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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 2 (May 1, 1940.)

Taken for a Ride — The Capture Of Winiata — The Story of a Daring King Country Adventure

page 25

Taken for a Ride
The Capture Of Winiata
The Story of a Daring King Country Adventure

[Copyright—All Rights Reserved]

Winiata the Murderer, captured by Barlow at Otorohanga. (Portrait from a photograph taken in Auckland about 1875.)

Winiata the Murderer, captured by Barlow at Otorohanga.
(Portrait from a photograph taken in Auckland about 1875.)

It was under cover of night that three men who planned the bold capture of a Maori fugitive from justice met in a police station on the Old Frontier. The two policemen awaited patiently the arrival of the third man, who was to carry out the actual capture, taking all risks. Like any secret agent in modern espionage, he would be rewarded if he succeeded, but would be repudiated in the event of failure—and failure meant bullet or tomahawk, far beyond chance of help.

“It's close on 10 o'clock,” said the bushy-bearded sergeant, looking at his watch. “Barlow should be near by this time, surely.”

“It's a long ride from Otorohanga over that track,” the constable replied, “and there's the Puniu ford, where the gravel is always shifting. Barlow wouldn't attempt to leave his camp until after dark, and he must be back again before daylight, to avoid any suspicion.”

A few minutes later the constable opened the door in response to a low knock. The sergeant was big, but the huge black-whiskered man who entered overtopped him by nearly a foot. His bulky figure seemed over-heavy, run to fat, but the powerful shoulders, the great depth and breadth of chest soon removed that first impression. Robert Barlow, half-caste, was a quite notable wrestler. He had been a stockman on cattle stations, a bullock-driver, bushman, horse-breaker (his weight would subdue most wild horses).

Both the policemen had been in the Royal Irish Constabulary, the best of training schools. McGovern was senior sergeant in charge at Hamilton. Constable Robert Gillies (in after years Inspector at Christchurch) was the perfect model of a smart young trooper. He was quick, alert, intelligent. His keen face was cleanshaved except for short sideburns. Te Awamutu (where this meeting took place) was his station, and he patrolled the farm districts for many miles around. The Puniu River was his boundary on the south. Beyond that for 150 miles all was the Dangerous Land; the only law was Maori law; all was Maori land. Nearly a million acres of land had been confiscated from the Waikato tribes, who had taken refuge in the land of the Ngati-Maniapoto. No pakeha policeman could cross that frontier river, at any rate not without arousing the brooding anger of the Maoris. The Government wisely left the Kingites alone.

The police officers warmly greeted Barlow, and the business on hand was entered on. This was the problem, how to capture Winiata, who had killed Edwin Packer, his fellow-worker on the farm of Mr. Cleghorn, at Epsom, near Auekland, in 1876. The two had quarrelled over a trifle of money. Packer had lent a sovereign to the Maori, and could not obtain repayment. He dunned and badgered Winiata, who at last determined to kill the pakeha and so settle the debt for ever. After the murder, done with an axe, he fled to the King Country, a hundred miles away, travelling mostly by night, and skilfully avoiding the police. Once across the border river he was safe. The land of refuge was a sanctuary of safety for other wanted men; Te Kooti was one, Wetere te Rerenga, of Mokau Heads, was another; there was Nukuwhenua, who had shot the surveyor Todd at Pirongia Mountain in 1870, and there was Purukutu, who had killed and beheaded Timothy Sullivan at Puahue in 1873—and a few more Kingite patriots. The King Country, where many of his tribal relatives lived, was Winiata's home for six years. The police could not lay their hands on him, but the original warrant for his arrest still remained, and would be acted upon, if it took fifty years.

The Government had offered a reward of £500 for the capture of the fugitive, and Robert Barlow determined to earn the money. He had already offered to attempt it. He was friendly with the Kingite people, and traded with them for cattle and pigs. Presently he became known as a pig buyer, taking his Rohepotae poaka to Alexandra township (now Pirongia) and selling them there.

* * *

Barlow explained his bold scheme. He would try to kidnap Winiata and carry him off in the night through the King Country to Kihikihi and Te Awamutu, a ride of thirty miles, and hand him over to Constable Gillies.

The Drugged Grog.

“Now,” said the sergeant, “here's your ammunition, Barlow.”

page 26

page 27

He produced from a satchel two large bottles, one of rum, and one of whisky. “Constable Gillies here got Sloane, the chemist, to doctor one, with an opiate, laudanum I think; this is it, the rum. That will settle Mr. Winiata, if you can get it inside him. The other, the bottle of whisky, is all right; you'll probably have to take a tot or two yourself, until you get him and his friends drinking, then when he is well on the way, put the rum before him. You'll be able to handle him then; it's real sailors' boardinghouse Shanghai grog. Now, don't make a mistake, the rum is the knockout drop.”

“Good,” said Barlow, “that's splendid. Now, I must get away; my horse will have finished his bite of oats, and we must jog along. I'll have to be in Otorohanga before daylight—the nights are good and long—and frosty, you bet,” he said, with a grin and a shiver.

Gillies went to a cupboard where he kept his first-aid medicine. “Good luck to you, old man,” he said, pouring out a drink. “This isn't doctored! It will keep the cold out. You can have a couple more, if you like. You know a good stiff whisky poured into each boot is the best thing out for cold toes. Trust an Irish trooper to know that.”

Barlow laughingly declined the footwarmers, but had his tot with the policemen; then he rose to go.

“Hold on a moment, Barlow,” said the sergeant. “You have no revolver, have you? Gillies, lend him yours, with a box of cartridges, just in case. Winiata may be armed.”

Barlow took the revolver, and a pair of handcuffs. Shaking hads with the policemen, he went out to the stable, got his horse and rode off into the clear frosty night.

* * *

A Deal in Pigs.

A week later in Otorohanga kainga. The date was the 27th of June, 1882. In a thatched house, close to the Waipa River, the old-style whare of ferntree trunks and thickly padded raupo walls and roof, some five or six Maoris reposed comforably about the fire in the middle of the earth floor. Barlow and his Ngati-Maniapoto wife were there; Winiata, the pig breeder, was there. The wanted man who had not dared to cross the Puniu since he splashed through the waters of sanctuary six years before, was closing a bargain in pork on the hoof for the Alexandra butcher. He engaged to deliver the pigs next day, and Barlow said he had arranged with two lads to help him take them down the Waipa by canoe to Alexandra.

The half-caste paid over the price of the porkers to the well-satisfied vendor. He opened a flax basket, his travelling bag and took out a bottle of whisky. “Now,” he said, “my friend, we have made our bargain; let us sweeten it with a drink.”

He opened the bottle, and his wife produced two tin pannikins. He poured a Maori nip—half a pannikinfull-for Winiata, and a like tot for the others. The two pannikins went round, and after all had swallowed their waipiro neat, he took a very small dose himself. His moderation passed unnoticed. The group became happily noisy after another round.

Barlow studied his unsuspecting prospective prisoner closely. He saw that Winiata's customary watchful suspicious air was somewhat relaxed. The Maori was still a young man, but there was grey in his black hair. His life had been one of anxiety and danger ever since he sank his axeblade into his sleeping fellow-worker's head. Barlow wondered whether he carried a concealed weapon. He saw the Maori now and again put his hand to his breast, as if from unconscious habit, feeling for the comforting butt of a revolver. “He is armed,” thought Barlow, “but I'll get him.”

The bottle of whisky was soon empty. The strong liquor and the heat of the fire sent the little company into a pleasantly somnolent condition. Winiata and his friends would soon be happily blind to events; then would be the moment for the drugged drink.

Winiata, half dozing, asked for more waipiro. Barlow brought out the rum containing Sloane's opiate. He served out a half-pannikin all round.

“Good, good!” said Winiata. “How sweet it is! How cheering to the heart! More, give me more.”

His voice died away; his head sank on his chest; presently he dropped down on his blankets, breathing stertorously, in a drunken sleep that would last well into next morning.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) A view of Russell, Bay of Islands, from the hill behind the town. Historie Waitangi lies in the centre background across the bay.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A view of Russell, Bay of Islands, from the hill behind the town. Historie Waitangi lies in the centre background across the bay.

His companions, too, dropped off.

Winiata's Six-Shooter.

Barlow looked at his wife. “Now is the time,” her eyes said. He shifted cautiously to Winiata's side and searched him for a weapon. As he expected he found a revolver, fully loaded, inside the Maori's shirt breast. It lay in a home-made holster of soft leather, suspended by a narrow strap round the neck. He gave it to his wife, who slipped it into a pocket of the man's coat she wore.

“Open the door, quietly,” he whispered to his wife. Very cautiously she pushed back the low sliding door. Turning she asked: “The rum?”

“Leave the bottle—they'll finish it when they wake.”

The big man gathered up the unconscious Maori in his arms. Silently he carried him out. The woman carefully and silently closed the door. The cold night breeze might presently revive the sleepers if it were left open.

Swiftly the half-caste carried his captive round to the rear of the whare and along the river bank well away from the huts to a dark clump of trees where three saddled horses were tethered. The pair quickly lifted Winiata on to one and with flax ropes tied his ankles together under the horse's belly. His feet were in the stirrup irons; he would ride easily enough. Barlow handcuffed him; he could rest his fettered hands on the pommel of the saddle mechanically. Finally he strapped him firmly to the saddle.

The Night Ride to the Frontier.

“Now he's quite comfortable,” whispered Barlow. “He won't wake page 28 up for three or four hours. You take his reins and lead his horse, and I'll ride alongside him and support him. We must watch and listen as we go.”

They rode quietly away from the village. It was well after midnight now. Even the dogs were asleep; at any rate not a bark broke the quiet of the night. It was frosty. Barlow's wife took a blanket from her saddle pack and fastened it about the prisoner's shoulders.

* * *

So, with amazing ease the capture of the wanted man was carried out. Thus far so good. But there was the long ride before them; it would be nearly daylight by the time they reached the frontier river.

After a few minutes the pair changed positions. Barlow, finding that the Maori rested like a sack in the saddle, and did not need support, rode ahead leading Winiata's horse; his wife rode last.

Suddenly the woman said, “We are chased! Listen!”

The sound of horses, travelling at a gallop, came through the midnight air.

“Into the manuka!” Barlow ordered. But the pursuers—some half-drugged sleeper had wakened and given the alarm—passed by within a few hundred yards on another track. They took the road down along the Waipa towards Alexandra.

Barlow, fortunately, had pushed along the track towards Kihikihi—the shorter of the routes to the border. The sound of the horses rapidly died in the distance.

Relieved, the pair hurried on through the Marae-o-Hine (the farm of the Franco-Maori Hetet family), forded the Manga-o-Rongo Stream, cantered a while, trotted, walked with caution past the whares and cultivations of old warrior Hauauru and his littlie tribe at Araikotore; hastened past the Three Sisters fort-hills at Tokanni, and at last down the long, easy slope to the Puniu crossing. In a few minutes they were trotting up the road to Kihikihi, the first township on the pakeha side of the border. The air was raw with the coming dawn, and the cocks were crowing.

A Struggle for Freedom.

But the prisoner was awake now and recovering from his knockout rum which would have killed most men. He was struggling with his bonds. Barlow put his revolver to his head and threatened to shoot him. “Come on,” he called to his wife, “drive him along.”

By the time they trotted into the sleeping township the desperate Maori had got rid of all his ties except the handcuffs. He rolled off his horse on to the road between the two public-houses, Tom Anderson's and Pat Corboy's. An oil lantern burned above the front of each house. The flame was pale in the strengthening daylight.

Barlow was off his horse in a moment, wrestling madly with his prisoner, who had shed most of his clothes. It was difficult to get a grip on his sweating naked body. Barlow's wife had seized the reins of the horses, and was calling loudly for help.

A Constabulary man, Finnerty, came running down from the military redoubt. He jumped into the struggle, and with his powerful help the Maori was subdued. His captors forced him up the rise to the barracks which then stood within the parapets of the redoubt. There he was padlocked to an iron bedstead, and was given a blanket against the shivers of early morning. He covered his face with the blanket; silently he accepted his fate.

* * *

The rest of Winiata's story is in the police records. He was taken in the Constabulary wagon, under armed guard, to Te Awamutu, where Barlow delivered him over to Constable Gillies. Thence the inexorable law held him until the death sentence passed in the Supreme Court was executed upon him on the gallows in Mount Eden Prison on August 4th, 1882.

That June 27th, when Winiata was brought into Kihikihi, was a thrilling morning for the lads of the township and the farms. We boys attending the little school that stood on the roadside below the redoubt hill were too late to see the prisoner taken off by Barlow and his daring wife and the Constabulary to Te Awamutu, but we saw the scuffled-up dust in the road where Winiata all but escape from his captor, and we heard Constable Finnerty's narrative on the very spot. Big “Fin,” good old bushma and carbineer, had to tell his thrille many times that day.

Makutu: Avenging by Black Magic.

The King Country was freed from the Aukati closure in 1883. Three years later my brother and I, riding through Otorohanga in a search for strayed horses, saw the raupo hut in which the outlaw had been drugged and captured. It was deserted; no one would enter it again. The King Country Maoris were still indignant at the kohuru (treachery) of the Barlows, and half-castes were highly unpopular in the Rohepotae for a long time to come. The most powerful tohunga in the country was at work with his spells of avengement.

“That house is tapu,” old Hopani told me at Otorohanga. “That is where the tohunga whom you knon began his rites of makutu to avenge upon Barlow the hanging of Winiata. He sent secretly to Mangere and procured some of Barlow's clothing and portions of food, and through these he worked. He called upon the gods to cause death, even at a distance; and Barlow knows, and he is dying now.”

And it was so. Barlow's £500 Government blood money profited him little. He had bought a small farm at Mangere with his reward, but the curse fell. The once giant frame wasted away to a clothes-rack, a shadow. In a very few years he died. For all his pakeha knowledge and his pride and courage he felt that it was hopeless to combat the arts of Whiro. the Atua of dark deeds. Malignant projection of thought, killing by primitive wireless, auto-suggestion, what you will—the Maori term Makutu covers it all.