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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)


page 538


Mr. H. Strong, of Christchurch, who was a settler at Matawhero, Poverty Bay, at the time of the massacre in 1868, and who served in the operations against Te Kooti, supplies some notes on the events immediately following the landing of the escapees from Chatham Island, and describes the raid on the Bay settlements. He states that he, with others, was engaged in service in a church at Matawhero, a few miles from the present town of Gisborne, when a messenger arrived with the news of Te Kooti's landing. It was Sunday afternoon, the 12th July, 1868, and all the men in the church, without waiting to change their clothes or obtain supplies, saddled their horses and went south in the direction of Whare-ongaonga. On the track, at the late Mr. Woodbine Johnson's property at Muriwai, orders were received from Major Biggs to continue the march to Whare-ongaonga. The escapes, however, had refused to surrender, and had stated their intention of going into the Urewera Country. Major Biggs ordered a pursuit, and the engagement at Paparatu followed. When the fight began, the men, though cheerful enough, were in a state of exhaustion, and were almost starving. The retirement was a most difficult task, carrying the wounded through mountains, creeks, and over steep hills. After a severe night march they reached Captain Charles Westrup's outstation, where they were met by Colonel Whitmore, with the Napier volunteers and others. He immediately ordered the Poverty Bay settlers to be paraded, and warned them that they must be ready to start back in pursuit in an hour. The settlers considered this impossible, and a spokesman detailed the privations they had undergone, and said that under similar circumstances Colonel Whitmore himself would hardly have been prepared to march in an hour. “The Colonel's language in reply,” says Mr. Strong, “was such as to preclude all possibility of the settlers working harmoniously with him on any future occasion. Captain Westrup, by his silence, endorsed our action; had he said the word, I and many others would have followed in hot pursuit, for a better man than Captain Westrup never lived.” All the settlers asked was that they should be allowed to return home and obtain proper food and a change of clothing (they had been in the field in bad weather for ten days) before again engaging in the arduous pursuit. The courage and promptitude of the Poverty Bay men, and their cheerful willingness to take up arms, were displayed in their action when they were disturbed in church on the Sunday afternoon, and Colonel Whitmore's criticisms in his book were entirely unjustified. In the course of the next march, Mr. Strong says, the settlers were again subjected to abuse from Colonel Whitmore. The country was rough, and on the Ahimanu Range the force was delayed by heavy snowstorms. When the Waihau lakes were reached the provisions were exhausted, and the men were suffering greatly. “We, the Poverty Bay men, then held a meeting, and decided unanimously that, on account of the way in which Colonel Whitmore had treated us from the day we started, we should go no farther, and I believe that Captain Westrup once more endorsed our action.” The settlers then returned to the Bay.

At that time Mr. Strong lived a considerable distance from the Turanganui landing-place; his home was near the Patutahi crossing of the Waipaoa River. On the same side of the river there was another settler, Mr. James Wyllie, who had incurred the special displeasure of Te Kooti. Mrs. Wyllie was well acquainted with the friendly Maoris in the district. page 539 Some time before the massacre occurred she repeatedly expressed fears that, before long, Te Kooti would make a raid on the settlements. It was believed that he would come down the Patutahi Valley, and accordingly Mr. Strong, with the Wyllies and some other settlers in the district, arranged to keep watch, day and night, at the crossing of the Waipaoa, taking turns of duty, and keeping the saddles on their horses. From the crossing there is a good view up the valley. Government scouts (under Lieutenant Gascoyne) had been sent out, but the settlers took their own steps to prevent surprise. One day Mrs. Wyllie informed Mr. Strong that she had been told by an old Maori woman that Te Kooti was coming down the valley. Mr. Strong rode in and informed Major Biggs. His reply was: “Well, you know, I have scouts out, and I will receive twenty-four hours' notice before anything can happen. The story is absurd, and you are all in an unnecessary state of alarm.” Mr. Strong returned home, and the settlers' vigilance committee ceased its watch. A few nights later the Hauhaus came down to Patutahi and crossed the very ford that the farmers had been guarding. Had Biggs heeded Strong's warning, the massacre would have been averted.

Te Kooti's men passed by the settlers' homes at Patutahi, intending to raid them on their return from the Matawhero settlement. When the alarm was given the Wyllies hurried off southward in the direction of the Mahia. It was then remembered that Mr. Strong was in his house, which was close to the track of the marauders, and Mr. W. Benson crossed over and warned him of his danger, shouting, “Clear out, the Hauhaus are down!” As, however, Strong had sent a boy to the township at Waerenga-a-Hika and expected him back, he decided to stay and await his return. The Wyllies went on, and Mr. Strong, who had taken his horse into some dense scrub, at about 10 a.m. saw the Hauhaus pass close to him and enter Wyllie's house, and he heard their shouts of disgust when they found that their intended victims had escaped. They did not search Mr. Strong's place, otherwise he would almost certainly have been captured. Shortly afterwards Sergeant Butters arrived with the news of the massacre of settlers. The boy arriving later, Mr. Strong took him on his horse, and they rode into Turanganui safely.

Had Major Biggs taken the settlers' warning, Mr. Strong declares, the Hauhaus would have been heard and seen when they started to cross the Patutahi at the wide, shingly ford, and all the Europeans would have been warned in time.

Another fatal blunder was the failure to erect a fortification at Mata-whero. It was proposed in October, 1868, to construct a redoubt in the middle of that farming area, and the loyal Maoris agreed to supply and erect palisades if the Europeans would assist in the work of construction. However, the authorities did not approve of the erection of a redoubt there, and so nothing was done to provide a place of refuge for the settlers and their families in case of an attack.