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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XLI. — Te Kooti's Progress—continued. — The Massacre at Poverty Bay of Thirty-Three Settlers, Men, Women, and Children, and Thirty-Seven Friendly Natives

Chapter XLI.
Te Kooti's Progresscontinued.
The Massacre at Poverty Bay of Thirty-Three Settlers, Men, Women, and Children, and Thirty-Seven Friendly Natives.

For some time previous to the massacre, a general feeling of insecurity was prevalent among the settlers of Poverty Bay, and it was felt that some steps ought to be taken to fortify a place of rendezvous in case of need. With this view a meeting was called, at which the friendly Maories page 228offered to erect the palisades, if the Europeans would do the earthworks. This was readily agreed to, but Major Biggs vetoed the proposition as unnecessary, and appointed the Toanga redoubt, an old and defective fortification, as the mustering place in case of alarm. The meeting ended, as such things generally do, in smoke; except that certain settlers, dissatisfied with the result, formed themselves into a vigilance committee, to watch the Patutahi ford of the Waipaoa river. For some nights this duty was carefully performed, and would probably have continued, to the salvation of the bay; but on the Thursday before the massacre, a very old settler called on his vigilant neighbours, and informed them that the Hauhaus were in the Patutahi valley, at the same time requesting them to inform Major Biggs. This was done. The major listened quietly to the tale, and then replied, "You are all in an unnecessary state of alarm, for I shall have twenty-four hours' notice before anything can happen." He further remarked, that he had heard some of them were in the habit of watching the fords of the river, and characterised the act as absurd. After this official condemnation, the vigilance committee ceased to act, and a few nights after, Te Kooti and his people crossed that selfsame ford.

The action taken by Te Kooti, to secure sympathy and recruits from the neighbouring tribes, has already been mentioned. By the end of October his arrangements were complete, and the raid upon Poverty Bay commenced. Te Waru and Nama, with their respective tribes, marched by way of the Hangaroa, and joined Te Kooti and the Uriwera at Pahekeheke, from whence they raided down upon the plains, thus adopting the long route, and avoiding the scouts at Waerenga-a-Kuri. Many of Te Kooti's men, who had been half-starved for months, died of exhaustion on the way; their skeletons were afterwards seen by Captain Porter and his Ngatiporou when in pursuit of the survivors. The main body of the Hauhaus were left at Pukepuke with page 229the women and children; but about two hundred men of various tribes, under the chiefs Nikora, Nama, Tahau, Te Waru, and others, marched for Patutahi and surrounded the village. The inhabitants were made prisoners, and did not require much coercion to make them join Te Kooti. Among others taken was Pera Punamoa, who finding that Te Kooti was bent upon taking Turanganui, dissuaded him from so doing, told him that the majority of the settlers lived in the country, and accurately described the residence of each. It must not, however, be supposed that Te Kooti was ignorant of these circumstances; for the soi-disant friendly native Karipa, a son of Tamehana Ruatapu, had been for some days in communication with him, and had given every information as to the locality of the different settlers. About midnight the Hauhaus crossed the Patutahi ford on their murderous errand. Mr. Wylie's house was the first on their line of march, and the owner was seen sitting at a table writing; but so sure was Te Kooti of this man—whom he particularly hated, as the cause of his deportation to the Chathams—that he told his men to go on and finish the Matawhero settlers first, as they were certain to get Wylie on their return. From this point the Hauhaus appear to have broken up into small parties; some went inland to Messrs. Dodd and Peppard's station, while the main body attacked the more densely settled district of Matawhero. As to what really did happen at the various settlers' houses, it is impossible to say, for there were no survivors to tell the tale, if we except some mere children. We can therefore only collect the accounts of certain semi-Hauhaus, who profess to have heard from others, but who really were present, and took part in the massacre. Messrs. Dodd and Peppard appear to have been the first persons killed. A Mr. Butters, who had been engaged to press wool for them, rode up to the station at grey dawn; he waited for some time at the woohshed, wondering that no one appeared, and finally, attracted by the furious barking of the dogs, walked up to page 230the back door, and found the two owners lying dead. The shepherd seemed to have escaped, for there was no sign of his body. For months his fate was a mystery, but it was finally ascertained that he had escaped the first attack, and fled towards Matawhero. On the road he met a man named Pera Te Uatuku, who asked him why he was running; he replied that his employers had been murdered. Pera advised him to go on quickly, and as the shepherd passed on, shot him through the back. This ruffian also shot French Bob the same afternoon, and may now be seen, with Karipa and men of the same stamp, walking about the streets of Gisborne. Instead of seeking his own safety by instant flight, Mr. Butters very gallantly rode to Waerenga-a-hika, and warned the inmates of the mission station; from thence he rode across country, to Messrs. Hawthorne's and Strong's, whom he found alive to their danger, and from there went on to Matawhero, to perform the same good office for the settlers of that place. How he escaped is a miracle, for he must have ridden through the midst of the enemy. At Major Biggs' place he found the Hauhaus in possession, and as he galloped past Mr. Mann's house, he saw the owner, his wife, and baby lying dead outside, mutilated, and one of them burnt.

Native accounts say, that when the Hauhaus reached Major Biggs' house, they found him writing (it is supposed the orders for the out-settlers to muster in Turanga). They knocked at the door, and Biggs asked them what they wanted; the Hauhaus replied that they wished to see him. Biggs evidently saw that the long dreaded raid had come, for before opening the door he called to his wife, who was in bed, to escape by the back. She refused to leave him; and as Biggs stood in the doorway, the Hauhaus shot him. He fell forward into the verandah, and the fiends then rushed in, and tomahawked Mrs. Biggs, her baby, and the servant; a boy, who was in the house, escaped by the back door, after the major was shot, and, hidden in a flax-bush, witnessed part of the tragedy. While this was going on, page 231another party, under Nama, were at Captain Wilson's. The captain, like Major Biggs, was engaged in writing when the Hauhaus knocked at the door; they announced themselves as hearers of a letter from Hirini Te Kani, the principal chief of the bay. Wilson evidently suspected their errand, for he told them to put the letter under the door, at the same time he looked out of the window and saw a number of men moving about; this confirmed his suspicions, and heat once roused his servant Moran, who slept in an outhouse, and told him to come to his assistance, as the Hauhaus were upon them. Moran obeyed, and succeeded in getting through the enemy into the house, meanwhile the Hauhaus were trying to batter down the door with a log of wood; but a shot from Wilson's revolver stopped them, and forced them to adopt the less dangerous plan (to themselves) of setting fire to the house at either end.

Captain Wilson defended his wife and family until it was a choice between being burnt alive, or taking the Hauhau offer of life for himself and family, if he would surrender quietly. There was just a chance that they might keep their promise, so Captain Wilson chose the latter, and surrendered. His captors led him in the direction of the river-bank, until he asked where they were taking him; while he was speaking, a Hauhau rushed at Moran, and struck him down with a tomahawk, and at the same moment Captain Wilson was shot through the back. This was the beginning of the end: Mrs. Wilson and the children were savagely bayoneted, and only one little boy escaped; he was being carried by his father when he fell, and in the confusion managed to escape into the scrub unnoticed. Strange to say, the settlers in the vicinity do not appear to have heard the firing, for the Hauhaus found the Messrs. Walsh, Padbourne, McCulloch, and others at their homes, unconscious of the tragedies that were being acted in their immediate neighbourhood. McCulloch was shot while milking a cow; his wife, carrying a baby, and attended by her young brother, tried to escape, but was overtaken page 232and tomahawked, together with her child. The boy, more fortunate, managed to escape, after seeing his sister killed, and reached the redoubt at Turanganui, where the rest of his family had assembled. Mr. Cadel's house was the next visited; he had been away from home that night, and was returning in the early morning, when he walked right into one of these gangs of murderers, and was shot dead. His store was then looted, the Hauhaus got violently drunk, and galloped about the country, shooting all the friendly natives obnoxious to Te Kooti.

While the settlers about Matawhero were being murdered, the families living in the vicinity of the Patutahi ford, near Mr. Wylies', were reserved for the final coup, it being supposed that they could not escape. Nor could they have done so, had not one of them, a Mr. Firmin, been awakened during the night by the sound of musketry. The sound was not unusual, but in the then unsettled state of things, it was sufficient to keep him awake during the rest of the night, and send him out at grey dawn the following morning to reconnoitre. At the ford he met a Maori, and hailed him to know the meaning of the firing, which was still going on; the reply was, "The Hauhaus are killing the Pakeha." Mr. Firmin at once warned his neighbours, Wylie, Stevenson, and Benson, and these people, taking their children, fled towards Turanganui; but fearing that they might be intercepted by the enemy, turned across the Toanga ford, in the direction of the Muriwai, en route for Te Wairoa. Messrs. Hawthorne and Strong, who lived at some little distance from the others, had been forgotten in the hurry and confusion of their departure; but Mrs. Wylie remembered their peril before it was too late, and asked one of the men to return and warn them. This was a service of great danger, yet Mr. Benson never hesitated, but returned at once. About an hour after these fugitives had crossed the river, Te Kooti and twenty Hauhaus galloped up to the native village near the ford, and ordered the chief Tutari to point out the route taken page 233by Wylie. The gallant old man refused to do so, and Te Kooti, finding his threats and promises disregarded, lost patience, and ordered his men to kill him and his two children. This was done before the wife's eyes, who was then questioned, and threatened with the same fate if obstinate; but she, equally faithful, and more prudent than her husband, misdirected the Hauhaus, by declaring that the fugitives had taken the inland track. The murderers, completely deceived, galloped off on a wrong scent, Te Kooti boasting that he would cut pieces of flesh off Wylie until he died. Luckily for the persons interested, they had succeeded in overtaking Major Westrupp, and, under his guidance, reached the friendly tribes of Te Mahia, where they were safe.

The narrow escapes during this massacre would fill a volume. The young boy (James) who escaped from Major Biggs' house, succeeded in reaching Mr. Bloomfield's, and roused the sleeping inmates; there were only ladies and children in the house at the time, but they succeeded in escaping through the enemy, though people were being murdered on both sides. While the enemy were attacking Mr. Goldsmith's house, where they burnt a child, a Mrs. James, mother of the boy above mentioned, was living in the barn, with her eight children; she was roused by the shots, and saw sufficient to prove that the Hauhaus were in the bay. She behaved with remarkable coolness. Collecting her children, she slipped over the steep bank of the river, and crawled for more than a mile under the shadow of the cliffs, until she reached the rugged ground near the Waikanae, where she entered the scrub, and under cover of this shelter, reached Turanganui twenty-four hours after the first alarm. Her appearance caused considerable alarm to an excitable settler, who seeing the troop of small children, magnified them into hundreds of Hauhaus.

Many settlers refused to believe that the wolf had really come. Among others, Mr. D. Mann would only be satisfied page 234by seeing them; so he rode out to reconnoitre, and at Toanga saw five Maories standing under a willow-tree. He pulled up, and asked them if it was true that the Hauhaus were murdering the Pakehas. "No," they replied; and as he turned to ride away, one of them settled the question, by firing and wounding him severely through the arm; the speed of his horse enabled him just to reach Turanganui before he fainted.

Mr. Thomas Goldsmith, while passing Mr. Mann's house, saw them dragging Mrs. Mann out of the doorway; this sight so horrified and astonished him, that he did not notice that he himself was surrounded, until a Hauhau attempted to seize his bridle. This movement aroused him to a sense of his peril, when driving spurs into his horse, he broke through them and escaped, though pursued for miles.

Mr. Benson, returning home after midnight, shortly before the massacre commenced, actually rode through the enemy, and spoke to them, little suspecting that they were Te Kooti's people; the Hauhaus, on their part, were probably unwilling to fire, lest they should prematurely alarm the neighbourhood.

The most wonderful escape was, however, that of little James Wilson, who, as already mentioned, escaped into the scrub when his father fell. On the 16th, seven days after the massacre, parties were sent out to bury the dead, and ascertain if any had escaped, and were in hiding. One of these parties, consisting of Mr. Maynard and two comrades, were in the neighbourhood of Makaraka, and saw a small poodle dog run into a scrub of briars. Maynard recognised the dog as having belonged to Captain Wilson. They called, and coaxed the animal in vain; it remained hidden, and this obstinacy led them to the natural conclusion that someone was hiding. A regular search was instituted, and after nearly half an hour's work, their patience was rewarded by finding little James Wilson, with the dog held tightly in his arms. The boy had been too frightened page 235to discriminate between, friend and foe, but was greatly delighted, when he recognised Maynard. He told them that he had lost his way while trying to reach Taranganui, to bring help to his mother, who was lying wounded in an outhouse at their place. After escaping from his father's murderers, he had wandered about, sleeping in outhouses for several nights, often close to the enemy; at last, he found his way back to what had been his home, and saw the bodies of his father, brothers, and sisters, but not his mother, until he happened to take shelter in the outhouse, when, to their mutual delight, he found her alive. When the boy had told his tale, one of the men took him to Major Westrupp, at Turanganui, while Maynard and the other galloped off to Wilson's. On arrival at the place, they knocked at the door of the small building, but received no answer; they then called Mrs. Wilson by name, and instantly heard her say, "Thank God, help has arrived; bring me some water." After her husband fell, the poor lady was stabbed with bayonets, and beaten with the butt of a rifle until the fiends thought her dead; but later in the day she recovered consciousness, and managed to crawl to what had been her home. Here she got some water, and then took shelter in the outhouse, which was less likely to be visited by the enemy than the house; here she was found by her son, in the manner already related, and fed with eggs, or anything that the boy could forage. Mrs. Wilson was carried that same day to Turanganui; for some time it was thought that she would recover, but her injuries were too severe, and she died after her arrival at Napier.