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

Chapter XXXII — Poverty Bay Under Martial Law

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Chapter XXXII
Poverty Bay Under Martial Law

We Are Paralysed”—Native Suspect Slain in Cold Blood—Mohaka Massacre Intensifies Alarm—Reward of £1,000 Offered for Te Kooti, Dead or Alive.

Early in January, 1869, when he was about to leave Poverty Bay to resume the campaign against Titokowaru in Taranaki, Colonel Whitmore believed that Te Kooti had been so badly defeated at Ngatapa that it was most unlikely that he would ever again prove a menace. In a dispatch to the Government he went so far as to suggest that the arch-rebel might have been among the rebels whom the Ngati-Porou overtook and slew after the pa was found to have been abandoned. “At all events,” he added, “Te Kooti—defeated, twice wounded, a fugitive and failing in his prophecies—is not likely again to trouble the district, or even again to assemble a band of assassins, should he survive the hardships before him, or escape the vengeance of the Urewera, who will look upon him as an impostor.”

Nothing was heard of Te Kooti and his followers for over two months. They were believed to be in hiding in the very depths of the Urewera Country. In strict fact they had moved only a short distance from Ngatapa. At a secluded spot—called by the rebels “Koraha” and now known as “Te Kooti's Clearing” —Te Kooti established a base, and built up his attenuated force to 140. Raids were made upon several settlements on the Bay of Plenty coast in March, 1869. Then, partly with the object of putting the authorities off the scent, but mainly in order to gain additional recruits, Te Kooti moved over to Ruatahuna, where he was hospitably received by the Urewera. Some of them joined him then, and others subsequently.

With Te Kooti still a grave menace on the eastern side of the North Island, and Titokowaru in charge of a large slice of Taranaki, the Government greatly feared that the embers of disloyalty in other districts would burst into flame. All the Imperial regiments (except the 18th Royal Irish, which was stationed at Auckland) had already left the colony in pursuance of a request by the Weld Government in 1864. Governor Bowen had told the Duke of Buckingham (7/12/1868) “that many competent judges believe that the entire withdrawal of the Queen's troops may lead to a general rising throughout the North Island, and, possibly, to tragedies as dreadful as those of Poverty Bay and Cawnpore.” A reply came to hand to the effect that the Home authorities considered that the colonists should now be required page 282 to rely upon their own exertions for the internal defence of the colony. However, negotiations for the retention of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment were continued.

The risk that Te Kooti might make other raids was considered so great in Poverty Bay and at Wairoa that all the settlers and friendly natives were required to hold themselves in readiness to assist in repelling an attack. Some natives in each district continued to be held suspect; from time to time marauders were reported in various localities; and numerous “scares” proved very unsettling. Life in Poverty Bay in 1869 is vividly pictured in Colonel T. W. Porter's diary, which is now in the Alexander Turnbull Library (Wellington). Among the earliest items are the following:

January 16: Natives to furnish guard at courthouse alternately with Militia.
February 12: Temporary barracks at Makaraka finished.
March 8: Working party out in bush getting posts for palisading of stockade.
March 13: Reported fires seen in the ranges and scouting party sent out.
March 22: Militia parade at courthouse at 2 p.m.; Militia Act read.
March 27: Public meeting at Bradley's [Albion Hotel] to ask the R.M. re removal of Hauhau prisoners to a place of safety; to petition the Governor on the subject; and to take into consideration the present unprotected state of Poverty Bay.
March 29: Non-com. officer in charge of prisoners notified that he is to be held responsible that they hold no communication with other natives.
April 7: Reported that seven mounted armed men were seen [at Opou] driving sheep from Captain Harris's run—supposed to be Hauhaus.
April 8: It was ascertained that the men seen driving sheep were friendly natives out pig hunting.

Writing to Mr. McLean under date 17 February, 1869, Captain Harris said:

“We are paralysed. We cannot reinstate our homesteads. We dare not live inland. Shearing, owing to the inclemency of the weather, is still unfinished. We are obliged to keep together, and always to be armed.”

Early in 1869, the Home authorities learned from newspaper reports that the Government had offered a reward of £1,000 for the capture—it was inferred dead or alive—of Titokowaru (the Taranaki arch-rebel) and £5 for the person of every Taranaki rebel brought in alive. Earl Granville, in a dispatch (25/2/1869) said that he would not pronounce any opinion, on that occasion, as to the propriety of these steps, but he must observe “that they are so much at variance with the usual laws of war and appear, at first sight, so much calculated to exasperate and extend hostilities that they ought to have been reported page 283 to me officially with the requisite information, which I should now be glad to receive.”

Premier Stafford (in his rejoinder) stated that the report was true, as also the inference that the reward would be given for the body of Titokowaru, dead or alive. “It is now right to add,” he continued, “that a similar reward on the same terms has been offered for the body of Te Kooti, the leader of the outrages on the East Coast [also Kereopa] … Their atrocities are, happily, as exceptionable as the course adopted with a view to their punishment. But the offers in question are not without precedent in the history of the mutiny in India, and even of the Fenian outrages within the heart of the United Kingdom. Every atrocity of the Sepoy Rebellion has been, paralleled and outdone in the raids, burnings, violences, tortures, murders and cannibalism of the last nine months in New Zealand with less provocation or excuse.”

Short Shrift for Native Suspect

Bitter complaints arose in Poverty Bay when natives who, it was believed, had participated in the Massacre began to filter back. If some of the settlers had had their way all suspects would have been tried by court-martial and, if found guilty, summarily punished. Official inquiries were held from time to time, but the settlers felt that, if a suspect was related to a friendly chief, he could depend upon being given the benefit of even the most flimsy doubt. Ere long, on that account, a rumour gained currency that some of the settlers intended to take the law into their own hands.

Lynch law sealed the fate of one native suspect in March, 1869. Some former followers of Te Kooti (mostly women and children) had been rounded up in the back country and left overnight at Patutahi. Among them were Hemi te Ihoariki and Nikora. That evening William Benson, Captain Hardy and William Brown went to the pa and called these two men outside. Benson shot Ihoariki dead. Nikora was only slightly wounded and quickly slipped into a patch of scrub. “Look what you have let me in for!” Hardy excitedly complained to Benson, adding, “I have a good mind to shoot you!” W. L. Williams (East Coast, New Zealand, Historical Records, p. 67) says that nobody was called to account for the crime and that it would not have occasioned surprise if one or more Europeans had been slain in retaliation.

When this retributive murder took place Mr. Atkinson, R.M., was on a business visit to the Coast. Upon his return he ordered an inquest to be held. According to a story which went the page 284 rounds of the press, Benson was accosted by a policeman, who told him that he was required to serve on the jury.

“In vain (it was averred) did Benson try to persuade the constable that he could not honestly act as a juryman, seeing that it was he who had slain the ex-rebel. However, ‘the limb of the law’ would not allow himself to be thwarted by such a trifling excuse, and he hurried Benson off to the jury-room. Benson was perfectly frank with the coroner and his fellow-jurymen; but, in turn, they, too, would not listen to his plea that he should be excused from serving. The intelligent and impartial jury at once brought in their verdict: ‘Shot by some person unknown and served him right.’ And with this verdict not a single pakeha resident of Poverty Bay disagreed!”

Massacre at Mohaka

A thrill of horror spread through the East Coast districts when it was learned that Te Kooti and his band had crept down from Ruatahuna, slipped past a force of Ngati-Pahauwera stationed, under Ihaka Whaanga, close to Lake Waikaremoana, and on Saturday, 10 April, 1869, had swooped down upon Mohaka, a small settlement 20 miles south of Wairoa. On the north side of the river there were two pas—the main one, Hiruharama (Jerusalem) on a terrace, and Te Huiku, a small one, on the edge of a cliff. Captain John Sim's hotel and the homes of the Lavins, Coopers and Riddlers stood on the southern side. Most of the male natives were away with Ihaka Whaanga's force. The raiders slew some of the Europeans and natives at, or near, their homes. They then ransacked the hotel, store and houses. As the defences of the smaller pa were very weak they broke into it. A few of the inmates got away by scaling a wall at the rear. Those who were captured were butchered. The pa was set on fire. Steps were then taken to invest the main pa, but it was nobly defended by some old men, supported by the women.

News of the raid reached Wairoa a few hours after it had begun. Captain Spiller at once assembled a relief force, but Major Withers, who hurriedly returned from Frasertown, cancelled the order that it should march to Mohaka, because he feared that it might be required for the defence of Wairoa. Next day, Ihaka Whaanga's force arrived and proceeded cautiously towards the stricken settlement. It was followed by a small Wairoa contingent. The tragedy became known at Napier on the Sunday and, next day, a relief force, consisting of both foot and mounted troops, was despatched. During Tuesday's march the infantry were halted and the cavalry went on alone under Major Richardson. Meantime, Ihaka Whaanga's force had relieved the main pa. Trooper Rowley (George) Hill's bravery in entering the pa ahead of the friendlies and aiding in its defence earned for him the New Zealand Cross.

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The chief pakeha victims were the members of the Lavin family. When the three children were attacked they were sailing a toy boat in a shallow backwash of the river close to their home. A few yards from the spot searchers came across the body of a four-year-old boy. Just a little nearer to the house lay the body of the six-year-old lad. The body of the eldest boy, who was about eight years old, was found still closer to the home. His hand still clutched the little boat. In a patch of scrub on the hillside lay the bodies of the parents. Lavin had his arm around his wife; he had emptied his revolver. How they had come by their deaths could be only a matter for conjecture. An elderly man in their employ was found slain near the cowbail. Even the cow and a chained-up dog had been killed. Mr. Cooper and between 40 and 50 natives were also slain.

Gisborne and its Garrison

When the shocking news reached Poverty Bay steps were at once taken to augment the measures for the protection of the settlers. Further extracts from Colonel Porter's diary follow:

  • April 13: O.C. of the Armed Constabulary to furnish till further orders one non-com, and four troopers for patrolling outskirts of the settlement and to parade at 4.30. Outlying piquet of one non-com, and six troopers to parade every night at 5 o'clock. Immediately after mounting, they are to see that no boats or canoes remain on either side of either branch [Waimata or Taruheru] of the [Turanganui] River above usual crossing place. A double sentry is to be placed at such spot as may be directed by the orderly officer.

  • April 15: W. King has completed contract and extra work at blockhouse. [Built of kauri and sheet iron, this blockhouse stood at the corner of Childers Road and Peel Street, i.e., approximately on site of the present (1949) police station. It was sold by public auction on 5 May, 1876, to W. Milner for £20.]

  • April 19: Volunteers called to dig trench from courthouse [N.E. corner of Gladstone Road and Lowe Street] to blockhouse. Notice to be given to Europeans and natives not to remain on the point at the junction of the rivers after nightfall. Notice to Europeans and natives in case of alarms, etc., appointing a rendezvous. Blockhouse to be defended by its present garrison.

  • April 20: Fancy to have seen smoke in the direction of Whareongaonga; could not be positive. Smoke shortly afterwards seen at Muriwai. Trench from blockhouse to courthouse sufficiently far advanced to enable people to cross to blockhouse under cover from an enemy's fire.

  • April 22: Working party in bush as usual. Slight alarm caused by Ra Mackey imagining himself to have been shot at whilst in the vicinity of Makauri bush.

  • April 23: Twenty men on foot and four mounted A.C. to proceed to-morrow at 7 a.m. to Makauri bush; Mackey to go as guide.

  • April 28: W. King commences defences of courthouse (including chevaux de frise).

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  • April 30: P.B.M.R. Volunteers are to furnish one non-com, and six troopers for guard; sentries to be posted, one outside the stockade and one inside. P.B. Militia are to furnish detail of one non-com. and six privates nightly; three men for guard on the bank of the river at the rear of the courthouse; the remainder for patrol duty. This detail is to parade at 9 p.m. and remain on duly till 6 a.m.

  • May 1: In case of alarm or attack on defences, the garrison at the blockhouse, with the exception of 10 men (who will defend it) will man the walls, 8 being placed on the flanking angle. The sergeant-major will see that there are never less than 20 Europeans, exclusive of the guard, garrisoning the courthouse from 9 p.m. till 6 a.m.

  • May 4: Reports having reached the O.C. that the sentries at blockhouse frequently allow armed parties within dangerous proximity to their posts, both sentries at the blockhouse will be posted outside the stockade after dark, one fully 30 yards in front of the other, by the ditch [trench].

  • May 11: Non-com. officers on guard at courthouse and blockhouse will be held responsible if any Maori woman is admitted inside the defences.

  • May 12: The O.C. expressly forbids anyone, whether European or native, to be outside the lines after dark without a special pass.

  • May 15: Sentry at courthouse challenged someone this night going down the road towards his post at a canter. The party turned and fled.

  • May 16: Sentry challenged someone in same manner as last night, with the exception that the sentry fired, but with no result.

  • May 17: The whole of the native contingent, militia and troops, struck off pay. The O.C. is pleased to express to the Volunteers, militia and native contingent the lively satisfaction he feels at the manner in which the officers and men have succeeded in carrying out their duties at this camp, it being a rare occurrence for such goodwill to exist in other districts, where the forces have been tried out for active service.

  • July 22: Blockhouse doors to be closed at 9 o'clock and none of the garrison to absent themselves without leave. Any dereliction will be severely punished. Orders and instructions in case of alarm or surprise written out and posted up about township.

  • July 23: Order book taken round to the outsettlers of the township and instructions in case of alarm or surprise read out to the occupants.

  • August 18: Padlock on door of magazine at the blockhouse found broken and ammunition missing.

  • August 25: Meeting of inhabitants to undertake voluntary patrol by men off pay; 24 volunteered.

  • August 27: Fatigue party levelling site for gun fort; walls and breastwork commenced. [The cannon, which was named “Big Ben,” was returned to Wellington in 1872.]

  • September 10: Scouts went to look over the lake country [Waihau] by Te Reinga. Reports to hand of fires having been seen and dogs having been heard barking at Tarewa and at Hangaroa River, distant about 25 miles from Turanganui; orderly sent to warn outsettlers.

  • September 14: Fires seen at about 4 a.m. in hills in direction north of Makaretu. P.B.M.R. Volunteers started out on expedition at 7 a.m., provided with rations for two days.

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  • September 23: Ropata requested to leave 20 men here, but declined to leave less than 50—not accepted.

  • October 31: Troopers sent out on expedition in the direction of Ngatapa. An expedition returned from Waikohu about noon, with nothing unusual to report.

  • November 8: Men out scouting in the direction of Waikohu.

  • December 7: Ngati-Porou arrived in eight canoes.

  • December 15: Rumour at Tauranga that Te Kooti has attacked at Wairoa (emanating from natives).

  • December 22: A.C. marched out to Government Paddock [Makaraka] there to take up quarters and build redoubt.

  • December 28: Report in from Muriwai that the Hauhaus have commenced hostilities at Wairoa.

A mixed force of about 800 men, including 350 Armed Constabulary, was stationed, under Lieutenant-Colonel Herrick, at Onepoto (Lake Waikaremoana) in May, 1869. Two pontoons, each 40 ft. by 10 ft. and capable of carrying a six-pounder Armstrong gun, were constructed. The lines of communication with Wairoa were guarded by a native force under Lieutenant Witty. Some weeks later, Herrick's force was withdrawn, probably because Te Kooti was now giving that locality a wide berth. Not a shot had been fired. The pontoons and a whaleboat were sunk in case they might be needed for any future operations. This abortive expedition cost £42,000.

General Rising Feared

On 4 August, 1869, a further appeal was made to the Home Government by Governor Bowen to allow the 18th Royal Irish Regiment to remain at Auckland. In a dispatch to Lord Lyttelton he stated that the rebels were nearly as numerous as, but more experienced and ferocious than, they had been when an army of 10,000 Imperial troops had utterly failed to subdue them. If the Maoris realised that the colonists were being abandoned by the Mother Country, there would be massacres like those of Poverty Bay and Cawnpore all over the East and West Coasts of the North Island.

Mr. Whitaker had, he continued, advised him that there would be no chance of effectual resistance if from 1,000 to 2,000 Maoris were to march on Auckland from the Waikato—the houses would be burned, the women violated, and a general flight or massacre would ensue. It was with grief and sorrow he had learned that public opinion was fast setting in towards separation from England. [On 23 June, 1869, W. H. Harrison (Westland Boroughs) stated in Parliament that H. Driver (the member for Roslyn and Consul for the United States) was prepared to make overtures for the acquisition of the colony by the United States, one condition being that the rebellion should be subjugated with American aid. Premier Stafford said that he had no reason to page 288 suppose that it was at all probable that such an offer would be made.]

The rebels spent the remainder of 1869 in the Urewera Country and around Lake Taupo. They were encountered on over a dozen occasions by pursuing forces which had entered the arena in columns from various directions. Colonel Whitmore took the field with the northern columns. By October, 1869, the Taupo area was practically cleared.


Prior to the opening of the campaign in 1869 Colonel Whitmore told the Government that he favoured the employment of Australian black trackers in the pursuit of the rebels. Defence Minister Haultain held that scouts would be more valuable. Black trackers, he considered, would prove too timid as scouts. Colonel Cracroft Wilson, C.B., suggested that a force consisting of one British regiment and two regiments of Gurkhas should be procured and placed under an officer who had served in India. This proposal was also turned down.


William Benson (born at Leeds in 1840) joined Major Jackson's company of No. 1 Forest Rangers at Auckland and took part in the fighting in the Waikato in 1863–4. He then went as a volunteer under Major von Tempsky to Wanganui and assisted in the relief of Pipiriki. In 1865 he fought in the East Coast War, and, in 1868–9, served in the engagements which were brought about by the Te Kooti revolt. He was reputed to be a man who could not be trifted with. In June, 1873, he was accused by Captain Read of having threatened to shoot him, and was bound over to keep the peace. He died at Ormond on 26 April, 1911. Three of his brothers—Frederick, Henry and Edwin—also settled in Poverty Bay.