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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Chapter XI — Three Famous East Coast Sieges

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Chapter XI
Three Famous East Coast Sieges

Kaiuku and Its Starving Garrison—Sickly Children and Clay Used for Food—Barnet Burns on Kekeparaoa—A Blood—Curdling “Incident”—Taumata-a-Kura at Toka-a-Kuku—Testament in One Hand and Gun in the Other.

Shortly before the advent of the pioneer shore-traders in Poverty Bay, Mahia was the locale of a remarkable siege. Smith (Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, p. 327) describes the spot by the name “Puke-Karoro,” or “Kaiuku.” It is referred to by E. F. Harris as “Te Pukenui.” G. C. Ormond held that it was known as “Kurareinga.” The date given by Smith is 1824, whilst A. L. D. Fraser claimed that it was as late as 1832.

The real test as to the date is the year in which Hirini te Kani was a babe in arms. Whilst his mother was fleeing with him, they were captured during a skirmish some distance from the fort. In the Journal of the Polynesian Society for March, 1896, it is stated that Hirini had then reached the age of sixty-eight years. He died in the following July and, in the obituary notices, 1826 was given as the year of his birth. E. F. Harris held that the siege took place in 1829 or, maybe, a year earlier. It is not improbable that the date was 1828–9.

There is also considerable diversity on the question as to which tribes were involved. Smith suggests that the Urewera were the instigators and that they had for allies war parties of Ngati-Maru (Thames), Ngai-te-Rangi (Tauranga), Te Arawa (Rotorua), Ngati-Awa (Whakatane), Te Whakatohea (Opotiki) and Ngati-Whatua (Kaipara). On the other hand, E. F. Harris, G. C. Ormond, A. L. D. Fraser and others were positive that the attacking force was composed mainly of Ngati-Tuwharetoa (Taupo), under Heuheu, and Ngati-Raukawa, under Whatanui, together with Waikato and Urewera allies.

As to the tribes represented among the besieged, there is unanimity only on the point that Te Wera and his Ngapuhi followers were hemmed within the fort. However, some sections of the northern Ngati-Kahungunu aided them in its defence. Mr. Ormond informed the writer that his inquiries indicated that the southern Ngati-Kahungunu, who, in large numbers—some accounts say in thousands—were refuging on Mahia, stood aloof. It was his firm opinion that the besiegers' aim was to punish Te Wera and his Ngapuhi warriors for their action in intervening on behalf of the southern Ngati-Kahungunu when, earlier, their territory was being invaded.

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Associated with the besiegers was a pakeha who was called “John the Gossip” on account of the fact that he made a practice of going into the fort to have a yarn with the defenders. It is probable that he was Captain John R. Kent, who had married Tiria, a daughter of Te Wherowhero. In History of Hawke's Bay, it is stated, at page 98, that, when Te Wherowhero released the captives taken by Waikato after the fall of Pakake (1824), Tiria and her European husband accompanied them on their homeward journey, and that this European was the means by which the southern sections of Ngati-Kahungunu first obtained guns and powder.

It is not unlikely that “John” made it part of his business to report upon any weak spot in the defences of the fort. The besiegers also tried other tricks in order to win the day. On one occasion, they sent messengers to Te Wera, inviting him to fill the role of traitor. He was told that he and his followers would not be molested if they retired from the fort. The upshot was that the emissaries narrowly escaped being got ready for the hungry defenders' ovens.

Te Kani's Relief Force Routed

The Siege of Kaiuku lasted for some months. As the fort was insufficiently provisioned, harsh rationing soon had to be practised, with the result that many of its inmates became weak and ill. Eventually, the supplies of food became so scanty that the defenders were forced to dig into the side of the cliff facing the sea to obtain a class of clay known as “uku,” which they broke up and boiled in water; hence the name “Kaiuku”—kai (food) and uku (an edible clay). Now and again, the defenders' hard fare was varied and “improved” when a good fat Waikato was caught raiding one of the plantations below the pa. E. F. Harris says that the defenders became so short of food that they were reduced to eating even the sickly children. In the hope that the parents might not recognize their own children after they had been cooked, the bodies were decapitated before they were placed in the ovens!

Ere long, an “S.O.S.” was sent out by Te Wera to Te Kani-a-Takirau, who, at that time, was residing at Whangara. Te Kani mustered a fighting force which included Poverty Bay as well as Hauiti tribesmen. As it was approaching Kaiuku, it was routed by a section of the besiegers. It was during the retreat that Hirini te Kani and his mother (Riria) were, with others, captured. Rawiri te Eke ransomed the more notable prisoners by handing over a valuable greenstone mere named “Pahikauri.” Taken to Taupo, the others were liberated a few years afterwards.

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One of them, Wi Ngana, who belonged to Wainui, proved so useful to his captors that they gave him a wife (Ka Taupo). Whatanui took some other prisoners to the Manawatu district, and, in due course, they, too, were released.

Smith (Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, p. 174) says that, whilst a pa at Mahia was being besieged, Te Kani-a-Takirau (then a child) was one of the inmates. As it appeared likely that the pa would fall, he was carried away by a relative named Kauha. Potiki, a Ngati-Maru chief, caught up with the fugitives, but, upon being handed a celebrated mere named “Te Heketua,” he permitted Kauha to take the child to safety. It would seem that Smith used Te Kani's name in mistake for Hirini's. If, on the other hand, confusion on his part did not occur, it would require to be accounted a strange coincidence if both Te Kani and Hirini, when infants, were captured at Mahia and released in similar circumstances. One thing is, of course, certain: Te Kani was not an infant at the time of the Siege of Kaiuku; he was then about thirty years old!

The emaciated defenders of Kaiuku were delighted to find at daybreak one morning that the besiegers had withdrawn. Several explanations have been offered as to why they went off. In native circles, the most widely accepted reason is that Heuheu became panicky because his magician warned him to return home, lest Ngapuhi, in a raid to avenge Pomare's death, might journey as far south as Tokaanu. Smith's suggestion “that the pa eventually fell to the allies and there was great slaughter” is groundless.

A Tame, But Interesting, Siege

Poverty Bay was the scene of a siege in the earliest days of pakeha trading. It involved most of, if not all of, the tribes from Mahia to the East Cape. The date assigned to this struggle also varies in different versions, but it is certain that the year was 1832. It seems that two sub-tribes of Te WhakatoheaNgati-Rua and Ngati-Ngahere—had, for some time, been engaged upon the peaceful penetration of Mangatu and adjacent lands. Some accounts suggest that they had been invited to take up their residence there by a section of Nga-Potiki. In any event, many of Nga-Potiki joined the intruders and moved on with them to Muhunga (near Ormond).

According to the version held by the Whakatohea people, flax-dressing had been in progress throughout the Bay of Plenty for some time prior to the decision of some of their tribesmen to move into Poverty Bay. Many of the Whakatohea had gone to Thames to assist Ngati-Maru to obtain flax. On that account, Ngati-Rua and Ngati-Ngahere became afraid that they might be pounced page 90 upon by well-armed marauders. They, therefore, fled into the back portion of Poverty Bay, where they united with Nga-Potiki.

Ejected from Muhunga by T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki, the intruders moved to Tapatahi, but, realizing that they would again be attacked, they made their way to Kekeparaoa, on Puhatikotiko block, at the confluence of the Waihuka and Waipaoa rivers, and strengthened the pa there. Kaimoana asked Nga-Potiki to do their utmost to induce Whakatohea to return home. Taniwha, on behalf of Nga-Potiki, sent him an insulting reply: “that he would cut out his heart and eat it.” So angry was Kaimoana that he sent for Rongowhakaata, Ngati-Kahungunu, T'Aitanga-a-Hauiti and Te Wera to assist T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki to drive the intruders out of the district. As it was known that Kekeparaoa was but poorly provisioned, the besiegers played a waiting game.

Some blood-curdling details which Barnet Burns included in his booklet with reference to a siege (it could have been no other than Kekeparaoa) were, no doubt, introduced merely to embellish his narrative, and they require to be regarded as fiction. He says that, prior to the capture of the pa, the wife of one of the Whakatohea chiefs was caught whilst she was attempting to escape by swimming across the adjacent river.

“This unfortunate woman,” Burns avers, “was informed that she was to be killed and eaten. Each of the principal chiefs (amongst her captors) then began to bespeak some part of her body in her presence. One said that he would have a leg; another that he would have an arm; another, her heart, and so on, until she had been shared among them…. She was then ordered to go into the river and wash a quantity of potatoes…. Upon her return she was told that the oven was being got ready for her. She said that it could not be helped…. She was then ordered to prepare herself for cooking. I affirm positively that I saw the woman gather green leaves, lay them down on the hot stones, tie both her legs together herself and ask one of the party to tie her hands. When this was done, she took a friendly leave of two or three persons that she knew and threw herself down on the leaves. When she was over the fire, she begged some of the party to knock her brains out, but they would not. They kept her on the fire a few minutes, then laid potatoes over her and covered her up with earth—aye, before life was half gone—until she was cooked fit for eating.”

Whilst the siege was in progress, Captain Harris appeared on the scene and, entering the pa, removed Te Ngaue, a Whakatohea child, lest it should be killed. Relating the incident before the Native Land Court, Wi Perevide Gisborne minute book No. 26—said that, when Harris went into the fort, “his long boots were full of bullets.” Lambert (Story of Old Wairoa) says that he referred the statement to William Cooper, a native interpreter, who considered that it should have been translated: “a long gun full of bullets.” As an old ship's cannon was found off Tuamotu page 91 Island shortly after he made this inquiry, Lambert came to the conclusion that Harris must have taken that particular weapon to Kekeparaoa! The point is clarified in minute book No. 18, where another version by Wi Pere is recorded. In that account, he is credited with having rashly asserted that both Harris and Paratene Turangi “went into the pa with some bullets for the defenders.”

When the attackers found that the defenders had run out of provisions, they called upon Te Awariki, who belonged both to Whakatohea and Nga-Potiki, to come out of the pa. Contrary to the usual custom when such a step is taken, they slew him. During the hearing of the Tahora block case, Wi Pere said that he had heard that, before Te Awariki was slain, he was tortured by having some of his flesh removed and eaten! However, a general slaughter did not take place. Te Wera's Ngapuhi took the Whakatohea under their protection and T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki escorted Nga-Potiki away, or, in the picturesque language of Wi Pere, “drove them, with sticks, like pigs before them.”

Siege of Toka-a-Kuku

A more important siege, which attracted most of the East Coast tribes, took place at Te Kaha. It is known both as “The Siege of Toka-a-Kuku” and as “Te Wera's Invasion of Te Kaha.” Various dates have also been assigned to this conflict. Smith gives the year 1836 at page 469 of Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, but, at page 420, he mentions 1834 as the date. In Christianity Among the New Zealanders, W. Williams, page 175, states that, when he reached Hicks Bay [E.C.] in January, 1834, he was told “that the party on shore was assembled for war and was only awaiting the arrival of chiefs from farther south to go and attack their enemies to the westward.” The date 1834 also had the support of Wi Pere (Gisborne N.L. Court minute book No. 26) and of J. G. Baker.

The attack upon Toka-a-Kuku was arranged by Ngati-Porou in conjunction with Te Wera. Ngati-Porou had not forgiven Whanau-a-Ehutu and Whanau-a-Apanui for joining with Ngati-Awa in attacking them at Omaru-iti in 1829–30 (Smith) or a year later (W. Williams). Te Wera desired revenge because, at Te Kaha, his kinsfolk, under Pomare and himself, had, in 1823, suffered a reverse, and he had lost his nephew, Marino, there. To this day, the attack on Toka-a-Kuku is referred to in the Bay of Plenty as “Te Wera's Invasion.”

It seems that, after the fight at Omaru-iti, Whanau-a-Ehutu and Whanau-a-Apanui went to Whangaparaoa to obtain flax from Manga-te-Waha swamp to sell to a European trader (name not page 92 traced) for guns. Wi Tamihana told the Seth Smith-Hone Heke Royal Commission (Vol. 1, p. 147) that the date was about the time the first cultivations were made on Maraehako. However, when they learned that Ngati-Porou was preparing to attack them, they returned home and built a pa at Wharekura. In 1831–32, Ngati-Porou, with help from some Whakatohea, launched their attack, but were repulsed, losing a great chief, Te Pori-o-te-Rangi, one of Hati te Houkamau's grandfathers. Whanau-a-Ehutu and Whanau-a-Apanui then went to Whakatane to dress flax to sell to Tapsell, who was established at Maketu. They remained away until 1833.

Before Ngati-Porou and their allies set off for Toka-a-Kuku, Taumata-a-Kura (the first Ngati-Porou Christian evangelist) agreed to assist only on condition that the fighting should be conducted in accordance with the principles adopted by Christian nations. His conditions were: that enemy wounded should not be slain; that no enemy bodies should be eaten; that enemy canoes that were not required for the homeward journey should not wantonly be broken up; and that no enemy food should be wilfully destroyed. All these conditions were agreed to.

J. G. Baker's account states that Taumata also said to the allied chiefs and their tohungas:

“Let me have control of this battle. My God is the God of Te Wiremu Karuwha (‘Four-Eyed Williams: the Rev. H. Williams, who had been so named by the natives because he wore spectacles’). My God is Jehovah, a mighty God.”

When Toka-a-Kuku was reached, Taumata claimed the right to initiate the attack.

“Now wait for me to give the signal,” he cried. “I will fire one barrel upwards and the other downwards, for the Whanau-a-Apanui have broken the laws of Jehovah.”

As Taumata came out unscathed from various clashes, his invulnerability was attributed by his fellow-warriors to the protective influence of the new Deity Whom he worshipped. Consequently, his prestige was considerably enhanced. Bishop W. Williams says that Taumata went into the heaviest fighting, carrying his musket in one hand and his copy of the New Testament in the other and that, although the bullets flew thickly around him, he was not hit.

Giving evidence in the Kapuarangi block case at Opotiki, Matenga Tauahikawai said that, as Toka-a-Kuku was on the sea coast, sympathizers with the defenders were able to land reinforcements and provisions for them by canoe at night. The occupants of the pa were chiefly Whanau-a-Ehutu. Whilst a Ngaitai reinforcement was approaching overland, it was joined page 93 at Maraenui by another taua recruited by Whanau-a-Apanui. At Puremutahi, this combined force was routed. Other accounts state that, in order to distract the attention of the besiegers from the oncoming reinforcements, a sortie was made from the pa, but that it also failed. Major Ropata says that heavy losses were inflicted upon Whanau-a-Ehutu and that Whanau-a-Apanui and Ngaitai suffered even more grievously. He admitted, however, that the pa did not fall. It was claimed by Wi Pere that Te Kani-a-Takirau withdrew the attackers because he felt that adequate utu (satisfaction) had been gained.

Nothing authentic is known as to how many were slain on either side. It is stated in the Journal of the Polynesian Society (June, 1906) that a huge whata (stage) was erected by the attackers in front of the pa. It consisted of uprights to which long poles were attached, and resembled a large post and rail fence. The bodies of slain defenders were tied in pairs by the feet and thrown over the poles, one body dangling over one side and the other hanging down on the other side. In this manner, a solid wall of dead was, it is said, formed and, on that account, the siege also became known as “Whata Tangata.” Another exaggerated version avers that, when the heads of the defenders' dead were piled up on a stage in front of the pa, “they were as thick as corn upon a cob!”


Captain John Rudolphus Kent was prominent among the earliest shipmasters to trade along the East Coast. He is believed to have been the captain of that name who was in charge of the Prince Regent when, on 29 March, 1820, she became the first vessel to cross the Hokianga bar, and also when, in August, 1820, she negotiated the present entrance to Auckland. The initial “W” attached to the name “Kent” in Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 1, p. 487, should probably read “Mr.” for, on page 485, “W. Butler” appears for “Mr. Butler” and “W. Marsden” for “Mr. Marsden.” As master of the Mermaid, Kent revisited New Zealand in 1823 on behalf of the N.S.W. Government. In 1824 he was in charge of the Elizabeth Henrietta when she stranded on Ruapuke Island. According to Smith (Wars of the Nineteenth Century, p. 44) Kent was the first white man to settle at Kawhia (1824–26). He was back at sea in 1827. In Pakeha Rambles Through Maoriland, p. 11, the year in which Kent first put into Kawhia is given as 1828. He had charge of the Lord Liverpool in 1831. In Story of Te Waharoa, Wilson says: “The first European that landed at Kawhia and penetrated to Ngaruawahia was a pakeha-Maori, a gentleman of the name of Kent, who arrived at the latter place in 1831.” He was then the husband of Tiria, a daughter of Wherowhero te Potatau, who became the first Maori King. In 1832 Kent was residing at Kawhia. He was in charge of the Byron when she was lost at Mahia in 1833 (Polack's date). He died on 1 January, 1837, and, according to the Rev. J. Hamlin (whose MSS. journal is in the Hocken Library, Dunedin), his body was buried at Kahawai (Manukau) in a sacred place.