Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Gascoyne (Soldiering in New Zealand, pp. 34–36) says that Biggs (in spite of his strong representations as to the danger) was allowed only the one small party of scouts to watch an extent of country which would have required the services of six scouting parties. Its chief camp was about 20 miles from Turanganui, “where the main track descends to the Hangaroa River.” After scouting had gone on for several (sic) months he was told by a very old native that Te Kooti would use a very ancient track a long way to the right if he made a raid. Next day [Saturday, 7 November] he took two men and found a deeply-worn track, heavily overgrown with big manuka trees, in a valley eight to ten miles to his right. - It led towards a saddle overlooking the Mangakaretu Stream. Only signs of pigs were found. Smoke seen six miles away was believed by his native companions to have its origin in a fire lit by pighunters.
That night, on their way back to camp, he left his two comrades and rode on to Matawhero to report. Biggs, he says, did not approve his suggestion that three men should be posted in the valley which he had inspected. He said that he knew that Te Kooti was restless; that he was being kept informed by spies of the rebels' doings; and that he was sure that he would use the track which was being watched. Biggs added: “Now get right back to your post, and be sure not to leave it yourself … Keep a sharp watch every night and scout towards Wairoa daily. If you see armed men, or are fired on, all of you are to come in at once and give the alarm by scattering, but come yourself to me as quickly as possible.” Strange as it may appear, Gascoyne considered it safe to grant leave to two of his native scouts. They went down to Pipiwhakao Bush, and it was from them, when they returned to him post haste on the Tuesday morning, that he first heard about the tragedy!
It was, at first, proposed that Matawhero should be the rendezvous for the settlers and loyal natives in the event of a raid proving imminent. The settlers began to throw up the earthworks for a redoubt, and the loyal natives went ahead with the palisading. Then the work was stopped, and Turanganui was decided upon. W. L. Williams (Southern Cross, 23/12/1868) says that, when he arrived back at Poverty Bay from Auckland on 6 November, he found the redoubt at Turanganui occupied by an ill-disciplined force of about 70 friendly natives, and the inhabitants of the district, Europeans as well as natives, not feeling by any means secure, but yet not apprehending any immediate mischief, because of the force, 700 strong, which was then operating against the Hauhaus from Wairoa. [This force page 254 never made contact with the rebels, and the southern section of it got back to Napier on 7 November.]
Little is known concerning the composition of, or the strength of, the band of rebels which made the murderous raid on Mata-whero. According to Maata te Owai, the “spearhead” consisted chiefly of Nama's outback Wairoa people and Urewera tribesmen. Jimmy Wilson says that a Poverty Bay native well known to his mother was among the party which raided their home. Hamiora Pere (who was hanged at Wellington) was among the raiders. It was the general belief among the old settlers that most of the participants were Tarawera, Taupo, Urewera and Wairoa rebels.
Why it was that Te Kooti did not also attack Turanganui is not clear. Some of the survivors, held that the rebels preferred to make the most of their opportunity to raid the stores and homes on the Flats for liquor and other loot. W. L. Williams thought that the arrival of s.s. St. Kilda that day might have caused Te Kooti to alter his plans. What is most unlikely is that the rebels were afraid to raid the township on account of the presence on Kaiti of such a small force of Ngati-Porou. These loyal natives made no attempt to engage the raiders, and the European refugees were too few in number to risk venturing upon a sortie. Samuel Locke was of the opinion that, if Te Kooti had accepted 100, instead of only 25, Tuhoe reinforcements,” not a single European would have been left alive in Poverty Bay.”