Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Te Kooti and His Band Steal Into Matawhero—Shocking Murders in Cold Blood—Some Hair-breadth Escapes—Tutere's Noble Selfsacrifice.
It was not until dusk on Monday, 9 November, 1868, that Te Kooti, with most of his fanatical followers, crept into the outskirts of the settled portion of Poverty Bay. Maata te Owai stated at the trial of Hamiora Pere at Wellington in September, 1869, that they deviated from the old track which led past Repongaere Lake on Dodd and Peppard's run and proceeded along the bank of the Waikakariki Stream to Patutahi pa. The sick men and the women and children had been left at Pukepuke.
Most of the 20 native residents of Patutahi were taken, under escort, to Pukepuke. A guard was placed over the others to prevent any of them from crossing the Waipaoa River to warn Major Biggs or the settlers. Karepa was questioned with reference to the settlers' homes and movements. It was afterwards alleged that he acted as guide to the rebels during the raid, but, as he was not seen by any of the survivors, no charge was laid against him. Captain Harris blamed Petera te Iwiroa for advising Te Kooti to burn down the settlers' homes. Petera, it seems, considered that the Crown forces at Waerenga-a-Hika should not have used the Bishop's residence as a fort.
Some accounts suggest that the raid began on the night of 9 November. However, when the survivors' narratives are examined, it is plain that the raiders did not cross the Waipaoa River and swoop upon Matawhero until just before dawn on the 10th. That morning the sun rose at 4.48 o'clock. None of the survivors claimed to have been warned either by seeing a home in flames or by hearing the cries of neighbours. With the exception of Mrs. Wilson, all saved themselves by flight after hearing the sounds of musketry, or observing armed rebels, or being orally informed. If the settlement had been cordoned by the rebels, the death roll would, assuredly, have been much heavier.
On the previous afternoon, the schooner Success (Captain Trimmer) lay in the Turanganui River taking on board cattle from the Mission station property for delivery to S. T. Clarke at Tauranga. Alongside her was the schooner Tawera (Captain J. Kennedy), which was lifting a cargo of produce for Auckland. Both got stuck on the bar as they attempted to leave the river. Early on the morning of the raid, according to Captain Kennedy, the sky was clear and starlit. A sailor, sent aloft to loosen the page 256 sails on the Tawera, noticed a fire, but it was in the direction of Pipiwhakao Bush (to the south of Matawhero). Nothing was seen to arouse suspicion. Both vessels soon got free and set off.
Just before sailing time, Robert Atkins (head stockman at the Mission station) rode off, to his home at Waerenga-a-Hika. In his account of the tragedy he stated that it was then 1.30 a.m. Less than an hour afterwards, when he passed Major Biggs's home at Matawhero, there were no rebels about. A light which he observed in one of the rooms was probably required in order that the baby might receive attention.
Diverse opinions have also been placed on record as to the route which the rebels took to reach Matawhero from Patutahi. One story suggests that they crossed over the Waipaoa River at the Waerenga-a-Hika ford, and that, as they were passing Tutoko, they saw J. R. Wyllie writing at a table. Te Kooti, it is added, told his followers that he would return after the settlers at Matawhero had been slain and kill Wyllie “inch by inch” for his part in having him exiled. It is certain that Te Kooti did not intend to spare Wyllie and his neighbours. His initial, and main, aim, however, was to surprise and slay Major Biggs, Captain Wilson and the military settlers who lived at Matawhero.
In all the circumstances it is difficult to believe that the raiders risked passing through a locality which (they would have learned at Patutahi) had been watched by the settlers. If they had been observed there, and a messenger had got to Matawhero ahead of them, the raid would, in large measure, have failed. The fresh in the river—vide Hoera Kapuaroa's evidence before the Poverty Bay Crown Grants Commission in 1869—would also have deterred them from attempting a crossing so high up. What is most likely is that they followed the old and more direct native track from Patutahi along the western side of the river down to the lower ford at Matawhero, which was much broader and, invariably, shallower. No Europeans resided along that route, and from that ford the track led right into the heart of the settlement.