Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Move to Drive Rebels Away—Fight at Makaretu—Minor Massacre at Opou—Whitmore's Return—“The Gravedigger Has Arrived”—Siege of Ngatapa.
The initial move to drive Te Kooti and his band out of Poverty Bay after the Massacre (10/11/1868) was made by a force consisting of 270 Ngati-Kahungunu, under Tareha te Moananui, Renata Kawepo and Karauria Karaitiana; 60 northern Ngati-Kahungunu, under Ihaka Whaanga; about 100 Rongowhakaata; and a handful of Europeans under Lieutenant Gascoyne. On 22 November some rebels were encountered at Patutahi, and three were slain. Two days later the main body was found entrenched on the far side of the valley at Makaretu. The loyalists took up positions on the high ground opposite to, but at a considerable distance from, the rebels.
Gascoyne (Soldiering in New Zealand, p. 47) says that some rebels crept round the loyalists' flank and set fire to some dry fern. As a consequence a lot of fern had to be cleared away; otherwise their position would have become untenable. Next day further supplies of food and ammunition had to be obtained from Turanganui by bullock-waggon. A depot was established about two miles north of Patutahi, and, from that point, all supplies had to be packed. Rebels sent to raid the depot came across a convoy of packhorses laden with supplies. Immediately the natives attached to it bolted, leaving behind 16,000 rounds of ammunition and some stores, which fell into the hands of the raiders. A guard was then placed over the depot and the packers were provided with an armed escort.
Tareha's version of the fighting, in which the loyalists lost four killed and had ten wounded, was “that it went on day and night.” In Parliament, Colonel Haultain (Minister for Defence) put the matter somewhat differently. “The parties,” he said, “as is often the case among native tribes not particularly warlike, amused themselves by firing off a great deal of ammunition at each other at a safe distance!” This sarcastic remark is reechoed in Gascoyne's account, which states that, “in spite of all that we could do, the loyal natives wasted a fearful amount of ammunition.”
On 2 December, Major Ropata and Hotene Porourangi arrived at Makaretu at the head of 376 Ngati-Porou. This force had, for some time, been at Wairoa under Colonel Lambert, and it page 276 had travelled overland to Poverty Bay. The loyalists attacked the rebels on the following day and drove them into some dense bush which lay between Makaretu and the old hill-fort at Ngatapa, about three and a-half miles away. According to Colonel Haultain, the rebels lost 29 killed and had 10 wounded— not double that number, as had been stated in earlier reports from the Front. Among the slain was the notorious Nama, who was killed by Henare Turangi, the noted scout.
Whilst the loyalists were engaged in the pursuit of the rebels an unfortunate hitch occurred. Hotene complained bitterly on account of Tareha's action in sparing two prisoners who were tribal connections. Ropata regarded it as a very bad omen, seeing that the men were capable of bearing arms, and he decided to retire. Both sections of loyalists then returned to Makaretu. Eventually, Ropata agreed with Gascoyne and Preece that it would be better to attack Te Kooti before he had time to strengthen Ngatapa pa. It was now Tareha's turn to object to the resumption of the fighting, and his force set off back to Patutahi.
On 5 December, Ropata and his Ngati-Porou, together with the European Volunteers, proceeded to Ngatapa. The elevated pa was found to comprise three compartments, one behind the other. Neither of its steep flanks could be stormed in the face of enemy fire, and only by climbing up in single file could the pa be approached from the rear, which was commanded by loopholed rifle-pits. During the 24 hours' fighting that followed only one determined attempt was made to take the pa. A small party, led by Ropata and Preece (both of whom gained the award of the New Zealand Cross for their courage on that occasion), climbed a cliff to the outer end of a trench. Ten of the enemy, including Kareta, were slain there. In the morning, as bad weather had set in and the supply of ammunition was almost exhausted, Ropata withdrew.