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

An Unpopular Commander

An Unpopular Commander

It was now found that, on 4 December, the Sturt had arrived with Colonel Whitmore (who had been appointed O.C.) and Major Fraser and 70 members of the A.C. (who had been stationed at Wanganui and whose equipment included six artillery pieces). According to the Poverty Bay correspondent of the Hawke's Bay Herald, Whitmore's arrival was notified to the residents by means of placards affixed to the walls of buildings and bearing the words, “The Gravedigger Has Arrived!” The Hon. J. C. Richmond, who reached Poverty Bay on the same day, met Tareha at Patutahi, but could not induce him to turn back.

In his report to Colonel Haultain on the initial attack upon Ngatapa (5–6 December) Mr. Richmond referred in terms of page 277 high praise to the part which Ropata had taken. He also said that the Hauhaus had burnt their tents and that their women and children had been heard clambering down the cliffs. Ten loyalists had lost their lives and 20 had been wounded; the rebel casualties numbered about 50. It was his opinion that the enemy had either decamped or were about to do so.

On 6 December, Whitmore told Colonel Haultain that the Ngati-Porou desired to return home, but, if the enemy was found to be still in position, it might be possible to retain them. He added that Tareha's contingent might just as well return to Hawke's Bay and that, as the destination of the rebels was unknown, it would be best for Ihaka Whaanga's force to go back to Wairoa to act as a shield for that district. Two days later Whitmore erroneously believed that the rebels had fled into the wilds. Writing to the Minister, he reported: “All quiet here … Ngatapa is abandoned.”

Mr. Richmond, too, must have been satisfied that the rebels would not occasion any more trouble. On 11 December he sent word to Colonel Haultain that the forces were about to leave “as the enemy has disappeared.” He added: “It is quite clear that we must concentrate and strike on the West Coast first. It will be time enough to strike at these Hauhaus [Te Kooti and his followers] in four or five months. Te Kooti has no food but fern-root and but little powder. He makes bullets of shot cast in a thimble.”

On 12 December the p.s. Sturt set off from Turanganui for Wanganui with 150 members of the A.C. Providentially (as it were), she was holed on the bar of the river and had to disembark her troops. That day, unbeknown to the authorities, the rebels made another descent upon the Flats and, near Opou, caught a young trooper (Finlay Ferguson), two half-caste lads (Willie Wyllie and Ben Mackey) and a native boy (David Hapi Kiniha). One of the rebels' prisoners, Apera te Awahaku (who was related to Wyllie's mother) appealed to Te Kooti to spare the lads. He was ordered to cast aside young Wyllie, who had clung to him for protection. The captives were then slain.

During that afternoon, as rebels had been seen near Patutahi, Whitmore sent out mounted troops in that direction, and the right wing of No. 1 Division of the A.C. was moved out to Makaraka. After dusk the cavalry fell back, as their scouts had deserted. No trace of rebels was found in the morning, but, just as the troops were about to re-embark, word was received of the Opou murders on the previous day. Ihaka Whaanga, it was stated, was engaging the rebels near Opou. A force of A.C. was sent to Muriwai on the Sturt to assist him, and the Ngati-Porou page 278 proceeded overland to lend a hand. With another force Whitmore set off to cover the Ngati-Porou right flank. Observing about 100 rebels making off in the direction of Patutahi, he attempted to intercept them. “My men,” he says, “had three miles, and the enemy four miles, to go to reach a gorge. When we reached the point where the two tracks met it was found that the Hauhaus had gained the gorge.”