Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Kaiuku and Its Starving Garrison—Sickly Children and Clay Used for Food—Barnet Burns on Kekeparaoa—A Blood—Curdling “Incident”—Taumata-a-Kura at Toka-a-Kuku—Testament in One Hand and Gun in the Other.
Shortly before the advent of the pioneer shore-traders in Poverty Bay, Mahia was the locale of a remarkable siege. Smith (Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, p. 327) describes the spot by the name “Puke-Karoro,” or “Kaiuku.” It is referred to by E. F. Harris as “Te Pukenui.” G. C. Ormond held that it was known as “Kurareinga.” The date given by Smith is 1824, whilst A. L. D. Fraser claimed that it was as late as 1832.
The real test as to the date is the year in which Hirini te Kani was a babe in arms. Whilst his mother was fleeing with him, they were captured during a skirmish some distance from the fort. In the Journal of the Polynesian Society for March, 1896, it is stated that Hirini had then reached the age of sixty-eight years. He died in the following July and, in the obituary notices, 1826 was given as the year of his birth. E. F. Harris held that the siege took place in 1829 or, maybe, a year earlier. It is not improbable that the date was 1828–9.
There is also considerable diversity on the question as to which tribes were involved. Smith suggests that the Urewera were the instigators and that they had for allies war parties of Ngati-Maru (Thames), Ngai-te-Rangi (Tauranga), Te Arawa (Rotorua), Ngati-Awa (Whakatane), Te Whakatohea (Opotiki) and Ngati-Whatua (Kaipara). On the other hand, E. F. Harris, G. C. Ormond, A. L. D. Fraser and others were positive that the attacking force was composed mainly of Ngati-Tuwharetoa (Taupo), under Heuheu, and Ngati-Raukawa, under Whatanui, together with Waikato and Urewera allies.
As to the tribes represented among the besieged, there is unanimity only on the point that Te Wera and his Ngapuhi followers were hemmed within the fort. However, some sections of the northern Ngati-Kahungunu aided them in its defence. Mr. Ormond informed the writer that his inquiries indicated that the southern Ngati-Kahungunu, who, in large numbers—some accounts say in thousands—were refuging on Mahia, stood aloof. It was his firm opinion that the besiegers' aim was to punish Te Wera and his Ngapuhi warriors for their action in intervening on behalf of the southern Ngati-Kahungunu when, earlier, their territory was being invaded.page 88
Associated with the besiegers was a pakeha who was called “John the Gossip” on account of the fact that he made a practice of going into the fort to have a yarn with the defenders. It is probable that he was Captain John R. Kent, who had married Tiria, a daughter of Te Wherowhero. In History of Hawke's Bay, it is stated, at page 98, that, when Te Wherowhero released the captives taken by Waikato after the fall of Pakake (1824), Tiria and her European husband accompanied them on their homeward journey, and that this European was the means by which the southern sections of Ngati-Kahungunu first obtained guns and powder.
It is not unlikely that “John” made it part of his business to report upon any weak spot in the defences of the fort. The besiegers also tried other tricks in order to win the day. On one occasion, they sent messengers to Te Wera, inviting him to fill the role of traitor. He was told that he and his followers would not be molested if they retired from the fort. The upshot was that the emissaries narrowly escaped being got ready for the hungry defenders' ovens.