A Dark Chapter from New Zealand History
Treatment of Prisoners—Prophetic—Rifleman—Revolt—Food for the Fishes—Whareongaonga—a Generous Seaman—Wellington
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few and trifling restrictions were imposed upon their movements from the first; gradually even those restrictions were withdrawn, and they were always allowed to communicate with the main land.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-bye 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 ori-page 13ginally 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.