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

Rebels Driven Out of Ngatapa

Rebels Driven Out of Ngatapa

Whitmore then began to muster a large force to re-attack the rebels at Ngatapa. A chain of small forts was built up the Ngatapa Valley. He named the fort which stood farthest away —it was about two and a-half miles from Ngatapa—“Fort Richmond.” Ropata returned with 300 Ngati-Porou. The siege was begun on 27 December. A section of Ngati-Porou (under Ropata) and some of the Poverty Bay Volunteers were stationed along the front of the hill-fort. The 6th Division of the A.C. (under Inspector Roberts) and the rest of Ngati-Porou (under Hotene) were posted along the southern side. Major Fraser's 7th Division of the A.C. took up a position beyond Hotene's force and his No. 1 Division entrenched at the rear of the pa. On the precipitous northern side no investing force was placed. It was afterwards explained by Whitmore that the omission was due solely to the inadequacy of the force at his disposal.

In all, Whitmore had 700 troops, and his equipment included two cohorn mortars capable of throwing shells into any part of the pa. At the rear there was only a knife-like track up the steep hillside. Those brave attackers who were able to retain a foothold there harassed the rebels into diverting some of their best marksmen from their front-line trenches. Two of the A.C. —Private Solomon Black and Private B. Biddle—earned the New Zealand Cross. On the night of 4 January, 1869, Ropata's force drove the defenders back from their outer trenches and placed itself in a good position from which to renew the attack in the morning. When dawn came it was announced by women within the pa that the defenders had left. With the aid of flax ladders they had escaped down the unguarded side of the hill-fort.

According to Whitmore (Hansard, 1869) the European troops desired to go after the rebels, because many a prisoner was worth £20 in money or in plunder upon his person. Ngati-Porou also wished to join in the pursuit, but Ropata was afraid that white troops might mistake them for rebels in the forest. It was then arranged that the pursuing force should be restricted to the Ngati-Porou. Nikora, who had taken part in the Poverty Bay Massacre, was among the rebels slain. Rusden says that page 279 when his head was brought in Mr. Richmond paid £50 for it. That day, Cabinet offered £1,000 as a reward in respect of Te Kooti.

W. L. Williams (East Coast, New Zealand, Historical Records, p. 65) summarises the results of his inquiries in these words:

“As soon as day dawned the escape of the rebels was discovered. They were immediately pursued and many of them were killed. Fourteen men were taken alive in the pa and about 66 women and children. Fifty-eight dead bodies testified to the terrible havoc wrought by the shells from the cohorn mortars. The rebels' total loss is said to have been at least 125 killed. Among the Colonial Forces the casualties were 11 killed and five seriously wounded.” [The killed included Captain D. M. Brown, of the A.C.]

In his History of the Early Days of Poverty Bay, p. 29, Colonel T. W. Porter says:

“Ropata allowed no time to elapse before he sent out pursuing parties upon the trail of the retreating enemy … Many prisoners were brought in, to the number of about 120 in all … As each detachment came in with its batch of prisoners, Ropata rather unsparingly ordered them for execution, particularly those known to be escapees from the Chatham Islands and those who had participated in the Poverty Bay Massacre. The place of execution was upon the verge of a cliff. There the prisoners were stripped, then ranged in line, and shot down by a firing party, the bodies falling over the cliff. The retribution lasted for three days.”

Lambert (Story of Old Wairoa, p. 560) is not less enterprising in his attempt to establish that a large number of the rebels were executed. He comments:

“After Ngatapa, as in former cases, a number of prisoners taken were allotted to the different chiefs for their safe custody. Among them, fifty were allotted to one, and with fatal results. Next morning there was heard in the European camp heavy firing, and a messenger was sent to ascertain the cause. It was then learned that the whole fifty had been taken out and shot by their custodians, their bodies being thrown over a cliff. The affair was hushed up, of course, but it cannot but have accentuated the trouble with the Hauhaus.”

A more modest estimate of the rebel losses after the fall of the pa is given by Gascoyne in Soldiering in New Zealand, p. 75:

“Presently,” he says, “two excited natives came to ask me if it were true that the Government had promised £5 per head for all Hauhaus caught. On my saying that I believed the offer was genuine, one of them slapped his thigh and remarked: ‘My word! I get some of that money!’ Sure enough, next morning he produced a sack with three heads in it, and his mate brought in a sack containing two heads. However, I do not think that many of the Hauhaus were caught, though one or two noted men were captured. A few women were overtaken, but their heads were not wanted. The following day … half a mile from Ngatapa, I noticed between 20 and 30 prisoners drawn up near the track. They seemed a fine lot of young men and I was told that they were to be shot. Afterwards I heard that the sentence had been carried out.”
page 280

In a dispatch to Defence Minister Haultain, Whitmore estimated the total rebel losses during, and after, the siege at “more than 120.”