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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter LVI. — The Taupo Campaign. — The Massacre of Colonel St John's Escort At Opepe. Te Kooti's Visit to the Waikato and Return to Lake Taupo

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Chapter LVI.
The Taupo Campaign.
The Massacre of Colonel St John's Escort At Opepe. Te Kooti's Visit to the Waikato and Return to Lake Taupo.

Te Kooti received intelligence of Colonel Whitmore's attack upon Ruatahuna, while resting at Waikare Moana after his Mohaka raid. He at once sent forward 100 men, under Paerau and Peka, and this party arrived in time to follow the columns in their retreat. Te Kooti and the main body arrived later, but had not the satisfaction of fighting the Pakeha. The active ruffian had, however, no intention of remaining quiet, but marched at once for Heruiwi, an old native village on the edge of the Main Bush, overlooking the Taupo plains. This position enabled him to watch the movements of the Pakeha, and choose his opportunity to cross the Kaingaroa plain on his long deferred visit to Te Heuheu, at Tokanu, and King Tawhiao, at Tokangamutu. While at this place, two troopers of the Bay of Plenty Cavalry, carrying despatches from Colonel St. John, attempted to pass through the village. They were seen and waylaid by the Hauhaus. One of them was shot, his body tied to his horse and started loose on the Kaingaroa plain; the other man escaped minus his horse, and returned to Fort Galatea, when he found that Colonel St. John, with an escort of troopers, had left for Taupo.

On the following morning, Te Kooti and his party left for Taupo, and on the 7th of June came in sight of Opepe. The notorious Peka led the advanced guard, and was astonished to see smoke rising from the deserted whares, as they had not anticipated meeting anyone at this place.

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Word was sent back to Te Kooti, who ordered some of his men to saunter up to the whares and pretend that they were Arawas, while the main body crept up one of the numerous ravines which intersect this part of the country, and cut the people off from the bush. The orders were well carried out. The Hauhaus walked up to the unsuspecting men, who proved to be a party of the Bay of Plenty Cavalry, acting as escort to Colonel St. John, while that officer inspected the various positions in Taupo with a view to future occupation. The escort were somewhat startled by the sight of these armed natives, but were reassured by their calling out and saluting them in Maori fashion "Tena koutou," and more still, by the Opotiki troopers recognising among them some of the Opotiki tribe, who said they belonged to the Arawa contingent. Others said they were Taupo natives, who had come to ascertain who it was occupying Opepe. During this conversation the Hauhaus had gradually got between the troopers and their arms, which had been foolishly left in the whares. One or two of the men, who seem to have had doubts as to the character of their visitors, seeing other Maories coming out of the bush in skirmishing order, tried to get at their weapons, but were stopped by the Hauhaus, who, having no further need of concealment, commenced the massacre. Nine troopers were killed immediately, but Serjeant Dette, with Troopers Leary and Stephenson, succeeded in getting into the bush and escaped, arriving at Port Galatea, forty miles away, on the following day, when they informed Colonel Fraser of the almost total destruction of their party.

Cornet Smith, who was in command of the escort, escaped also, though severely wounded, and managed to reach Galatea some days after the attack. Colonel St. John, Major Cummins, Captain Moorsom, Lieutenant Clark, and an orderly, had left only a few hours previously to visit Pohipio Kainga at Tapuaeharuru, and thus escaped the fate of their escort. The first intima-page 302tion they had of the massacre was from, the Messrs. Hallet, who left Tapuaeharuru later on the same day, en route for Napier. On reaching Opepe they saw the half-naked bodies of two men lying near the track, and without waiting to see more, galloped back and informed Colonel St. John of the circumstance. That officer proceeded at once with a party of Maories to look for the bodies, and found nine. He then went on to Galatea, hoping to overtake or send help to those who had escaped, as they had neither food nor blankets, a serious thing on the Taupo plains in winter, where the thermometer frequently falls below freezing point. Meanwhile Te Kooti, satisfied with his doings, for he had taken all the arms and ammunition of the party, continued his march to Waitahanui, where he camped. On the following day he reached Te Hatepe, and found a decrepit old man named Hona living there; Te Kooti wished to protect him, but the Uriwera took the first opportunity of shooting him. This act did Te Kooti more harm than anything he had previously done, for Hona, insignificant as he appeared, was a near relative of the great Wanganui chief, Topia Turoa, who eventually took revenge by influencing the King party against Te Kooti, and by taking the field with 350 men in the campaign that forced him back to his fastnesses in the Uriwera country, with the loss of four-fifths of his men. Te Kooti's influence was soon supreme in Taupo; the well-disposed men, like Hare Tauteka and Paora Hapi, withdrew from the lake, but Te Heuheu, Paurini, Whiripo, and Matuahu joined him at once.

When Te Kooti felt himself firmly established in Taupo, he selected 300 men of various tribes as an escort to accompany him on his long deferred visit to Waikato. Several chiefs of note followed in his train, among them Hakaraia, of Tauranga notoriety, Paerau, of the Uriwera, and Te Waru. Waikato received due notice of the intended visit, and assembled at Tokangamutu to do their guest honour. On Te Kooti's arrival at that place, he page 303went to the quarters of the Ngatimaniapoto tribe, and was received most enthusiastically by Rewi Manga and his people; but Waikato proper held aloof until Rewi sent messengers, asking them to visit his guest. Five hundred of them responded to the invitation, and brought presents of dried fish and flour. When they arrived within a short distance of the village, Te Kooti ordered his men to load with ball cartridge and fire over the heads of his visitors; this extraordinary proceeding startled and enraged Waikato to such an extent, that they threw down their intended presents, and declared that they would fight Te Kooti on the following clay. This threat they did not carry out, but held carefully aloof. Te Kooti wasted a week waiting for Waikato to get over their anger, but as they carefully ignored his presence, he had to be contented with the support of Rewi and Ngatimaniapoto, a few of whom, with their chief, accompanied him on his return to Lake Taupo, in the firm belief that they should witness the utter destruction of the Pakehas and their allies, the friendly natives, against whom Te Kooti nourished a deadly hatred. It was this movement on the part of Te Kooti and Rewi that induced the Government to withdraw the force from Waikare Moana and concentrate them at Taupo, as it was clear that any reverse suffered by us in that district would convert Rewi and his tribe into active allies of Te Kooti, instead of passive spectators, as they then were.

In pursuance of these designs, Lieutenant-Colonel Herrick, with 180 men of the armed constabulary, marched to Runanga, at the entrance to the Taupo plains, and erected a strong stockade, which it was intended should be the depot from whence the field force should be supplied. Other posts nearer Napier had been taken up for the same purpose, viz., Titiokura, Te Haroto, and Tarawera. At Runanga, Herrick was joined by Paora Hapi and forty men of the Ngatiterangiita tribe, and a few days after, Henare Tomoana and 120 Napier Maories joined the force.

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This reinforcement enabled Colonel Herrick to take the field with nearly 200 men, after providing garrisons for the various posts in rear, and that officer only awaited the arrival of Colonel McDonnell (who had chief command) to commence proceedings.