Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand
Chapter LXVI. — The Last Expedition in Pursuit of Te Kooti. — Te Kooti Surprised by Captain Porter at Ruahapu. Capture of Kereopa, and Escape of Te Kooti into the King Country
The Last Expedition in Pursuit of Te Kooti.
Te Kooti Surprised by Captain Porter at Ruahapu. Capture of Kereopa, and Escape of Te Kooti into the King Country.
A fourth expedition, which started from Poverty Bay in the following June, adopted a different system to that hitherto employed. In each of the former affairs the whole of the men had marched in one column; they were now divided into four parties of fifty men each, which would greatly increase the chances of success, as in avoiding one detachment the enemy would possibly fall into the clutches of another. The leaders of the four parties were Rapata, Henare Potae, Captain Porter, and Ruku Aratupu. The first place visited was the Whakapunaki, where Rapata captured three of Te Kooti's men. They had left their leader about six months previously, and had made no attempt to rejoin, as they were under the impression that he had been captured. This was sufficient evidence that the enemy were not in the neighbourhood, Rapata therefore pushed on to Tahuna Taua, to communicate with Porter. That officer had visited the latter place, and found it deserted; he had then gone on to Moeroa, where, from the summit of a hill, he had seen smoke rising from the forest far away among the ranges. These fires could only have been made by an enemy; messengers were therefore despatched to hurry up Rapata and Henare Potae. Heavy rain prevented the junction for two days, but on the 25th the column marched in the supposed direction of the smoke, Captain Porter guiding by means of a prismatic compass, to the great disgust of his men, who looked with contempt on the instrument as a new-fangled invention.
Despite their contempt, the compass proved better than page 361their judgment, for on the evening of the 26th traces of two men, and, soon after, a deserted camp were seen.
Scouting parties were sent out, and, after some days of weary work, returned unsuccessful, the Hauhaus having evidently adopted their old plan of scattering in different directions, to meet again at some place previously named.
Throughout the march the weather had been cold and wet, and the biscuit was beginning to fail. One man, who wandered off in search of food, lost himself, and probably perished of cold and hunger. Rapata was unwilling to return without doing something more than had been achieved; so Captain Porter was sent with eighty men to get supplies, while Rapata continued the search, living on hinau berries.
Porter rejoined on the 10th of July at Te Haupapa, and found that the whole country in the neighbourhood had been scouted, but no trace of the enemy found, except their deserted camps. This confirmed Rapata's belief that Te Kooti had no fixed place of abode, but was continually on the move, to escape capture. Ngatiporou had suffered severely from the cold and hinau berries. Fourteen of the men, as they were unable to march and were an incumbrance to the expedition, were sent to Poverty Bay under escort. Rapata now marched to Te Wera, but was still unable to find his long-sought foe; our men had suffered severely from the winter rains and severe climate of the Uriwera mountains, and two more of their number had wandered from their companions and perished. They felt their want of success strongly. Each of the former expeditions had been productive of some good, but this one had hitherto been a complete failure, and they were only too delighted to receive information that Te Kooti was in the neighbourhood of Waikau Moana, sixty miles distant, for in that case there was no disgrace in not finding him.
The column now returned to Te Wairoa, and in August resumed the pursuit in two columns. A hundred men, under Rapata, marched, viâ Te Putere and Waiau river, round page 362the southern end of Waikare Moana; while the other division, of equal strength, under Captain Porter, took the track to the Papuni round the northern end of the lake. The plan of proceedings was, that if either party found Te Kooti's trail, they were to follow it independently of the other; if, however, no trail was found, then both columns were to rendezvous on the western shore of Waikau Moana. Rapata's march was unimportant in its results, and need not be described; but at Te Papuni Captain Porter struck a well-defined trail, leading from the lake towards Maungapohatu. A halt was called, to ascertain if there were other traces in the neighbourhood; finding none, the trail was followed for a few miles, until it was suddenly lost, by the Hauhaus having scattered in every direction. A short consultation was now held, and Ngatiporou decided that the enemy had seen them, and had adopted this measure to throw them off the scent. Such was indeed the case, for it was afterwards learnt from a prisoner that Te Kooti was actually in camp on the opposite side of the range when Ngatiporou first discovered the trail; and a scout posted on a high hill had reported to Te Kooti that he had seen a tall Pakeha (Captain Porter) standing on a rock in the river-bed. A day and a half were spent in searching for a place where the scattered tracks would join, and at last a place was found where about eight men had met. The trail led towards the least known part of the Uriwera country, and was followed for two days, every moment becoming plainer and more marked, from other fugitives having joined. Almost the whole of the third day was occupied in ascending a high range, but the pursuers were rewarded when they gained the summit, by seeing a column of smoke rising from the next valley, about two miles distant. Porter, knowing what a slippery enemy he had to deal with, decided to attack at once. Forty of the least reliable men were left on the range with the baggage, the remaining sixty left in very light marching order, stripped for the fight. Their advance page 363was necessarily slow, as caution Lad to be observed lest the enemy's scouts should discover their presence, and it was dark before they reached Te Kooti's camp.
To attack under these circumstances would have been madness, for the enemy had the advantage of knowing the ground, and could escape easily. Our men could only crawl as close to the camp as possible, and lie quiet in their half-naked state throughout that cold winter night, anxiously awaiting daybreak. Te Kooti's camp was in a small clearing, in the centre of which was an old bark whare, occupied, as it was afterwards ascertained, by the rebel and his wife; the rest of the Hauhaus were camped on the lower edge of the clearing, under shelter of some fallen timber. Just before dawn Captain Porter proceeded to put his plan of attack in operation, by sending twenty men under Henare Potae round the right of the clearing, and twenty more under Ruku Te Aratupu round the left, with orders to enclose the enemy as much as possible; while he himself took the centre close to camp, by the fallen timber. When these movements were complete, Ruku was to step into the clearing and call upon the enemy to lay down their arms; if they refused, a heavy cross fire was to be opened on them from all sides, particularly marking Te Kooti, who was known to many of our men.
While these orders were being carried out, an old woman got up in one of the whares and began to gather wood for a fire, and a dog, scenting the ambush, began to bark. The old woman hunted it with a stick, and at the same moment a woman, who was instantly recognised as Olivia (Te Kooti's wife), came out of the detached whare, and Te Kooti's voice was heard enquiring what had alarmed the dog. Some of the men answered "Nothing," and were ordered to cook food at once.
By this time several women were astir lighting fires, and one of them was quietly cutting wood from an immense log behind which sis of Henare Potae's men were lying.page 364
Captain Porter was anxiously awaiting the signal by Ruku, when he was told that Henare Potae's men were stopped by a cliff. He proceeded to ascertain the truth of the report, and found, as he suspected, that there was no cliff, but that the men were skulking. After making them take up their positions, and urging them to behave properly, he returned to his own division, expecting every moment to hear Ruku summon the enemy to surrender; but, before the warning could be given, two shots were fired by Potae's men. In a moment the clearing was filled with naked men and women, running for their lives.
Our men had no time to single out Te Kooti, as his whare was hidden for the time by the fugitives from the lower camp; all they could do was to open an indiscriminate fire, and charge through the fallen timber. This took some little time, and only two prisoners were taken in the clearing—Olivia and another woman, both of whom had the presence of mind to remain quietly in their whares. At the report of the first shot Te Kooti had burst through the back of his whare, and shouted, "Ko Ngatiporou, tenei kia whai morehu" (It is Ngatiporou, save yourselves). Several sharp encounters took place in the clearing, but none of our men were hurt. The enemy in their retreat scattered in the usual manner, and were closely followed. Several were captured, but only one man succeeded in coming up with Te Kooti's party, and he, being alone, did not care to fire upon nine men, but he succeeded in cutting off and capturing a girl who lagged behind. A notorious ruffian, Wi Wehikore, was among the prisoners taken; but he did not live long, and found no sympathy from either party. He, leaving only a short time before, murdered his wife and child because they were an incumbrance to him. The total casualties of the enemy in this surprise at Ruahapu, was eleven killed and thirteen prisoners, the latter chiefly women. Next day, Captain Porter pushed forward to Maungapohatu, but was delayed by snow on the Opokeri ranges for twelve days; it lay several feet page 365thick in the valleys. During this detention, two Uriwera chiefs visited the camp, and informed Captain Porter that several Hauhaus had left Te Kooti after the fight, and were then at Tanaki, anxious to surrender if their lives were spared. Two men were sent to fetch them, and returned with Tuatiui, and some others of less note. They reported that Te Kooti had only nine men with him, all the others having deserted.
Ngatiporou, like all Maories who have had a slight success, thought they had done enough, and wished to return to their homes; hut Captain Porter compromised with them by going to Opotiki for supplies.
Here, contrary to that officer's expectation, most of his men left; but as thirty of the Ngaitai tribe volunteered their services, the desertion did not matter, and he returned to Maungapohatu with a mixed force of seventy men. Here he hoped to meet Rapata, from whom he had been separated more than two months. Captain Porter had now proof that the Ngatihuri Uriwera had assisted Te Kooti on many occasions; he therefore determined to surprise Tanaki, where it was probable that Te Kooti might have taken refuge. This plan was carried out, but nothing suspicious was found, and the inhabitants were virtuously indignant that they should have been suspected. To prove their bonâ fides, they informed Porter that Te Whiu and others of Te Kooti's gang were at the next village, Te Kakari; thither our men bent their way, and surrounded the Kainga, to the great alarm of the people, who rushed for their arms. Porter calmed them down, by saying that he was looking for Te Kooti, that he knew Ngatihuri were friendly to that ruffian, and would therefore take them prisoners to the coast.
This speech greatly impressed Ngatihuri, and brought old Puehu (who had never previously met or spoken to the Government party) to his feet. He said he had determined to have nothing more to do with bad men; and he ended by handing over one of Te Kooti's followers, who page 366had taken refuge with him. This ended the proceedings. The following day the column marched for Ruatahuna, and had got about a mile on their road when the sound of heavy volleys of musketry in rear made them return. On their return they found Rapata, who, with his detachment, had followed their trail from the Papuni to Ruahapu, and thence to Maungapohatu.
Next day the united column marched for Ruatahuna, where, as it was Rapata's policy to humble the Uriwera, he built a strong pah. When asked why he took so much trouble, he replied, "I may have to live here for years. You say you cannot catch Te Kooti or Kereopa, so I shall have to do it."
This reply horrified the Uriwera, who were by no means desirous of having Ngatiporou for neighbours; and from this moment they began seriously to think of catching the two chief offenders. A small party of them were sent out to look for Te Kooti; they came up with him, and wounded one of his men. Information was also given as to the whereabouts of Kereopa. They said he was living at the head of the Whakatane gorge, and Heteraka, late friend of Te Kooti, offered to guide them. The offer was accepted, and a party of picked men started under his guidance. When within a few hundred yards of the village, Kereopa and Te Whiu were seen sitting outside the whares; at the same moment they caught sight of our people, and attempted to escape. Heteraka called on Te Whiu to stop, and he did so, fearing nothing from his own chief, and then joined in the pursuit, à la Maori. Under ordinary circumstances Kereopa would have escaped, but Te Whiu was a famous runner, and was not to be beaten; moreover, he had the advantage of knowing the route Kereopa would take; consequently Kereopa was captured quietly enough. He seemed rather astonished that he was not shot at once, but soon recovered his spirits, and remarked that he knew his luck would be bad because, when he swallowed the Rev. Mr. Volckner's eyes, one of them stuck page 367in his throat. Ngatiporou did not remain long in the bush after the capture of this celebrated ruffian, but returned in triumph to their homes; nor did they again trouble Te Kooti, who soon after escaped across the Taupo plains, and took shelter with the King party in Waikato.