Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Interception Proceedings Fail—Crown Forces Suffer Three Defeats: Paparatu, Te Koneke and Ruakituri—Whitmore Calls Settlers “Cowards and Curs”
Whilst the Rifleman was lying off Whareongaonga on Friday, 10 July, 1868, she could be seen by J. W. Johnson from his home at Wharekaia. He believed that she was a smuggler, but, next day, after she had gone, a party of armed natives passed nearby and his suspicions were further aroused by conjectures hazarded by two of his native workmen.
On the Sunday morning, Alexander Blair and John Maynard, who were riding to Wairoa, were halted by some natives near Mr. Johnson's home. They rejected their advice that they should not proceed any farther. When they saw between 40 and 50 armed natives at the top of the next rise they turned back. Members of the smaller party were now on patrol duty, with fixed bayonets. Mr. Johnson declined an invitation by Blair and Maynard to join them, but advised them to go straight to Major Biggs and tell him what they had seen. A friendly native at Muriwai told them that the intruders were escapees from the Chatham Islands and that Te Kooti was at their head. When they reached Matawhero, Archdeacon W. L. Williams was holding an afternoon service. “The unwelcome news,” we are told, “threw the worshippers into a state of great alarm.”
That day Major Biggs had also set off for Wairoa. He, too, learned that the rebels had returned and he had turned back. Word was sent to all the settlers, who assembled at Matawhero next day. On Tuesday he led a party of about 30 settlers and between 40 and 50 natives in the direction of Te Kooti's camp, which stood on the banks of the Maraetaha Creek. Under a white flag, Paora Kati, a loyal chief, was sent on ahead with some other natives, who were in charge of F. G. Skipworth, to interview Te Kooti. Some members of their party began to mingle with the rebels and exchange greetings with them, and it was withdrawn.
According to the Hon. J. C. Richmond (Hansard, 1869, p. 199) Biggs's request to Te Kooti was that the rebels should lay down their arms in return for the right “to have a free passage up the country.” Some other accounts state that he desired them to give up their arms, remain peacefully where they were, and trust to favourable consideration being given to their case by the Government. A further, and more popular, version is that he demanded that they should surrender unconditionally.page 238
W. L. Williams states that Te Kooti's reply was: “God has given us the arms and we are not going to give them up at any man's bidding. We wish to go on our way unmolested.” On the other hand, Colonel Whitmore told Parliament (Hansard, 1868, p. 172) that Te Kooti received the messengers with great bombast and “frightened them out of their senses by talking of hanging them,” and that he gave as the chief reason for refusing to listen to any overtures “that his hands were red with blood.” On account of the murders of Hartnett and Warihi, it is improbable that Te Kooti entertained for a single moment the idea that he should give himself up.
As Biggs's force was small, and as he could not rely on some of his friendly natives, he returned to Matawhero. If he had attacked the rebels (who were in superior numbers) and had been routed, the whole of Poverty Bay would have been placed at Te Kooti's mercy. Biggs had already sent word to Colonel Whitmore at Napier that the rebels had returned, and all that he could now do was to direct the loyal natives at Muriwai to keep an eye on their movements.