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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter LXV. — Ropata's Continued Search After Te Kooti

Chapter LXV.
Ropata's Continued Search After Te Kooti.

During the month of May, 1870, Ngatiporou resumed their search after Te Kooti.

The principal object in this expedition was, however, the capture of the fugitives of the Wairoa, Ngatikowhatu, and Poverty Bay tribes, who had been more or less implicated in the Poverty Bay or Mohaka massacres, and were hiding in the same forest-clad ranges that still sheltered Te Kooti, and were always available as a reinforcement for his murderous raids. They were, moreover, a source of annoyance and confusion to those searching for Te Kooti. Often, after following a trail for days, our men would find that they had been in pursuit of one of these small parties of rebels, and thus perhaps lost the opportunity of capturing the arch-rebel himself. Under these circumstances, Ropata decided to capture and make prisoners the scattered bands inhabiting the district lying between Maungapohatu and Te Reinga, and take them to Waiapu, where they would be under the surveillance of Ngatiporou. On the 13th, the main body camped at the Waihau lakes, and a kokiri of seventy men proceeded to the Anapu-a-tai village, but found it deserted, the inhabitants having been warned by the man who escaped from the former expedition.

A second kokiri sent to Whenuakura was more successful, for they took twelve prisoners, and learnt that others of the tribes were living at Whakapunaki, a remarkable page 353limestone mountain, distinguished in Maori tradition as being the home of the last moa.

A party started in pursuit that same evening, and succeeded in capturing the people of a small village, from whom they received information that there was another village some distance up the Ruakiture river, near Puketapu. This place was also surrounded; many of the people were too old to be mischievous, but eight men, two women, and twelve children were brought away. One of the prisoners informed Rapata that the villages of Whataroa and Orewha had been burnt or destroyed by a Wairoa expedition, and that heavy firing had been heard in the direction of Waikare Moaua. This intelligence so annoyed the chief, who had hoped to capture the people living in that neighbourhood, that he returned to Poverty Bay, with the intention of starting again in the spring. Before returning, he left a letter addressed to the remnant of Ngatikowhatu, advising them to surrender, and assuring them of fair treatment. This letter soon bore fruit, for hardly had the expedition reached Poverty Bay when the chief, Rakiroa, five men, and a woman, arrived and surrendered themselves, handing in six rifles as a proof of their sincerity. Thus the whole of the Ngatikowhatu tribe, eighty-six in number, were now in our hands, and powerless for harm; in fact, like true Maories, they were now anxious to guide us, and fight against those with whom they had so lately consorted.

No further movement was made during the winter, but in December of the same year Rapata received orders to proceed with 200 men of his tribe to Ruatahuna, with a view to collecting the scattered Uriwera, and thus withdrawing them from the influence of Te Kooti. It was further proposed that Rapata should remain at Ruatahuna for some time, so as to prevent Te Kooti receiving recruits, either by force or enticement. These views were approved by both Paerau and Te Whenuanui, chiefs of Ruatahuna, who were in Napier on a peace mission at that period.

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The expedition started on the 14th of January, 1871, for Te Wera, where it was reported that Te Kooti was then living, and on the 25th the column reached the watershed between the two coasts. Te Rakiroa, late Hauhau, and personal friend of Te Kooti, acted as guide; and although he was travelling through his own country, so dense was the forest that he lost his way continually, rendering frequent halts necessary that he might climb trees so as to get the general direction of their march. Nothing could be worse than the travelling through this country. Thick scrubby bush interlaced with supplejacks covered the hillsides, which were excessively steep, so that for clays the column had to follow the narrow beds of mountain torrents, over slippery rocks, where a false step might be serious, for each man carried nearly forty pounds of biscuit, besides blankets, ammunition, &c. None of these things could be replaced in a black birch forest, where a rat can barely live, and where the traveller will hardly ever hear either bird or insect. An extract from Rapata's journal is worth repeating here, so characteristic is it of the man, and of the difficulties encountered by him, during some of the winter expeditions: "Perhaps we shall all die from the cold and snow brought by the southerly wind! No; we will not die from the cold: if we were the descendants of Ruaimoko we might do so, but we are the offspring of Tongia, who thought only of weaving, and making the rough garment the paki. Ruaimoko was lazy, and cared only for fine clothes, so that the women might take a fancy to his party. When he got to Te Pakira, near Hikurangi mountain, he was pursued by Tongia, who found the whole party frozen to death; and their bones lie there to this day. It is from thinking of our ancestor Tongia I have made these remarks. His thoughtfulness has descended to us, who now carry tents and clothing to protect us from the cold; and it is only by these means we shall be able to carry out this great work. Perhaps some of our friends think that what we are going through is only the ordinary work of a campaign. Can it be decided page 355by those who live in comfortable houses what the extent of this work is? No; the magnitude can only be ascertained by treading it with the feet."

On the 22nd, Henare Potae, second in charge of the expedition, knocked up and was unable to march. This delayed the main body, but Rapata, with 100 men, started in light marching order to search for indications of the enemy.

Some of his men returned the same evening, having separated from the main body and lost their way. They had wandered about the forest for nine hours before they could find their way back to camp. The wonder is that they should ever have found it in such a country, for Europeans never would have done so. On the following day twenty-five of Rapata's men returned, with orders for the main body to join him and bring on the rations. He had surrounded Te Kooti's pah at Te Wera, and, finding it deserted, was about to follow a recent trail, which he hoped would lead him to the arch-rebel's stronghold. The tracks led in the direction of Maraetahi, which was out of the direct line to Ruatahuna; but the prospect of catching a prisoner from whom information might be extracted à la Maori, was too alluring, and the trail was quickly followed.

On the 30th another of Te Kooti's deserted pahs was found, and in one of the whares two letters were discovered, addressed to Te Turuki (one of Te Kooti's names). One of these letters was from an Uriwera chief of Maungapohatu, asking for information as to his future movements. The second was from one of the Chatham Islands prisoners, named Maika, who informed his leader that the Uriwera were going over to the Pakeha. At the junction of the Kahunui and Waioeka rivers, the recent sleeping-place of the three men was found. They had evidently only left that morning, and, not knowing they were followed, had written their names with charcoal on a piece of board. One of the Hauhau guides recognised them as men who page 356had separated from Te Kooti after his escape from Tologa Bay, some months previously. Ngatiporou had now been eighteen days on the march, and had nearly finished their supply of biscuits; and as it was necessary to replenish before going further, Rapata decided to send to Opotiki for supplies.

Captain Porter with eighty of the strongest men went on this duty, while Rapata proceeded to the Waimana, to interview the Wriwera chief Tamaikowha, and ascertain his feelings towards Te Kooti. Porter started from Maraetahi on February 2nd, and shortly after found tracks of men, one of whom wore boots. This fact led him to suspect that they must be Government natives, who had been sent up from the coast; under these circumstances he ordered his men not to fire, but to take the intruders prisoners. Ngatiporou started in pursuit, and in a very short time came up with Captain Swindley and four natives, who had come up from the Bay of Plenty to reconnoitre. They probably owed their lives to Swindley's boots and Porter's prudence.

After resting a few days, the eighty men started again, each man carrying fifty pounds of biscuits, which would, with his arms and other impedimenta, amount to about ninety pounds per man, and on the 9th, they reached the mouth of the Waimana gorge, where they found Rapata. The meeting between this chief and Tamaikowha had been stormy, but had ended satisfactorily. While at the village of Tauwharemanuka an answer was received to a letter written by Rapata, asking the Uriwera to assemble at Tanaki to meet Ngatiporou. The answer was insolent; they simply refused to allow booted feet to pass the boundaries of Manugapohatu. Rapata took but little notice of this message, and, resuming his march, arrived at Tawhana on the 13th. Here they met the Tuhoe tribe, wildest and most savage of bushmen.

A spectator might well have fancied himself in the New Zealand of Captain Cook's time, so wild and fierce was the appearance of these people. Their long hair was tied up in page 357a bunch, like the scalp-lock of the American Indians, and ornamented with white feathers; the effect was ferocious in the extreme. In their speeches to Ngatiporou they denied that Te Kooti was a man of crime, arguing that the slaughter of women and children was only an old Maori custom. Like all the inland tribes, who could have no grievance against us, they expressed undying hatred to the Pakeka.

On the 14th, another letter was received from the Uriwera, stating that if Rapaoa persisted in going to Te Tanaki they should leave the place. Ngatiporou still advanced, and found that the Hauhaug had done as they threatened, for there were none but very old people in the village, who informed the invaders that all the fighting men had retired to Te Kakari. Ngatiporou followed, and this persistence had the desired effect, for the meeting came off at last. Although the Uriwera showed great distrust, they behaved quietly, but firmly refused to go to Ruatahuna, and would acknowledge no authority but that of their own chiefs. They also denied all knowledge of Te Kooti, with such an air of sincerity that it puzzled Ngatiporou to decide as to whether they were speaking the truth or not. An accident decided the question. Some of Rapata's people came across a half-mad woman, who mistook them for Te Kooti's followers, and a few judicious questions elicited the fact that Te Kooti was at the Papuni. This clue was followed up, and it was ascertained from an old man that Te Kooti had been at Te Tanaki a few weeks previously, and that his hiding-place was somewhere near Te Haupapa. No time was lost in starting; and during the first day's march the tracks of a man were seen—proof positive that some of the Uriweras had preceded them, to warn Te Kooti. The trail was followed until the 2nd of March, when it became evident to Rapata that his men, who had been living on hinau berries for some days, could not hold out much longer. They had been on half rations for sometime previously, and were so much exhausted by want of food that it was page 358doubtful if they could reach the nearest settlement, Te Wairoa. The pursuit was consequently abandoned for the present, and thirty picked men, under Captain Porter, were sent to Te Wairoa, to get biscuit brought out to the main body, who could hardly crawl. The thirty men were not in much better condition, and would hardly have reached their destination had they not come across a few self-sown potatoes in a small clearing. This helped them on to the Waihau lakes, where fortune placed a small pig in their way, which raised their spirits mightily. At Whenuakura some of the old people of Ngatikowhatu informed Captain Porter that the Maungapohatu people kept Te Kooti regularly informed as to the movements of the expeditions. A plentiful supply of biscuit having been received, Ngatiporou resumed the chase on the 19th. At Orewha the fresh tracks of a man were found; a few active men were sent in pursuit, and on the second day captured one of the enemy, who had only left Te Kooti a fortnight before. His information was to the effect, that Te Kooti was at Te Haupapa, to which place he offered to guide the column. He also stated that there were three pahs there, but that only twenty-four of the Hauhaus had guns, and that they were supplied with clothing by the Wairoa tribes. The weather at this period was abominable, and the discomfort was increased by Rapata refusing to allow fires, for fear of being discovered by the enemy. On the third day the column reached Te Haupapa, which was silently surrounded, but was found to be deserted, and showed no signs of occupation for at least a fortnight. This was a bitter disappointment to men who had been nearly three months marching through dense forests, nearly always wet through and often half-starved, only to find the enemy's stronghold deserted. The Hauhau guide (Tautata) did his work well throughout the march, and, after reaching Te Haupapa, guided Rapata to a cave where Te Kooti kept his valuables.

Six rifles, two watches, some money, and other articles, page 359were found here, and taken possession of. The position of Te Haupapa was admirably chosen as a hiding-place. Situated in the least known part of the Uriwera country, the small piece of open fernland, surrounded by high mountains, was hardly likely to be discovered except by accident. Again Te Kooti had escaped the best laid plans of his enemies; but there was still a chance of capturing him at Anaru Matete's pah, which Tautata stated was on the crest of the Mokonuiaraugi range, at no great distance from Te Haupapa.

The column started at once, and, on reaching the summit of the range, divided into two parties; the one under Rapata proceeded to Wharekopai, the other, under Captain Porter, to Anaru Matete's pah. The latter party was so far unfortunate as to be discovered by a woman who had been placed as sentry on a high rock above the pah. The Hauhaus, alarmed in time, escaped to the bush; but, in the chase that ensued, two men and several women and children were captured. Anaru Matete and his brother escaped by sliding over a cliff, and thus shook off Ngatiporou.

On the following day Rapata returned successful; he had surrounded Wharekopai and captured all the inhabitants, viz., the chief Tamati, twelve men, and the usual number of women and children. One of the prisoners, when questioned, stated that he had heard Te Kooti say that he would go to Tahuna Taua. This was enough for Rapata, who at once told off three parties of thirty men each to scout the forest in search of this place.

Only one of the detachments found the village in question and captured a man; but Te Kooti was not there; and as none of the prisoners seemed to know his hiding-place, Rapata concluded that he had left the district, and ordered his men to return homewards.