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A Dark Chapter from New Zealand History

Chapter VI

page 17

Chapter VI.

State of Poverty Bay in November, 1868—Disaffection—Spies—Settlers Consider State of Affairs—Memorial—Redoubt—Scouts—Enemy's Approach—Night Patrols—Biggs not Warned by Ministers—Richmond is Warned—Reflections.

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 exprisoners. 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.

page 18

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.