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

Chapter XXX — “Worst Horror since Cawnpore”

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Chapter XXX
“Worst Horror since Cawnpore”

News of Poverty Bay Massacre Causes Painful Sensation— Governor's Graphic Dispatch to Home Authorities—Belated Search For Survivors—Mrs. Wilson Not Found For Six Days.

The news of the shocking raid upon Matawhero by Te Kooti and his band of assassins on 10 November, 1868, reached Turanganui (Gisborne) at about 4.30 a.m. Archdeacon W. L. Williams (who lived on Kaiti) was aroused at that hour by a native neighbour, who had received the startling intelligence from some natives who had just arrived from the scene of terror. Shortly afterwards other survivors reached the township. Among the earliest were Mrs. Bloomfield and the members of her party, who, according to the New Zealand Herald, made their appearance at about 5 a.m.

Captain Read obtained a whaleboat, and, with a volunteer crew comprising W. W. Smith, M. Hall, R. Parkhouse, J. Brooking and C. Smale, set off to overtake the schooners Success and Tawera, which had left the river only a few hours before. They came in sight of the Success at 11 a.m. just south of Whangara, and Captain Trimmer at once turned back. The Tawera was eight miles farther north, and, to attract Captain Kennedy's attention, Captain Trimmer put some tow in a tin and set it alight, producing a pall of dense smoke. In the belief that the Success was on fire, Captain Kennedy lost no time in returning to her. Both got back late in the afternoon. As the Success was laden with cattle she was allowed to resume her voyage.

Shortly afterwards, Lieutenant Gascoyne, together with his European scouts and some of his native scouts—the others had gone over to the rebels—reached Turanganui in a whaleboat from Muriwai. He took over the command of the redoubts from Sergeant-Major C. W. Ferris. The Tawera left for Napier at 6 p.m. Captain Read went on her to impress upon the authorities the dire necessity for reinforcements. Her passengers also included: Mrs. W. Parker, five children and servant, Mrs. Robb and three children, Mrs. Blair, Poulgrain children (3), George Williams, Mrs. G. G. Mill and two children, R. Thelwall, Mrs. R. Shearer, Mrs. Young, Dan Munn, Mrs. Bloomfield, her children and her sister (Miss Steggall), Mrs. R. U'Ren, Mrs. W. H. Tucker and child (Henry), and Mrs. Ross and child. Observing a distress signal flying on the Tawera, the captain of the Lord Ashley, which was en route to Auckland, sent a boat to her. page 267 It took off Mrs. Bloomfield and her children, Miss Steggall, Mrs. Ross and child and three settlers whose names do not appear on the Tawera's passenger list.

Next day the work of converting the courthouse into a blockhouse was pushed ahead. Sand was poured into the space between the weatherboards and the lining, and slots were cut to enable the settlers and the natives to use their rifles to advantage in case the building had to be defended. Watchers with telescopes were posted on Kaiti Hill to observe the movements of the rebels. On Thursday (12 November)—the second day after the Massacre—an attack upon the settlement seemed imminent. The rebels appeared in force at Makaraka, but they went back to Matawhero, where they set fire to most of the remaining homes. Mrs. Bloomfield's two-storey house, which had cost £1,600 and was the finest in the district, was left unharmed longer than any other because its high balcony proved very useful to the rebels as a look-out. The Ahuriri arrived from Napier on Friday with Captains Westrup and Tuke and 70 Hawke's Bay native troops. Some Poverty Bay settlers, who had placed their families in safety at Napier, also returned by her.

Not until six days after the tragedy—several groups of reinforcements had then reached Poverty Bay—was an attempt made to ascertain whether any of the missing Matawhero residents had survived. With their native prisoners and booty, the rebels had moved off in the direction of Okahuatiu Valley. Strangely enough, on the previous day, Captain Westrup had allowed some cattle to be brought in from the Mission property at Waerenga-a-Hika for S. T. Clarke, who had come down from Tauranga on the Onward. When he had left home the Success had not turned up with her load. Going out at night by a back route, Robert Atkins, William Benson, Harry Hallett, Sandy Butters, John Maynard, Tom Goldsmith, Alexander Robb, W. W. Smith and George Cook tied their horses to flax bushes near the property till morning. The cattle were shipped next day.

How Mrs. Wilson Was Rescued

One of the saddest incidents in connection with the Massacre was that Mrs. Wilson lay grievously injured so long in a little shed close to her razed home before help reached her other than that which her eight-year-old son had been able to afford from the second day after the tragedy. In addition to a grave bayonet wound in the body, she had suffered injuries to her arms and breasts whilst attempting to screen her infant daughter. She had at first had a shawl as well as a nightdress, but, whilst she lay unconscious, Hori Warakihi, who lived at Toanga and had often page 268 been befriended by her, relieved her of the shawl in the belief that she was dead. When she came to, she crawled to a tank and filled an old tea kettle with water. A broken bottle served for a cup. She then dragged herself to a small shed.

In his account of his doings, Jimmy Wilson says that, when he escaped, he went to Mrs. Bloomfield's home and got into a bed in an upstairs room. Hearing some natives coming up the stairs, he locked the door. Although the handle was tried, and a native woman called out, he was not molested. [A version current just after the Massacre was that he crept on to the verandah, but, becoming afraid, he hid beneath a sweetbrier bush and fell off to sleep.] Next day he visited Hori Warakihi, who gave him some bread, meat and potatoes. He also went to the site of his old home to tether his pony in a fresh place. On that occasion he did not learn that his mother was still alive. In a vacated whare he found some currants, chocolate and other eatables and proceeded to help himself, “thinking”—to use his own words—“that it was not exactly stealing, seeing that the owner had gone away and left them.” He then returned to the sweetbrier bush for the night.

On Thursday, whilst he was over at the site of his old home attending to his pony, he thought he heard a movement in a shed close by. At that moment his mother called out: “Is that you, Jimmy?” She told him to get some eggs, and, under her guidance, he boiled them in the kettle. She then directed him to return to his shelter for the night. Next morning he took to his mother some potatoes which he had obtained from Hori Warakihi. She found in a pocket of his father's coat, which he was still wearing, a card case and a small piece of pencil, and, after several vain attempts, she managed to write, in legible form, a message as under:

“Could some kind friend come to our help, for God's sake? I am very much wounded, lying in a little house on our place. My poor son James is with me. Come quick. ALICE WILSON. We have little or no clothing and are in dreadful suffering.”

Both on Saturday and Sunday little Jimmy tried to find his way to Turanganui, some five miles distant, but, on each occasion, he became confused in regard to the right track and returned to his mother. Again on Monday he set out. Near the site of the present hotel at Makaraka his little dog Flo began to bark and he was found, hiding among some scrub, by a reconnoitring party consisting of John Maynard, Tom Goldsmith and George Cook. Goldsmith took him in to Turanganui and brought back Dr. J. Murray Gibbs, of Waipukurau (who had accompanied the first relief contingent from Napier) and a party to assist in carrying Mrs. Wilson.

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Maynard and Cook soon reached the shed in which Mrs. Wilson was lying and called to her by name. “Thank God!” she replied. “Help has arrived. Please bring me some water.” After she had received attention from the doctor she was carried to W. L. Williams's home on Kaiti, where she was nursed by Mrs. Jennings, whose husband had at one time worked for Dodd and Peppard. Mrs. T. H. Lowry (a sister of Mrs. Wilson) came up from Okawa to assist. Mrs. Wilson was removed to Napier on 14 December, but, despite the skill and care of Dr. Spencer, she succumbed to her dreadful injuries three days later. Her son was presented with a piece of land by the Government as a gratuity.

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.

Slaying of Loyal Chief

Paratene Turangi and several other Rongowhakaata chiefs visited Te Kooti at Patutahi on the day following the massacre. Hoera Kapuaroa told the Poverty Bay Crown Grants Commission in 1869 that their object was partly to induce him not to commit any more murders and partly “to make a league with him for themselves.” Te Kooti replied that he required the Rongowhakaata to join him. He was informed that he would have to fetch them himself. According to Maata te Owai, he went over to Oweta on the morning of the 12th, halted outside the pa and said prayers. He was received as a guest and food was prepared for his party. Lazarus, although he hated the pakehas, had, with some others, cleared away. Aperahama Kouka told the commissioners that he had tried to persuade Paratene to leave.

Thomas Bartlett, junior, a well-informed half-caste, told the writer that, after the meal, Te Kooti ordered some members of his band to round up Paratene and nine other non-Hauhaus. They were required to sit down in front of him. Turning to Paratene, he said reproachfully (referring to his exiling): “You told me to go on the boat!” He then ordered Nepia Tokitahi to slay them all. As the other natives at Oweta had agreed to join Te Kooti, they had been taken away earlier. Nepia slew Paratene and four of his companions on the spot. He then led the others, under escort, a little way into the bush, where he deprived them of life.

Tuta Nihoniho gave an imaginative and much more colourful page 271 account of the slaying of Paratene to James Cowan, who published it in the Lyttelton Times:

Te Kooti,” according to Tuta, “had Paratene brought out to him. One hand was stretched forth by Te Kooti in mock welcome; the other, which he held behind him, gripped a tomahawk. ‘Greetings, my father!’ said Te Kooti, who stroked the petrified Paratene's cheek as if in affection. And then he added: ‘Salutations, my father! You who uttered those words, “Go on the boat!” A-a Ko ana ki te Tomahawk!’ His tone changing with the last sentence to one of frightful biting ferocity, his eyes darting flames, his white teeth glittering, Te Kooti swung his sharp hatchet with a terrible blow and Paratene fell almost decapitated.”

An analysis of the death rolls—that in connection with the major massacre on 10 November, the isolated slayings on the 11th, and that in the case of the minor tragedy on 12 December —shows that all of the 13 European male victims were attached to the Defence Forces. Most of them were in their twenties or thirties, but two had attained the age of 60 years. Six of the women were wives of male victims, whilst another was the wife of an absent soldier. The nine European juvenile victims were between the ages of one and seven years, five being under two years old. In addition, two half-caste youths, a half-caste girl and a half-caste boy were slain. A native lad who was among those slain on 12 December is included in the list of native victims.

List of Victims

The names and ages of the Europeans and half-castes who were slain on the morning of 10 November (with the addition of Mrs. Wilson, who succumbed to her injuries on 17 December) were:

Major R. N. Biggs (N.Z. Militia), aged 38; his wife Emily, 19; their child George, 1 year; and the nurse, Jane Farrell, aged 26 years. Captain James Wilson (N.Z. Militia), aged 32; his wife Alice, 30; and three of their four children: Alice, 6 years; Edwin J., 4 years; and Jessie, 1½ years, together with the manservant, Private John Moran (N.Z. Militia), 60 years old.
Lieutenant James Walsh (P.B.M.R.), aged 33; his wife Emma, 26 years; their child Nora Ellen, 1 year; and his partner, Sergeant James Padbury (P.B.M.R.), 32 years.
Trooper John McCulloch (P.B.M.R.), aged 28; his wife Jane, 25; their child Emily Jane, 2 years; and a niece, Mary McDonald, 7 years. Maria Goldsmith, 16 years; and Albert Edward Goldsmith, 4 years (both half-castes).
Trooper John Cadle (P.B.M.R.), 28 years.
Trooper John Mann (P.B.M.R.), 29 years; his wife Emma, 23, and infant (age unknown).
Lieutenant George Neville Dodd (N.Z. Militia), 40 years, and Trooper Richard Peppard (P.B.M.R.), 25 years, and their assistant, Trooper Richard Rathbone (P.B.M.R.), whose age is unknown.

The number of loyal natives slain was set down by W. L. page 272 Williams at about 30. Not all of the names have been traced. Those known are:

At Pukepuke: Himiona Katipa, Paora te Wharau, Ratana Tukurangi, Rangi Whaitiri and Riki Aata.
At Waitaria: Tutere Kapai (or Konohi) and Eriapa Kapai.
Near Matawhero: Piripi Taketake, his wife Harata and three children (Pera, Taraipene and Te Paea), Hoera Whakamiha and Pera Kararehe (or Taihuka). [Kararehe was the elder brother of Matenga Taihuka. Both Matenga and his father (Pehimana) were among the Chatham Island exiles. Matenga became one of Te Kooti's lieutenants, but deserted him, swore allegiance to the Queen and accepted Christianity.]
At Oweta: Ten, but of whom the names of only five have been traced, viz., Paratene Turangi, Ihimaera Hokopu, Renata Whakaari, Iraia Riki and Te Hira Hokopu (or Hira te Kai), who was fatally wounded and died on 6 December.
Others known to have been slain are: Rawiri Taiau and, on 12 December, David Kiniha (14 years).

On 11 November additional Europeans were slain as under:

Trooper Robert Newnham (P.B.M.R.), aged 60 years; his wife Jane, 45, and an adopted European child named Munn, 1 year old.

The European victim, half-caste victims and native victim of the Opou massacre on 12 December, 1868, were:

Trooper Finlay Ferguson (P.B.M.R.), aged 28 years; William Wyllie (half-caste son of J. R. Wyllie), aged 14 years; Benjamin Mackey (half-caste son of James Mackey), aged 14 years. David Kiniha's name is included in the list of natives slain.

In the aggregate the slain comprised: Europeans 29, of whom 13 were adult males, 7 adult females and 9 children; half-castes 4, of whom 3 were males and one a female; natives approximately 30; grand total, 63.

By 17 November—a week after the major calamity—further contingents of native friendlies had reached Poverty Bay from Hawke's Bay and the East Coast—in all, between 300 and 400. A small detachment of military settlers had also come to hand from Hawke's Bay. On the 18th a large armed party was sent out, under Captain A. Tuke, to bury the victims. Most of the bodies lay well clear of the debris of the burned homes; some had been mutilated by pigs.

The New Zealand Herald says that Major and Mrs. Biggs and child were buried together. A separate grave was made for the body of the nurse (Mrs. Farrell). Captain Wilson, his three children and Moran were buried in one grave. Maria Goldsmith and her brother (both of whom had been decapitated) were buried together. Mann and his wife were also placed in a single grave. The body of their child was not found. Cadle was buried alone. Walsh, his wife, child and partner were interred together. The child had been decapitated. One grave was used for the burial of the McCullochs. No bodies were found at Newnham's page 273 place, but there was a newly-dug grave there. Dodd and Peppard could not be buried until 2 December, on account of the proximity of the rebels. Rathbone's body was not found. On 2 July, 1869, the bodies were reinterred at Makaraka in the presence of a full muster of the settlers and a large number of natives. Twelve coffins were used.

There were 45 Europeans and half-castes in Matawhero (five miles from Gisborne) when that area was invaded. Twenty-one were slain outright and one (Mrs. Wilson) received fatal injuries. The number of Europeans and half-castes at Makaraka (four miles from Gisborne) was 56, of whom all but three escaped. All the other European residents on the Flats got safely away, excepting three in the locality now known as King's Road and a like number on Repongaere. Most of the native victims lived on the outskirts of, or at no great distance from, Matawhero.


A handsome monument in honour of the victims of the Poverty Bay Massacre stands in the burial plot in the Makaraka Cemetery. The cost (£155) was met by subscriptions of 2/6 contributed from all parts of New Zealand.

Mrs. Wilson told W. L. Williams that the frenzied rebels seemed to be obsessed with a single idea: to exterminate the settlers, their wives and their children with as little delay as possible. Writing to the Poverty Bay Herald (27/10/1887) he said: “I am not aware of any good ground for supposing that any of the victims were subjected to torture or to wanton outrage before they were put to death. The testimony of one who survived long enough to give a detailed account of her sufferings [this would be Mrs. Wilson] was: ‘Thank God! I suffered nothing worse than my wounds.’”

In his account of the court-martialling of the noted Urewera rebel, Wi Heretaunga, who was captured between Ruakituri and Lake Waikaremoana in August, 1871, Captain G. Mair says that Heretaunga was tried for treachery in that he attempted to knife him whilst he was attending to his injured kneecap. Captain G. A. Preece and Sergeant-Major H. P. Bluett formed the court. Two women, Mere Maihi and Maora Irirangi, told the tribunal that both Heretaunga and Eru Peka stabbed Mrs. Wilson at Matawhero with their bayonets. Heretaunga was sentenced to death. Kepa te Ahuru (a nephew of the condemned man) insisted upon being allowed to carry out the sentence. Mair adds that Heretaunga, prior to being executed, spat at him and declared: “Ah! Tawa (Mair): If I had had my way I'd have scattered your brains as I scattered those of the people we killed at Turanganui and at Mohaka.”


Major Reginald Newton Biggs, prior to the East Coast War (1865), managed “Mingaroa” station in the Rangitikei district for Major Trafford. The homestead is described in Early Rangitikei (Sir J. G. Wilson) as a “bachelors' establishment, with a Maori housekeeper,” and Trafford's companions—Reginald Biggs and Sam Deighton—are referred to as “two congenial souls.” Wilson also states: “There was a tradition that Biggs was a very plucky fellow and would swim the river no matter how much page 274 water was in it.” Dr. Tuke held that Biggs was one of the best shots he had ever seen. Mrs. Biggs (née Emily Maria Dudley, of Broom, Canterbury) was a noted horsewoman.

Captain James Wilson (born at Belvedere, Kent, in 1836) took part in the engagement at Omarunui (Hawke's Bay) in 1866. He married a daughter of T. Lowry, of Okawa, and, in conjunction with his father-in-law, took up a lease of “Maraetaha” (Poverty Bay).

James George (Jimmy) Wilson (the only survivor of the Wilson family on the occasion of the Poverty Bay Massacre) was born in Hawke's Bay in 1861. He became a noted rifle shot and was one of New Zealand's representatives at Bisley in 1902. His death occurred at Rangiora in May, 1942.

James David Mackey (father of Benjamin Mackey, who was slain by the rebels at Opou in December, 1868) was born at North Shields in 1800. Starting life as a coal-pit boy, he drifted into the Navy and was present at the Battle of Navarino in 1827. In 1840 he took up his residence at Muriwai and became a whaler. Afterwards, for some years, he operated a boat ferry on the Turanganui River. He died in October, 1884. Ra Mackey (a son) was prominent in the coastal trade as a master mariner.

Richard Poulgrain (born in 1818) settled in Poverty Bay in 1840, engaging as a pit-sawyer. In the 1860's he built, on the upper reaches of the Taruheru River, the small schooner Maid of Turanga, which was, for many years, in the Islands trade. He died on 15 October, 1897. His brother George, who had been at the Bendigo gold diggings, settled at Matawhero in 1855, but with his family moved to Auckland just prior to the Massacre. Only his son George returned to the district. He died on 29 November, 1937.

Frederick Green Skipworth (born at Rothwell, England, in 1837) landed at Wellington in 1855. He fought at Waerenga-a-Hika in 1865 and against the Te Kooti rebels in 1868. At the time of the Massacre he was clerk and interpreter to Major Biggs, O.C. He died on 25 January, 1902.