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

Alleged Incriminating Message

Alleged Incriminating Message

Cowan (The New Zealand Wars) says that what brought about Te Kooti's undoing was an incriminating letter which he wrote to the noted rebel, Anaru Matete, and which fell into the hands of the authorities when they captured the messenger. The missive, it is stated, contained secret information to the effect that Captain Westrup was about to move some troops from Poverty Bay towards Te Reinga to co-operate with a force from Wairoa under Major Fraser in rounding up the Hauhaus who had fled from the pa at Waerenga-a-Hika before it was surrendered.

Te Kooti's letter, it is averred, contained the words: “Wednesday is the day and Te Reinga is the place.” According to Cowan, the authorities reckoned that the cipher-like message was a valuable hint to Matete as to where and when Westrup's force might be taken by surprise. It is also stated that five times as many cartridges as a loyal native was entitled to have in his possession were found upon the messenger. A like story was told by Colonel Porter, Captain Preece and others.

An explanation which Te Kooti offered in 1889 to James Mackay (Government Agent in the Waikato), and which appeared in the New Zealand Herald, is interesting, even although he did not divulge the nature of the charge of spying which, he says, was made against him before he was exiled. It states:

“Shortly after the fight at Waerenga-a-Hika, Captain Read and some others trumped up a case against me of horse-stealing. I was brought before the magistrate, but the charge was dismissed. It was then said that I was a Hauhau and a spy for the Hauhaus. Captain Read used his influence against me, and I was made a military prisoner and sent to Napier. There I saw Sir Donald McLean and appealed to him, but he would not listen to me. He said: ‘Send him away with the rest to the Chatham Islands!’ I went there very pouri [angry], as I had been unjustly treated, after fighting for the Europeans. Captain Read instigated it all to prevent my hurting his trade with the natives. He was always jealous of me …”

Te Kooti died on “Wainui”—a 600-acre block, about 10 miles west of Opotiki and adjacent to Ohiwa Harbour—on 17 April, 1893. This property had been placed at his disposal by the Crown. He had been on a visit to Ruatoki, and his party had decided to page 304 camp at Maraetotara. Feeling un-well, he wrapped himself in a rug and lay down. Some dogs began to fight and collided with, and set in motion, a dray which had been left, without a wheel being chained, on a slope above his resting-place. A wheel passed over him, crushing his chest.

Various stories went into circulation concerning the burial, but in all of them it was stressed that it had been carried out secretly. In May, 1902, Hamiora Aparoa told the Opotiki Herald that only he and two other members of the Ringatu Church knew the exact burial spot, and that it had been agreed that, upon the death of any of the trio, the survivors should select a successor to him, and that that procedure should continue for all time. Rikirangi Hohepa informed the Poverty Bay Herald in August, 1938, that he was the sole survivor of a party of four which carried out the burial, and that the grave had never been disturbed. In April, 1948, it was announced, at the close of a tribal meeting at Gisborne, that hostility on the part of Lady Carroll's relatives to the removal of the remains to Poverty Bay had, at last, been abandoned. So far (1949) the matter has remained in abeyance.

A memorial, which was erected by members of the Ringatu faith to Te Kooti, bears an inscription, in Maori, to the following effect:

In Memory of Te Kooti Rikirangi
Prophet and General
Who died on the 17th day of April, in the
year 1893; aged 79 years.
He was a Chief and a Hero.
He displayed great gallantry in great battles
fought in Aotearoa (the North Island of New Zealand).
The Government made peace with him and gave him
and his people some land; and also confirmed
his religion (known as the “Ringatu”).
These matters were settled and fully confirmed
In the presence of the Native Minister in the year 1883.

To Kooti's age, at the time of his death, was, probably, not above 63 years. His mother died at Whakato (Poverty Bay) in 1890, at the age of 79 years. She was very proud of her son; indeed, so fulsome was her praise of him that she had aroused disfavour on the part not only of her European neighbours, but also of many of the natives. According to the Gisborne Standard, she had become almost an outcast.” A tangi will not be troubled about in the case of poor old Heni,” it added.