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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

A Surprise Attack

A Surprise Attack

Probably only a small party of raiders was sent to Dodd and Peppard's home on Repongaere. What happened there is not difficult to reconstruct. Both partners, it would seem, were abed when they were disturbed, probably by the barking of their dogs. Scantily clad, they went outside to investigate and were shot down by rebels in hiding. Gudgeon (Defenders of New Zealand) says that Rathbone (their cook) made off towards Toanga, where he met Pera te Uatuku, who advised him to hasten, and then shot him in the back.

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Gladstone Road, Gisborne, in the 1890's.

Gladstone Road, Gisborne, in the 1890's.

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Punt on Turanganui River, Gisborne, 1877–86.

Punt on Turanganui River, Gisborne, 1877–86.

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Charlie James (a 17-year-old lad in Major Biggs's employ) said (New Zealand Herald, 14/11/1868) that Biggs was awakened about 3 a.m. by a noise outside the house. Being under the impression that some of his scouts had returned, he went out and inquired: “Who is there?” A shot was fired at him, but he escaped back into the house with only a foot injury. He then called to his wife: “Emily, dear, the Hauhaus are here!” and advised her, the nurse (Jane Farrell) and himself to run for the scrub. The lad went to the front of the house, but found rebels there. Trying the back door, he encountered others. Watching his chance, he slipped beneath a grating which led from the back door to an outbuilding, and soon afterwards rushed into the scrub.

The rebels then forced their way into the house, dragged Biggs outside, and laid him upon the ground. One of the fiends beat his head in with the butt of a gun. Mrs. Biggs struggled to escape from her captors, pleading to be allowed to go to her husband. The nurse was holding the infant, and the lad heard her say that she would stay by her side and live or die with her. Mrs. Biggs, the nurse and child were then attacked and fell close to the spot where Biggs's body was lying. The lad made off to warn neighbours, and, as he passed in front of Captain Wilson's home, he heard the door being battered in and the noise of shooting. Flames afterwards broke out of the windows.

Some hours later; when Robert Atkins called at Biggs's home during his flight from Waerenga-a-Hika to Turanganui, it had not been harmed by fire. He tied his horse up to the fence and, upon making his way to the back door, saw the bodies lying in the yard. Biggs had had time to put on only his trousers, and the women were attired only in their nightdresses. Gudgeon (supra) erroneously says that the bodies of Biggs and his wife were never found. It was, he adds, supposed that they were burnt when the house was destroyed, “as a woman's hand was found among the ashes.” Quite apart from Atkins's and Garland's statements, it is, however, a fact that the bodies were recovered and reverently interred.

An account of the tragedy was given to the Christchurch Star and the Gisborne Times in December, 1928, by J. G. (Jimmy) Wilson (the only survivor of the Wilson family). He says that his parents and the infant slept downstairs and his sister (aged six years), brother (four years) and himself (eight years) upstairs. When the riders appeared, the dogs began to bark furiously and his father got up. There was a gentle knock at the back door. His father asked: “Who is there?” A native replied that he had an important message from Hirini te Kani (a page 258 friendly chief). Told to push it under the door, he said that he wished to speak to his father outside. His father pulled the blind aside and saw, in the dim light, many figures, and knew that the house was surrounded.

First of all, his father called to his manservant (John Moran) to come to him. Moran was a splendid old chap, widely known as “Jacky Pumpkin.” He slept in a whare about 50 yards from the house. If he had so desired, he might easily have escaped into the scrub. Instead, he watched his chance, and rushed to the house. As he was being admitted he was grasped by a rebel, who released him only when his father fired at him. His mother crept upstairs to reassure his sister, brother and himself.

Whilst his father, who held a revolver, stood near the back door, Moran, armed with a rifle, guarded the front entrance. The rebels broke down the back door, but dared not enter. From a distance they fired several volleys into the house. Then some of them crept under the building and set it on fire. His father went upstairs and brought him and the other children down. Soon all were being scorched. In the hope that they and their mother might be saved, his father led them on to the verandah. A native who had often received gifts of food from his mother said to her: “No further harm,” or words to that effect.

They were led away in the direction of Goldsmith's home. His mother carried Jessie (the infant); his sister Alice was on her left; he (Jimmy) was on her right; and his father was on his right. Moran, with Edwin on his back, was on his mother's left. His father took off his greatcoat, put it on him, and then lifted him on his back. They had not gone far when the procession was baited and the party was attacked. The first to fall was Moran, who was bayoneted. His father put him down and rushed to his mother's side; the children clung to their parents. In a soft voice his mother entreated him to escape. By moving sideways he contrived to slip into some scrub and made off. He did not witness the attack upon his parents and the other members of the family.