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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 11 (February 1, 1938)


Peita Kotuku. (From a photograph by the author at Taringamutu, 1921.)

Peita Kotuku.
(From a photograph by the author at Taringamutu, 1921.)

Of all the “human documents” I have met in the course of history-gathering — not so-called research in libraries—there was none that yielded me a greater reward for patient enquiry than a certain sturdy old Hauhau by the name of Peita Kotuku. He was a man who helped to make history. A great English historian, in writing of Garibaldi's war, said that human documents have a value that written or printed records do not possess, because you can cross-examine them. How true and important this was I proved again and again in taking evidence, while there was yet time, from men of both races who were prominent figures in the most adventurous and momentous period of our history.

Peita Kotuku was a man of nearly eighty when I first met him, at Muru-para, on the Rangitaiki River; it was in “Tangiharuru,” the carved meeting-house of the Ngati-Manawa tribe, his wife's people. It was a crowded meeting, and there was little opportunity of extracting a story from the man whom the other elders present described as Te Kooti's chief scout. Later on, in 1921, I had several long talks with him in a more secluded kainga, near his birthplace on the Taringamutu River, in the King Country. He was the last survivor of the exiled Maori fighting men, prisoners of war, who escaped from Chatham Island in the captured schooner Rifleman. The veteran scout and carbineer was a man of rather small and compact and wiry frame; of middle height, with small, well-cut features and a short sparse white beard. He was not unlike his famous chief, Te Kooti, as I remembered him in the late 'Eighties. His very keen, quick-roving eyes were some index to his character. He bore the reputation among his countrymen of having been one of Te Kooti's best shots. He followed his chief during nearly two years of the most arduous bush warfare, and fought in scores of engagements and skirmishes. But long before that he was on the war path, for he fought in Taranaki in 1860, and at Orakau pa in 1864. I give Peita's story here in a connected narrative; we returned to this passage and that frequently to amplify certain points.