The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 27: THE POVERTY BAY MASSACRE
Chapter 27: THE POVERTY BAY MASSACRE
TURANGANUI, AS THE present Town of Gisborne was known in its early years, was a small township in 1868; it consisted of a few stores, an hotel, courthouse, post-office, and several other buildings, on the Waimata River, close to its mouth. Captain Reid's store was the principal place of business. On the opposite (east) side of the river were two military redoubts. Five miles inland was Matawhero, the principal farming district, with numerous homesteads scattered over a wide fertile plain extending to the Waipaoa River. The European population of Turanganui and Matawhero at this time was about one hundred and fifty; the Maoris in the district numbered some five hundred. Most of the prominent settlers, including the military officers, lived at or near Matawhero; among these were several men against whom Te Kooti nursed an undying grudge for his deportation to Wharekauri.
Te Kooti occupied the month of October, 1868, in gathering in his forces and perfecting his arrangements for a terrible blow at the Poverty Bay settlements. In his fortress on Puketapu he preached his gospel of fire and blood, supporting his warrior creed with Scriptural quotations, such as the promise from the Book of Joshua:“…And the Lord your God He shall expel them from before you and drive them from out of your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as the Lord your God hath promised unto you.” In such wise were the pakeha population and the Kawanatanga Maoris of Turanganui to be served.
Many messages of warning—some definite, some vague—had reached the people of Poverty Bay. Unfortunately the most serious warning of all was disregarded. The military authorities kept nine men on duty as scouts to watch for the approach of Hauhaus from the interior. Lieutenant Gascoyne was placed in charge of these scouts, and with the approval of his commanding officer, Major R. Biggs, he fixed his main camp about twenty miles from Gisborne, where the main track to Wairoa approached the Hangaroa River. In the daytime he kept a lookout from a commanding hill and patrolled for many miles above his post. page 264 One day he was informed by an old Maori that Te Kooti would most probably use an ancient track a considerable distance to the right of the scouts' camp for his march on the bay, in preference to that via the Hangaroa Valley and Waerenga-a-Kuri. The track Gascoyne's informant thought would be used, though much overgrown, was by way of the Wharekopae and Patutahi Valleys; although a long and difficult detour, it would enable the attackers to approach their objective unseen, by an unexpected route. Gascoyne scouted in the direction indicated and found a deeply worn track grown over with high manuka in a valley some eight or ten miles to the right of his camp, and leading to a ridge overlooking the Manga-karetu Stream. From the hilltop he sighted smoke rising out of the timber some miles inland; his Maori companion thought it was probably the fire of a party of native pig-hunters, as there were no villages in that part of the country. Gascoyne rode in to the settlement of Makaraka and reported to Major Biggs what he had learned and seen. He requested leave to keep three of his men watching the old overgrown track, but Biggs did not approve of this proposal; he said he knew that Te Kooti was restless, and that his scouts kept him informed of the rebel leader's movements. He felt sure that Te Kooti would use the more familiar track by the Hangaroa, and directed Gascoyne to return to his post and not to leave it himself until further orders. “Keep a sharp watch and scout toward Wairoa daily,” concluded Biggs. “If you see armed men or are fired at, all of you are to gallop in at once and give the alarm by scattering your scouts; but come yourself to me as quickly as possible.” Such were Major Biggs's final instructions. Less than forty-eight hours later he and his family and neighbours were slaughtered by Te Kooti, who came by the old track scouted by Gascoyne, and crossed the Patutahi ford of the Waipaoa River. Some settlers watched this ford for several nights, but Biggs vetoed this, too, as unnecessary.
On the 8th November Te Kooti and his fighting column from Puketapu, moving by the difficult inland track, reached Pukepuke, near the Patutahi ford. The Patutahi Maoris, who were friendly with the Government, were taken prisoner, and three of the chiefs were ordered for execution by Te Kooti, and were led away and shot.
Then, having obtained from one of his spies exact information as to the position of the various settlers' homes, he divided his force—numbering a hundred men—into kokiri, or striking-parties, of varying strength to attack the several houses, His principal lieutenants were Nikora, Te Rangi-tahau, Nama, Maaka, and Te Waru Tamatea. The largest kokiri, which Te Kooti himself accompanied, was detailed to attack Major Biggs's house. page 265 Wherever possible only the tomahawk or other hand-weapons or the bayonet were to be used; as will be seen, however, there was considerable firing at two or three of the homesteads.
Shortly before midnight on the night of Monday, the 9th November, 1868, the Hauhau force, all mounted, forded the Waipaoa River at Patutahi and rode into Matawhero. One of the farthest-out settlers was Mr. Wyllie, against whom Te Kooti nourished hatred; Wyllie had been instrumental in some degree as Government interpreter in his deportation in 1866. The Hauhaus saw Wyllie writing at his table as they silently passed his lighted room; he was writing letters for the English mail, which was to leave on the following morning. Te Kooti ordered that he should be left for the present and despatched on the return from the home of “Te Piki” (Major Biggs); thus Wyllie escaped the fate of his friends, for he and his immediate neighbours were aroused before the Hauhaus rode back toward the Waipaoa.
Peita Kotuku (of the Ngati-Maniapoto and Patu-heuheu Tribes), who shared in this raid, stated that the kokiri in which he marched was led by Petera Kahuroa, of the Ngati-Hineuru Tribe. Peita was armed with a rifle and bayonet. The first people captured were killed by a man of Ngati-Kahungunu, who stabbed them to death with his fixed bayonet. The leaders in the attack on Major Biggs's place were Nikora and Te Rangi-tahau. Peita witnessed the slaughter of the Major and his family. Volleys were fired into the house after the door was broken open, and Biggs and his wife and child and several occupants of the place were killed with rifle-shot and bayonet. Next the home of “Wirihana” (Captain Wilson), a mile or more away, was surrounded and fired into, and after the place was set on fire the Wilsons were killed in the same way as the Biggs family. “The principal man appointed to kill the Wilsons,” said Peita, “was Rawiri, of the Rongowhakaata Tribe, and it was not, as some have said, the half-caste Eru Peka or Wi Heretaunga, although both shared in the attack. Other men appointed to kill prisoners in the raid were Te Rangi-tahau, of Taupo (usually called Tahau)—who had been captured with me at Omarunui (1866) and sent to Wharekauri—and Timoti te Kaka, of Opotiki. Tahau's weapon in these executions was a patu (the sharp-edged stone club). Te Kaka used a patu-paraoa (whalebone club). In our expeditions such men were told off specially to slay those taken prisoner. Some used the tomahawk. As for myself, I never liked killing men with the tomahawk. I disliked such work—I preferred the gun.”*page 266
The attack on Major Biggs and his family was delivered about 2 o'clock on the morning of the 10th November. Biggs was still up writing. (Major Gascoyne states that he was writing out orders for all the settlers to assemble at Gisborne Township on the following day as a precaution against a sudden attack.) Te Kooti surrounded the house with his men, and knocked at the front door. Biggs, after calling out “Who is there?” got his revolver, and when the Maoris burst in the door, he fired at them. He was shot down and bayoneted. Mrs. Biggs and her baby were killed, and also two servants, a married couple. A half-caste girl was killed outside the house. A boy named James escaped by the back door, and succeeded in warning many of the neighbours, including the Bloomfield family, and thus enabling them to evade the Hauhaus. This boy's mother, Mrs. James, who was living near Mr. Goldsmith's house, was roused by the shooting at Wilson's and escaped with her eight children.*
* Major Gascoyne in his reminiscences (“Soldiering in New Zealand”) wrote thus in vindication of Major Biggs, whose courage, prudence, and energy he praises: “He was mistaken in supposing that Te Kooti would advance by the Reinga road, but the information at his command made him feel certain that he would do so. Blame for the surprise must lie on the niggard policy which only gave him, in spite of his strong representation of the danger, one small party of men to watch an extent of country that required six such parties to watch it efficiently.”
Major R. Biggs
(Killed in the Poverty Bay massacre.)
After the slaughter of the Wilsons the scattered homesteads on the Matawhero were quickly attacked by the mounted raiders, and one family after another was slaughtered. The friendly natives were simultaneously pounced upon, and many were despatched with rifle, bayonet, tomahawk, or patu. House after house was looted and burned after its occupants had either been killed or had almost miraculously eluded the murderous kokiri bands.
Those who were killed on that fatal night and morning of fire and blood included Messrs. Dodd and Peppard (two sheep-farmers who had a station some miles distant from Matawhero), Lieutenant Walsh and his wife and child, Mr. Cadel (storekeeper page 268 at Matawhero), Mr. and Mrs. McCulloch and child, Mr. and Mrs. Newnham, Mr. J. Mann and his wife and child, and many others. In all, thirty-three Europeans and thirty-seven friendly Maoris were slaughtered.
Those who escaped in the grey dawn, warned by the firing at their neighbours’ houses or by some gallant men who rode from one house to another warning the inmates, ran across the fields or along the beach towards Turanganui. The plain was ablaze with burning homes, and the blood-maddened Hauhaus were galloping over the country, shooting indiscriminately, looting, and destroying.
Lieutenant Gascoyne, out in the scouts' camp on the Hangaroa track, received the news of the raid from one of his native scouts who galloped in from the bay. Gascoyne and his few men immediately raced in to headquarters, but were cut off from Turanganui by Te Kooti's force and had to abandon their horses at the beach, jump into a boat, and pull across the bay to Turanganui. There Gascoyne, now the only officer in the bay, found a scene of terror and confusion. “Men and women,” he wrote, “were eagerly inquiring of every newcomer for information of their missing friends; mothers were weeping alone for their children, wives for their husbands, and husbands for their wives.” All the people had crossed to the east side of the Waimata River to seek safety in the redoubt. The Hauhaus were in full possession of the country on the other side of the river, and could be seen burning the remaining houses. A number of settlers near the Waipaoa, including Messrs. Wyllie, Hawthorne Firmin, Stevenson, and Benson, with their families, found themselves cut off from Turanganui, and were forced to retreat in the other direction, and finally were picked up by the ketch “Eagle” near Mahia, whence they were shipped to Napier. The schooners “Tawera” and “Success,” which had just left the bay for Auckland, were communicated with by a lucky chance, as the wind was very light, and they returned and took all the women and children away from Turanganui to Napier. In Hawke's Bay the “Tawera” transhipped a number to the s.s. “Lord Ashley” for Auckland.
Captain Westrup and Captain Tuke soon arrived from Napier with some European volunteers and a large force of friendly natives. Te Kooti leisurely retired, taking with him a large number of native recruits and captives from the Turanganui kaingas, and a great quantity of plunder of all kinds, including many good horses, besides about a hundred rifles and guns, some revolvers and swords, also a good deal of ammunition. The various raiding-parties united at Patutahi, after sweeping out all life from Matawhero, Makaraka, Repongaere, Makauri, and other settlements. From the Patutahi village Te Kooti page 269 marched on inland, taking several hundreds of new allies and prisoners. At Pukepuke he ordered out three of the captive chiefs for execution.
Westrup and Gascoyne and an armed force searched the devastated settlements and buried the dead. Gascoyne was then despatched inland on Te Kooti's track, with the Ngati-Kahungunu friendlies under Renata Kawepo, Karauria, and other chiefs. The force numbered about four hundred and fifty, but its fighting-value was not great. On the first day's march beyond Patutahi (20th November) a party of Hauhaus was surprised and two men were shot. The line of retreat was then followed north-east over the ranges in the direction of the Wharekopae and Ngatapa. Two more days' marching enabled Gascoyne to engage Te Kooti's pickets on a fern ridge above the Wharekopae River at Makaretu. In a hot skirmish—literally so, for the Hauhaus set fire to the high dry fern on the ridge in the face of Gascoyne's advance—the friendlies drove the enemy's pickets back and by digging a wide shallow shelter-trench on the burned ground kept up a heavy fire on the supports from the main body until dark. The Hauhaus then drew off to their entrenched position on the river-bank below. The Ngati-Kahungunu in this action lost four or five killed and had about a dozen wounded, who were attended to by Dr. Murray Gibbs. The Hauhaus lost several men killed. During the night, after sending back for ammunition, Gascoyne entrenched about 300 yards of the ridge, presenting the convex side of a half-circle to the Hauhau front. Te Kooti rifle-pitted two hills that flanked Gascoyne's ridge about 800 yards away. For three or four days indecisive skirmishing was carried on between the opposing forces while Gascoyne awaited necessary reinforcements and supplies.
In the principal encounter the old Hawke's Bay chief Renata Kawepo made a plucky charge on a party of the Hauhaus who had advanced up the gully on Gascoyne's right. The heavy fire forced his men back, and the old warrior was left alone, but Gascoyne and Karauria rushed forward and drove the enemy off. Karauria, one of the very few good fighting-men from Hawke's Bay, was mortally wounded. So the skirmishing went on until Ngati-Porou and other reinforcements arrived. A clever coup was carried out about this time by Te Kooti, who sent a force round to Gascoyne's rear to capture the stores and ammunition depot at Patutahi, ten miles away. The convoy from Gisborne was forced to gallop off, and the depot was captured. In this daring raid the Hauhaus secured twelve thousand rounds of ammunition—of this amount, however, eight thousand rounds were afterwards recaptured—and all the provisions for which Gascoyne's half-starved force was anxiously waiting.