A Dark Chapter from New Zealand History
Settling the Land Question—"There is no Sure Foundation Built in Blood"—Collapse of Native Policy on West Coast—Sealed Orders—Whakatane—Mohaka.
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 page 40but 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 page 41Whakatane 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.page break