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 was from the Poverty Bay iwi of Rongowhakaata. While fighting on the government side at Waerenga-a-hika he was suspected of aiding the enemy. In June 1866 he was exiled to the Chatham Islands, where he developed a new millennial religion, Ringatū. On 4 July 1868 he captured the schooner Rifleman and escaped from captivity. On 10 July he and 298 followers landed south of Poverty Bay, alarming the authorities, who were determined to recapture him.

Te Kooti fled inland, pursued by the armed constabulary 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 54 people, including 20 Māori and the resident magistrate, Reginald Biggs, who had originally exiled him to the Chatham Islands.

Siege of Ngātapa

Te Kooti then fled inland to Ngātapa, skirmishing with the constabulary 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 pās lack of a water supply made it very vulnerable. On 5 December 1868 the fortress was attacked unsuccessfully by the 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, at early dawn on 5 January under cover of darkness Te Kooti’s people escaped down sheer cliffs behind Ngātapa, 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 where 60 locals, mostly Māori, were killed. Brief skirmishes followed as Te Kooti continued to elude his pursuers. Nine colonial troops were killed at Ōpepe, near Lake Taupō, on 7 June.

Te Pōrere

Te Kooti’s last defence of a fixed position occurred at Te Pōrere, at the edge of the bush north-west of Mt Tongariro, on 4 October 1869. Confronted by contingents of armed constabulary supported by Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu and Whanganui Māori, Te Kooti escaped once again but lost 37 men. 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 entrapped 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 immediate evidence of his presence was found, despite extensive and wide-ranging searches being undertaken, over several expeditions.

Te Kooti was however engaged at Te Hāpua on 1 September 1871 and, finally, at Mangaone on 4 February 1872, again making good his escape but, by now, with very few adherents still alive. 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, (accessed 23 October 2021)

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