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

Chapter XXXIII — On Te Kooti's Trail

page 289

Chapter XXXIII
On Te Kooti's Trail

Expeditions Into Urewera Country—Rebels Descend on Tolaga Bay—Kereopa Caught and Executed—Te Kooti Escapes Into King Country—Rumpus Over Award of Pardon—Futile Bid to Re-enter Poverty Bay.

During 1870 and 1871 more strenuous efforts were made to capture Te Kooti and his followers. Contingents of East Coast, Hawke's Bay, Rotorua and Wanganui natives were utilised. Ropata and Porter led a Ngati-Porou force into the Urewera Country, via Wharekopae, in February, 1870. At Horoeka, Ropata's section captured Iharaira, one of the murderers of Bennett White, of Opotiki. The combined force then made a detour to Ohiwa, where it found a Wanganui contingent under Major Keepa (Kemp).

On 23 March both forces made an attack on Maraetai pa (near the junction of the Waioeka and Waipuna streams). Porter (History of the Early Days of Poverty Bay, p. 39) says that 25 rebels were killed (including 19 ex-Chatham Islands escapees, who were executed) and that 375 prisoners were taken. Other accounts give the enemy's losses as 19 slain and 73 taken prisoner. Most of the occupants of the pa were unarmed sympathisers with Te Kooti and had been lured there with their families in the belief that he intended to make it his permanent home.

When Ropata and Porter took another expedition into the Urewera Country in April, 1870, it journeyed via Hangaroa. Te Kooti and his band were then at Te Wera. All that was accomplished was that some sympathisers with the rebels were removed to the Waiapu. This expedition had been forestalled by a contingent of Mohaka and Northern Hawke's Bay natives under Ensign F. E. Hamlin and Lieutenant J. W. Witty, which had occupied Herrick's old camp at Onepoto, Lake Waikaremoana.

Witty took his section across the lake and drove Te Waru and his band through the bush into Motuahu pa, the so-called “Citadel of the Hills.” Hamlin's section then came on the scene and Te Waru's party crossed the lake and made off for Ruatahuna. Sir James Carroll—then only a 13-year-old lad—took part in the fighting and, for his gallantry, he was mentioned in dispatches, received a war medal and a grant of £50. The pa was razed, canoes broken up and crops destroyed. This expedition lasted only three months and cost only £3,000.

In July, 1870, Te Kooti, with between 40 and 50 followers, turned up in the vicinity of Tolaga Bay. For a time they camped page 290 at Waihapua, on Wigan. On the 26th they approached the township, but retired when they found that the redoubt (which stood on the north side of the Uawa River about 30 chains below the site of the present bridge) was defended by about 200 loyal natives. Among the refugees were Mr. and Mrs. A. Reeves and their infant son James, Mr. and Mrs. J. Meldrum, and Mr. and Mrs. E. Robson. Since the Poverty Bay Massacre, the settlers and loyal natives had made a practice of retiring to the pa each night and of posting sentries. The only results of the raid were that one loyal native was slain outside the pa, some sheep and pigs were stolen and a settler's whare was ransacked.

Major Westrup despatched Captain Porter and Captain Richardson, with a dozen European troopers and 80 natives, to Tolaga Bay. Heavy rain delayed the pursuit from that point for two days. En route to Arakihi ït was found that the rebels had again encamped at Waihapua. Plans were made to surround them on the following morning. Trooper J. Maynard claimed that he crept within 20 or 30 yards of Te Kooti, who was lying with his head in the lap of a woman, having his hair dressed. Just as he was about to fire, Captain Richardson, who was close behind him, forbade him. A friendly native then fired and Te Kooti and his followers dashed into the bush through the only gap that had been left in the cordon. A few days later Ropata, with 50 Ngati-Porou, took up the chase, going right through to Mangatu, but neither his force nor another under Captain W. H. Tucker (which had been sent direct to that district) saw anything of the rebels.

In November, 1870, a report reached Gisborne that Te Kooti had again raided Tolaga Bay and that some murders had been committed. Uawa natives who were attending a sitting of the Native Land Court left at once for their homes. W. Douglas Lysnar was informed, on what he regarded as reliable authority, that Te Kooti turned up one night during a tribal meeting and asked the native residents to intervene on his behalf with the authorities. As they declined to do so, he made a threat that he would return and punish them if it leaked out that he had been there. In any event, no slayings took place.

Kereopa Surprised

Kereopa was captured by Ropata's section of an expedition which he and Porter took into the Urewera Country, via Wairoa, in August, 1871. At Maungapohatu, Pukenui te Kereru (a Urewera chief) told Ropata that he was hiding at Manawaru (near the headwaters of the Whakatane River). Ropata divided his section into three groups, Wi Pere being made the leader of one page 291 of them. After a forced march, a party under Ruku Aratapu, which had a prisoner named Te Whiu (“The Whip”) for its guide, surprised Kereopa outside a whare. He fled towards the riverbank, but was overtaken by Te Whiu. An escort under Porter took him to Napier, where, on 21 December, 1871, he was found guilty of the murder of the Rev. C. S. Volkner at Opotiki in 1865. He was executed on 5 January, 1872. The reward of £1,000 for his capture was paid over by the Government on 24 November, 1871, and was divided among the members of both contingents—171 Ngati-Porou, 34 T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki and 15 Urewera. Ropata and Porter received £24 each, Te Whiu £10, Wi Pere and some others £5 each and the rest slightly under £5 apiece. In 1948 a descendant of Te Whiu petitioned Parliament for the full amount of the reward.

Loyalist forces were also employed in other directions in pursuit of Te Kooti, but this narrative is concerned only with the southern operations. A contingent under Major Pitt and Captain Ferris operated for some months between Whakapunake and Lake Waikaremoana. Ferris's section captured the notorious rebel Maaka Waikato. He was sentenced to death at Napier, but released after he had spent 10 years in prison. Anaru Matete, who had been in rebellion since 1865, gave himself up to Ferris, and, later, he was pardoned. Te Kooti's followers had now dwindled to a handful. Among many rumours that became current was one to the effect that Rewi Maniapoto intended to go to his aid. On 15 May, 1872, Te Kooti slipped out of the Urewera Country to Arowhenua (above Cambridge) and, next day, he was permitted by King Tawhiao to take up his residence at Te Kuiti.

Whilst Te Kooti was an outlaw between 1872 and 1883 he was visited, from time to time, by leading sympathisers from various districts. Areta Apatu implored him, in 1876, to remove a spell of witchcraft which, it was believed, hung over the Wairoa district. Shortly afterwards, he warned the natives at Onepoto that they would be destroyed by a pestilence if they did not leave their settlement for a month. He also warned his sympathisers in the Bay of Plenty that murders would occur if they sold any of their land.

As a number of Poverty Bay natives, including Wi Pere, had made visits to Te Kooti, a conference was held at Waerenga-a-Hika in August, 1878, to consider the matter. It was attended by sympathisers with the outlaw as well as by opponents. Tamati Rangituawaru expressed the belief that Te Kooti could prevent the young from becoming old, rejuvenate the aged, and even raise the dead. Hirini te Kani, Henare Potae, Wi Haronga, page 292 Rutene Te Eke and the Revs. Piwaka and Pahewa strongly condemned Te Kooti and, together with Archdeacon W. L. Williams and Captain Porter, urged those present that all intercourse with him should cease.

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.

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.”


Mr. Bush, R.M. at Opotiki (8/5/1888) likened the tours made to his district by Te Kooti to “visits by a horde of locusts.” “It will be a great pity,” he said, “if something cannot be done to prevent these page 297 large native gatherings, which simply mean that the native hosts are left to starve for the rest of the year.” During the Parliamentary session that year the Native Affairs Committee dealt with two petitions bearing upon Te Kooti's nefarious activities—one from some Bay of Plenty natives, who complained that his tours amounted to the levying of a kind of blackmail on the settlements which he visited, and the other from Hoani Ruru and 89 other natives who prayed, inter alia, that he should not be allowed to re-enter Poverty Bay.

The committee recommended that Te Kooti should be prevented from going through the country “living by systematic loafing, which succeeds on account of his menacing attitude”; held that his followers' practice of holding monthly meetings “estranged families, disturbed the general tranquillity and impoverished the people”; and advised the Government to take steps to put a stop to what was “a deliberate and crafty system of living on the resources of the thrifty and well-disposed sections of the natives.”


Major Ropata Wahawaha, N.Z.C., M.L.C., belonged to Aowera, a subtribe of Ngati-Porou. He was born at Te Puia “at the time of the second invasion by Ngapuhi” (circa 1820). In or about 1828 he was made a captive by Rongowhakaata, and became the prize of Rapata Whakapuhia, after whom he gained the forename “Rapata.” It was on account of Mr. McLean's pronunciation of “Rapata” as “Ropata” that it became changed His first marriage took place at Whakawhitira in 1839; he remarried at Turanganui in 1849. Ropata was acclaimed the greatest East Coast native war leader in post-pakeha times. He was presented with a Sword of Honour on 25 March, 1878. Prior to being elevated to the Legislative Council, he was in receipt of a Government pension. He died at Gisborne on 1 July, 1897, and was buried, with full military honours, at Wai-o-matatini. The handsome monument over his grave was erected by the Government.

Colonel Thomas William Porter, C.B. (born in India in 1844), was the son of an officer who served with the Bengal Native Infantry during the Indian Mutiny. He claimed descent, on his mother's side, from the ancient and aristocratic Roses of Kilravock Castle, Geddes, Nairnshire, and to be a nephew of Lord Strathnairn. He served as a middy on H.M.S. Hercules in raids against pirates on the coast of China in 1857–8, and then migrated first to Australia and then to New Zealand. In 1861–3 he was in the Wanganui Militia; in 1864, at. Mohaka; and, in 1865, was present at the Siege of Waerenga-a-Hika. Two years later he married Herewaka te Rangi-Paea, of Tokomaru Bay. He served with the A.C. at Ngatapa (1868); took part in the pursuit of Titokowaru in Taranaki (1869); and, with Ropata, engaged in several expeditions against Te Kooti in the Ure-wera Country (1870–2). He was in charge of the force which was sent to Opotiki in 1889 to prevent Te Kooti from paying a visit to Poverty Bay. For several years he was a Lands Purchase Officer on the East Coast, and, later, engaged in business at Gisborne. He was commander first of the Seventh New Zealand Contingent (1901) and then of the Ninth Contingent (1902) in the Boer War. A claim made in September, 1902, that he had succeeded to the Barony of Strathnairn was found to lack confirmation. When he retired from the Public Service in 1908 he was Acting Under-Secretary for Defence. He was the author of The History of the Early Days of Poverty Bay: Life and Times of Ropata Wahawaha. His second wife was Florence E. Sheppard, of Wellington. He died at Wellington on 12 November, 1920.

Captain Charles William Ferris (born in New South Wales in 1842) page 298 migrated to Dunedin in 1863. He served in the East Coast War; during the Te Kooti revolt; and afterwards in Taranaki, at Wairoa and at Lake Waikaremoana. His first wife was Keita Terapu, of Anaura. A son Charles (born in 1868) became noted for his disregard of danger in the exciting sport of harpooning sharks. In February, 1927, he gave a thrilling display of his fearlessness at Wainui in the presence of a large gathering. A full account of the daring episode appears in The Wide World Magazine (September, 1927). Wading into the sea up to his shoulders, he attracted the attention of some sharks by throwing pieces of stingray to them. Soon he was ringed by four of the monsters. He harpooned the largest, which was believed to be one that had been nicknamed “Kruger.” No time was lost by his helpers on shore in landing it by means of the rope attached to the harpoon. It was 10 ft. 3 in. long and weighed just over 400 lbs. One of Captain Ferris's grandsons (Lieutenant-Colonel James Ferris) was awarded the M.B.E. decoration. He served in the First Great War and during the 1939–45 conflict he held an important administrative post in New Zealand in connection with the Maori war effort. His death occurred in 1948. Captain Ferris, who resettled in New South Wales in 1911, died there in 1913.

Major C. Dean Pitt (son of Major-General George Dean Pitt, who served in the Peninsula War; became commander of the New Zealand Forces in 1847; was Lieutenant-Governor of New Ulster Province, 1848–51) had, prior to taking charge of the A.C. in Poverty Bay in 1870, served in the Waikato, Wanganui, Rotorua and Opotiki districts. After the Maori wars he engaged in mercantile pursuits in Gisborne. Captain W. T. Pitt (one of his sons) served in the Boer War and also on Gallipoli and died on 1 June, 1937.