te Kooti’s fires were visible by night on the inland Opotiki track, and Te Waru was known to be not far from Puketapu. At the meeting Mr. Richmond informed his audience that it was perfectly safe for them to return to their estates; but the statement, like his Pipiwhakau telegram, has not been verified by subsequent events. On the 18th a New Zealand Gazette appeared, with a list of promotions for Ngatapa. Every one looked for the name of Rapata, and found instead that of a needy relative of Whitmore. Nothing was done for Mr. Edward Hamlin, a gentleman who, besides laboring very hard at his avocation as an interpreter, had worked like a cart-horse to expedite the transit of ammunition and stores to Ngatapa; but others were mentioned who did little worth speaking of. Previous to leaving Poverty Bay, Colonel Whitmore sold a number of horses—the Government property—to a gentleman to whom he was indebted, for a nominal sum (£1 per head), when those horses might have realised £7 or £8 if offered for public competition. It is but fair to say, however, that Mr. G. Smith, the purchaser of those horses, was unaware that the transaction was at all irregular.

Thus ended Whitmore’s East Coast campaign of 1868-9. During its progress a great deal of public money had been squandered, and it appropriately ended with a sacrifice of the public property by the commanding officer. Whitmore’s despatches, as usual, claimed the chief merit of the success for himself, though the success was unquestionably due to Mr. M‘Lean, in the first place, and in the next to Rapata. By Mr. M‘Lean the native force was organised, and the campaign initiated; by him Rapata’s sterling qualities were discovered and utilised for the colony.

But for Rapata, Ngatapa would never have been taken. He discovered the pa and its intricate approaches; he took up position; chiefly arranged the plan for cutting off the retreat of its garrison; stormed the trenches; and but for Whitmore’s incompetence, would have captured every soul in Ngatapa. Of 230 Hauhaus killed in this campaign, 180 were slain by Rapata and his men, assisted by half a dozen Europeans; half the remaining 50, it may be fairly[38] assumed, were destroyed by Rapata and his people, leaving 25 as Whitmore’s share. All the prisoners were captured by Rapata.

To the fall of Ngatapa we may ascribe that improvement in the morale of the Constabulary which has been visible ever since that pa was captured. Whitmore’s interminable failures, unredeemed by even a partial gleam of success, had taught his men to look forward to defeat as an inevitable consequence of his tactics, if they may be termed such. It was a familiar saying amongst the men after Ngatapa, that “they would follow Rapata anywhere.” They had been accustomed to retire before a contemptible foe, and Rapata had shewn them how to reverse the practice.

Injudicious friends of Colonel Whitmore have praised him for qualities he can never possess. The best friend of that officer is he who points out those defects which mar his efforts to serve the colony. He has been praised for the state of efficiency to which he is said to have brought the troops; but, notwithstanding a saying to the contrary, it is possible to have “too much of a good thing.” On some occasions, it is well known, the men have been so worn out by the unmerciful exactions to which they have been subjected by Whitmore’s ideas of discipline, that they were utterly unfit to take the field. They dare not complain; for should one of them presume to write to a newspaper on the subject, and the name of the writer be known to Whitmore, expulsion from the Constabulary as a “dirty bird” would be the probable consequence. There is no doubt the colony has lost the services of good men in this way, and no one seems inclined to put a stop to such a state of affairs.

It must be confessed the colony has not gained much by retaining Colonel Whitmore in command. It is said he supplanted Colonel M‘Donnell at the very time he was writing to the newspapers in M‘Donnell’s defence. It is further stated that documents exist to prove the fact, and, looking at the close connection that exists between the Defence Minister and Colonel Whitmore, it is not unlikely. Yet Colonel M‘Donnell did much good service for the colony. He never allowed Titokowaru to ruin an extensive district, and drive the European force before him like a flock of sheep; nor is it probable M‘Donnell would have permitted the[39] fiend-like cannibal to escape with impunity had he been in command of Whitmore’s large force.



The writer would fain draw a veil over subsequent proceedings at Poverty Bay, but important interests are at stake which would render concealment criminal. It may suffice, however, for the present to say that once more a settlement of the land question was attempted. Combined with what ministers represent as Whitmore’s victory at Ngatapa, the settlement of a difficult question might have some effect in disposing a bamboozled colony to forget the West Coast disasters. Accordingly, Government set to work to accomplish their purpose at any sacrifice of principle. Between November, 1868, and February, 1869, many prisoners known to be implicated in the murders were captured, some of them related to professedly loyal chiefs and to quondam Hauhaus of 1865. With the view of securing the adhesion of the latter, their relatives were permitted to escape, after mock, and in some cases secret, examinations. In some cases evidence was tendered that criminated the accused, but it was refused. Again, the assistance of known or suspected Hauhaus was resorted to in settling the land question. The result was, that by the end of March, 1869, many murderers had got off, of whose guilt there was no question, and men were employed by Government who should have been committed to close custody. Even the spies who guided the murderers to the slaughter of Major Biggs’ family, the Wilsons, and others were set at liberty. One of those spies was Karepa, a noted scoundrel, son to the Hauhau chief Tamihana Ruatapu, whose influence in the land question was of some importance. Other perversions of justice were permitted, until everything connected with these singular transactions stank in the nostrils of all[40] but those who, from interested motives, shut their eyes or looked on in silence.

In the interim, Whitmore, on the West Coast, had done little to reverse the popular opinion respecting his merits. His notorious infirmity of temper had disgusted our native allies, who accused him to the Governor before his face at Wanganui. Things, indeed, had come to such a pass that natives refused to re-enlist after their time expired, unless unheard-of privileges were conceded; and as the state of the colony would not permit such concessions, and ministers feared it might be discovered that their native policy, such as it was, had utterly broken down, they decided to denude the East Coast of its only available force—Rapata’s and other tribes. Knowing that the Government agent, Mr. M‘Lean, would object to a step which would enable Te Kooti, known at that time (March, 1869) to have been largely reinforced, to attack and destroy East Coast settlements in detail, ministers despatched a steamer, under sealed orders, direct to the East Cape, and by misrepresentations induced Rapata and a portion of the Ngatiporou tribe to embark for the West Coast. The true nature of the transaction may be understood if it is remembered that ministers are supposed to confer with the General Government agents upon all matters seriously affecting the interests of their districts. Fortunately, as it proved, the steamer was forced to call at Napier for coals. At an interview which followed between Mr. M‘Lean and Rapata, both learned the deception that had been practised. From Mr. M‘Lean, Rapata also learned that Te Kooti was in force, and meditated an immediate attack somewhere upon the East Coast. Rapata, upon this, decided not to abandon the East Coast settlements at such an alarming crisis, and Mr. M‘Lean, knowing that mischief was impending, approved of Rapata’s decision. For this Mr. M‘Lean was deprived of his agency, in insulting terms; but events have since justified his wisdom and foresight. Following hard upon the notice of his dismissal, came intelligence of the destruction of Whakatane, and many murders of loyal natives and Europeans. Early in April, the butchery at Mohaka occurred, in which 47 friendly natives and 7 Europeans perished, and the settlement was destroyed. The Mohaka massacre was perpetrated only three weeks and one day after the dismissal of Mr. M‘Lean; and the belief universally entertained throughout the East Coast settlements—that the disasters of[41] Whakatane and Mohaka would not have occurred but for that ill-timed dismissal—was speedily manifested by those great meetings held at Wairoa, Napier, Meanee, and Waipukurau, to denounce the action taken by Ministers; nor have those natives been backward in the expression of their sentiments, who, aided by a few whites, won for the colony the unexampled successes of 1865-6, and the later triumph of Ngatapa. To them Mr. M‘Lean has been the wise counsellor and firm friend, who has alone taught them to live at peace with the European race. The depth of their regret has been shewn in numerous gatherings and deputations from the most influential chiefs; unfortunately, neither are likely to dissipate the suspicious distrust that has fastened upon the native mind, in consequence of the suicidal course pursued by the Stafford Ministry.

Printed and Published by James Wood, of Napier, at his Printing Office, Tennyson-street, Napier, Hawke’s Bay.



Transcriber’s Note:

A List of Chapters has been provided for the convenience of the reader.

Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.