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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 540



Several conflicting accounts have been given by the Ngati-Maniapoto natives of Mokau regarding the massacre at the Pukearuhe Redoubt, White Cliffs, North Taranaki, in 1869. The most reliable narrative appears to be the confession of a half-caste named Henare Piripi, which follows. Captain Messenger, who was in command of the Pukearuhe Armed Constabulary station for many years after the raid, made every endeavour to obtain an accurate statement from the Maori side, and reported to Lieut.-Colonel Roberts, then commanding the Armed Constabulary, at Opunake.

Hone Wetere te Rerenga, the leader of the Mokau war-party, made a statement in 1882, but his version of the massacre is not reliable. Captain Messenger, writing from New Plymouth, 14th July, 1882, to Lieut.-Colonel Roberts, said:—

“I have the honour to report for your information that during a recent visit to the Mokau district I gained the following information with regard to the murder of the Rev. John Whiteley in 1869:—

“Te Rerenga (Te Wetere), who was the leader of the war-party on that occasion, stated to Sergeant J. Gilbert, who was with me, that it was his intention shortly to visit Wellington for the purpose of ‘turning Queen's evidence’ if the Government would hold him harmless. He then stated that Mr. Whiteley's horse was first shot, he (Te Wetere) being at the time in a whare near; that he ran out on hearing the shots and saw Mr. Whiteley standing unhurt; that he told him to go back, which Mr. Whiteley refused to do, saying, ‘I must first see what bad work you have been doing here.’ One of the party then fired a double-barrel gun and missed. Mr. Whiteley then knelt down to pray, when Colburn [David Cockburn], the white man who is now living at Mokau, called out, ‘Shoot him! Dead men tell no tales!’ A volley was fired, which killed Mr. Whiteley instantly.

“Te Rerenga gave the names of the whole party who fired—Colburn (the white man), Philps (a half-caste), Ben, Titokorangi, and other natives. Te Rerenga stated that when he found he was powerless to prevent the murder he turned away so that he should not see it.

“Whilst at Mokau I heard that Colburn intended shortly moving into the interior.”

[Wetere's accusation against the white man David Cockburn was, I believe, false. Cockburn had been a private in a company of Military Settlers stationed at Pukearuhe in 1865, and he deserted to the natives and lived a pakeha-Maori life in the Mokau district for many years. When going up the Mokau River by canoe in 1905 I saw the old man at the Wai-ngarongaro coal-mines, twenty miles from the heads, and he told me of his life among the Maoris. He declared that he was inland of the Mokau at the time of the Pukearuhe massacre. He always strenuously denied any share in the expedition to the White Cliffs, and his denial was, I think, the truth.—J.C.]

Captain Messenger, writing from Pukearuhe Station, 11th September, 1882 to Lieut-Colonel Roberts, commanding the district, Opunake, forwarded the following document signed by Henare Piripi (a half-caste), page 541 being an account of the murders at Pukearuhe in 1869. Piripi, Messenger said, was evidently uneasy in his mind, hence his confession, which was made to two white residents of Mokau:—

“Mokau, Sept. 7, 1882.

“To whom it may concern:

“Confession of Henry Phillip [or Phillips] taken before John Shore, of Mokau, and Thomas Atkin Poole, of the same place. The undermentioned statement is given voluntarily by me respecting the massacre at Pukearuhe in 1869. I, Henry Phillip, on the day of the massacre came from Urenui with three more natives. Captain Messenger put us across the Mimi River in a canoe or punt. I with the other natives came as far as the Parininihi Hill [White Cliffs]. We met Te Wetere and a party of about fifteen natives. When we met them Titokorangi asked the party where they were going and what they were going to do. Te Wetere announced they were going on to kill the whole of the Europeans at Pukearuhe. Titokorangi said, ‘You had better not,’ and advised them to go back. Te Wetere said, ‘I won't go back, and I will not allow you to go back,’ alluding to Titokorangi, myself, and the other two natives, who names are Richmon ——, and Johnny Pihama. They forced us to go back, at the same time asking us how many men there were at the camp. We were compelled to go with them to save our own lives, Wetere compelling me to go back to interpret for him. We all went on to the creek at the foot of the hill. They left their guns there in charge of some of the natives. Te Wetere, Tukerau [Takirau], Te Oro, Torton [or Turton, in Maori Tatana], Manuel and myself went up to the blockhouse. When we got in front of the blockhouse Te Wetere told me to call the men out, that he (Wetere) wanted to see them.

“The two men that were in the blockhouse came out and shook hands with the natives and with me. After shaking hands the men asked what the natives wanted with them. Wetere told me to tell them he wanted them to go on the beach to look at some pigs. The two men were glad when they heard the natives had brought up some pigs, at the same time asking Wetere, through me, if they had any peaches. Wetere told me to say ‘Yes.’ Then the men went down accompanied by three natives—Tukerau [Takirau], Ben, and Manuel. I watched them to the bend of the road, and as soon as they got to the bend I saw Tukerau strike one of the Europeans with his taiaha. He hit him behind the head, and he fell dead on the spot. The other European, seeing his mate fall, turned round, holding up his arms for protection. Manuel struck him with a long-handled tomahawk, striking him on the head or forehead, at the same time breaking the handle of the tomahawk with the blow. Then Ben hit him with the taiaha, and the man fell.

“At the same time Wetere sent two men to the Captain's (Lieutenant Gascoigne's) house to see if he was there or not. The men returned telling Wetere Captain Gascoigne and his wife and family were not in. Torton [Tatana] and Te Oro were the two men sent. Then Wetere sent one of them to the beach to tell the whole of the natives to come to the camp and bring their guns with them, and they all came up. Wetere then told them to go and break open the Captain's house, which they did, and took away a rifle and ammunition, and a revolver and ammunition. Wetere told them to leave the rest until their work was done. They then went on to the front to keep a lookout for the Captain. We were not long waiting when he came with his wife and children—I think three children, the Captain carrying one in his arms. He came close up to us and he said to me, ‘Hallo, are you back again?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He shook hands with Ben and Te Ho [? Te Oro], then he went straight on for his house, page 542 walking fast. Ben followed him close up with his taiaha. When near his house Ben struck him behind the head. He fell forward on his face and never moved after. Te Ho then took up the firewood-axe belonging to the camp and struck him on the head with the sharp side, cutting the head in halves. Manuel then followed the child, and with a short-handled tomahawk cut the top of the child's head clean off. Manuel and Te Oro then went into a parapet where Mrs. Gascoigne and, I think, two children were hiding. When Manuel and Te Oro came back to where Te Wetere and myself were seated Wetere asked them if they had killed the woman. They replied, ‘Yes, and the children too.’ Wetere then said, ‘Ka pai.’ Te Wetere then said, ‘We can now take all the things out of the house and divide them amongst us,’ which they did, Wetere claiming the revolver, watch, and opera-glass. Te Wetere gave me a clean white shirt, six boxes of matches, and a new pack of playing-cards.

“While dividing the plunder they saw some one coming on horseback at a distance. Wetere then said, ‘Whether it is a white man or a native we must kill him.’ He sent five men on to watch. Te Oro sang out, ‘It is a white man,’ Te Wetere answering, saying to let him come. Mr. Whiteley, the minister, then rode up to the natives. I at the time was about 30 yards from them. I was on the bastion. Tanui fired the first shot, the horse falling at once. As soon as the horse fell, Te Oro, Torton, Manuel Hawpoe (?) fired at Mr. Whiteley and he fell dead. As soon as he fell I saw Tanui take the vest and watch from him. Soon after this we left, Manuel taking a horse with him. We left two men behind, named Daniel and Ben. Wetere told them to burn the houses before they left. When we got into the creek after the massacre Torton, having two guns, gave me one, which was a rifle, telling me it was too heavy for him to carry.

(Signed) “Henare Piripi

“Witnesses: John Shore, Thomas A. Poole.”

Shore, in a note accompanying this statement, said that he had given Piripi his word of honour that Captain Messenger would not divulge his confession until the necessary time came. “If anything does move the Government,” Shore added, “I wish you would give him timely warning, as it would endanger him to the greatest extent here, for I am sure you must know as well as myself that the scoundrel Wetere would just as soon have him put out of the way as not, to save himself. So I entirely depend on you giving us the necessary information. The statement referred to is, I believe, the honest truth, as it was given with a good will, unasked for.”

Wetere te Rerenga was in fear of retribution or punishment by the Government until 1883, when a general amnesty was proclaimed for all who had taken part in the wars against the Queen's authority. In 1878 and following years he assisted Mr. Joshua Jones to open up the Mokau River for trade and settlement, and in 1882 he ventured to go to Wellington with Mr. Jones to see the Native Minister in reference to the opening of his lands for lease or sale. While in Wellington he was quietly warned that an information had been laid against him for the murder of Mr. Whiteley in 1869, and he was hurried out of the town at night by his friends, catching the west-coast coach on the Porirua road. In the “eighties” he gained great credit for his plucky rescue of Mr. C. W. Hursthouse, the surveyor, and a companion who were capsized while taking soundings on the Mokau bar, and who would have been drowned but for Wetere's prompt assistance. He put off from the shore in a canoe and rescued the surveyors struggling in the surf at the peril of his own life.

Wetere died at the Mokau in 1889.