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

Panic at Wairoa

Panic at Wairoa

Much anxiety was felt at Wairoa early in October, 1868, when, no tidings could be gleaned concerning what had become of four influential emissaries who had set out on 30 September for Whataroa in an attempt to induce Te Waru to refrain from aiding Te Kooti. Word came to hand, a fortnight later, that they had been received with every pretension of friendship, but, on the night of their arrival, they had been treacherously murdered in their sleep. Panic now seized the people around Wairoa—natives and Europeans alike. It was believed that the murders would prove the prelude to an attack upon Wairoa. Fearing that the military settlement at Marumaru might be attacked, Captain A. Tuke withdrew the settlers, and ordered his force at Te Kapu also to fall back on Wairoa.

Towards the close of October, the Government assembled a large native force at Wairoa. It comprised 120 Hawke's Bay friendlies under Renata, Tareha and Karauria; 170 Ngati-Porou, under Ropata and Porourangi; and some hundreds of Nuhaka and Wairoa natives, under Ihaka Whaanga and other chiefs. As matters turned out, the small force stationed on Kaiti in Poverty Bay proved too weak to be of any value and the large force at Wairoa (which was placed under Colonel Lambert) was wasted.

The Hon. J. C. Richmond told Parliament (Hansard, 1869) that he brought the Ngati-Porou down from Waiapu on the St. Kilda. En route from Napier a call was made at Wairoa, “where we found there was not sufficient ground for panic.” He continued:

“When we got to Poverty Bay [from Waiapu] on 27 October we found there were fires of parties approaching from the direction of the great ranges where Te Kooti was supposed to be established. Major Biggs [who had been picked up on the East Coast] held that there should be a garrison at Turanganui. I instantly consented and, at my request, the chief Henare Potae sent a messenger for 50 of his men to garrison the post. Major Biggs said that 50 men were not enough—that he should have 100 men.
page 248
“I remember saying to Major Biggs that, whilst in the night watches—not being able to sleep very well in a Poverty Bay bed—I had been reflecting upon the unprotected state of the place, and I asked him to speak particularly to Major Westrup and Paratene Turangi and request them not to sleep another night—that was my expression—outside a stockade …”

Mr. Richmond went on to say that, whilst he was at Poverty Bay, he had asked Hotene and Ropata (whose contingents were being taken on to Wairoa) if they would make the rest of the journey overland, as it was possible that they might run across Te Kooti on the way. They agreed to do so, but, next morning, changed their minds, and he was not in a position to compel them to go. The Ngati-Porou were landed at Wairoa and he went on to Napier, where the Rev. S. Williams gave Mr. McLean and himself some information as to Te Kooti's probable movements. Mr. McLean and he were the last visitors to Poverty Bay; they had acted on the report of Te Kooti's near approach; and they had done the best they could to protect the settlement. He added: “We left the place in charge of a gentleman of distinguished ability as a soldier and a man of great resolution and firmness of character. I think I have said enough to the House and the country to wipe away from us any reproach for the unprepared condition of Poverty Bay.”

During the debate, J. D. Ormond, M.H.R. for Clive, stressed the point that Mr. Richmond had been warned on 2 November by the Rev. S. Williams that the rebels intended to move on Poverty Bay. Mr. Richmond intervened to remark: “I had seen them moving!” By way of rejoinder, Mr. Ormond then said: “If so, I do not know why you should not have taken steps to meet them. It shows that you are more responsible than I thought you were.”

On 30 October—11 days before the massacre—the large native force at Wairoa moved off to Whataroa. Only the elderly mother of Te Waru's wife (who was taken prisoner) and an old man (who was shot) were found at the pa. The bodies of the murdered emissaries were reinterred. On 6 November, upon the return of the troops, the Hawke's Bay natives were sent back to Napier, arriving there next day. Word concerning the result of the expedition reached Mr. McLean on 6 November, and, that day, he wired to Mr. Richmond: “Lambert went on to Whataroa. Hauhaus had left. Party of them supposed to be moving on Poverty Bay.”

Next day Mr. McLean wired to Colonel Haultain (Defence Minister) reporting the return of the Hawke's Bay friendlies. He added: “Hauhaus said to be going to Poverty Bay. Enemy should have been followed up to Puketapu and Poverty Bay. page 249 Propose that the St. Kilda should proceed to Poverty Bay to ascertain the whereabouts of the Hauhaus.” [According to J. D. Ormond, M.H.R. [Hansard, 1869), the Government approved the dispatch of the St. Kilda. However, on account of a gale, she could not leave Napier on 8 November. Then, unfortunately, her engine broke down, necessitating repairs. Not until 10 November—the massacre had taken place that morning—was she able to sail for Poverty Bay.]

In his report to Mr. McLean, Lambert stated that, as no enemy had been found at Whataroa, he had, “as directed by the Hon. J. C. Richmond,” returned and embarked the Hawke's Bay natives. On 9 November Mr. McLean wired to Mr. Richmond stating that it was his impression that no such instruction had been given to Lambert; that it was fully intended to find out the position of the enemy before the expedition was dispersed; and that, if Captain Tuke and the natives had gone on, “as arranged before we left Wairoa,” we should soon have had an account of the enemy. He added: “The present state of things is most unsatisfactory. Are you coming up in the Sturt?” Next day Mr. McLean informed Lambert that he must have misunderstood Mr. Richmond's instructions; that, with such a large force, it should have been possible at least to have ascertained the enemy's position; and that the Hawke's Bay chiefs had told him that they and the Ngati-Porou had been willing to go on.

On the morning of 10 November the Hawke's Bay Herald quoted its Wairoa correspondent as its authority for the statement that the elderly woman who had been taken prisoner at Whataroa had told Lambert that Te Waru's people, with Te Kooti's, intended to attack Turanga (Poverty Bay), Wairoa and Napier in succession. That journal added: “It is much to be regretted that the force did not go on to Puketapu … it being, we believe, Mr. McLean's intention that it should have done so.”