A terrible night of blood and fire

EDITORIAL

In 1868 Turanganui, as Gisborne was then known, was a very small township. Eight kilometres inland was the settlement of Matawhero, a farming district where most of the prominent settlers, including the military officers, lived. Homesteads were scattered over a wide plain extending to the Waipaoa River. The combined population of Turanganui and Matawhero was about 150 settlers and about 500 Maori.

In the early hours of tomorrow morning it will be exactly 150 years since Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki led a raid of 100 men on Matawhero that was to leave 50 to 70 men, women and children dead.

The attack was targeted at those Te Kooti held grudges against over the loss of his land interests, the exile of he and 300 others to the Chatham Islands after the siege of Waerenga a Hika three years earlier, and the planned confiscation of all their land. He and his men sought out and killed European militiamen and their families, and suspected Maori collaborators and their families. They wielded guns, tomahawks, bayonets and clubs. They burned their victims’ homes.

These were atrocities, but do need to be set in the context outlined by the Waitangi Tribunal report on the Turanganui a Kiwa claims, some of which is reported on page 5 of today’s paper.

In the colonial telling of history, this was not an act of war but of despicable savagery. It was called the Poverty Bay Massacre, or the Matawhero Massacre.

Two months later retribution was meted out at Ngatapa where, at the end of the siege of a hill-top pa, between 86 and 128 people were stripped naked by government forces, lined up beside the pa and executed. This was the worst massacre in New Zealand history. It was called The Siege of Ngatapa.

In 1883, at the age of about 50, Te Kooti was formally pardoned by the government. He was never to return to Turanganui, although he had planned to — in 1888, to open the Rongopai meeting house, although hostility to the idea of that dissuaded him; then in 1889 he was on his way here when he was arrested west of Opotiki and charged with unlawful assembly. After two days in Mt Eden jail he was released on the condition that he never return to Poverty Bay.

In 1868 Turanganui, as Gisborne was then known, was a very small township. Eight kilometres inland was the settlement of Matawhero, a farming district where most of the prominent settlers, including the military officers, lived. Homesteads were scattered over a wide plain extending to the Waipaoa River. The combined population of Turanganui and Matawhero was about 150 settlers and about 500 Maori.

In the early hours of tomorrow morning it will be exactly 150 years since Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki led a raid of 100 men on Matawhero that was to leave 50 to 70 men, women and children dead.

The attack was targeted at those Te Kooti held grudges against over the loss of his land interests, the exile of he and 300 others to the Chatham Islands after the siege of Waerenga a Hika three years earlier, and the planned confiscation of all their land. He and his men sought out and killed European militiamen and their families, and suspected Maori collaborators and their families. They wielded guns, tomahawks, bayonets and clubs. They burned their victims’ homes.

These were atrocities, but do need to be set in the context outlined by the Waitangi Tribunal report on the Turanganui a Kiwa claims, some of which is reported on page 5 of today’s paper.

In the colonial telling of history, this was not an act of war but of despicable savagery. It was called the Poverty Bay Massacre, or the Matawhero Massacre.

Two months later retribution was meted out at Ngatapa where, at the end of the siege of a hill-top pa, between 86 and 128 people were stripped naked by government forces, lined up beside the pa and executed. This was the worst massacre in New Zealand history. It was called The Siege of Ngatapa.

In 1883, at the age of about 50, Te Kooti was formally pardoned by the government. He was never to return to Turanganui, although he had planned to — in 1888, to open the Rongopai meeting house, although hostility to the idea of that dissuaded him; then in 1889 he was on his way here when he was arrested west of Opotiki and charged with unlawful assembly. After two days in Mt Eden jail he was released on the condition that he never return to Poverty Bay.

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