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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)



It appears from official despatches, 1867–68, that the proposed repatriation of the Hauhau prisoners held in exile on Chatham Island was delayed on the representations of Major R. Biggs, who had been entrusted with the duty of arranging with the chiefs of Poverty Bay the areas of land to be confiscated in punishment for the rebellion. Biggs was by no means a suitable man for this difficult task. He wrote to the Government in 1867, urging that it would not be advisable to permit the prisoners to return from the Chathams until the land question was settled, in order to avoid complications. The prisoners were therefore detained indefinitely, and this uncertainty as to the period of their exile hastened the outbreak.

When the Government redoubt at Waitangi (an earthwork 52 feet square) was seized the guard was taken unaware, as the Maoris who went into the post pretended that they were carrying out some fatigue duty. When the alarm was at last given Captain Thomas ran from his house to the redoubt, calling out to some of his men that the prisoners were seizing the place. He was thrown down and bound by five or six Maoris. When the settlers’ places were raided twenty-nine males were tied up.

An incident of the search of the European residents’ houses was the presence of mind displayed by a quick-witted woman, Mrs. Isabella Alexander, a widow, who kept a small public-house in the Waitangi settlement. When the alarm was given that the Maoris were looting the place she ran for a bag of gold she had, and dropped it into a kettle boiling on the fire. Next moment armed Hauhaus entered and demanded her money. She went into the bar and produced £35, which she gave them, saying it was all the money she had. “They said it was very little,” Mrs. Alexander narrated, “and I said the men [the military guard] had not got their pay yet.” The widow thus saved her gold, about 300 sovereigns.

The total number of the prisoners who escaped in the “Rifleman,” as given by Captain Thomas in his report, was 298, including women and children. This is considerably in excess of the number given by most narrators, but probably the children (seventy-one) had not been taken into account. The official despatches of 1866–68 are not very satisfactory as to statistics of the Maori prisoners, and Captain Thomas's report is the only one which places the number at nearly three hundred all told.

The only prisoners who elected to remain at Waitangi when the “Rifleman” sailed were three men and a woman. One of these men was a negro named Robert Simmonds, who had been one of the rebels taken at Hungahunga-toroa pa, East Cape, in 1865.