The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 2 (May 1, 1940.)
[Copyright—All Rights Reserved]
It was under cover of night that three men who planned the bold capture of a Maori fugitive from justice met in a police station on the Old Frontier. The two policemen awaited patiently the arrival of the third man, who was to carry out the actual capture, taking all risks. Like any secret agent in modern espionage, he would be rewarded if he succeeded, but would be repudiated in the event of failure—and failure meant bullet or tomahawk, far beyond chance of help.
“It's close on 10 o'clock,” said the bushy-bearded sergeant, looking at his watch. “Barlow should be near by this time, surely.”
“It's a long ride from Otorohanga over that track,” the constable replied, “and there's the Puniu ford, where the gravel is always shifting. Barlow wouldn't attempt to leave his camp until after dark, and he must be back again before daylight, to avoid any suspicion.”
A few minutes later the constable opened the door in response to a low knock. The sergeant was big, but the huge black-whiskered man who entered overtopped him by nearly a foot. His bulky figure seemed over-heavy, run to fat, but the powerful shoulders, the great depth and breadth of chest soon removed that first impression. Robert Barlow, half-caste, was a quite notable wrestler. He had been a stockman on cattle stations, a bullock-driver, bushman, horse-breaker (his weight would subdue most wild horses).
Both the policemen had been in the Royal Irish Constabulary, the best of training schools. McGovern was senior sergeant in charge at Hamilton. Constable Robert Gillies (in after years Inspector at Christchurch) was the perfect model of a smart young trooper. He was quick, alert, intelligent. His keen face was cleanshaved except for short sideburns. Te Awamutu (where this meeting took place) was his station, and he patrolled the farm districts for many miles around. The Puniu River was his boundary on the south. Beyond that for 150 miles all was the Dangerous Land; the only law was Maori law; all was Maori land. Nearly a million acres of land had been confiscated from the Waikato tribes, who had taken refuge in the land of the Ngati-Maniapoto. No pakeha policeman could cross that frontier river, at any rate not without arousing the brooding anger of the Maoris. The Government wisely left the Kingites alone.
The police officers warmly greeted Barlow, and the business on hand was entered on. This was the problem, how to capture Winiata, who had killed Edwin Packer, his fellow-worker on the farm of Mr. Cleghorn, at Epsom, near Auekland, in 1876. The two had quarrelled over a trifle of money. Packer had lent a sovereign to the Maori, and could not obtain repayment. He dunned and badgered Winiata, who at last determined to kill the pakeha and so settle the debt for ever. After the murder, done with an axe, he fled to the King Country, a hundred miles away, travelling mostly by night, and skilfully avoiding the police. Once across the border river he was safe. The land of refuge was a sanctuary of safety for other wanted men; Te Kooti was one, Wetere te Rerenga, of Mokau Heads, was another; there was Nukuwhenua, who had shot the surveyor Todd at Pirongia Mountain in 1870, and there was Purukutu, who had killed and beheaded Timothy Sullivan at Puahue in 1873—and a few more Kingite patriots. The King Country, where many of his tribal relatives lived, was Winiata's home for six years. The police could not lay their hands on him, but the original warrant for his arrest still remained, and would be acted upon, if it took fifty years.
The Government had offered a reward of £500 for the capture of the fugitive, and Robert Barlow determined to earn the money. He had already offered to attempt it. He was friendly with the Kingite people, and traded with them for cattle and pigs. Presently he became known as a pig buyer, taking his Rohepotae poaka to Alexandra township (now Pirongia) and selling them there.
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Barlow explained his bold scheme. He would try to kidnap Winiata and carry him off in the night through the King Country to Kihikihi and Te Awamutu, a ride of thirty miles, and hand him over to Constable Gillies.