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

Governor's Harrowing Dispatch

Governor's Harrowing Dispatch

News of the massacre reached Wellington on 11 November in a telegram which Colonel Whitmore sent from Napier. Governor Bowen's graphic but overdrawn dispatch to the Secretary of State in London is now among the Alexander Turnbull Library records in Wellington. In political circles fault was found with him, firstly, for not awaiting confirmation of some of the details, and, secondly, for marking the communication “Confidential.” His Excellency wrote:

“News has reached Wellington from the East Coast of the massacre by Hauhaus under Te Kooti of about 40 Europeans and 20 loyal Maoris near Turanga, Poverty Bay … In the night and between the 9th and 10th inst. a band of rebels suddenly attacked the home of Major Biggs, the resident magistrate, and those of a number of other English settlers, who were murdered after a brief resistance and after having been tortured and mutilated in circumstances of revolting cruelty, whilst their wives and daughters and other members of their families, after having been subjected to atrocities too horrible for description, were burned to death or hacked to pieces….
“The murderers dashed out the brains of Mrs. Wilson's baby and, after the head had become a pulpy mass, placed it in her arms before attacking her. This unfortunate lady was then pierced with bayonets several times and left for dead … Many of the atrocities perpetrated on the women and children are too shocking for description: suffice it to say that nothing more horrible has taken place since the Indian Mutiny of 1857 …
“Mrs. Wilson's wounds were: Two in the arm, one of which pinned her to the ground; another one on the wrist which transfixed her and the baby, which lay dead underneath. Sensible even then, and hearing the dying moans of her husband, she turned towards her attackers and immediately received another bayonet stab in the abdomen. This wound probably saved her life, for the murderers left her, believing her to be dead. But, even then, before departing, they beat her on the breasts with the butts of their rifles and of which she afterwards retained marks … Mrs. Wilson succumbed about 10 days afterwards …”

When the news of the disaster was circulated at Home, people who had made up their minds to settle in New Zealand were page 270 greatly alarmed. Premier Stafford stated in Parliament (15/6/1869) that some who had intended to settle in Canterbury, and who had paid their passage money, left the ship on which they were about to sail and others refused to go on board.

In Matawhero the homes of only five of the settlers were successfully attacked. One of the other raided homes—that of Dodd and Peppard—stood about four miles north of Matawhero; another—that of Robert Newnham—was two miles north-east of Matawhero; and a third—that of John Mann—was at Makaraka, about a mile closer to Turanganui than Matawhero. Most of the homes at Matawhero lay within the bend of the Waipaoa River which stretches from Matawhero Point to the spot where the old Ngatapa railway bridge stood. The church was almost in the centre of the settlement. Some of the homes were not a great distance apart. Even although Matawhero must have been speedily penetrated, half of its inhabitants had the good fortune to escape.