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

Chapter XXVI — Exiled Rebels Escape

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Chapter XXVI
Exiled Rebels Escape

Prelude to Confiscation of Lands—Worst Characters Removed to Chatham Islands—No Trial, No Fixed Sentence—Seizure of Schooner and Return.

The legality of the Stafford Government's action in deporting to the Chatham Islands, without trial, rebels taken prisoner in the Bay of Plenty, on the East Coast, in Poverty Bay and in Hawke's Bay was not questioned in Parliament in 1866, when the matter was reported by Colonel A. H. Russell (Minister for Native Affairs). He said, inter alia: “It was felt that, in addition to the protection which the courts afforded against the more open, violent and bloodthirsty of the natives in rebellion, it was necessary to have recourse to some prompt measure which would serve to check the progress of the rebellion and remove for a time from their sphere of action the restless and troublesome spirits who persisted in disturbing the peace of the colony …” However, in August, 1868—following upon the fighting at Paparatu, Te Koneke and Ruakituri—the Government's action in exiling the rebels without trial was challenged in Parliament by some members. In reply Colonel Russell said that the prisoners were taken in actual rebellion; that they were already in confinement, and that it was necessary to dispose of them. He added: “No great violence was done, although the action taken was, I know, somewhat beyond the law.”

According to W. L. Williams, Colonel Haultain (Defence Minister) dropped a hint at Poverty Bay on 20 February, 1866, that Cabinet considered it desirable that the prisoners should be placed out of the way whilst the lands confiscation policy was being settled. On 3 March, 1866, Governor Grey reached Poverty Bay on H.M.S. Esk, bringing with him Horopapera Te Ua (the originator of Hauhauism), whom he was taking to various points along the coasts of the North Island to show the natives that, far from being a great man, he was, in fact, a mental weakling. Mr. McLean arrived on the same day in s.s. St. Kilda, by which vessel the prisoners were to be conveyed to the Chatham Islands. Captain Thomas (the magistrate at the islands) was also on board. The loyal chiefs assented to the plan, and Mr. McLean selected the rebels who were to be deported. He chose only rebels who had taken up arms against the Crown. Some of the others took the oath of allegiance and were released.

The first party to be exiled consisted of 45 men, but women and children to the number of 25 were allowed to accompany page 229 them. A guard, comprising 13 Europeans and 12 Maoris, with Lieutenant A. Tuke in command, accompanied the exiles. Three other batches were sent away—the second of 88, which was landed on 27 April; a third of 116 (including some rebels taken in the Bay of Plenty and also Te Kooti), which was disembarked on 10 June; and a fourth of 56 (including some prisoners captured at Omarunui, Hawke's Bay), which got to the island prison on 26 November—making a grand total of 328 men, women and children.

Captain Thomas was instructed to supply the prisoners with adequate rations “until they are able to raise food for themselves.” He was also advised that probably half an acre to each person would be sufficient for a cultivation, and he was required to furnish them with tools, seed potatoes, wheat, etc. A further direction to him was that the arms and ammunition should always be kept within the stockade, where a large proportion of the guard was always to be on the alert. He was authorised to afford prisoners, in return for work, small indulgences, such as an allowance of tobacco, permission to fish, etc., and to promise them earlier release.

“It is the Government's wish,” Colonel Russell added, “that the prisoners shall be treated with all possible kindness consistent with safe-keeping; nor is it desired to detain them longer than may be necessary. They should be informed, therefore, that their return will depend upon their own good conduct and the termination of the rebellion; that, periodically, a few of the best behaved will be allowed to return; and that it is hoped that none of them need be kept prisoner for any lengthened period.”

Some of the Poverty Bay chiefs did not approve of the exiling of the rebels. Lazarus made it known that he would not consent to one inch of his land being given up to the Queen. Captain Harris, in a letter to Mr. McLean (25/8/1866), said: “I would not be surprised if we were to have an incursion by Hauhaus, if they thought that they could manage it, and 24 hours would see every homestead in Turanga wiped out.”

Scathing Comment on the Guard

In November, 1866, when Captain E. Tuke was sent down to the Chatham Islands to relieve his brother, he took with him Lieutenant Hamlin, and the guard was strengthened to 30 members. Reporting on the redoubt in May, 1867, Major Edwards (New Zealand Militia) recommended that properly stockaded quarters should be built on a site overlooking the prisoners' whares; that the guard should be further strengthened; and that it should consist solely of Europeans. Only his recommendation with reference to the disbandment of the native section of the guard was carried out.

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When Under-Secretary W. Rolleston (subsequently M.H.R. for Avon and a Cabinet Minister) made an investigation, in January, 1868, the guard comprised (in addition to Captain Thomas) two officers, two non-coms., and 24 men. His report (3 February, 1868) states that the influence which Captain Thomas had obtained over the prisoners had prevented any evil result which might have been entailed “by what, at a cursory view, I cannot but look upon as the unsatisfactory character of the guard.” He went on to say that, if a military guard was still to be kept up, a smaller number of efficient, well-paid men would answer the same purpose as the present guard. “I think,” he added, “that one good officer under Captain Thomas—one who could speak the Maori language—would be sufficient. The number of non-com. officers and men need not be greater than sufficient to keep up a sentry.”

Whilst he was at Waitangi, Mr. Rolleston found that some of the members of the guard contributed freely to the takings of the two public houses. He was approached by an old chief whom the doctor considered in good health, but who did not appear to him to be fit to work. A sergeant admitted to him that he might have occasionally kicked prisoners whom the doctor reckoned were malingering. He also heard complaints against members of the guard in connection with the medical inspections, which had led to keen resentment on the part of the women. Becoming very angry, Mr. Rolleston, it is said, ordered Captain Thomas to put a stop to such “insults and tyranny.”

Captain Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C., who accompanied Mr. Rolleston, informed Cowan in October, 1921, that Captain Thomas wished to be relieved of his position, and that it was proposed that he (Captain Mair) should be his successor. What he saw and what he heard, however, forced him to decline the post. More than half of the 25 men in the guard were, at that time, under arrest for drunkenness, disobedience, or bad conduct towards the internees, “who had become out of hand.”

A reduction in the strength of the guard was brought about in February, 1868, by the enrolment of only the best behaved members as a force of Armed Constabulary. The new guard consisted of one senior sergeant, one corporal and nine constables. Captain E. Tuke took back to Wellington the disbanded section of the guard, and, in addition, several chiefs who had been released as a reward for good conduct. Both the reduction in the strength of the guard and the release of these chiefs were regarded by him as very foolish acts. Captain Thomas had placed each chief in charge of his own section of prisoners, and this wise plan had worked well. Kingita, whom Captain Tuke page 231 describes as “a very bad fellow,” was the only chief of note who was retained as a prisoner.

Towards the end of 1867 the Auckland Provincial Council passed a resolution to the effect that “to secure the pacification of the country, and for the welfare of both races, a general amnesty should be proclaimed with as little delay as possible.” The Government consulted Mr. McLean, who, in turn, sought the viewpoint of Major Biggs. In February, 1868, Premier Stafford informed Governor Bowen that the Ministry could not advise the grant of an indiscriminate amnesty, as such a step would not lead to the tranquillization of the disaffected natives, nor would it be understood by the natives as an act of clemency. Moreover, such an amnesty would include murderers. Eleven of the 172 exiles (whom 82 women and children had been permitted to join) had been released. Mr. Rolleston notified the Auckland Provincial Council (9/4/1868): “That His Excellency, after due consideration, sees no reason to mitigate the sentences of the natives concerned in the late rebellion in Poverty Bay.”

Shortly afterwards, Mr. Ritchie, a J.P. at the Chatham Islands, complained to the Government in these terms: “Since Mr. Rolleston's visit there has been a gradual, but steadily growing, restlessness and an increasing desire among the natives to quit the island and, strangely enough, too, from the same period, there has been a great change for the worse in the character of the Hauhaus.” In reply, Mr. Rolleston told him: “Other reports that have reached the Government from various sources do not confirm the opinion that there has been a change for the worse in the condition of the prisoners.”

Eyewitness's Account of Rising

Much surprise (and not a little alarm) was occasioned in official circles in Wellington in July, 1868, when a message was received from Napier stating that the rebels had seized a schooner at the Chatham Islands, and, with Te Kooti at their head, had landed at Whareongaonga, about eight miles south of Young Nick's Head. Nothing further was learned by the authorities until the arrival of the Rifleman (the vessel on which the prisoners had journeyed to the mainland) twelve days later. Chief Officer Payne, who was in charge of her, explained that he had not put in either to Poverty Bay or to Napier because he considered it his duty to make all haste to Wellington. Adverse winds had delayed him.

The Rifleman, Payne said, reached the Chatham Islands on 3 July. Next day rain interfered with the landing of the cargo, and, whilst Captain Christian and some of the crew were ashore, the page 232 rebels slew one of their guards and overpowered the others. They then seized the vessel and compelled him (Payne) to steer in the direction of Poverty Bay. Prior to their departure Captain Christian had been seen walking along the beach and some other persons, women as well as men, also appeared to be enjoying their liberty. Upon Te Kooti's orders, a rebel had been thrown overboard during the voyage.

In his account of the rising, Michael Mullooly, of Tolaga Bay (one of the guards), states that many of the prisoners filed into the redoubt at about 2 p.m. on 4 July, and soon the barracks and the cookhouse became crowded. When he pointed out that it was too wet for flour to be brought up from the beach, he was told by one of the prisoners that they were there upon Sergeant Elliott's instructions.

“At about 2.45 p.m.,” he continued, “I walked out of the barracks room; it was so full that I could hardly move. I had not gone more than seven paces when I was seized by three or four prisoners, laid face down very gently and bound hand and foot, my hands being tied behind my back … I saw them break open the magazine, roll out the ammunition, take possession of the rifles (which they loaded and capped in great haste) and the bayonets …
“When I had left the barracks room I met an old fellow who had been sick for six months and I remarked to myself: ‘What business has he here?’ … They left me on the ground for about five minutes and then carried me into the barracks room. I saw Constables Cotter, Muirhead and Johnson, who were also tied hand and foot. They told me that Constable Michael Hartnett [a single man, whose father was a pensioner at Onehunga] had been tomahawked. I saw them open all our boxes. They took all the money they could find, but nothing else, out of the barracks room.
“About three shots were fired, and then they brought in Captain Thomas and laid him down. He was tied very tightly and, I believe, suffered very much. I saw them drag in Constable Hemmington with his trousers torn off his back (sic). He looked rather fierce; I saw them handcuff him. As I was suffering a good deal of pain in my wrists, I got them to unbind my hands and handcuff me also. Captain Thomas also asked them to handcuff him, but they took no heed. He called out to me to ask them to handcuff him. The man in charge said that he had got no more handcuffs, so I showed him where he could get a pair.
“A fellow then came in and told Captain Thomas that they wanted him at the courthouse to talk with Alick [Mr. Shand, the interpreter]. They took him away, well watched. One fellow followed him with a long rope. I thought they were going to hang him … A few minutes afterwards the prisoners commenced to karakia (pray) in Elliott's room. They then formed a circle in the barracks square and began to pray again. I think it was a Hauhau karakia, for I heard them say: ‘No. 1; No. 2, etc.’ They had another prayer at the gate, then shouted and left.
“Two civilians came in and loosed us. We saw they were all on board the Rifleman. They cast the Florence adrift and she went ashore on the beach. I do not know who the fellows were who tied me up. I saw Te Kooti walking about doing nothing … I did not hear him page 233 speak. He seemed quite pleased. I saw Pohipi No. 4 on the parapet, apparently doing sentry go …”

The rebel whom Te Kooti ordered to be thrown overboard during the voyage to the mainland was Warihi Potini (his uncle). Warihi was an old man, and he tried to save himself by clinging to the rail. According to one account, this wanton murder was committed because adverse winds were being experienced and Warihi was regarded as a Hona (Jonah). It is added that the winds then became favourable. Another version states that Warihi was abandoned to the waves because he refused to follow the example of the other rebels, who obeyed an order to throw overboard their heitikis (neck ornaments) to appease “the god of the winds.” Still another story says that Warihi was blamed for reporting to Captain Thomas that Te Kooti was making a practice of imposing upon his followers by rubbing phosphorus from matches upon his hands and displaying them in the dark.

Throughout the voyage, a native armed with a sword stood over the helmsman and sentries patrolled the deck at night as well as during the daytime. Whareongaonga was reached on 10 July at 7 p.m. During the night and for most of the next day the work of landing the cargo proceeded. The party comprised 163 men, 64 women and 71 children. Three men and one woman had remained behind. Among the cargo were large quantities of flour, sugar and general stores and some barrels of beer. The escapees also brought back 33 rifles, 8 d.b. guns, 7 revolvers, 29 bayonets, 3 kegs of powder, 4,584 cartridges, 6,670 percussion caps and some swords, which they had taken from the redoubt. In addition, they had stolen £522 in notes and coin, including £397 of Crown moneys and £102 belonging to Hartnett, the murdered guard. Te Kooti sent some casks of water on board the vessel and then bade Payne and his crew to go about their business.

Was Repatriation Unduly Delayed?

Much discussion has centred upon the question as to whether any definite official statement was made to the rebels as to the period of their detention. When Colonel Russell reported to Parliament in 1866 on the exiling of the rebels, he used these words:

“… The hope of return has been held out to them as soon as the suppression of the rebellion and their own good conduct seem to justify the Government in restoring them to their own homes. My latest information says that they are so satisfied with their new abode that it seems unlikely that they will desire to return.”

W. L. Williams (East Coast, New Zealand, Historical Records, p. 50) says that Colonel Haultain stated at Gisborne, prior to the exiling, that it was contemplated that … the rebels would page 234 be brought back again in the course of about 12 months,” and, at page 51, he avers that Mr. McLean, whilst he was at Poverty Bay sorting out the prisoners who were to be taken away, told the loyal chiefs that the period of exile “might not be much more than 12 months.” F. J. Moss (School History of New Zealand) states: “A definite promise was made to all the prisoners … that they would be restored to their homes in New Zealand within two years, if the colony was then at peace.” Gudgeon (Defenders of New Zealand) claims that it was believed among the prisoners “that a latent promise had been made to some of them by Sir D. McLean that two years was to be the period of their imprisonment.”

Bishop Selwyn, in a speech in the House of Lords, stated:

“The rebels were told that, if they conducted themselves well, they would, at the end of two years, be set at liberty. They behaved in a most exemplary manner, but, at the expiration of two years, they were informed that they were not to be set at liberty, whereupon a look of despair came over them, as if every hope they had of life had been cut off.”

Rusden (History of New Zealand) says that some of the prisoners told Major Edwards [May, 1867] that they had been promised that, if they behaved well, they would be sent home, a few at a time, probably after they had been a year away, and that the remainder would be sent back upon the restoration of peace. Three months later, Colonel Haultain advised Captain Thomas that the prisoners need not be kept under such strict surveillance.

John Brooking (a member of the original guard) states, in Tales of Poverty Bay (Gisborne Times, October, 1913), that, shortly after the St. Kilda left Napier with the first batch of exiles for the Chatham Islands, she was caught up with by a small steamer. From its deck Mr. McLean told the prisoners that, if they behaved well, they would be permitted to return in three years.

Cowan (Sir Donald Maclean, p. 83) suggests that Mr. Rolleston and not Mr. Maclean (a spelling adopted by Cowan) was responsible for the prolonged detention of the exiles. He says:

“… Maclean, indeed, urged that the prisoners should be allowed to return and resume their old tribal life and their ancestral lands after a certain area had been taken as punishment for rebellion. But the Native Minister (Mr. Rolleston), although he visited the Chatham Islands in 1868, was deaf to the appeals of the exiles …”

On the other hand, Cowan (The New Zealand Wars, vol. 2, p. 496) places the blame on Major Biggs. “The proposed repatriation of the prisoners … was,” he says, “delayed on the representations of Biggs, who … wrote to the Government in page 235 1867 that it would not be advisable to permit the prisoners to return … until the land question was settled …”

When the Government was challenged, after the return of the rebels, it had to confess that it held no judicial warrant justifying its action in exiling them at the Chatham Islands. J. D. Ormond, M.H.R. for Clive (Hansard, 6 August, 1868) recalled that Mr. McLean had told the Government that he could not recommend that the prisoners should be brought back whilst the East Coast was in such an unsettled state. Mr. McLean (Hansard, September, 1868) said that he knew of nothing that had had such a powerful influence in restraining the natives from committing further outrages as the policy of exiling these rebels. Those who had been sent away had been selected out of 1,500 of the worst character. If they had been placed in gaol it might have led them to avenge their disgrace after their release. The Ministry could not have devised a better measure, and it was entitled to much credit for it.

During the debate on the question as to who was responsible for the weakening of the guard, Mr. McLean held that the prisoners had, at the outset, been kept under an efficient guard, but that, subsequently, as a sequel to what had been called a “cheese-paring policy”—but what he could only describe as “the most extravagant and reckless kind of policy that could have been adopted”—insufficient precautions had been taken. He added:

“Notwithstanding that information was given to the Government at different times that the prisoners were changing their religion; that a prophet had arisen among them; and that they were becoming more or less unsettled, nothing was done except that some men who had never seen service, and whom the police and people of Wellington were glad to get rid of, were enrolled at a cheap rate and sent over to the Chatham Islands to look after the prisoners of war. Policemen should have been sent to look after such a guard!”

It was pointed out by Mr. Rolleston that the Parliamentary Estimates for 1868 had provided for an A.C. guard of a lieutenant, ensign, sergeant and 22 privates, and that the total vote was £6,481. However, Premier Stafford admitted that the guard had been reduced and that, as matters had turned out, it had not proved adequate. “The Government,” he added, “was so influenced by reports—particularly that of Mr. Rolleston—as to the general good conduct of the prisoners and the absence of any intention to escape that we took his (Mr. Rolleston's) advice and largely diminished the guard.”

Only four guards were on duty at the time of the rising, but three others were also in or about the redoubt. The remainder—three married men—did not reside at the barracks. Neither Captain Thomas nor the sergeant was on the spot, and the former page 236 was taken completely by surprise. In a report upon the conditions under which the rising took place, G. S. Cooper told the Government:

“Upon looking back upon this extraordinary incident in the history of New Zealand it is difficult to say whether one's wonder is excited more by the precision, rapidity and completeness with which the enterprise was planned and executed than by the moderation shown in the hour of victory by a gang of barbarous fanatics, who, in a moment, found their former masters bound at their feet and their lives entirely at their mercy.”


In a letter to Premier Stafford, Mr. McLean (15/10/1866) recommended that the prisoners taken at Omarunui (H.B.) three days earlier should be sent to the Chatham Islands. They were included in the last batch that was sent away. Upon their return they did not go back home, but preferred to remain under Te Kooti's banner.

Upon landing at Whareongaonga, Te Kooti was attired in what an elderly native woman described as “a perfect masher suit and patent leather boots.” He informed his followers that he was the Maori Moses, who, acting under Divine guidance, would lead his band out of bondage. The hill leading up from the southern extremity of the cove he called “Mt. Moriah,” and he referred to the two shelving reefs as “the Tablets of the New Law.” He added that, when he and his band had subdued New Zealand, he would touch those rocks with Aaron's Rod and the New Revelation would spring from the earth.

The detention, without trial, of the Taranaki prophets, Te Whiti and Tohu, from 1881 till 1883 was made legal under “The West Coast Preservation Act, 1882.” They were taken prisoner at Parihaka on 5 November, 1881, upon the instructions of the Hon. J. Bryce (Native Minister). It was considered that it would be best if they were removed from Taranaki “until,” as Premier Whitaker put the matter, “land settlement there is so far advanced as to make resistance futile.” They were kept in a form of honourable captivity at Nelson and elsewhere in the South Island and released when the Amnesty Act came into force in February, 1883.