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

Te Kooti's Scout. — A Maori Warrior's Story — The Exiles’ Escape from Chatham Island

page 25

Te Kooti's Scout.
A Maori Warrior's Story
The Exiles’ Escape from Chatham Island

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.

The First War-Path.

“I was born,” said Peita, “up yonder at Petania, near the rapids of the Taringamutu. My tribes are Ngati-Maniapoto, of this district, and Patu-heuheu, my mother's tribe on the border of the Urewera Country. I was born a little before the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, so I am a very old man now; I have outlived all my old comrades and relatives. My first fighting expedition was to the Taranaki war. I joined a war-party of Ngati-Maniapoto. We all gathered at the Mokau River, and, going down to the heads in canoes, we marched along the coast to the Waitara, where the first Taranaki war had just begun. We met the British soldiers in battle at Wai-kotero and we defeated them there. We pursued them into a swamp and there we killed many; some of them were bogged up to their armpits and could not travel through the marsh like us, who wore little clothing. The tomahawk was the principal weapon used by the Maoris in this combat in the swamp. I was armed with a hakimana, a single-barrel percussion-cap shot-gun.”

(This was the engagement better known as Puke-ta-kauere, on June 27th, 1860, in which the 40th Regiment was badly cut up in the swampy ground below the Maori pa. The British casualties were 29 killed and 33 wounded.)

The Defence of Orakau Pa.

“When our Ngati-Maniapoto war party returned from Taranaki, I went to the territory of the Patu-heuheu and Ngati-Whare, on the Rangitaiki. These were my mother's and my wife's people, and I lived there at Tauaroa (later Troutbeck's sheep station) on the Urewera border, until I joined the main Urewera war-party formed to assist the Waikato Kingites. I and seven other men of the Patu-heuheu and Ngati-Whare tribes joined the Tuhoe (Urewera), and we marched to the Waipa country by way of Waotu and Aratitaha. Two or three women were with our section of the war-party. Rewi Maniapoto (Manga) met us at Aratitaha (where the road to Arapuni now passes over the southern spur of Maunga-tautari) and tried to dissuade us from giving battle, as the pakeha troops had successfully fought their way up to Te Awamutu and Kihikihi. But all our people insisted on the continuance of the war. We therefore built the pa at Orakau; all of us shared in the work—Ngati-Maniapoto, Waikato, Ngati-Raukawa and Ngati-Te-Kohera and Tuhoe. I helped to dig the trenches and build the parapets. We used European spades, from the native village at Orakau. Our food in page 26 the pa consisted chiefly of potatoes. The women in the pits within the parapets also ground flour with which they made bread, baking it in the dug-in shelters. They ground the wheat, from the Orakau plantations, in small steel hand-mills.

“The women worked under fire, like the men; some were killed and others wounded in the three days’ battle. Two bullets struck me; they did not penetrate my clothes—shirt and trousers and a pora (rough shaggy flax mat for the shoulders). On numerous occasions in other fights, bullets struck me but glanced off. The firing was continuous day and night. Rewi would have made peace, I believe, but certain of the chiefs of Ngati-Maniapoto, Waikato and Tuhoe would not consent.

“The shells from the big guns killed several of the garrison; one, two, three would fall, killed by the bursting of the shells. I saw one Waikato man cut in two by a shell. Four of our Patu-heuheu people were killed in the fighting; Peita (my mother's brother whose name I took in memory of his death), Te Taniwha, Hohepa, and another. One of our women, Rawinia (Lavinia), belonging chiefly to Ngati-Manawa, was wounded by a shell, which just snipped off the tip of her nose in its flight. She was the wife of Takurua, the young chief of Ngati-Manawa, who fought there; after his death (at Tauaroa) she married Hare-hare, the present chief of Murupara. Piripi te Heuheu, one of our Tuhoe chiefs, was killed outside the pa, near the swamp, when we were making our retreat to the Puniu. We fugitives all gathered at Waotu, on the upper Waikato, and then marched home to Tauaroa, Te Whaiti and Ruatahuna.

Captured at Omarunui.

“My next battle was at Omarunui, near Napier (in 1866). I became a convert to Pai-marire, the new religion from Taranaki, and joined the Ngati-Hineuru tribe at Te Haroto and Titiokura, on the mountain track between the Rangitaiki and Napier (the present main road). Here I lived for a time in the kainga of Panapa, the prophet of this tribe. It was a small tribe, but fond of war. An armed party of about eighty marched over the ranges to Hawke's Bay; our chiefs were Te Rangihiroa, Kipa, Kingita, Panapa, and Petera Kahuroa; and there also came with us the chief Rangi-tahau, of Taupo. At Omarunui we were attacked by the Napier Militia and volunteers, and after a short fight we were defeated; more than twenty of us were killed, and the rest of us were taken prisoner. Nearly thirty were wounded; the whole of us prisoners, wounded and unwounded, numbered about fifty.

“At the beginning of the fight on the river-bank at Omarunui, I had no gun, but when one of my comrades fell I took his double-barrel gun and his cartridge belt nearly full, and fired at the pakehas advancing to surround us. I expended all my ammunition there. A bullet struck me in the stomach, but its force was strangely stopped by my clothing, and it did not injure me beyond inflicting a heavy blow; it entangled itself in my shirt. Another bullet thudded on my chest just over my heart, but my waistcoat and shirt stopped it from penetrating, or else the angle at which it was fired caused it to glance off. This was at a range of about a hundred yards. I saw Nikora shot in the body; two bullets struck him. A number of us retreated to the hills, but we were surrounded there by the cavalry and were forced to surrender. On the same day a small detachment of our people, Ngati-Hineuru, was cut off in the valley at Petane; twelve were killed and the few survivors were captured. Only one man of all our warriors succeeded in escaping to Te Haroto; his name was Maniapoto. All the rest of us who could walk were marched to Napier, and the wounded were taken to hospital there. Then we were shipped off to Chatham Island in a steamer. Nikora and other wounded men were sent after us when they had recovered in hospital.

In Exile on Chatham Island.

“We prisoners of war,” Peita continued, “were kept on Wharekauri (Chatham Island) for two years. We were compelled to work for the Government. Some of us built a large stone house there. We cut the stone and carried it up and placed it in position. The house was used as part of the barracks. For a long time I worked as shepherd for a European sheep-farmer on a distant part of the island, and because of this I was not one of those who assembled for worship after the ritual set up by Te Kooti, who had been shipped down from Turanganui (Gisborne).

“There were many of the Tangata-whenua or original people of Wharekauri, the Mai-oriori, living on the island. They were a strange people as to customs and language and their skins were very dark. When we first went there we could not understand their tongue.

The Escape in the Rifleman.

“When the schooner Rifleman came into Whangaroa Bay, Wharekauri, from New Zealand with stores for the prison station (in 1868), I was away on the 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 outside places. Then until the vessel was ready to sail, I and a number of others did duty as guards to prevent the Europeans of 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 use of the station; there were about twenty tons of flour, biscuit, sugar and other provisions. Our ship of deliverance was a three-masted schooner, painted black; she not only had square topsails on her foremast, besides carrying a large lower squaresail for running, but she had double topsails on the main; for the rest she was fore-and-aft rigged.

The Voyage to New Zealand, and a Human Sacrifice.

“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 about 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, but it was on our leader's order that he was cast into the sea. The principal reason for the execution was that Te Warihi had given information to some of the European people about the secret Karakia, or religious worship, practised by Te Kooti and, his mysterious 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.

page 27

“At this time it was late afternoon, and the sun was setting over the windy ocean. I was on deck helping the sailors with the ropes. We saw a great wave, a billow like a mountain, rolling towards us. It would surely overwhelm us when it reached us. It was about as far from the spot where we are sitting to those kakikatea trees on the bank of the Taringamutu [about 300 yards away] when the condemned man was brought up on deck from the hold, where he was sitting with his old wife, and marched aft by Timoti te Kaka. The wave towered up like a mountain range; it looked on the sea-line like Hikurangi mountain yonder [the crest of a range on the north of the Taringamutu]. Te Kaka, pushing Te Warihi to the rail, attempted to lift him over, but he was not strong enough. Then a powerful Maori standing by, a man from the Wairarapa, seized the offender, lifted him over the rail and dropped him into the sea. Te Warihi did not make any outcry, nor did he struggle. He fell into the water and went down like a stone. He did not swim after the ship. And we who were in fear that the great wave sweeping along towards us would roll over us and sink us, saw in that moment that we were saved. The billow subsided and the schooner rode safely on the sea. The sun shone out from the clouds for a few moments before it set. Te Kooti told us we would sight land next morning.

“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, Turei 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 five pounds, some six pounds, some ten pounds. A considerable sum of money had been secured on the Chathams at the time of the rising, and some of the Maoris had received money from New Zealand. The mountains of the North Island were seen just after the sun rose, and there was loud rejoicing among the people.

The Landing, and the Pursuit.

“The place selected by Te Kooti for our landing was Whare-ongaonga (‘House of the Nettles’), a small cove between Gisborne and the Mahia Peninsula. We unloaded the vessel there and boated some water off to her in the ships’ casks, which had been emptied on our voyage with so many people on board. The white men had their money restored to them. Then they set sail for Wellington, and Te Kooti and all of us marched inland. Te Kooti did not wish to fight, and had he been left in peace he would have remained quietly in the interior. But the Europeans of Poverty Bay endeavoured to intercept us. We fought an engagement with them at Paparatu and defeated them, killing two. The Europeans left their equipage and some arms on the field, and it was there that I obtained my first rifle. We fortified ourselves in a stronghold at Puketapu; and it was from this position in the ranges that we marched out on our expedition against the settlers and Government Maoris of Turanga-nui (Poverty Bay). It was at night (November 8th) that our war-party left Patutahi on the hills above Turanga-nui and attacked the settlements at Pipi-whakao, Makauri, and Matawhero.

The Raid on Poverty Bay.

“Te Kooti's attacking force (about a hundred men) was divided into several kokiri, or raiding parties, as the settled country on the Poverty Bay flat was approached. I was in a party of about fifty men, led by Petera Kahuroa, of the Ngati-Hineuru tribe. I was armed with a rifle and bayonet. We first attacked the European settlers and the Maoris at Pipi-whakao. The prisoners we took there were all executed by one man, belonging to the Ngati-Kahungunu; he had been appointed to slay the prisoners. He killed them by stabbing them with his fixed bayonet. They had fled as we surrounded them, but were brought back and bayoneted one by one.

“We next attacked the house of Te Piiki [Major Biggs]. Te Rangi-tahau and Nikora were the leaders in this slaying. Volleys were fired into the house, after the door was broken in, and Biggs was shot down and his family also.
The schooner Rifleman (Drawn by A. H. Messenger, from a sketch by the late Captain M. T. Clayton, Auckland).

The schooner Rifleman
(Drawn by A. H. Messenger, from a sketch by the late Captain M. T. Clayton, Auckland).

The house of Wirihana [Major Wilson] was then surrounded. The principal man appointed to execute the Wilsons was Rawiri, of the Rongo-whakaata tribe. Other men appointed to kill prisoners were Te Rangi-tahau (usually called Tahau, who had been captured with Peita at Omarunui in 1866), and Timoti te Kaka, of Opotiki. Tahau's favourite weapon for these executions was a patu-pounamu, a sharp-edged greenstone club. Te Kaka used a patu-paraoa, a whalebone club. In these 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 preferred the gun. After the night and morning of killing, we returned to the high country, and we fortified ourselves at Makaretu, on the Wharekopae River. There was much fighting there.

A Dive for Life.

“At length the Ngati-porou stormed Makaretu, and drove us out of it and killed many. When the assault was made I was in a tent. I hastily filled all my pockets with cartridges, and rushed out, with a rifle slung over my shoulder and another in my hands. I ran to the edge of the cliff; the pa was on the edge of the precipice above the Wharekopae River. The cliff was lofty—it was quite as high as those trees in the field yonder [about 60 feet high]. It was no use attempting to fight then; the fort was in the hands of the enemy. I jumped from the brink of the cliff into a deep pool of the river. As I fled I was fired at. A man named Nama, who was near me was also fired at and was shot and wounded; he was captured and killed afterwards.

“I escaped from the river but many of my comrades were shot in the water or on the banks. I crept into the thick manuka on the other side of the Wharekopae. There I was seen by page 28 page 29 Huhana (Susan) one of Te Kooti's wives, who had escaped with him. She called to me from the bush, and I joined her and Te Kooti. Our leader had a wounded foot, which had been injured in the rocky bed of the river, and Huhana and I took turns in carrying him off on our backs.

The Flight from Ngatapa.

“We next gathered in the mountain fort Ngatapa. It was an ancient stronghold of the Maoris, and we fortified it afresh, and occupied it for several weeks. In the defence of this pa I used a rifle. The fall of the fort was due to the fact that the Government Maoris (Ngati-Porou) cut us off from the spring which was our water supply. The stronghold fell because of the lack of food and water.

“When our position became desperate and it was decided to escape to the forest under cover of night, we let ourselves down the cliff in rear of the pa by means of aka or forest vines, cut from the trees just outside the fort. The lowest part of the cliff where I went down on an aka vine was about sixty feet high. I escaped from the bush pursuit made by the Ngati-Porou, but many of our people were captured and shot. One of our men killed by Ngati-Porou was Nikora te Whakaunua, who had been severely wounded.

“We who had escaped from Ngatapa made our way through the forest ranges, pursued for some distance by the Ngati-Porou, and assembled again in the Tuhoe country. We remained for a little while at a pa in the Waimana Valley, and then we made an expedition down into the Whakatane Valley. Te Kooti recruited many men among the Tuhoe, and we laid siege to the Ngati-Pukeko pa Rauporoa, a large entrenchment on the left bank of the Whakatane, about five miles from the mouth of the river. At the same time a detachment of our force attacked the flour-mill and small redoubt at Te Poronu, on the opposite side of the river (about a third of a mile from Rauporoa). From the hills above the road we fired into the redoubt—which was held by a very few people of the Ngati-Pukeko, who were on the Government side—and also at the mill, where Hoani te Wiwi [i.e., “John the Frenchman”—Jean Guerren] worked this water-driven flour-mill for the Ngati-Pukeko. Hoani held the mill for some time, but at last he was shot in the gateway of the redoubt by Eru Peka, the half-caste, Te Kooti's bugler. All the positions of the Ngati-Pukeko were taken by us. Then some of our force attacked Whakatane, and the men of Tuhoe looted and burned the store of the trader [Mr. Simpkins]. The Government force [a column under Major Mair] followed us inland, when we retired from the Whakatane Valley with much loot. From the Whakatane we crossed to the Rangitaiki Valley and there was some fighting at Tauaroa. Thence we marched back into the mountains of the Urewera Country.

The Raid on Mohaka.

“Now Te Kooti led us on a very rapid march right across to the East Coast, by way of Waikaremoana and down the Mohaka Valley. His object was to work vengeance upon the Ngati-Pahauwera tribe, because they had opposed our march inland after we landed at Whare-ongaonga from the schooner. I took part in the fighting at Mohaka. We attacked two pas there; one surrendered to us, the other held out. Many men, women and children were killed after being captured in the undefended open kaingas. It was the Tuhoe chiefly who killed these people, who were imprisoned in a woolshed, because they and Ngati-Pahauwera were ancient enemies. A number of Europeans also were killed. There was a hotel in Mohaka, and this was looted. Three of our men got very drunk on the rum in the hotel, and when they joined in the attack on the pa near the mouth of the river, they behaved so recklessly, heedless of cover that they were shot dead. Te Kooti was very angry at his men getting drunk while they were fighting. But after the return march was commenced, with our looted horses and other plunder, we halted a few miles inland to enjoy the liquor from the hotel.

“After Mohaka, we took shelter in the Urewera country once more, taking some of the looted horses with us (we swam them across a narrow arm of Lake Waikaremoana). Then it was that Te Kooti decided to make for Taupo and the Waikato. We were in the ranges at Heruiwi overlooking the Kaingaroa Plain for some time, and it was near there, scouting down in the valley, that I and a man named Te Makarini, out scouting, killed a European mounted soldier, who, with a companion was riding up the Rangitaiki from Fort Galatea, and took his despatches to Te Kooti. In this affair I was mounted and was armed with a carbine and revolver taken in a previous fight. Besides my pakeha clothing I wore a silver-laced cap; it had been part of the spoil taken at Pipi-whakao in the raid on Poverty Bay.”

In the Taupo Campaign.

Peita went on, when we resumed our talk, to describe the Maoris’ surprise of the cavalry camp at Opepe, when nine out of fourteen troopers were killed (as narrated in a recent story of mine in the “Railways Magazine”). Te Kooti and all his force now were engaged by the Colonial forces in the South Taupo country. Peita fought at Te Ponanga and other skirmishes; then came the sharp action at Te Porere, close to the foot of Tongariro Mountain.

“There at Te Porere,” said Peita, “west of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe Mountains, we built a strong redoubt. It was a massive earthwork—it is standing there to-day—but it had one defect which resulted in our defeat. In making the loopholes (haarahi-pu) in the sod and pumice walls, interlaid with fern, we made them straight (horizontal), and could not depress the muzzles of our guns to fire into the ditch. The Government troops, pakeha and Maori, got up under the parapets and many of them snatched up lumps of pumice and stuffed up the firing apertures with them. We therefore could not see our attackers unless we exposed ourselves over the top of the parapets.

Peita Kills Captain St. George.

“It was I who shot a pakeha officer as he was leading his men in a charge up to the front of the pa. [This was Captain St. George]. I was just behind the short parapet (parepare) covering the gateway, immediately inside the entrance. My weapon was a breech-loading carbine. When the officer, rushing up ahead of his men, was about twenty paces from the entrance, I fired and shot him dead. It was not Te Kooti who shot him, as some have said. At that stage of the fighting Te Kooti was in a rifle pit in an angle on the left flank of the pa, to the left hand of the kuwaha (gateway) as one looks from within the redoubt. He was sitting there surrounded by a bodyguard of women; he had been wounded in the hand.

The Last Fight.

“When the Government men rushed the pa, we had to take to the bush which was within a very short distance of our rear and right flank. There we sheltered on the headwaters of the Wanganui River, and at last we marched to the Upper Waikato and across to Patetere. I fought in some of the skirmishing in the Patetere bush, and then marched with Te Kooti's force on his move against Rotorua. It was near Ohinemutu that Tawa [Captain Mair] gave battle to us with his young men of the Arawa, and he followed us up for many miles, and shot Eru Peka and Te Kaka in

(Continued on page 49.)