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

Short Shrift for Native Suspect

Short Shrift for Native Suspect

Bitter complaints arose in Poverty Bay when natives who, it was believed, had participated in the Massacre began to filter back. If some of the settlers had had their way all suspects would have been tried by court-martial and, if found guilty, summarily punished. Official inquiries were held from time to time, but the settlers felt that, if a suspect was related to a friendly chief, he could depend upon being given the benefit of even the most flimsy doubt. Ere long, on that account, a rumour gained currency that some of the settlers intended to take the law into their own hands.

Lynch law sealed the fate of one native suspect in March, 1869. Some former followers of Te Kooti (mostly women and children) had been rounded up in the back country and left overnight at Patutahi. Among them were Hemi te Ihoariki and Nikora. That evening William Benson, Captain Hardy and William Brown went to the pa and called these two men outside. Benson shot Ihoariki dead. Nikora was only slightly wounded and quickly slipped into a patch of scrub. “Look what you have let me in for!” Hardy excitedly complained to Benson, adding, “I have a good mind to shoot you!” W. L. Williams (East Coast, New Zealand, Historical Records, p. 67) says that nobody was called to account for the crime and that it would not have occasioned surprise if one or more Europeans had been slain in retaliation.

When this retributive murder took place Mr. Atkinson, R.M., was on a business visit to the Coast. Upon his return he ordered an inquest to be held. According to a story which went the page 284 rounds of the press, Benson was accosted by a policeman, who told him that he was required to serve on the jury.

“In vain (it was averred) did Benson try to persuade the constable that he could not honestly act as a juryman, seeing that it was he who had slain the ex-rebel. However, ‘the limb of the law’ would not allow himself to be thwarted by such a trifling excuse, and he hurried Benson off to the jury-room. Benson was perfectly frank with the coroner and his fellow-jurymen; but, in turn, they, too, would not listen to his plea that he should be excused from serving. The intelligent and impartial jury at once brought in their verdict: ‘Shot by some person unknown and served him right.’ And with this verdict not a single pakeha resident of Poverty Bay disagreed!”