Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)

The Facts about Te Kooti … — How Injustice Made a Rebel. — The True Story of His Transportation

page 17

The Facts about Te Kooti
How Injustice Made a Rebel.
The True Story of His Transportation.

[All Rights Reserved.]

A Meeting-house of the Urewera (Tuhoe) adherents of Te Kooti at Ruatoki, Whakatane Valley.

A Meeting-house of the Urewera (Tuhoe) adherents of Te Kooti at Ruatoki, Whakatane Valley.

We saw a good deal of Te Kooti Rikirangi and his people in the ‘Eighties on the King Country frontier. The peace-making with this celebrated of Maori War leaders was a great relief to all the outlying settlements, when it was announced in 1883. The General Amnesty covering all political offences such as Te Kooti's long war against the pakeha forces was creditable to the Government's sense of justice.

But the strongest motive actuating the policy of Mr. John Bryce, the then Native Minister, and his colleagues was the desire to bring the King Country under the administration of law, to open it with the consent of its people to the making of roads and railways, and eventually to settle pakeha farmers on some portions of it.

For this purpose it was necessary to conciliate King Tawhiao and his principal chiefs, and also those Maoris who for acts of war had come under the special ban of the Government. Te Kooti, on whose head lay a reward of £5,000, from the days of Sir Donald Maclean, and who was technically an outlaw, living in constant danger of capture, was the principal man for whom the General Amnesty was arranged. He had long abandoned his war-path life; since 1872 he had lived peacefully at Te Kuiti and other places, only desiring to be left alone. He had a large following of disciples in his Wairua-Tapu form of religion, and he had a considerable reputation as a faith-healer. By 1883 the conditions were favourable for a complete reconciliation, and no one was more pleased than war-worn prematurely aged Te Kooti Rikirangi.

Memories of Te Kooti.

We who lived on the Old Frontier in the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties, on the farms and in the military-founded townships, saw history in the making. The two farthest-out settlers at Orakau, which touched the confiscation line, were Andrew Kay and my father. Other farmers to the west lived near the Puniu River and thence to the township of Alexandra (now Pirongia). There were many vulnerable places, where any night a band of Hauhau raiders might come down on the settlements as they did at Poverty Bay. War memories were still raw. The official peacemaking at Manga-o-rongo—fifteen miles across the border—banished all the old fears. The military watch, by armed settlers and the Constabulary outposts, was no longer necessary; except for minor fanatic demonstrations, such as Mahuki's raid on Alexandra.

I first saw Te Kooti when I was a boy, in 1884. He and some of his people came out of the King Country and lived for a time on Andrew Kay's farm, where they had a neat camp of thatched whares and fished for eels in the swamp. The Government was anxious to settle its old enemy on a kind of community farm, and it was proposed at first to buy part of the Kay estate. But the area was rather too swampy and that bargain was abandoned. But the Government gave Te Kooti an allotment at Kihikihi, and there he spent a good deal of his time, enjoying the good things of his new life of peace, including the contents of the two bar-rooms in the township. We frequently saw him on the travel, with his retinue of mounted men and his staunch bodyguard consisting of his two wives, resolute-looking gaunt-featured women, who reputedly carried loaded revolvers hung round them under their blouses. But he retired to the King Country again, and in 1886 I saw his large kainga at Otewa, on the Waipa, a place of well-built nikau and raupo houses, with large cultivations of wheat, maize, potatoes, kumara and fruit. There he lived a patriarchal life, maintaining a strict discipline over his people and holding religious services twice a day. Later on still, Ohiwa, Bay of Plenty, became his home, and there he died in 1893, revered as a next-to-God by thousands of his people.

Sailor and Trader.

In 1889 I had a long talk with Te Kooti on matters of Hauhau war history, and he told me then about his sailoring and trading visits to Auckland from Gisborne. That was in the long peace before the Hauhau Wars began. One of the schooners in which he sailed was named Te Whetuki; he was the supercargo, the man who attended to the business side of the vessel's voyages.

page 18
(From a drawing by the late James McDonald, 1907.) Tuta Nihoniho, of the Ngati-Porou tribe.

(From a drawing by the late James McDonald, 1907.)
Tuta Nihoniho, of the Ngati-Porou tribe.

It was on one of those trips to Auckland that he took the name Kooti, the native pronunciation of the pakeha name “Coates,” which he had seen in print in official notices in its Maori form. He brought cargoes of wheat, potatoes and other produce from the East Coast and sold them in Auckland, and took back trade goods for the Maoris. This business enterprise greatly displeased the principal storekeeper and trader at Turanganui, Captain Read, who became one of his enemies and accusers.

Enemies Put Him Away.

It was false or flimsy charges against Te Kooti by his enemies at Poverty Bay that resulted in his transportation to Chatham Island. I have heard several versions of that episode from both Maoris and pakehas. The story which seems least coloured by either European bias or by tribal patriotic feeling is a narrative given to me in 1905 by the late Tuta Nihoniho, a veteran fighting chief of the Ngati-Porou tribe, of the country between Tolaga Bay and the East Cape. He could not be accused of unduly favouring Te Kooti, for he fought for six years against the Hauhaus, and often against Te Kooti himself, and he was captain of the Ngati-Porou Rifle Volunteers after the war.

Te Kooti, said Tuta, was not a rebel originally. The Government made him hostile because its agents listened to his enemies and took no notice of his protests. He was fighting on the Government side with his tribe in 1865 at the siege of Waerenga-a-Hika (“Hika's Clearing”), close to the English mission station at Poverty Bay. Tuta and he were serving on the same side. A minor chief who had a grudge against Te Kooti accused him of supplying percussion caps to the Hauhaus in the pa for their guns; also it was said that he fired only powder, having removed the bullets from his cartridges. These accusations were not sustained, and he was released. But his enemies were persistent. There was Read the storekeeper's enmity, and there were personal jealousies about women. Several chiefs of the Rongo-whakaata tribe urged the Government officers to imprison him because he was a spy for the Hauhaus.

Into Exile: “Go on to the Boat!”

Major Biggs and Captain James Wilson were the officers in charge at the Bay after the fighting of 1865. They were persuaded to keep Te Kooti in custody. Biggs made enquiries from the local chiefs, Paratene Turangi and others, as to the truth or otherwise of the charges, and what they were told by his enemies confirmed their belief that Te Kooti was a dangerous character to have around one's kainga and would be much better out of the way. So off to exile the offender must go.

When the steamer for the prison isle came to an anchor off Gisborne, and the hundreds of prisoners were marched down to the beach to embark, Te Kooti was ordered to accompany them. He was escorted to the embarking place between files of men with loaded rifles. The whaleboat was on the beach waiting. “There the autaia was,” said Tuta, “driven like a dog to the boat.” (“Autaia” means a lively lad, a roystering blade, a troublesome fellow). Te Kooti turned to Major Biggs, to Captain Wilson, to Paratene Turangi (who was the grandfather of Lady Carroll, of Gisborne), who were standing there watching the embarkation, and cried:—

“No te aha au ka whiua tahitia nei me nga Hauhau ki runga poti? E hara au i te Hauhau!” (“Why am I singled out to go with the Hauhaus into the boat? I am not a Hauhau!“)

But what was that to Biggs, to Wilson, to Paratene Turangi? said Tuta. They would not listen to Te Kooti's protests.

“Go on to the boat!” said the white officer impatiently. “Go on to the boat!” And Paratene, imitating as well as he could the English of his white officer friends, said imperatively: “Ko ana ki te poti! Ko ana ki te poti!” (“Go on to the boat!“)

At Napier he protested to Sir Donald Maclean, Government Agent in Charge of East Coast Affairs, but Maclean would not listen. He concluded that Te Kooti's guilt had already been proved at Gisborne.

So Te Kooti went. On the Chathams he stayed two years, but he never forgot those contemptuous words, and the spurning of his protests against transportation. He remembered them when he plotted revenge, and when he by a master-stroke of skill and daring seized the three-masted schooner Rifleman at Wharekauri when Captain Christian was ashore, and compelled her mate and crew to carry him and his followers back to the New Zealand coast. He protested repeatedly that he did not deserve exile, and he asked for a trial or court-martial. But he was never tried, and this deportation without trial was an injustice over which he and his fellow prisoners continually brooded in their prison island. They were kept there on a kind of indeterminate sentence—the punishment that someone long afterwards in New Zealand called a “Kathleen Mavourneen,” because, in the words of the old ballad, “it may be for years and it may be for ever.”

No formal sentence was passed on the Maoris selected for exile. They were under a loose kind of Government order. Chatham Island was a convenient dumping ground for rebels against the Queen. Many injustices were done in the name of martial law. Some men no doubt deserved punishment, but the guilt of others was doubtful. It was no wonder that some of the Maoris summarily transported to the distant island meditated bitter revenge.

Te Kooti as Religious Leader.

It was in 1867, when the deported Maoris had been on Wharekauri (Chatham Island) for about a year, that Te Kooti emerged from the ranks
(J.C., photo., at Ohinemutu, 1920.) Pirika Hohepa, a veteran soldier of the Arawa tribe.

(J.C., photo., at Ohinemutu, 1920.)
Pirika Hohepa, a veteran soldier of the Arawa tribe.

page 19 as a preacher and a leader. The lean, black-bearded exile became a student of the Bible, Maori translation, and he found many texts in the Psalms and other books of the Old Testament applicable to the Maoris’ condition. There was some consolation in the texts that promised the exiles a return to their own land. The Psalms of David formed the principal portion of his form of worship. The prayers of appeal and praise, in which many scores of voices united, were chanted very earnestly and held a mournful beauty that thrilled the hearts of the worshippers. Te Kooti held prophetic seances, too, and presently as the year 1868 opened and the summer passed, he predicted an early deliverance from exile by a vessel which God would send to the island.


The final reckoning came in November, 1868. Three months after Te Kooti and his fellow-escapees landed from the Rifleman is the little cove at Whareongaonga, just south of Young Nick's Head, he led his long-cherished kokiri of revenge against the whites and Maoris of Turanga-nui. But Turanga slept. Alas! it slept. What watchers there were watched the wrong trail. The tomahawk and the sword did the work; not many shots were fired. And Major Biggs and Captain Wilson were both slain, and their families also. Te Kooti's other white enemies escaped. Ha! Ka ca to kino! (The wrong-doing was avenged.)

At one of the Maori villages the chief Paratene Turangi—he who had stood on the beach side with Biggs and Wilson when Te Kooti was deported—was captured by the Hauhaus. Te Kooti approached his victim (his relative also, be it remembered) with a soft tread which must have had something of the tiger's advance on its prey in it. One hand he stretched forth in mock welcome; the other he held behind him; it gripped his tomahawk.

Tena koe, taku papa,” he said in the soft half-whining voice the Maori uses in greeting. “Greetings, my father” [elder relative] the words meant. And raising his left hand he stroked the cheeks of the petrified Paratene as if in affection. “Tena koe taku papa, nana te kupu, ‘Ko ana ki te poti, ko ana ki te poti!’ (“Salutations, my father, you who uttered those words, ‘Go on to the boat, go on to the boat'!) A-a! Ko ana ki te tomahawk!” And a moment later, Paratene fell to the executioner's blow.

That was Te Kooti's revenge. So died Paratene Turangi, he who had helped to send Te Kooti Turuki into exile. Treachery was paid for with savagery, false witness with the edge of the tomahawk.

* * *

Many people who have written about New Zealand history have pictured Te Kooti as a terrible ruffian without any redeeming qualities. Such a description of a man who was in his day the most notable figure in the life of this colony is quite misleading, based on imperfect knowledge. With the passing of the years a less prejudiced view can be taken of the actions of those who opposed the Government. It is recognised now that many unfair and tyrannical things were done by the Governments of the past, such as the forcible taking of Maori lands in punishment for so-called rebellion. That the Maori cause was just at the beginning of the Taranaki war in 1860 was admitted by Governor and Government in 1863, but it was then too late to prevent further strife.

Te Kooti's fierce deeds in the heat of war outnumbered even those of Kipling's Boh Da Thone, erst a pretender to King Theebaw's throne—

“He crucified noble, he sacrificed mean, He filled old ladies with kerosene.”

But Te Kooti did not go that far; the mercifully quick tomahawk was his way. A massacre here and a fierce foray there were balanced by his military genius, his amazingly skilful checkmating of Government moves against him on the rugged field of mountain and forest. Had he been a white chief imprisoned by the Maoris on the Chathams, his escape with all his people in the captured schooner Rifleman would have been acclaimed as a desperately daring stroke of generalship, deserving of high honour. By comparison with some great military figures of Europe Te Kooti does not suffer. Some English kings and queens of the past were just as pitiless as the Maori rebel when they wished to rid themselves of enemies and doubtful friends, and the great European powers to-day are even more ruthless and savage.

* * *

The Robe of Love.

There was a poetic touch about the old war-hawk in his later days. Captain Gilbert Mair, one of the officers who had led the Arawa contingents in chase of him in many expeditions, and who more than once took a hasty shot at him in a bush skirmish, told me this incident of the ‘Eighties, after the General Amnesty. Te Kooti was peacefully
(Photo, Thelma R. Ken. A river scene in the Lewis Pass, South Island, New Zealand.

(Photo, Thelma R. Ken.
A river scene in the Lewis Pass, South Island, New Zealand.

page 20 page 21 touring the country addressing the Ringatu or Wairua-Tapu flocks and practising his often successful faith-healing. Mair was in Matata, on the Bay of Plenty coast, when the chief came riding in, with his bodyguard of about 30 men and a couple of his wives. Te Kooti was the guest of the Maoris in their large village. When he heard that his old antagonist was in the township he assembled his men, marched them over to the Horse Shoe Inn, where the captain was staying, and paraded his now peaceful squad in front of the place. They were armed with shotguns and a rifle or two, mostly borrowed for the occasion from the local people. He put them through a bit of drill, and when the captain appeared they presented arms.

Mair solemnly inspected the guard of honour, and then Te Kooti approached him with a fine korowai flax cloak, and placed it around his one-time enemy's shoulders.

“This garment,” he said, “is my token of regard for you, Tawa, from whom I escaped only by the breadth of the black of my finger nail” (Maori idiom for “by the skin of my teeth”). “Wear this korowai in memory of me, and if it be not large enough to cover you, let me clothe you with my love.”

So saying he gave the orders, “Tei-hana! Pai ia rewhi!” (Attention! By your left!“) and quick-marched his men back to the kainga.

“He clothed me with his aroha!” said my friend. “Pretty good for the old war-horse, that bit of sentiment, wasn't it?”

Later on in the day a messenger from the kainga came to the Horse Shoe Inn with a request from Te Kooti. Would his fighting friend the captain be good enough to send him a bottle of rum? Mair sent it, and thus did the two old warriors exchange their pledges of aroha.

The Patriotic Schoolgirls.

Te Kooti is still the popular hero among many tribes, although he has been dead so long. And not only among the old people. A pakeha woman, who is a teacher in a girls’ college, and is particularly interested in New Zealand history, told me of her meeting with some loyal young worshippers of the Ringatu prophet, priest and king. It was in the train in Hawke's Bay. Five or six young Maori girls were returning from holidays to their college. She began a conversation with those intelligent, handsome and neatly dressed girls, and presently asked them by way of a quiet test of their knowledge, about the history of New Zealand. Te Kooti's wars were discussed. Their eyes lit up when she mentioned his name. They all admired Te Kooti, he was the greatest Maori warrior, he was a great general, and a very good man indeed.

“But was he not a very cruel man?” the teacher asked, to elicit their opinions further; really she rather admired Te Kooti, being a bit of a rebel herself.

Maori eyes blazed with indignation at the suggestion. “No, no! He was badly treated by the Government, and he was only avenging his wrongs. The Government sent him away into exile on Wharekauri without trial, and took his land away from him. When he escaped he was only doing the right thing. The pakehas were cruel to him, and why should he not have his revenge? He was a very, very clever brave man.”

That teacher heard enough from young Maori womanhood in the burst of sturdy patriotism to convince her that the memory and mana of Te Kooti will not soon fade. There is hope for the race, she affirms, when the young generation hold so tenaciously to their national hero-worship.

* * *

Te Kooti acquired fame among the Maori people for his gifts of healing. His magnetic personality, his strong will-power and his mystic influence gave him reputedly supernatural powers over the sick and the distressed. An old Arawa soldier, Pirika Hohepa (see photo.) told me in 1920 that although he had fought against Te Kooti he became a strong believer in his mana and his religion. In the ‘Eighties several of his children died, one after the other. In despair, he went to Te Kooti for help. The head of the Wairua-Tapu faith gave his spiritual ministrations, and there were no more deaths of children in that family.

As to the origin of the adopted name Te Kooti, Captain Preece, N.Z.C., who fought against him in the wars, told me that Rikirangi took it from a Government notice signed by Mr. Coates, Colonial Secretary, an official of those days, in Auckland; the Maori translation displayed was signed “Kooti.” It has also been said that he was called after a Dr. Scott, of the East Coast—a prominent pakeha-Maori resident of Wairoa—whose name in Maori is Kooti. However, I believe Captain Preece's version was the correct one. Most pakehas mispronounce the name. Te Kooti being the native form of Coates, it is given the sound of that name with the “o” long. The word “court” is also pronounced and spelled “kooti” in Maori. The English “vote” similarly becomes “pooti.” So do not fall into the common error of sounding the prolonged “o” as “u,” as in Kuiti, kura, mura.

(Photo., Mrs. A. S. Wilkinson.) Karaka. (Corynocarpus lavagata.)

(Photo., Mrs. A. S. Wilkinson.)
(Corynocarpus lavagata.)

(Photo., Mrs. A. S. Wilkinson.) Bush Lawyer—Male flower. (Rubus Australis.)

(Photo., Mrs. A. S. Wilkinson.)
Bush Lawyer—Male flower.
(Rubus Australis.)

page 22
(W. W. Stewart Collection.) Departure from Auckland of the Auckland-Wellington Express, and a study of locomotive “K” 901 before the commencement of the 426 mile run to the Capital City of New Zealand.

(W. W. Stewart Collection.)
Departure from Auckland of the Auckland-Wellington Express, and a study of locomotive “K” 901 before the commencement of the 426 mile run to the Capital City of New Zealand.

page 23
(W. W. Stewart Collection.) Camera studies in the railway yard at Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.

(W. W. Stewart Collection.)
Camera studies in the railway yard at Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.

page 24

page break
“… a woody theatre of stateliest view.“ —MIlton. A typical scene in the Eglinton Valley, South Island, New Zealand. Thelma R. Kent. photo.)

“… a woody theatre of stateliest view.
A typical scene in the Eglinton Valley, South Island, New Zealand.
Thelma R. Kent. photo.)

page 26