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

Expedition to Opotiki

Expedition to Opotiki

Early on the morning of 26 February, the troops moved off, en route to Opotiki. More outback families came into Gisborne that day. The troops spent the night on Lorne station and, next day, reached Opotiki, where, according to one “war correspondent,” they were received by the local natives “with an affability marked by sarcasm.”

The dispatching of the expedition became the subject of ridicule on the part of some metropolitan journals. One suggested that the whole affair was “only an advertising stunt.” The Evening Post (Wellington) said: “The best thing that can be done is to explain to the silly and excited settlers of Poverty Bay that … condign punishment will follow any illegal or violent action.” The New Zealand Times (Wellington) warned the settlers in these terms: “If anybody kills Te Kooti he will be arrested for murder, tried in a place where there will be an impartial jury, and, if convicted, he will be hanged without mercy.”

page 295

From Opotiki the expedition moved off to Waioeka pa. Its occupants proved to be mostly women and children. Accompanied by Police-Inspector Goodall and a squad of police, it then went to Waiotahi pa. Te Kooti and four of his wives were found resting under some trees. His followers were lolling about. There was no sign of arms. Much adverse criticism was afterwards heaped upon Wi Pere because he displayed a friendly attitude towards Te Kooti. It was his tribe—T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki—which had invited the ex-rebel leader to visit Poverty Bay. He advised Te Kooti to make a request that he should be permitted to return to Otewa.

Te Kooti told Porter that he wished to communicate with the Native Minister, and that, meantime, he would agree to remain under police surveillance. However, the inspector insisted upon taking immediate action. Producing the warrant, he read the charge: “That together with divers persons to the number of 250 or more he (Te Kooti) unlawfully did assemble to disturb the public peace to the terror and alarm of Her Majesty's subjects residing in Whakatane County.” It was Goodall's desire that the Hussars should be advanced in support of the police. Porter considered such a step quite unnecessary.

The Gisborne Standard says that Goodall then intimated that, if necessary, he was prepared to use force to effect the arrest. Porter retorted: “And where will you get it from?” At that moment the Ngati-Porou, who had marched round to the back of the pa, could be seen entering it. The inspector then said that, if it became necessary, he would invoke Ropata's aid. “The Ngati-Porou,” added the Standard, “would have considered it a labour of love if they had been required to carry out any such order. At this stage, however, Porter said that Te Kooti had told him that he would go at once.”

Those city newspapers which had regarded the dispatching of the expedition as unnecessary—more especially in view of reports that Te Kooti was “on the drunk” at Opotiki—now broke out in a humorous vein. The Otago Witness remarked:

“Whilst the warlike spirit was rising to a climax in Poverty Bay, whilst the munitions of war were being hurriedly got together for a great emergency, and whilst offers to serve were coming in from all parts of the colony, Te Kooti was lightly drinking the bottle to the dregs, preparatory to hiccoughing his way back to the King Country. History does not give any other instance of a campaign closing and a gallant army having to return through finding the enemy drunk!”

Mr. Bush, R.M., bound Te Kooti over to keep the peace for six months—accused in the sum of £500 and two sureties of £500 each. As Te Kooti could not obtain sureties in Opotiki, page 296 he was taken to Auckland and lodged in Mount Eden gaol. Sureties were then arranged for him by Kihirini Reniti and Hamiora Maungakahia. In the Supreme Court, on an appeal, Mr. Bush's decision was upset by Mr. Justice Connolly, who, whilst not doubting the wisdom behind the magistrate's views, held that the conviction was not legally justified. Te Kooti then threatened to sue the Crown for £20,000 damages on the ground that he had been unlawfully imprisoned. However, the Court of Appeal, in turn, reversed Mr. Justice Connolly's judgment.

“Twenty years ago,” remarked Mr. Justice Richmond, one of the members of the Bench, “Te Kooti might have been truly described as a bloodthirsty savage. He had committed in the district he was proposing to visit the worst atrocities of Maori warfare in an attack upon the people in their own homes. Neither sex nor age had been spared. His acts have left behind them bitter hatred and absolute disgust. A belief on the part of many natives that he possesses supernatural powers makes him doubly dangerous. He claims to be a Maori prophet, and is a drunken one to boot… If actual evil reputation is to be considered, it may safely be said, on the evidence before us, that no other man in the country has a worse name than Te Kooti… The Governor's pardon cannot change a man's character, nor can it efface recollections of the past. Te Kooti's reappearance on the scene of the Massacre, even in peaceful guise, at the head of a large body of men could not be regarded otherwise than as endangering lives and properties.”

Premier Atkinson informed Parliament that the colony unquestionably had been near to bloodshed. Major Ropata had told him at Gisborne that some of the loyal Maoris had threatened that, if Te Kooti revisited Poverty Bay, they would shoot him. The Hauhaus there believed that the Government could not prevent Te Kooti from returning and that his old influence was about to be restored. Cheers broke out when he added that the result might have been disastrous if Te Kooti had not been halted.

Whilst the new Native Minister (Mr. Cadman) was visiting Otorohanga on 7 April, 1891, Te Kooti told him that he hoped that no obstacle would now be set up to prevent him from making a visit to Poverty Bay. Very diplomatically, Mr. Cadman replied that, under the law, Te Kooti was as free as anybody else to move about the country. Personally, he did not fear that Te Kooti would break the law, but he did fear that, if he entered Poverty Bay, some European might do so. The Government, he added, was anxious only to prevent such a thing. Te Kooti then said: “I will now give up all thought of going to Gisborne out of respect for the wishes of the Government.”