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

Rumoured Pending Raid

Rumoured Pending Raid

As it was Biggs's opinion that the rebels would use the Te Reinga track if they invaded Poverty Bay, he stationed Gascoyne and his scouts at a point near Waerenga-o-Kuri, where they could overlook a wide stretch of country. The Government was aware of the decision (Premier Stafford, 16/9/1868). However, those settlers who lived to the north of Matawhero feared that the rebels might enter Poverty Bay via Ngatapa Valley. On that account they formed themselves into a vigilance committee and, each night, took it in turn to watch, a ford over the Waipaoa River at a point above Patutahi. They had given up their self-imposed vigil only a week or two before the massacre took place, page 250 because Biggs regarded their action as unnecessary. Unhappily, his judgment on the matter as to which track would be used proved unsound.

W. L. Williams (East Coast, New Zealand, Historical Records, pp. 59–60) says that the native mailman, upon his arrival from Wairoa at Whakato (about nine miles from Turanganui) at midday on Sunday (8 November) informed him and others that the woman taken prisoner at Whataroa had told Lambert that Te Kooti had gone to Poverty Bay. He (Mr. Williams) went on to Matawhero to hold an afternoon service and, whilst he was there, he told Biggs what the mailman had said. Biggs mentioned that Major St. John and Major Mair had written to him only a few days earlier, warning him that Te Kooti had urged his sympathisers at Opotiki to join him in a raid on the East Coast and reporting to him that Te Kooti had been joined by a number of Waikato and Tuhoe rebels. It was added by Biggs that the scouts under Gascoyne were in a position to warn him in ample time to enable the outsettlers to be withdrawn to Turanganui.

When the mailman reached Turanganui on the morning of Monday (9 November) he handed to W. L. Williams a letter from the Rev. S. Williams, of Napier. The writer stated that he had received information, “on authority which he could not doubt,” that Te Kooti had started for Poverty Bay, and he suggested that all the settlers should at once get into as secure a position as possible. This information, it was added, had been conveyed not only to Mr. McLean but also to the Hon. J. C. Richmond (who was on a visit to Napier). W. L. Williams says that he went over to Wilson's Redoubt, where Biggs was holding a court sitting, and gave him this further information. To his surprise, he found that Biggs had not received any communication either from Wairoa or from Napier. However, Biggs told him that he was expecting to hear from the scouts at any time that Te Kooti was somewhere in the neighbourhood and that he would be ready, at a moment's notice, to leave his post at Matawhero for Turanganui.

The text of the Rev. S. Williams's letter to W. L. Williams does not appear ever to have been published. W. L. Williams (Southern Cross, 23/12/1868) said that, whilst he was discussing the Wairoa rumour with Biggs on the Sunday (8 November), he had remarked to him that he (Biggs) would be certain to hear from Lambert on the following morning “whether the report was worth taking any notice of.” He added: “When I saw Biggs on the Monday afternoon, and asked him what news he had received by the mail, his answer was, ‘Not a line!’ The natural conclusion from this was that Lambert hadn't considered page 251 the circumstance worth reporting … It is to be borne in mind that, at that time, nobody in Poverty Bay knew anything of the information that had been communicated by the Rev. S. Williams to Mr. Richmond.”

Shortly after the massacre, the Rev. S. Williams, in a letter to the Southern Cross, stated that, on 1 November, he received reliable information from Taupo to the effect that a native named Toetoe (a Hauhau and a Kingite) had visited Te Kooti's camp at Puketapu, and had learned that raids were about to be made upon various settlements upon the East Coast and that Poverty Bay was to be the first place to be attacked. Whilst Toetoe was there a party of 140 Nokowhitu, headed by Nikora and Henare Pata—prisoners captured at Omarunui and exiled to the Chatham Islands—was told off to attack Poverty Bay. Nama, a Wairoa native, went as guide. Te Kooti promised that he would follow, with the remainder of his band, in about three days.

The Rev. S. Williams went on to say that he reached Napier on the evening of 1 November and that he gave Mr. McLean the information on the following morning. Later in the day he met Karaitiana Takamoana, who told him that he had received, through a separate channel, information to a like effect. Together they went to see Mr. McLean, who sent for the Hon. J. C. Richmond. They were given to understand that every precaution had been, or would be, taken. Surprise and disappointment were mild terms to express his feelings when, after the sad occurrence, it appeared that the warning given by him at Napier eight days before had not been acted upon. He added: “It would, however, be a mistake for anyone to say that Mr. McLean had doubted and had refused to act.”