Te Porere: The quickening of the night

Like a weeping sore on the swollen belly of the island, the mountain had begun to spew forth ash into the air and molten rock upon the land.

The convulsions had begun the year before in 1868 when the lands about had shook with tremors, emanating from the depths below Tongariro.

A new crater was formed and named Te Maari after a local woman of some standing.

Local Maori descriptions of the time described:

?a bright red flame through the smoke that would burst and fall like snow.?

To the east, amongst the crumpled bush clad ridges of the Urewera, Te Kooti and his small band of rebel fugitives were still at large: ever moving from one place of refuge to the next and all the while making recovery from the disastrous action at Ngatapa during the first month of 1869.

While their numbers were small, this only added to their ability to move fast and effectively, and twice since the hilltop siege of January they had made raiding forays outside of their protective hiding place.

North towards Whakatane they had come in March, where a young woman by the name of Ripeka Kaaho, daughter of a local rangatira named Tahawera who was friendly to the Crown, had been captured in the path of the invading taua.

When word of this spoil of war was relayed to Te Kooti and he was asked, what to be done with her? He was heard to remark:

?He maroro kokoti ihi waka-taua? ? ?A flying fish crosses the?prow of a war canoe?

Ripeka was summarily clubbed to death with a stone patu, cut into pieces and then duly fed to the pigs she had been tending to when caught.

The Hauhau force moved on, towards Whakatane where they were to attack a flour mill and the redoubt that lay nearby.

One of the most heroic defences of the New Zealand Land Wars would occur over a period of two days when the seven defenders of this mill, most of whom were women, managed to stave off the aggressive attacks of close to one hundred heavily armed Hauhau rebels, under the command of Wirihana Koikoi.

The leader of this stout-hearted defence was a Frenchman who went by the rather apt name of Jean Guerren.

In the end all but two women: Jean?s wife Peti and his daughter Nika, who had begged one of the Hauhau named Te Rangihiroa for their lives to be spared, were killed.

When word of this mercy was reported to Te Kooti he was to order Te Rangihiroa to take Peti for his wife and to kill the child after she refused to give information about the whereabouts of hidden munitions.

Te Kooti was now to move on to attacking the nearby Pa of Rauporoa where many of the local Ngati Pukeko had fled, in order to gain protection from this marauding band of some five hundred Hauhau.

Using a white flag of truce, Te Kooti attempted to trick the Pa?s holders into allowing him free access but at the last moment Tahawera, aware of this ruse was able to convince the occupants of Te Kooti?s true intentions.

After an initial surge of attackers had been thrown against the Pa without effect the battle descended into something more akin to a siege. For two days and two nights the defenders were able to fend off the numerous attacks which curiously were only directed against the south side of the fortification.

During the fighting at the Pa, much looting was affected against the surrounding settlement.

At Simpkins?s Store a great many red coloured Garibaldi jumpers were eagerly taken, which many of the raiding party was to clothe themselves in.

By this time word had been heard and finally answered by the Armed Constabulary in Tauranga who, under the command of Captain Gilbert Mair, had made all speed to the eastern Bay of Plenty.

Their eventual presence in the area was to motivate Te Kooti into making his withdrawal southwards from whence he had come, leaving behind much destruction to life and property.

Mair was to harry this force southwards, back into the rough country of the Urewera.

 

 

After dividing his force into two upon the shores of Lake Waikaremoana, Te Kooti was to direct the smaller force under the command of Te Waru and Nepia to thrust eastwards in order to attack the settlement of Wairoa. This attack was to be repulsed by a small band of Ngati Pahauwera.

Meanwhile, Te Kooti himself led a southward strike towards the coastal settlement of Mohaka which was to see one of the largest massacres ever perpetrated upon unarmed civilians in New Zealand?s bloody history.

On April the 10th 1869 at Mohaka, 61 Maori and 7 Europeans were killed, most of whom were unarmed women and children.

With Te Kooti once more retreating into his central fastness, colonel Whitmore was to lead a coordinated attempt from all quarters, by the 1,300 troops he had at his disposal in order to capture his elusive prey, employing a scorched earth policy against all the peoples throughout this central bastion of colonial resistance.

After many weeks of rough slogging over ridgelines and through mist filled gullies, these search parties were to be withdrawn with empty hands. Whitmore himself was to fall ill during this endeavour and depart for Wellington leaving the overall command of Colonial troops in the area to Colonel Harrington.

Harrington?s first orders were to prove a costly blunder however when through either incompetence or lack of imagination he was to order the abandonment of the forts surrounding the Urewera.

The entire force was ordered back to Tauranga where Harrington proceeded to put them through an extensive series of close order drills for several months.

Te Kooti was to make best use of this sudden and unexpected opportunity for movement to visit his friend and ally Te Heuheu Tukino of the Tuwharetoa.

Te Heuheu, also commonly known as Horonuku, was the son of the recently deceased paramount chief Mananui and had been earnestly imploring his kinsfolk to take up arms against the Crown.

In 1863 he had led a vain attempt to relieve the occupants of Orakau Pa whose commander, Te Rewi Maniapoto he was still on good terms with.

Te Kooti?s force made its way westwards.

On the 7th of June they were to surprise the small garrison of 11 Colonial troops stationed near the edge of the central volcanic plateau at Opepe.

Some suspicion of collusion between Te Kooti and the garrison?s Maori guide have been levelled in respect to fires which the former had lit the previous night, possibly as a signal to the Hauhau force gathering about and unknown to the camp’s occupants.

The following afternoon, a seemingly innocuous visit to the camp by some of Te Kooti?s men in disguise quickly turned into a scrambled panic as the Colonial troops, unprepared and unarmed, fled into the nearby bush.

Trooper George Crosswell who was completely naked at the time due to being in the process of drying out his sodden clothing made a desperate?escape from the ensuing massacre.

He was to make his egress through bush and tussock country in the middle of winter, all the while being harried by Hauhau forces behind him, finally finding refuge at Fort Galatea some 40 miles distant.

Te Kooti and his force carried on, finally paying a visit to the King Country where he was to make his reasoning?s plain to representatives of King Tawhiao for an alliance of arms against the Crown.

In response, the Maori King was to hedge his bets somewhat by refusing to give an outright reply.

Instead, he was to send Rewi Maniapoto back with Te Kooti and Horonuku to observe the actions in the coming campaign about Taupo. Depending on Rewi?s summation of the events to follow the old King would make a final decision on whether or not to formally support Te Kooti?s war.

As these regal deliberations had been taking place, government forces had been gathering in response to this armed incursion and on September the 25th 1869, the two sides were to meet each other on the Ponanga Saddle just north of Lake Rotoaira.

During this engagement, Te Kooti?s lack of ability in countering against anything but unarmed women and children was once more brought to the fore.

His force which was dug in along the ridgeline was heavily routed by a party of Arawa under the command of Lieutenant Preece.

Preece himself was to be involved in the final action against Te Kooti some three years later, bringing a final close to the New Zealand Land Wars.

Watching on, Rewi Maniapoto had seen enough and had made the fateful decision to leave the area, convinced that any future support from the King would be unwise and renounced any allegiance with the bloodthirsty Hauhau.

Undeterred by this setback, Te Kooti and Horonuku made their way to the western shoulder of Tongariro?where in the glow of the nearby mountain?s fire and murmurings, were to construct a Pa of some unique fashion upon the bush clad covered tableland in the hopes of delivering a killer blow to the forces now arrayed against them.

Unknown to all involved, it would prove to be the last prepared position in defiance of Crown forces, in what would ultimately be remembered, as the New Zealand Land wars.

The upper and lower redoubts at Te Porere were constructed in a manner which displayed a stunningly inept understanding towards the establishment of a fixed fighting position in respect to the surrounding terrain.

 

 

Perhaps it was delusions of grandeur on the part of Te Kooti which led him to order the construction of such fortifications, but his abandonment of the basic core principles of the traditional gunfighting pa proved disastrous in the coming battle.

The upper redoubt in particular proved to be a mere copy of the European style of fortifications built around New Zealand at the time. It seems to indicate a distinct lack of imagination or self confidence which led Te Kooti to choose such a method.

With the arrival of a strong force of friendly Maori from south Taranaki under the command of Major Kepa and Colonel Thomas McDonnell, the government forces attacked these indefensible positions, completely routing the inhabitants and causing significant casualties.

According to an eyewitness report from one of Te Kooti?s men, Peita Kotuku: Te Kooti himself was to spend much of the balance of the engagement huddled in a ditch, hiding behind a few of his wives.

?At that stage of the fighting Te Kooti was in a rifle pit in an angle on the left flank of the pa, some little distance from the gateway. He was sitting there surrounded by a bodyguard of women.?

As the darkness descended the night was illuminated only by the fires of the nearby mountain.

The fleeing Hauhau fugitives, Te Kooti among them, were to make their escape eastwards amongst the gloom: once more finding a place of refuge in the green fortress of the Urewera.

37 of the defending Hauhau were buried in a mass grave in the middle of the upper redoubt. Government losses from the action were 4 killed and 4 wounded.

Horonuku would come in after a few days spent hiding in the nearby bush with his infant son Tureiti te Heuheu, eventually surrendering himself to Colonel McDonnell.

Horonuku would go on to continue leading his people in the years to come.

His son Tureiti would grow in stature and standing, ultimately becoming one of the first Maori members of the Legislative Council of New Zealand before dying in 1921.

The elder Horonuku would represent Ngati Tuwharetoa during the 1880?s Native Land Court claims process as their title to the land was challenged by their old enemies to the south, among them being one Major Kepa who claimed ownership due to the lighting of fires through right of conquest.

Horonuku is said to have denied these fire?s existence and then, standing in the courtroom in a moment of solemn defiance, was to point out the still smoking peak of Tongariro, barely visible through the nearby window saying:

?There is my fire.?

 

Sources:

The New Zealand Wars Volume 2, James Cowan, 1922.

An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, A.H. McLintock, 1966.

G.N.S Science.

 

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