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

Were Interception Proceedings Justified?

Were Interception Proceedings Justified?

In Parliament, in September, 1868, members were afforded full opportunity to discuss whether Biggs did right in intervening when the rebels returned. Mr. Rolleston argued that the rebels were to be commended in that, when they regained their freedom, they did not give way “to the passions that would have characterised a Sheffield or a Birmingham mob,” and that Biggs's action had changed them from “crusaders who might have gone through the country diffusing a feeling of loyalty amongst the tribes” to “firebrands ready to kindle rebellion wherever they went.” In turn, Mr. McLean stressed the fact that the rebels, upon their return, “got the idea that they could defy us,” and that they were now looking for protection to the Urewera, who, at Orakau, had used those memorable words “Ake! Ake!”—that they would never yield till death. Premier Stafford said:

“It might have been better not to have attempted the recapture of the ex-prisoners. But it was one of those cases in which the Government had no discretion, as initiatory steps had been taken, before it had heard of their escape, by Biggs and Westrup … Our instructions when we heard that the ex-prisoners had landed were to induce them to surrender by telling them that nothing would be visited against them with relation to the past, except such as might, when leaving the Chatham Islands, have committed any atrocity; the rest would be unconditionally pardoned. But events accumulated from time to time, and, before we knew anything of it, the escaped prisoners had attacked the settlers.”

The cudgels were taken up in defence of Major Biggs by the Hon. J. C. Richmond (Hansard, 1869, p. 198):

“I wish to say a few words,” he said, “with respect to the slander affecting Major Biggs which found its way into the English press and which has been half adopted in official dispatches from Home. It has been stated that the Chatham Island prisoners were a most peaceful and quiet people; that their minds were possessed of a new and very spiritual religion; and that, if they had only been left to their own devices, they would have done no harm to anybody … A passage in Te Kooti's journal—a curious little book which I obtained at Ngatapa—will show the temper of that remarkable man … It says: ‘My wrath against the tribe which has destroyed my tribe is unchangeable. I will destroy them from the parents unto the children. I will not cease for ever.’ That passage shows a spirit not altogether of a peaceful character, and I think that, viewed in the light of subsequent events, it shows that there was mischief in the mind of this man.”

Mr. Richmond added that he had just received a note from Archdeacon W. L. Williams which tended to remove any sort of charge upon the memory of Major Biggs that impetuosity and page 244 pugnacity were really at the bottom of his attempt to intercept and recapture Te Kooti and his band. The note stated: “There is no question but that these people meant to do mischief when they landed. All the really friendly natives in Poverty Bay, as well as the Europeans, were thoroughly convinced of this. The hostile attitude which the rebels assumed from the first—before anyone attempted to molest them—can be explained in no other way. Poor Biggs had a very difficult part to play, and, whatever mistakes he may have made afterwards, he had no other course open to him but to use such means as he had in his power to prevent Te Kooti and his party from coming into Poverty Bay.”