Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
News of Poverty Bay Massacre Causes Painful Sensation— Governor's Graphic Dispatch to Home Authorities—Belated Search For Survivors—Mrs. Wilson Not Found For Six Days.
The news of the shocking raid upon Matawhero by Te Kooti and his band of assassins on 10 November, 1868, reached Turanganui (Gisborne) at about 4.30 a.m. Archdeacon W. L. Williams (who lived on Kaiti) was aroused at that hour by a native neighbour, who had received the startling intelligence from some natives who had just arrived from the scene of terror. Shortly afterwards other survivors reached the township. Among the earliest were Mrs. Bloomfield and the members of her party, who, according to the New Zealand Herald, made their appearance at about 5 a.m.
Captain Read obtained a whaleboat, and, with a volunteer crew comprising W. W. Smith, M. Hall, R. Parkhouse, J. Brooking and C. Smale, set off to overtake the schooners Success and Tawera, which had left the river only a few hours before. They came in sight of the Success at 11 a.m. just south of Whangara, and Captain Trimmer at once turned back. The Tawera was eight miles farther north, and, to attract Captain Kennedy's attention, Captain Trimmer put some tow in a tin and set it alight, producing a pall of dense smoke. In the belief that the Success was on fire, Captain Kennedy lost no time in returning to her. Both got back late in the afternoon. As the Success was laden with cattle she was allowed to resume her voyage.
Shortly afterwards, Lieutenant Gascoyne, together with his European scouts and some of his native scouts—the others had gone over to the rebels—reached Turanganui in a whaleboat from Muriwai. He took over the command of the redoubts from Sergeant-Major C. W. Ferris. The Tawera left for Napier at 6 p.m. Captain Read went on her to impress upon the authorities the dire necessity for reinforcements. Her passengers also included: Mrs. W. Parker, five children and servant, Mrs. Robb and three children, Mrs. Blair, Poulgrain children (3), George Williams, Mrs. G. G. Mill and two children, R. Thelwall, Mrs. R. Shearer, Mrs. Young, Dan Munn, Mrs. Bloomfield, her children and her sister (Miss Steggall), Mrs. R. U'Ren, Mrs. W. H. Tucker and child (Henry), and Mrs. Ross and child. Observing a distress signal flying on the Tawera, the captain of the Lord Ashley, which was en route to Auckland, sent a boat to her. page 267 It took off Mrs. Bloomfield and her children, Miss Steggall, Mrs. Ross and child and three settlers whose names do not appear on the Tawera's passenger list.
Next day the work of converting the courthouse into a blockhouse was pushed ahead. Sand was poured into the space between the weatherboards and the lining, and slots were cut to enable the settlers and the natives to use their rifles to advantage in case the building had to be defended. Watchers with telescopes were posted on Kaiti Hill to observe the movements of the rebels. On Thursday (12 November)—the second day after the Massacre—an attack upon the settlement seemed imminent. The rebels appeared in force at Makaraka, but they went back to Matawhero, where they set fire to most of the remaining homes. Mrs. Bloomfield's two-storey house, which had cost £1,600 and was the finest in the district, was left unharmed longer than any other because its high balcony proved very useful to the rebels as a look-out. The Ahuriri arrived from Napier on Friday with Captains Westrup and Tuke and 70 Hawke's Bay native troops. Some Poverty Bay settlers, who had placed their families in safety at Napier, also returned by her.
Not until six days after the tragedy—several groups of reinforcements had then reached Poverty Bay—was an attempt made to ascertain whether any of the missing Matawhero residents had survived. With their native prisoners and booty, the rebels had moved off in the direction of Okahuatiu Valley. Strangely enough, on the previous day, Captain Westrup had allowed some cattle to be brought in from the Mission property at Waerenga-a-Hika for S. T. Clarke, who had come down from Tauranga on the Onward. When he had left home the Success had not turned up with her load. Going out at night by a back route, Robert Atkins, William Benson, Harry Hallett, Sandy Butters, John Maynard, Tom Goldsmith, Alexander Robb, W. W. Smith and George Cook tied their horses to flax bushes near the property till morning. The cattle were shipped next day.