Story: New Zealand wars

Page 10. Pursuit of Te Kooti, 1868–1872

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War on the East Coast

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki belonged to the Poverty Bay iwi of Rongowhakaata. While fighting on the government side at Waerenga-a-hika in November 1865, he was suspected of aiding the Pai Mārire enemy. In June 1866 he was exiled to the Chatham Islands, where he founded a millennial religion that became known as Ringatū. On 4 July 1868, he seized the schooner Rifleman and forced its crew to sail for Tūranganui. On 10 July, he and 297 followers landed south of Poverty Bay, alarming the authorities, who were determined to recapture him.

Te Kooti fled inland, pursued by a force commanded by Colonel George Whitmore, who suffered his first setback at the hands of Te Kooti at Ruakituri on 8 August. Two months later, on 10 November, Te Kooti attacked Matawhero and killed about 60 people, including about 30 Māori and the resident magistrate, Reginald Biggs, who had exiled him to the Chatham Islands.

Siege of Ngātapa

Te Kooti then fled inland to Ngātapa, skirmishing with his opponents as he went. Ngātapa was a hilltop fortress that appeared unassailable. Te Kooti’s people had constructed defences on a precipitous ridge 600 metres above sea level. However, the pā’s lack of a water supply made it very vulnerable. On 5 December 1868 the fortress was attacked unsuccessfully by Armed Constabulary and Ngāti Porou with Wairoa allies led by Rāpata Wahawaha and Hōtene Porourangi. A second attack was mounted on 1 January 1869 against a greatly strengthened Ngātapa by the Armed Constabulary with Te Arawa and Ngāti Porou allies.

Pursuit continues

Following a siege lasting three days, Te Kooti’s people escaped down sheer cliffs behind Ngātapa early on 5 January, using bush vines cut from nearby trees. The escape was soon detected by Ngāti Porou and Te Arawa, who followed in pursuit, apprehending about 120 of the severely weakened escapees, all of whom were executed.

Te Urewera

Te Kooti escaped into Te Urewera, closely followed by units of Māori and Armed Constabulary. In March and April 1869 he raided Whakatāne and Mōhaka. Losses were heavy, especially at Mōhaka on 10 April, when 60 locals, mostly Māori, were killed. Skirmishes followed as Te Kooti continued to elude his pursuers. Colonial troops were ambushed at Ōpepe, near Lake Taupō, on 7 June, with nine killed.

Te Pōrere

Te Kooti built a redoubt at Te Pōrere, on the edge of the bush north-west of Mt Tongariro. On 4 October 1869, this was attacked by Armed Constabulary and Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu and Whanganui Māori, Te Kooti escaped once again but lost 37 men – and two fingers. He was not able to defend a fixed position again, instead staying ahead of determined pursuers like Captain Gilbert Mair and the Arawa Flying Column, which almost trapped him at Earthquake Flat, Rotorua, on 7 February 1870. Once again, Te Kooti managed to flee, as he would do again from Maraetahi in the Waioeka Gorge on 23 March.

End of the wars

A major expedition into Te Urewera was mounted in January 1871, largely comprising a contingent of 300 Ngāti Porou men led by Rāpata Wahawaha. Te Rakiroa of Ngāti Kōhatu guided the column in search of Te Kooti’s trail, but little evidence of his presence was found, despite extensive and wide-ranging searches being undertaken, over several expeditions.

Te Kooti was engaged at Te Hāpua on 1 September 1871 and at Mangaone on 4 February 1872, again making good his escape but, by now, with very few adherents. On 15 May 1872, Te Kooti took refuge at Arowhenua in the King Country, a settlement near the Waikato River west of Waotu. He then moved to Te Kūiti, taking refuge at the Māori king’s stronghold of Tokangamutu and bringing the wars to an end.

How to cite this page:

Danny Keenan, 'New Zealand wars - Pursuit of Te Kooti, 1868–1872', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/new-zealand-wars/page-10 (accessed 22 May 2022)

Story by Danny Keenan, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 8 Feb 2017