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

How Te Kooti Gained a Pardon

How Te Kooti Gained a Pardon

As the Hall Government was anxious to obtain railway access through the King Country it set about to gain King Tawhiao's goodwill by placing on the Statute Book a measure enabling it to grant an amnesty to those who had committed crimes during the native troubles. There was an immediate outcry from Poverty Bay that Te Kooti should not be included in the proposed proclamation. Through the good offices of Rewi Maniapoto, the Hon. J. Bryce (Native Minister) saw Te Kooti at Manga-orongo in February, 1883, to ascertain whether he would appreciate being pardoned. Te Kooti, he reported, told him that he had ceased from strife and that he would never return to it. They then shook hands. A Gazette proclaiming a general amnesty was at once issued. The Governor (Sir W. F. D. Jervois), in a dispatch to the Home authorities (which was received “with much satisfaction”) stated that “it appeared to be most desirable that a line should be drawn between the past and the future.”

Rumours suggesting that Mr. Bryce's interview with Te Kooti had not run as smoothly as the former had claimed soon began to circulate. In Parliament, on 9 August, 1883, A. McDonald, M.H.R. for the East Coast, alleged that Te Kooti had warned Mr. Bryce in these words: “If you molest me, beware! What I have done in the past will be as nothing compared with what I will do in the future!” Mr. McDonald also said that Rewi Maniapoto had told Mr. Bryce that if a pardon had not been offered to Te Kooti he would have taken his side. When he began to narrate harrowing details concerning the Poverty Bay and Mohaka massacres, he was checked by Mr. Speaker. “If,” Mr. McDonald added, “these atrocities might be pardoned on the plea that they were committed during a rebellion, the same could not be said in regard to the wanton murder of Warihi on the journey from the Chatham Islands.”

Excitement and resentment attained fever pitch in Poverty Bay early in 1889 when, following upon a number of earlier “scares,” it was officially intimated that Te Kooti had definitely made up his mind to revisit the district. (He had passed through Wairoa on visits to Hawke's Bay in December, 1885, and in December, 1886). Whilst he was in Auckland, the Hon. E. Mitchelson (Native Minister) had called upon him at his hotel and had arranged to have him driven round the city in a Ministerial carriage to see the sights. The New Zealand Herald page 293 described the Minister's action as “reprehensible.” Te Kooti told Mr. Mitchelson that he had been invited to Poverty Bay to open a new meeting-house. It was pointed out to him that the Government could not guarantee his personal safety if he entered Poverty Bay. Te Kooti handed over his revolver as a token of good faith, but declined to reconsider the matter. The police in the districts through which he intended to pass were then instructed to arrest any person—European or native—whose conduct was likely to lead to a disturbance.

A public meeting to protest against Te Kooti being permitted to re-enter Poverty Bay was held at Makaraka on 18 February, 1889. It was attended by about 500 Europeans and natives. A. Graham, M.H.R., and J. Booth, R.M., were present. Hapi Kiniha said he had found that there was a general desire among Te Kooti's adherents that he should return. Sergeant Kiely's statement that Te Kooti and his followers had not been seen with arms at any time during the past two years did not prove reassuring. It was decided that, if the Government declined to take action, steps should be taken “to stop for all time the terrorism arising from his threatened visits”; that the Government should be asked to send 300 stands of arms; and that Major Ropata and his Ngati-Porou should be invited to co-operate. A Vigilance Committee was set up and a “Poverty Bay Defence Fund” was established.

Word was received from the Native Minister on 20 February that Te Kooti, with 200 followers, was nearing Whakatane and that he had written stating that he could not turn back, but that, “if, when crossing the bar, there is too heavy a sea, I will not go on.” It was added that no signs of arms had been seen among his party, which was to be augmented at Whakatane. Major Westrup wired to the leading newspapers throughout the colony, requesting them to insist “that the Government take the responsibility for keeping Te Kooti out of Poverty Bay, and, by so doing, obviate the necessity for the settlers compromising themselves by forcibly opposing his visit.”

It was reported in Gisborne on 21 February that Te Kooti's band, to the number of 250, “all mounted and many armed,” had reached Waioeka, a few miles inland from Opotiki. His followers were described as “native scum, full of bounce.” It was also stated that he was drinking heavily. That evening about 800 settlers and loyal natives met at Gisborne. The speeches were much on the lines of those which had been delivered at Makaraka. Ropata's arrival with a Ngati-Porou contingent did much to hearten the residents.

The next highlight was the arrival of the Premier (Sir Harry page 294 Atkinson), who made the Chandos Hotel, Ormond, his headquarters. He at once disbanded the Vigilance Committee. It came to his knowledge that J. G. (Jimmy) Wilson (who was on the staff of the Lands Department in Gisborne) had made a threat that, if Te Kooti came on to Poverty Bay, he would shoot him in the main street, no matter how numerous were his followers. Wilson was at once packed off, on promotion, to Christ-church!

On 23 February 40 Auckland Navals, 25 Ponsonby Navals, 11 Waitemata Navals, 15 police and 29 Volunteers were landed from Auckland at Ohiwa. Ninety members of the Permanent Artillery, a few members of the Torpedo Corps, together with a number of police, reached Gisborne from Wellington. Twenty Permanent Artillerymen, 30 Volunteers and 30 members of the A.C. were sent on by sea from Gisborne to Opotiki, and a batch of police, with Constable Farmer at their head, was posted at Motu bridge.

Two days later Premier Atkinson inspected a muster of 67 members of the Permanent Artillery (fully armed), under Captain Messenger; 65 members of the East Coast Hussars (with carbines only), under Captain Winter, who had with him Sergeant Sunderland and Acting-Sergeant Daly; 10 members of the A.C. (with revolvers and batons), under Sergeants Kiely and Bullen; and 35 Ngati-Porou, under Major Ropata, with whom were Lieutenants Hapi Kiniha and Wi Keiha. The O.C. was Major T. W. Porter, whose staff included Major McCredie, Captain Kenny and Lieutenant A. Wetherhead. Dr. Innes was appointed surgeon.