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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)



Colonel Whitmore, before going on to Auckland and the East Coast, gave consideration to the question of military operations against the people of the Ngati-Maniapoto at Mokau Heads in avengement of a shocking massacre by a raiding-party of that tribe. On the 13th February a small war-party from Mokau, led by the chiefs Wetere te Rerenga and Te Oro, suddenly appeared at Pukearuhe Redoubt, the northernmost Taranaki outpost, established in 1865 on the site of an ancient Maori stronghold, the key of North Taranaki. The raiders slaughtered the white inhabitants and also a venerated missionary, the Rev. John Whiteley, of the Wesleyan Church. The military outpost at Pukearuhe (Fern-root Hill) had been established in 1865 in order to command the only practicable route along the West Coast between Mokau Heads and Taranaki, and its existence there, blocking the passage of recruits from Ngati-Maniapoto and Waikato to the camps of the Taranaki Hauhaus, was a continual source of annoyance to the Maoris at Mokau, for it was regarded by them as a direct challenge. In 1869 it was temporarily defenceless; the military settlers in the district were working their bush farms, and the vulnerable condition of Pukearuhe was a temptation which Wetere and his section of Ngati-Maniapoto at Mokau Heads could not resist. Lieutenant Gascoigne and his family and two men were the only people at the post, and, although armed natives were sometimes seen passing along the coast, they considered themselves secure.

Among the pioneer soldier settlers in the district was Captain William B. Messenger, who, in 1869, was working his farm near the mouth of the Mimi River, about six miles south of Pukearuhe page 305
Drawing by Mr. A. H. Messenger] Pukearuhe Redoubt, from the North

Drawing by Mr. A. H. Messenger]
Pukearuhe Redoubt, from the North

This drawing shows the horse-track up the cliff from the beach. The Armed Constabulary post at Pukearuhe was the key of North Taranaki. All Maoris travelling along the coast had to use this route, because of the precipitous cliffs, and the redoubt completely commanded the track.

and nine to ten miles from the Pari-Ninihi (“Steep Cliffs”), the huge precipitous wall, rising in places 800 feet sheer above the sea, usually called the White Cliffs. On the afternoon of the 12th February two armed Maoris suddenly appeared at Captain Messenger's house, and his wife, who met them at the door, at the first glance felt distrustful of them. They demanded to know where “Wiremu” was, and Mrs. Messenger called her eldest son, a little boy, and told him to call his father from his work.

Meanwhile the Maoris stood regarding her intently, and there was something in their savage appearance that convinced her danger was impending. When Captain Messenger arrived he questioned the two men closely. They told him they were on their way north to the Mokau, and wanted him to put them across the Mimi in his canoe. This he did, and after they crossed the river he watched them disappear along the track to Pukearuhe.

Mrs. Messenger's fears were justified on the following day when a friendly Maori came galloping down to the Mimi ford with the news that the little garrison at Pukearuhe had been wiped out. “Will you come back with me and see what has page 306
The Original Redoubt at Pukearuhe

The Original Redoubt at Pukearuhe

This picture of Pukearuhe Redoubt was drawn by Mr. A. H. Messenger from a sketch by his father, the late Colonel W. B. Messenger, who with his Taranaki Military Settlers garrisoned it in the early “sixties”. A blockhouse was afterwards built in the redoubt, and the work was enlarged. Pukearuhe was occupied as a frontier Armed Constabulary post until the year 1885.

page 307 happened?” asked Captain Messenger; but the Maori refused, saying that they would be killed. He promised, however, to see that Mrs. Messenger and the children were taken through to New Plymouth, and they immediately set out on horseback, the Maori walking ahead and leading his horse. Captain Messenger started at once for Pukearuhe, and, riding hard, soon came in sight of the cliff-top post, where columns of smoke rising from burning houses showed him that the Maori's report was true.

Realizing that nothing more could be gained by a close inspection, and that the Hauhaus were probably waiting in ambush for him, he turned and galloped off towards the Waitara, with the feeling haunting him that this was only the beginning of a great organized raid on the North Taranaki settlements. On the track to Urenui and the Waitara Mrs. Messenger was being urged to haste by the Maori escort. “Hurry, missus,” he kept saying; “Hurry—they'll catch us if we don't hurry!” Continually he looked back apprehensively, expecting every moment to see some of the war-party in pursuit. However, his fears were needless, and he took his charges safely into town. The strange Maoris seen, it was afterwards discovered, met the Ngati-Maniapoto party from Mokau.

On news of the attack reaching New Plymouth an expedition was organized and went up to the White Cliffs by sea. The bodies of Lieutenant Gascoigne, his wife, and their four children were found, lightly covered over with sand. All had been tomahawked. The body of the Rev. John Whiteley was found at the foot of the hill on the inland side of the redoubt; he had been shot at close range, and there were seven bullet-wounds in his body. The bodies of two military settlers, Milne and Richards, who lived at the redoubt, were also found. The blockhouse and other buildings in the redoubt had been set on fire before the raiders returned to the Mokau, twenty-five miles away. The bodies were taken to New Plymouth by steamer and buried in the cemetery at Te Henui.

It was some time before the story of the massacre was obtained from the Maoris by Captain Messenger. The Ngati-Maniapoto war-party appeared on the beach below the redoubt on Saturday morning, the 13th February; the advance detachment only was seen from the post, the main body had halted out of sight. The leading natives went up to the redoubt, and finding two men there (Milne and Richards) induced them to go down to the beach by saying that they had a drove of pigs for sale. They descended the steep path separately and were killed one after the other. The whole of the war-party then ascended to the redoubt and found that Lieutenant Gascoigne and his family were out in their field of potatoes and maize. page 308
The Gascoignes’ Home, Pukearuhe

The Gascoignes’ Home, Pukearuhe

This photograph, taken shortly before the massacre at Pukearuhe Redoubt, White Cliffs, in 1869, shows Lieutenant Gascoigne standing in front of the house, and Mrs. Gascoigne in the doorway carrying one of the children.

On seeing the Maoris at the blockhouse he went to meet them, carrying his youngest child, and Mrs. Gascoigne following him with the other three children. They received him with apparent friendship and repeated the story about pigs for sale. Suddenly he was struck down, and his wife and all the little ones were tomahawked. Towards evening the missionary, Mr. Whiteley, was seen approaching on horseback along the track from the Waitara. He had ridden from the Wesleyan mission station at New Plymouth on one of his customary visits to the outposts of settlement. He had been engaged in work among the Maoris at Kawhia and in Taranaki for more than thirty years, and no clergyman was regarded with more respect and affection than “Te Waitere.” But the Mokau men were on the war-path, and were intensely excited by the murderous deeds at the blockhouse and on the beach; moreover, they were Hauhaus and fanatics. They intercepted Whiteley in the dusk of the evening and ordered him to turn back. Perceiving that some disaster had occurred at the redoubt he insisted on going on. His horse was shot down, and, freeing himself, he knelt down to pray, and while doing so was shot by several of the Maoris and fell dead. The murder of the good old missionary horrified even Ngati-Maniapoto when the taua returned to Mokau Heads. Although the leaders of the King party at Tokangamutu tacitly approved of the proposed page 309
The Pukearuhe Blockhouse Destroyed by Wetere's War-party, 1869 (Drawn by Mr. A. H. Messenger from a sketch by his father.)

The Pukearuhe Blockhouse Destroyed by Wetere's War-party, 1869
(Drawn by Mr. A. H. Messenger from a sketch by his father.)

raid on Pukearuhe, they had no intention of encouraging the slaughter of women and children, much less of a missionary whose work and character were familiar to and respected by all.*

Soon after the discovery of the bodies a party of men under Captain Messenger scoured the ranges in rear of Pukearuhe and in the direction of the Mokau, and on the occasion nearly caught Wetere and several of his war-party, who were in the act of preparing their evening meal when their pursuers came on them at twilight in the bush. The surprise would have been complete but for the uncertain light. There was a rush of Maoris into the gloom of the forest, followed by a few hasty shots, and that was all. Wetere was an outlaw with a price on his head until 1883, when he was included in the Government's amnesty to those concerned in the war. He always denied having killed the Gascoignes or Mr. Whiteley. After the massacre Pukearuhe was garrisoned by Armed Constabulary under Captain Messenger, and remained an important military post until the demobilization of the field force in 1885.

In April, 1869, Colonel Whitmore made a reconnaissance of Mokau Heads preparatory to suggested reprisals for the raid on Pukearuhe. The troop-steamers “Sturt” and “St. Kilda,” employed in conveying the Constabulary to Onehunga, went in close to the mouth of the river, and the “Sturt,” commanded by Captain Fairchild, landed three boatloads of men page 310
The Later Blockhouse at Pukearuhe Redoubt

The Later Blockhouse at Pukearuhe Redoubt

This sketch shows a blockhouse, still in existence, erected at one of the angles of the Pukearuhe Redoubt, after the destruction of the original building by Wetere te Rerenga's raiding-party. The inset shows detail of the rifle loopholes. The drawing was made by Mr. Messenger in 1916.

near the present site of the signal-station inside the heads. Some volleys were fired at the Maori kainga, Te Kauri, on the opposite side of the river, which was hidden by the cliffs from observation at sea, but only a few people were seen in the distance; most of Wetere's people had taken canoe up the river. Several shells were fired from the “Sturt's” brass gun in the direction of the native kainga; these were the last artillery shots fired in the Maori wars. It was decided that operations at Mokau were unnecessary, and Whitmore, therefore, assured that the nine years' war on the West Coast had ended at last, gave his attention to the campaign against Te Kooti on the other side of the Island.

* For the Maori narrative of the massacre, see Henare Piripi's confession in Appendices.