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

Poverty Bay Settlers Not Unduly Alarmed

Poverty Bay Settlers Not Unduly Alarmed

If a rumour suggesting that Te Kooti was on his way did gain currency in Poverty Bay on the Sunday or on the Monday, it would seem either that it was not believed or else that the residents had implicit faith in Biggs's ability to give ample warning to everybody to move into Turanganui. Had the Parkers, for instance, heard a report to the effect that a raid was imminent they would, assuredly, have gone over to Mrs. Bloomfield's home for two of their children who were staying there. However, not a single settler on the Flats deserted his home on the eve of the tragedy. All appear to have retired for the night in the full expectation that on the morrow they would be able to carry out the plans which they had made.

After the dire calamity, some other persons also claimed to have given Biggs warning that Poverty Bay was about to be page 252 attacked. Readers of Te Kooti's Expeditions (G. Mair, N.Z.C., and G. A. Preece, N.Z.C., p. 185) are told “that Major Mair, by paying £15 to a friendly native on the Friday, two [actually four] days before Te Kooti's attack, sent Major Biggs a letter from the Bay of Plenty warning him that he would be attacked in a day or two, and it is a fact that Major Biggs received the letter, but, probably, too late to take decisive action.” This would be the letter to which Biggs referred when conversing with W. L. Williams on the Sunday afternoon after the arrival of the mailman at Whakato, but he did not say that it conveyed a warning that a raid was imminent—only that one was being planned.

Howard Strong is quoted by Cowan (The New Zealand Wars) as having stated that Mrs. Wyllie, a half-caste, had informed him one day that she had been told by an old Maori woman that Te Kooti was moving down through Ngatapa Valley. When the report was conveyed to Biggs he merely replied: “Well, you know, I have scouts out and I will receive 24 hours' notice before anything can happen. The story is absurd and you are all in an unnecessary state of alarm.” In his comment thereon, Cowan says: “Had Biggs heeded Strong's warning, the massacre would have been averted.”

If, however, Strong and his neighbours (who included the Wyllies) really did place reliance upon the old Maori woman's report, it would be difficult to account for the fact that they gave up keeping a watch at night at the ford over the Waipaoa River near their homes. They knew that Gascoyne and his scouts were posted at a considerable distance south-west of Matawhero, and they must have realised that, if Te Kooti entered the district via Ngatapa Valley, the scouts would be among the last persons to learn the grim news. In any case, if Biggs had intended to have the Ngatapa route watched, he would not have posted scouts at the ford at which the settlers had kept watch but at a point several miles inland, where scouting would have proved much more effective.

Whitmore (The Last Maori War in New Zealand, p. 68) claims to have received, some days after the massacre, a letter written by Biggs. He says that Biggs told him that Te Kooti was advancing; that he knew every detail of his force; and that Poverty Bay was his destination. Biggs had added that he realised that the settlers must be called in, but, feeling what such a step must entail upon them, he had hesitated to expose them to such a sacrifice till the last moment. Next day, however, he would do so. In view of Biggs's adverse feelings towards Whitmore, this claim must have occasioned astonishment among the former's friends when it was published.