A Dark Chapter from New Zealand History
Native Allies—Makeretu—Colonel Lambert and Government
A Detailed account of subsequent measures taken to punish the assassins lies not within the compass of this little work. The future historian will find ample materials for the interesting task whenever it becomes desirable to use them. At present it may suffice to summarise those operations which resulted in the capture of the mountain fortress Ngatapa, and led to other massacres by Te Kooti.
Intelligence of the raid and massacre at Poverty Bay reached Napier on the 11th November, one day after the outbreak. On page 30receipt of the news, his Honor D. M'Lean, Esq., Superintendent of Hawke's Bay province, and General Government Agent for the East Coast, immediately took steps for the relief of the survivors of the massacre and the capture of the murderers. So vigorons were his measures, that by the 13th the garrison in Wilson's redoubt at Turanganui had been largely reinforced, and other active operations commenced, which caused Te Kooti to retire at once to Patutahi by the way he came. Taking with him the plunder of Poverty Bay, and strengthened by nearly the whole native population, Te Kooti retreated to a position named Makeretu. This position consists of three low hills forming a triangle, bounded on two sides by a river, and on the third by scrubby hills. Here Te Kooti entrenched himself with rifle pits and other defensive works. He was overtaken on the 23rd by a force of 250 loyal natives despatched by Mr. M'Lean. Te Kooti was taken completely by surprise, and driven from his camp, which was somewhat in advance of the position. It was thought Te Kooti lost about thirty men, but as the country around Makeretu for miles is covered with impenetrable manuka scrub, his loss was not accurately determined. On our side the fighting was done by Ngatikahungunu, Hawke's Bay natives, under Tareha and other chiefs. A dozen European and half-caste scouts led by Lieut. Gascoigne assisted.
It had been arranged by Mr. M'Lean that 300 natives were to advance from Wairoa, and attack Te Kooti in the rear simultaneously with Tareha's charge in the front, and orders had been accordingly sent to Major Lambert at Wairoa; but Major Lambert, acting under instructions from ministers at Wellington, refused to obey. The result was, Te Kooti escaped what might have been certain capture if Mr. M'Lean's skilfully-conceived plan had not been frustrated by Colonel Haultain and his coadjutors. Afterwards, when too late, Lambert was ordered to carry out Mr. M'Lean's directions. In the interim, Te Kooti somewhat altered his arrangements, but still retained Makeretu as the key of his new position.
Finding himself getting short of ammunition, Te Kooti planned a bold scheme to obtain some at our expense. On the 27th November, about 8 a.m., he contrived, at the head of 60 men, to get in the rear of Tareha's force unperceived., and intercepted a convoy of stores proceeding to Tareha's camp. The escort being overmatched by three to one, and badly armed, were forced to re-page 31treat, and the depot at Patutahi fell into Te Kooti's bands. 16,100 rounds of ammunition and a large supply of food stores were captured by Te Kooti on this occasion, and communication was cut off for several days between Turanganui and the force at the front.
On the 3rd December, the men composing the Wairoa expedition arrived. They were of the brave Ngatiporou tribe, and were commanded by Ropata, the chief who, it will be remembered, assisted Biggs to capture 500 Hauhaus at Hungahungatoroa, in Mr. M'Lean's East Coast campaign of 1865. Upon his arrival at Makeretu, Rapata announced that he would rest his men for two days, after their fatiguing march. The announcement was a ruse to disguise his real intentions from native traitors who might be in his camp. An hour afterwards, Rapata stormed the enemy's position, and Te Kooti was forced to abandon Makeretu with heavy loss in men. It was not until some time after that the true nature of this gallant affair became manifest. It was thought 40, or at the most 50, men of the enemy had fallen; ultimately 97 bodies of the enemy were recovered, amongst them 14 chiefs, one of whom, named Nama, had been a turbulent and dangerous man. Most of the bodies were found in dense scrub, and there can be no doubt many more were killed besides those recovered. On the night of the day that the fight took place at Makeretu, the enemy retreated to an almost inaccessible mountain stronghold, named Ngatnpa, whilst the force commanded by Rapata pressed forward in pursuit.