The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 24: TE KOOTI'S ESCAPE: CHATHAM ISLANDS
Chapter 24: TE KOOTI'S ESCAPE: CHATHAM ISLANDS
Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
And there is hope in thine end, said the Lord that thy children shall come again to their own border. (Jeremiah, xxxi, 16 and 17.)
—Te Kooti's text in exile.
IT WAS ON the prison-island of Wharekauri, the largest of the Chathams, that Te Kooti Rikirangi, the outstanding figure in the later New Zealand wars, first became prominent as a leader of his people. As has been narrated in a previous chapter, he was arrested on suspicion of treachery during the fighting at Waerenga-a-Hika, and was released, but afterwards re-arrested and shipped off to Chatham Island in the steamer “St. Kilda” early in 1866. Te Kooti's name as a child was Rikirangi; the name Te Kooti, which he assumed in after-years, is simply a transliteration of the English surname Coates. At the time of his transportation to Chatham Island Te Kooti was about thirty-five years of age. He was a man of about 5 feet 9 inches in height, spare of body, but his apparently slight frame disguised a wiry strength which carried him through countless privations and fatiguing marches. When I met him long after the war (1889) he was not an impressive figure: a bowed, rather undersized man, prematurely aged, with a straggly white beard; he was very much reduced in health by his terribly arduous campaigning life and also by his intemperate habits. His features were well cut, his nose aquiline, dominating, his eyes very keen and searching. He was not of high birth, and therefore owed nothing of his extraordinary ascendancy over the people to any whakapapa rangatira, or aristocratic pedigree.
Te Kooti was a member of the Ngati-Maru hapu of the Rongowhakaata Tribe, of the Poverty Bay district. In his youth he received some education at the Waerenga-a-Hika Mission School. He became a rather notable fellow on the coast for his skill in horsemanship, his ability in handling boats, particularly surf- page 223 boats, and also for his rather lawless way with other people's horses and his bold amorous exploits. He saw a good deal of coastwise sailoring life, and was interested in trading enterprises. For some time he was supercargo of a native schooner called the “Henry,” running between Turanganui and Auckland, and he occasionally remained over in Auckland between trips of the vessel attending to trade affairs. At another time he was in charge of a small schooner called the “Rua-whetuki,” trading along the coast as far as Auckland. Thus Te Kooti by the beginning of the war had acquired a good deal of knowledge of the pakeha world in one way and another, and with his natural shrewdness and his well-sharpened wits, added to uncommon force of character, it was easy for him when the opportunity presented itself to take a place of leadership. Superadded, too, was a strain of mysticism, but this does not appear to have manifested itself until the period of exile on Chatham Island.
Te Kooti in a statement made after the war attributed his deportation to Wharekauri chiefly to the influence of Captain Read, then the principal business man at Turanganui, who was jealous of him for taking native trading business away from his (Read's) concerns. There is no doubt that several Gisborne people thought that Te Kooti was a troublesome fellow who would be better out of the way, and the opportunity of sending him off to Wharekauri was too good to be missed. There is evidence that he was in sympathy with the Hauhaus. There is no doubt that he was in arms on the European side against the rebels at Waerenga-a-Hika. According to his own statement, he was beside Captain Ross when that officer was shot through the bridge of the nose, and he declared that he shot two Hauhaus that day. However, he was arrested by the loyal chief Paora Parau, who charged him with breaking the bullets off his cartridges, pocketing them, and firing blank cartridges at the enemy. Apparently this charge, or whatever accusation was made against him, could not be substantiated, as after a short detention he was released. Later—in March of 1866—he was re-arrested on suspicion of treasonable communication with the enemy. Captain G. A. Preece states that a messenger to Anaru Matete, one of the Hauhau leaders—who had formerly been one of Bishop Williams's mission-school teachers—was captured bearing an incriminating letter from Te Kooti, or Rikirangi, as he was then known. This was when a party under Captain Westrup was moving up towards Te Reinga to co-operate with the forces from Wairoa under Major Fraser, against the remnant of the Poverty Bay Hauhaus who were in the back country up the Waipaoa River. Rikirangi's message contained the words “Wednesday is the day, and Te Reinga is the place.” The inference was that an ambuscade should be laid page 224 by Anaru Matete for Westrup at the time and place indicated. From the messenger also some three hundred and fifty Enfield rifle-cartridges were taken; at this time the friendly natives were only supposed to have seventy cartridges from the Government supplies, Rikirangi accordingly was put in the guard-room once more, and as the prisoners taken at Waerenga-a-Hika and some of those from the East Cape and Wairoa were about to be sent to the Chathams, Major Biggs decided that Rikirangi should go with them. Protesting his innocence he was sent to Napier, where he appealed to Mr. Edward Hamlin, Government Native Interpreter, who was superintending the deportation, to be tried by a Court. Te Kooti in his own statement after the war said he saw Mr. Donald McLean, the then Superintendent of Hawke's Bay, and appealed to him, but “Te Makarini” would not listen to him, and he was sent off with the other prisoners in the steamer “St. Kilda” to Wharekauri. It is clear that whatever charges were made against the man they were not investigated by any tribunal, and he was shipped off to the distant isle of exile untried and unconvicted, nursing a grievance and cherishing a bitterness which grew in process of time to an intense passion for revenge.*
* “I think from what I have heard,” Captain G. A. Preece says in a note to the writer, “that there was ample evidence against Te Kooti if he had been tried, but as is often the case, a little of ‘might is right’ was carried out in this and also in other cases.”
Te Kooti gradually obtained overmastering control of the people by his fervent exhortations and his peculiarly attractive and appropriate ritual of worship, and by the beginning of 1868 they were in a state of mind that lent itself perfectly to the scheme of escape he was formulating. The gaunt black-bearded prophet did not rest content with the Bible service for properly impressing the prayer-gatherings. He must needs introduce stage effects the more to enthral and mystify the devotees. One of his methods, highly successful in the dimly lighted church or the meeting-house, was to smear his fingers with phosphorus and then at the right moment to display his outspread hand above the pulpit or in some other position, a hand of pale flame, gleaming there in the sacred gloom. It was the hand of the page 226 Holy Spirit, a sign of a token from the unseen. Again, he would draw up slowly, by a thread above the pulpit, a small cross made of thin laths of wood, plastered with a mixture of flax gum and the phosphorus of match-heads. By such devices, in the half-light or sometimes the complete darkness of the church, he obtained a reputation for working miracles. A latter-day tohunga, he borrowed ideas from many sources to excite the imagination of his followers and enhance his priestly mana. It was the beginning of a strange career in which his sway over the Maori mind of a certain bent, though often beaten to the ground by defeat, ever rose resilient, and, in spite of his defects of character, remained strong to the end. On his death a quarter of a century after the escape from Wharekauri—the flight of the Israelites from the land of bondage, as he described it—he was venerated as a god by the faithful, and that tradition persists to this day among his old flock.
Dissatisfaction among the prisoners was so strong towards the end of 1867 that reports of their condition reached the New Zealand Government, and Mr. Rolleston was sent down to investigate the position. He reported very unfavourably regarding their treatment in some respect, particularly in the matter of the medical examination; this had been carried out in such a manner as to arouse the just resentment of the women among the exiles. The discipline of the military guard was very bad, and drunkenness was common. A sergeant (Elliott) admitted having kicked some prisoners who refused to turn out when ordered; and the conduct of some of the other men towards the people was calculated to provoke a revolt. Te Kooti however, always declared that Captain Thomas, most of the troops, and all the civilian inhabitants of Wharekauri were very kind to the exiles.
When the guard was reduced to fifteen men and a non-commissioned officer under Captain Thomas, as the result of Rolleston's recommendations, Te Kooti saw his way clear to a successful rising; the only thing wanting was a vessel in which to escape to New Zealand. He prophesied that an “ark of salvation” would presently arrive—knowing that a vessel with stores was nearly due. There was a doubter in the camp, Te Kooti's uncle, the old man Te Warihi Potini, of Turanganui. He had scoffed at his nephew's tricks with the phosphorized cross and the ghostly hand in the dim religious gloom of the prayer-house, and had told some of the Europeans about the new karakia and Te Kooti's prophesyings. Warnings, however, were lost upon Captain Thomas and his fellow-whites, who could not believe that so patient and well-behaved a community of prisoners would attempt anything so violent as a rebellion.
From a sketch by Mr. S. Percy Smith, 1868]
Waitangi Bay and Settlement, Chatham Island
The redoubt seized by Te Kooti in 1868 is shown on the edge of the cliff above the beach.
The prophet's words thus confirmed, the intensely excited people awaited with perfect obedience Te Kooti's scheme of escape. He carried out his dramatic coup on Saturday, the 4th July. He and some of his men had been engaged, as was customary, as boats' crews in unloading the vessels; Te Kooti himself was at the steer-oar of one of the surf-boats. Two parties of picked men were quietly told off, one to surprise the guard and capture the redoubt, the other to seize the Government boat engaged in working the “Rifleman.” Te Kooti gave explicit instructions that there must be no bloodshed.page 228
From a drawing by Mr. A. H. Messenger]
The Schooner “Rifleman”
This picture of the vessel in which Te Kooti and his fellow-exiles escaped from Chatham Island to the east coast of New Zealand is drawn from a description and sketch by the late Captain M. T. Clayton, who was Lloyd's surveyor at the Port of Auckland for many years.
The plan was executed with complete success on the Saturday forenoon. The sentry at the redoubt was seized and disarmed, and the whole of the guard were rushed and tied up in a few moments. Captain Thomas was thrown down like the others, and bound hand and foot; afterwards, at his appeal that the bonds were hurting him, he was untied and handcuffed, and locked up in a cell. Only one man was killed—and this was in disregard of Te Kooti's order. Tamihana Teketeke tomahawked a private of the guard named Michael Hartnett, who was on duty at the magazine. Tamihana appears to have had a private grievance against Hartnett, and in the heat of the struggle he could not resist squaring accounts with his patiti. The redoubt armoury and magazine were ransacked, and on Te Kooti's order Captain Thomas surrendered the key of the safe in which the money was kept. The sum of £397 8s. 2d., Government money, was taken from the safe, and some private moneys were seized; in all Te Kooti secured £522 in notes and coin. The arms and ammunition captured in the redoubt and in private houses were 32 rifles, 29 bayonets, 1 carbine, 8 guns, 7 revolvers, 1 pistol, 3 swords, 4,584 rounds of rifle-ammunition, 200 revolver-cartridges, and 6,670 percussion caps. A bugle was also taken; it was appropriated by Peka te Makarini, who had previously induced the bugler to teach him the various military calls. This knowledge he turned to account in the war up to the time of his death at Captain Mair's hands in 1870.page 229
Meanwhile the “Rifleman” had been boarded and seized. Captain Christian, the master of the vessel, was ashore with Captain Thomas at the time. He was captured by the Maoris, but was not tied up; his captors allowed him his freedom on his promising not to interfere with the seizure of the schooner. The ketch “Florence” was also seized; the master (Captain Priest) and crew were sent ashore. The vessel was looted, and the cable cut. The vessel drifted ashore and became a wreck; this prevented any news of the rising being sent to New Zealand.
The settlers' houses having been ransacked for arms, money, clothing, and other things likely to be useful to the Maoris, Te Kooti prepared for the voyage to New Zealand. Mr. Payne, the mate of the “Rifleman”, and the crew were informed that their lives would be spared if they worked the vessel to New Zealand, and that she would be given up to them after the fugitives had been landed. On this understanding Mr. Payne agreed to navigate the schooner to the East Coast, and the crew carried on at their usual duties, assisted by some of the Maoris who had a knowledge of the sea. Boat after boat came off crowded with Maoris—men, women, and children—until the decks of the schooner were packed with excited and exultant escapes, prisoners no longer. It was found that there was a large quantity of flour, sugar, and other stores on board, and more food and water were brought off from the shore.
* Te Kooti in a statement made in 1873 to Mr. James Mackay at Tokangamutu (Te Kuiti) said: “The sailors in the schooner were treacherous, and I found out that they were steering for Wellington instead of for Poverty Bay. I know how to steer, and understood the compass from my experience in coasting-vessels. I told them to go the right course or they would be thrown overboard.”
J. C., photo at Taringamutu, King Country, 1921]
Peita fought against the British troops at Puke-takauere, Taranaki, in 1860, and was one of the defenders of Orakau pa in 1864. He was captured at the engagement at Omarunui, near Napier, in 1866, and was transported to Chatham Island with the other Hauhau prisoners. He escaped with Te Kooti in the “Rifleman” in 1868, and fought against the colonial forces until 1870. He was one of Te Kooti's best warriors and scouts.
Now befell the first episode which exhibits Te Kooti in a grim revengeful character. He declared to the people that there must be a Jonah (Hona, in the Maori) in the “Rifleman” it was a saying he had heard sailors use; this was the cause of the long spell of head winds. He professed to consult the Atua as to the identity of this Jonah; then it was revealed unto him that it was his old uncle Te Warihi Potini. The sequel to this professed supernatural discovery was narrated to the writer in the dramatic manner of the Maori by one of the “Rifleman” escapees, Peita Kotuku, who had been captured at the Omarunui engagement in 1866. Describing the voyage to New Zealand and the manner in which Te Kooti wreaked his will on Te Warihi, this old scout and warrior said:—
“When the schooner came into the bay at Wharekauri from New Zealand I was away working on a sheep-station inland, and so I did not witness the actual seizure. As soon as the vessel had been captured Te Kooti immediately sent messengers out to bring in all the exiles who were working in various page 231 outside places. Then, until the vessel was ready to sail, I and a number of others did duty as guards to prevent the Europeans in the principal settlement communicating with those living in other parts of the island, who did not as yet know of the successful rising of the prisoners. When Te Kooti was ready we went on board, and we took a supply of water in casks from the shore. The ‘Rifleman’ had plenty of stores in the hold, which had been intended for the use of the station; there were about 20 tons of flour, biscuit, sugar, and other provisions. Our ship of deliverance was a three-masted schooner, painted black; she had square topsails on her foremast, besides carrying a large lower squaresail for running, and she also had a square topsail on the main; for the rest she was fore-and-aft rigged.*
“Our voyage to New Zealand, after putting back once owing to head winds, occupied four days. As the captain had been seized and left on shore, the mate of the schooner was the navigator. I and several other Maoris were sailormen during the passage, and helped the white crew in setting and trimming sail. There were more than two hundred of us on board—men, women, and children.
“I witnessed the throwing-overboard of one of our people, an elderly man named Te Warihi. He was an elder relation of Te Kooti. The principal reason for the execution was that Te Warihi had given information to some of the European people about the karakia, or religious worship, practised by Te Kooti and his exhortations to the prisoners. The vessel was hindered by head winds on the voyage, and on the third day she was not making any progress. We were tacking frequently. Te Kooti had resolved that Te Warihi must suffer death, and he told the people that he was desirous of taking him to New Zealand and executing him there, but his (Te Kooti's) Atua, his god, was not willing that the offender should be taken to the mainland. The schooner, the Atua told him, would not reach the shore so long as Te Warihi was kept on board. Therefore he must be cast into the sea (whiua ki te moana).
* This was illustrated in a rough sketch. The part square rig on the mainmast as well as the foremast was frequently adopted in old-time three-masted schooners, though never seen nowadays in those vessels. Technically the “Rifleman” was a three-masted two-topsail schooner.
This East Taupo chief was captured at the Omarunui engagement, near Napier, in 1866. He escaped from Chatham Island in the schooner “Rifleman,” and was with Te Kooti in all the fighting until the early part of 1870. He was a most savage and ruthless warrior. (See note to Chapter 31.)
“It was early in the morning that we caught sight of the east coast of New Zealand. There were nine of us on deck at the time—six sailors and three of us Maoris (Rawiri, Tuari, and myself) who were helping the crew. The wind had come fair after Te Warihi went overboard; it was blowing strongly, and the schooner was going along well with all sail set. Many of the Maoris had been making bets in pakeha fashion as to when land would be sighted; some would stake £5, some £6, some £10.” [A large sum of money had been secured on the Chathams at the time of the rising.] “The mountains of the North Island were seen just after the sun rose, and there was loud rejoicing among the people.”
The land sighted that morning (10th July) was the snow-covered high country inland of Poverty Bay. Te Kooti ordered a course to be steered for the coast a few miles south of the Bay, and at dusk the “Rifleman” sailed into the small sheltered bay Whareongaonga, seven or eight miles south of Young Nick's Head. Te Kooti led chants of thanksgiving for the safe return to the home-land, and the complete success of the bold enterprise confirmed the popular belief in his superhuman powers. Joyfully the escapees pulled ashore and pitched camp close to the beach, and next day all the stores required were landed. The mate, Mr. Payne, and his crew were given their liberty, and the schooner put to sea. Instead, however, of putting in at Turanganui and warning the people there of Te Kooti's landing, Payne steered for Wellington, and as the vessel was delayed by head winds he did not reach there till the 23rd July. The place where the ex-prisoners landed was on the run of Mr. Woodbine Johnson, a pioneer settler, and there were not many natives resident in the vicinity of Whareongaonga. The nearest Maori village of importance was Maraetaha, near Young Nick's Head, and Te Kooti's first step was to send an armed party there and requisition arms and ammunition. So opened his new and marvellous career as a military leader in a land where for fifteen years he was to be a refugee, a reiver, and an outlaw.
Captain Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C., writing to me from Tauranga, October, 1921, reagarding Te Kooti's career, said:—
“So far as Te Kooti's guilt was concerned, I am perfectly certain that no charge could have been substained against him in any Court of competent jurisdiction prior to his deportation, untried, to the Chathams. In January, 1868, it was proposed to install me as Commandant at the Chathams, and I accompanied the late Hon. William Rolleston, then Under-Secretary for Native Affairs, to Wharekauri. Captain Thomas, then page 234 in charge, had urgently applied to be relieved of his command. The steamer ‘St. Kilda’ made a special trip for us. We found matters in a most scandalous state. Captain Thomas appeared to exercise no control whatever. The 200-odd native detainees were out of hand and in an excited state. Of the twenty-five men comprising the guard, we found more than half under arrest for drunkenness, disobedience, and bad conduct towards the interned Maoris. We had several interesting meetings with the internees, and I heard more than enough to convince me that the position was scandalous, and decided me against my previous strong desire to take charge. Most circumstantial details were given in every case, mainly by Te Kooti, seconded by the big half-caste Peka te Makarini, whom I heard playing the bugle everlastingly, and who desired to be second only to Te Kooti in powerful influence over the people. Peka went to great trouble to hire me a horse, and secured me a magnificent upstanding chestnut with a big star, which he bounced the Moriori owner into hiring at 2s. 6d. per week. He also cadged most unblushingly for carvings and curios, of which the prisoners gave me a sackful, all of which were subsequently confiscated by Mr. Rolleston, who seemed put out at me—a subordinate—being so favoured while nothing was presented to him. It may have been that the prisoners had heard I was to be the new Commandant, but mainly, I think, because I showed them sympathy and tried to soften Mr. Rolleston's rather harsh declarations. We had our meetings in the nice little dimly lighted church. Te Kooti made a most eloquent speech at every meeting regarding his wrongs, the jealousy of Captain Read, at Gisborne, and several chiefs; how he had proved his loyalty by serving under Major Fraser, and how he had unavailingly demanded to be given a trial on every possible occasion. He also spoke scathingly of the insults to the men and women by the colonial soldiers, also about the sergeant's behaviour. One of his complaints was that every difficulty was placed against them using the church. I was told years afterwards that second to Read's objections to Te Kooti was the fact that Te Kooti was the Poverty Bay Don Juan, and had numerous love affairs with the wives of prominent chiefs, who joined Read in prejudicing Sir Donald McLean against him.
“Looking back on my Chatham Islands trip,” concluded Captain Mair, “there is a remarkable coincidence in my association with Peka te Makarini and Patara te Whata. The latter Maori Rolleston and I found confined in gaol—I am not sure that he wasn't handcuffed or ironed—being charged with committing an assault on Dr. Watson, the surgeon. It is curious that I should have put a bullet through each of these men in after-years.”
[Captain Mair shot Peka te Makarini at the foot of Tumunui Mountain, in the Rotorua district, in 1870, and Patara te Whata at a camp on the Waipaoa River, east of Waikare-moana, in 1871.]
Te Kooti's tapu manuscript ritual book, containing the heads of Old Testament passages forming the Ringa-tu or Wairua-Tapu services, was shown to Colonel Porter and the author some years ago by Eria Raukura, who was for some years Te Kooti's chief priest, and is now the leading minister of the Wairua-Tapu religion. The book, which is in Te Kooti's handwriting, contains twelve services, chosen chiefly from the Books of Job, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Proverbs, and the Psalms.
When prisoners were being led out for execution by Te Kooti's “butchers,” in 1868–70, the verse Proverbs ii, 22, was recited over them: “But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.”