Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Te Kooti Builds Up Rebel Force at Puketapu—Anxiety Keenest at Wairoa and Napier—Large Native Force Wasted at Wairoa—Wrong Track Into Poverty Bay Watched.
By establishing his base at Puketapu, after the fight at Ruakituri (8/8/1868), Te Kooti chose a very convenient position from which to attract reinforcements from a number of disaffected tribes and from which to embark upon attacks on settlements along the seaboard. If he had ever wished to retire to the King Country it soon became plain that it was not his intention to do so in the immediate future. His action in tarrying at Puketapu convinced the Hawke's Bay and Poverty Bay settlers that, sooner or later, he would raid one or more coastal settlements if only in an attempt to augment his supplies of arms and ammunition.
Some writers have suggested that it should have been taken for granted that Poverty Bay would be Te Kooti's initial target. They argue that he was bound to bear a grudge against the military authorities there for having arranged for his exile and for trying to intercept him and his followers upon their return. Nevertheless, for some weeks prior to the Poverty Bay Massacre all eyes were turned upon Wairoa and Napier, it being believed that they were in much greater danger. Te Kooti might, of course, have arranged with sympathisers in the back portions of Northern Hawke's Bay to stage a display of unrest in order to divert the attention of the authorities from Poverty Bay.
Major Biggs did not share Colonel Whitmore's viewpoint “that Te Kooti would not require to be reckoned with for some months, if at all.” Writing to Mr. McLean on 18 August, 1868—only ten days after the Ruakituri fight and nearly three months before the Poverty Bay massacre—he said:
“Is there any likelihood of our having any protection here [Poverty Bay] in the shape of an organised force, either native or European or both? Our population is decreasing rapidly, from five to ten leaving by every vessel for Auckland. If the ex-prisoners come down in the summer (as the natives of this place expect) we shall not be able to protect ourselves without assistance.
“I did hope that Fraser's men [a Division of the A.C. which had fought at Ruakituri] or at least a portion of them would have been left here. But that Whitmore would not hear of. He is determined, if he can prevent it, that assistance shall not be rendered to Poverty Bay.
“A Maori force would be the cheapest, say, pay at 2/- per diem and 1/- per diem for rations, a suit of clothes and a red scarf. A few Europeans might be taken on with the natives—just enough to keep them together—in the proportion of 30 Europeans to 100 natives.”page 246
A month later (on 18 September) Biggs, upon his return from Wairoa, informed Mr. McLean that, when his application for a Crown title to the confiscated land at Marumaru had come before the Native Land Court, no hostility had been shown. He had learned that the Hauhaus were badly off for food, were very weak and that the Urewera would not receive them. All was quiet at Turanga and no Turanga natives had gone off to join Te Kooti. He had found great alarm among the whites at the blockhouse at Te Kapu (Frasertown), and he considered that a force was required at Wairoa.
A strong protest was made by Mr. McLean on 16 September on account of the Government's decision to transfer the bulk of Fraser's force from Napier to the other side of the island. He moved: “That this House views with alarm the position in which the colony is being placed by the Government in relation to Defence and Native Affairs.” Fears were expressed by him that the degree of danger had been increased tenfold more than would have been the case if there had not been several conflicts with the ex-prisoners, “in which, unfortunately, we have got the worst of it.” It was not Napier itself that was in danger, but the outlying districts. “It really seems,” he added, “as if the Government is inviting the disaffected natives to make attacks upon the outsettlers in the East Coast districts.”
Replying with considerable warmth, Premier Stafford said that Mr. McLean's speech was enormously more alarming than Tito-kowaru's proclamation. It would lead to the incitement of the natives, for which Mr. McLean would be held responsible … Additional men were to be recruited at Napier; volunteers were to be put on pay at Wairoa, and Gascoyne had been instructed to organise a scouting party whose headquarters would be at a point which would command the roads leading to Wairoa and Poverty Bay…. Through Mr. McLean, 2,209 rifles had been issued. Was there not one single trigger that would be pressed in defence of law and order? It was in a fit of disappointment that Mr. McLean had attacked the Government. He desired to be appointed a commission to control the whole of the East Coast His plan would cost £56,000 and only £7,000 would be recouped from the sale of land. The Government had told him that, if he would undertake the responsibility as a Minister residing on the East Coast, it would go as far as possible to meet his request.
“We have,” Mr. Stafford continued, “a war going on along the boundary line of two provinces on the West Coast, and were obliged immediately to reinforce our troops. We had at Napier the only disciplined force we possess. But Mr. McLean (the superintendent of a province in which there is no fighting) obstinately, callously and page 247 heartlessly—I use his own words (to me)—refuses to recognise the danger in that place [Taranaki], where women and children are within a few miles of the scene of active war and would become the prey of the enemy if he should happen to be the conqueror …”
During the final stage of the debate, Mr. Stafford informed the House that Bishop W. Williams had just told him that he considered that the absence of troops at Wairoa amounted to an invitation to the Hauhaus to make an attack there. The rebels, it seemed, had been joined by parties from the Wairoa district and had called upon their Tarawera friends to join them. On that account orders had been given for a redoubt to be built at Clyde. The no-confidence motion was defeated by 38 votes to 31.