There were a number of groups of Maori prisoners who were taken to Dunedin in the late 19th century to perform hard labour sentences. In 1869, a group of men involved in what is known as "Titokowaru's War" or the "Third Taranaki War" arrived in Dunedin, after having come close to defeating North Island colonial forces. They fought under Riwha Titokowaru of Ngati Ruanui in their attempts to prevent the encroaching taking of their land by settlers.
In late 1869 a group of 74 of Titokowaru's men, who had been captured at Patea, sentenced to death and had their sentences commuted to various terms with hard labour, arrived at Dunedin aboard the "Rangitira." The reportage is reflective of the attitudes of its day — some opinions at the time were much harsher. But this is the story, as much as I can find, of Watai Tumoerangi.
THE MAORI PRISONERS.
Considerable excitement was manifested on Saturday, on the arrival by the Rangatira of seventy-four Maoris captured at the Patea, afterwards tried in Wellington, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death; but whose sentences were afterwards commuted to serious terms of imprisonment in Dunedin Gaol. It was known in Dunedin that the Rangatira would arrive at the Rattray street Jetty by the afternoon tide, and by five o'clock a large number of persons had assembled to witness the debarkation of the prisoners. At that hour the vessel was seen coming up the harbour, and a general rush was made, the crowd lining the wharf and its approaches, and also the line from the reclaimed land to the gaol, which the prisoners were expected to proceed. On reaching the jetty some delay was experienced before the Rangatira could come alongside, but on her doing so the prisoners were mustered and marched to the gaol, in the custody of a number of constables armed with rifles with fixed bayonets, a lane having been kept clear for their passage by SergeantMajor Moore, Mounted-Trooper Bevan, and other officers, all of whom performed their duties in a highly satisfactory manner, attention not only being paid to the security of the prisoners, but also to the prevention of undue pressure by the crowd. The progress from the ship to the gaol was slow, many of the Maoris being old men, and, indeed, it was a noticeable fact that, almost without; exception, they were either very aged, or very young men. Some of them are fine, stalwart fellows, but they all appeared to be thoroughly cowed by the position in which they found themselves, and exhibited none of the haughty indifference generally attributed to captured savages. The line of march was crowded with spectators, the multitude following them up, and when they were received by Mr Caldwell, the Governor of the gaol, that part of Stuart-street was thronged with persons eager to obtain a glimpse of these ferocious rebels. On their arrival at the gaol, at about six o'clock, they were at once submitted to a process of ablution, their blankets and other clothing taken from them, and they attired in the gaol costume. After this, and after having got rid of the excitement of the landing, they presented a much more comfortable appearance, and they wore detailed off to the various cells prepared for their reception, and locked up for the night. Within a few minutes of the arrival of the prisoners inside the gaol, one of their number died. This was Waiata, a Patea Maori, who had been sentenced to imprisonment for three years. He was a very old man, and, it is supposed, died of general debility accelerated by the sea sickness he experienced on the voyage. The body was removed to the dead house of the Hospital, and awaits an inquest, which will be held at two o'clock today. The rest of the prisoners behave themselves peaceably, and are very reticent and quiet. The Rev. Father Moreau visited the gaol yesterday (Sunday) and conducted the Roman Catholic service for them. It may be here not uninteresting to mention that the prisoners are members of the Pakakohe tribe, the chief of which is Tauroa (Wharematangi) one of Tito Kowaru's council.
Among them are Te One Kura, who is supposed to be the murderer of the late Mr Broughton, who acted generally as peace agent in the year 1863, and was killed at the Patea River, having been shot, and then tomahawked in a most barbarous manner. This prisoner, it may be remarked, was one of the leading and most influential men of his tribe.
Hoani Taotokai, who was tried at Wellington for the murder of his younger brother, but acquitted, the only evidence against him being that of an accomplice.
Wereroa, a very intelligent Maori, is one of those prisoners who were asked to turn Queen's evidence against the others. He replied that he would afford all the information in his power, but that he wished to be tried in the same manner as the other prisoners, and was willing to share their fate, although he had never borne arms against the. Queen.
Kireona, who is the hereditary chief of the tribe (Pakakohe), but who had been supplanted by Tauroa, the first prisoner mentioned, in consequence of his (Tauroa's) superior intelligence.
Hopu, a smart young fellow of 18 years of age. He was intimately connected with Tito-Kowaru during many of his fierce engagements, and was almost regarded by the Maoris as invulnerable, consequent on the hairbreadth escapes which he had encountered. This prisoner was well known from his custom of riding a white horse, which he managed with consummate skill, and which rendered him conspicuous. He took a prominent part in the various sorties made by Tito Kowaru, and was frequently fired at but never hit.
Rangi Tauhe is Taurua's younger brother.
Kome Ne Tamati is a fine stalwart young fellow, six feet in height.
Prominent among the other prisoners are — Rangi Purewa, Ahuru, Rangiahu, Rangi Moeawa, Tokorangi, Tukurangi, Te Rangi Irunga, Te Pokaiatua, and Nga Rewa.
All these, with the others not named, were taken at the Patea River, where an expedition commanded by Major Noake started on the 5th of June last, for the purpose of making the capture. The party consisted of 80 Ngatiporou, who are considered to be among the most loyal natives in the North Island, and who were under the command of Captain Ferris. There were also 30 Wanganui natives, and 120 Europeans, the entire force being commanded by Captain Goring and Captain Blake. The party proceeded up the Patea in canoes, but had many difficulties to encounter in consequence of the numerous rapids. They passed several indications of Maori camps, and after proceeding some distance came across a small Maori settlement, no attempt having been made to attack them during their voyage. About the 10th June the party contemplated returning, but the men sent on to reconnoitre having expressed their belief that the enemy was close at hand, the commanders determined to proceed further in their search. Several whares, having the appearance of recent habitation, were found near the banks of the river. Here they landed, and camped for the night. The next morning they were surprised by seeing a canoe containing four Maoris with a flag of truce coming down the river. On this Mr Booth, the Resident Magistrate, who accompanied the expedition, proceeded to meet the messengers, and after some parley, got into their canoe and proceeded up the river to the Maori settlement, about five miles distant, they leaving as a hostage an influential native named Ruka. After Mr Booth had been absent for some time, Major Noake became anxious for his safety, and ordered 60 of the Ngatiporou and Wanganui friendlies, together with a few Europeans, to advance up the river to the Maori settlement. On reaching the place, the party was informed by the Maoris that they had been for a long time past wishing to surrender, and were glad to see them, as they then knew that there was a chance of peace being made. The Maoris were at once ordered to give up their arms, being told at the same time that the Government would deal with them, and that their lives would be spared. They, however, evinced an indisposition to do this until a guard composed of the Ngatiporou natives surrounded their pah, when they quickly relinquished their weapons. There were in this pah 49 men, besides women and children, in all 113 persons. The following morning the men were removed to the garrison of Patea. We may here mention that the tribe of which these Maoris formed a part, were some years ago attacked by a party of natives supposed to belong to the Ngatiapa tribe. The latter numbered about 300, but on reaching a part of the river bounded on one side by a steep bluff 100 ft. high, and on the other by thick scrub, they were attacked and defeated by an ambush of the natives whom they intended to assail. Had it been the intention of the Ngatiapa tribe to have attacked Major Noake's party, they might have done so with equal success, as from the formation of the river, escape or landing was equally impossible at that point, and the men could not have escaped shooting or drowning. The prisoners who had surrendered were however taken to Patea without any difficulty, and two or three days afterwards Tauroa, the chief of the party, who was taken at Kurunui, gave information that there were a number of his people whom he could bring in from Whakamaru, a place between the river and the sea coast, if he were allowed to proceed thither. He was permitted to do so, two or three men being sent with him as a guard, and returned accompanied by twenty-one male natives and a number of women and children. These had been brought in about a week when a letter arrived from some more of the same tribe at Whenuakura suing for peace, and asking on what terms it would be granted. They were told to come in and give up their arms, and that the Government would deal with them, and two or three days after this there arrived 28 men, besides women and children. There were taken in all 233 men, women, and children of the Pakakohe tribe. At the Kurunui, however, two of the men, both known as bad characters, contrived to escape. One of them was a cannibal named Te Paraone, and the other a murderer named Hau Rangi. Ninety six male prisonerswere taken to Wellington, the women and children having been left at Patea. As our readers are already aware, they were tried and 28 old men, against whom no evidence was adduced, were acquitted, two young boys were sent on board H.M.S. Blanche for naval training, and the balance of 74 were forwarded to Dunedin, where they arrived on Saturday. Before and after their trial the prisoners were in all three months on board the hulk in Port Nicholson, where they behaved themselves well, the chief Tauroa having rendered material assistance in keeping them in order. They were first placed under a guard of Ngatiporou natives, who were afterwards replaced by a guard of Europeans, consisting of two sergeants and 20 privates, under the command of Capt. Ferris. The arms taken from the captured natives were 62 single and double-barrelled guns, 5 rifles, 4 breechloading carbines, and 2 revolvers. The rifles and breech-loading carbines were supposed to have been originally taken from those of our troops who were killed at the Moturoa, Wereroa, and other engagements. -Otago Daily Times, 8/12/1869.
Watai Tumoerangi's death was the second suffered by those who had arrived on the Rangitira. The prison chaplain, John Torrance, was there as he died and recounted his experience in his 1908 memoirs. Although some of Torrance's narrative is filtered through his personal religious beliefs, it remains a remarkable encounter with history.
The death scene of one of them was engraven on my memory. There was nothing remarkable about it. It was simply pathetic and impressive. He was a man of slightly over 30, and had a wife and children at his native pa in the far north, and his old father shared his exile. His illness was so sudden and rapid as to make his removal to a hospital impossible. A prison cell was therefore his sick and death chamber. It was night. Close to the sufferer was a small table provided for the occasion; on it were two lighted candles and an open Maori Bible, and the only sounds heard were the laboured breathing of the dying man and the measured tread of the warder in the adjoining corridor. The old tattooed father sat at the foot of the bed, his head resting on his hand, while his eyes, with a look of indescribable agony, were fixed on his son's face. The chief warder and I were the only others present. Just then, through a break in the clouds, the silvery light of the full moon passed in between the bars of the small window and halted for a few seconds on the inner side of the cell door. With a smile and exclamation and pointed finger the dying man directed his father's attention to it. The old man turned and looked, and, with a nod, said something in response. The Psalmist speaks of the light that rules the night as one of God's faithful witnesses in the heavens. The momentary ray suggested some thought to the sufferer. I know not what. Perhaps it made him think of the greater Light - the light of the world and of men - and of the divine faithfulness of which He is evidence; and maybe, also, the suffering had some thought of the light of the eternal day beyond the dark valley through which he was passing. After a brief silence the young man again spoke to his father, at the same time turning his eyes on the warder and myself. Evidently in compliance with his son's request, the old man rose, muttered some unintelligible words, and with quiet dignity and a significant glance he grasped and pressed the officer's hand, and next mine, and resumed his seat. Then the young man, also speaking words we did not understand, and likewise with a look full of meaning, extended his hand to us respectively, pressed ours, and, turning from us, he placed his palm on the open Bible and rested his eyes upon it, as if with affection and trustfulness. I could only conjecture that the hand pressure, with the words spoken, was meant to express goodwill and gratitude for sympathetic attentions given him. An hour later the cell was in darkness and the door closed, but not bolted and padlocked. The inanimate form within needed not to be kept in with bar and key, nor could bolts and locks prevent the escape to a higher and purer sphere and to liberty of the man who occupied the form. -"Memorials of John A Torrance, agent for thirty years of the Patients' and Prisoners' Aid society."
One of the Maori prisoners named Waati Tumoerangi, under a sentence of three years' penal servitude for high treason, died in the gaol at 3 on Saturday afternoon. The cause of death was tubercular disease of the lungs, from which he had been suffering for about six months. The deceased had been confined to his bed since the 3rd inst., and was visited daily by Dr Hulme, Provincial Surgeon; and Dr Yates, Resident Surgeon at the Hospital, who were with him a few minutes before his death. His body was placed in a shell, and conveyed to the dead-house of the Hospital, where an inquest will be held upon it to-day. The deceased was about 30 years of age, and was a member of the Wesleyan Church. He has left a widow and two children at Wanganui. For several days previous to his death he was visited by the chief Tauroa and the Wesleyan catechist, who prayed with him, and read aloud portions of scripture. The Rev Mr Blake, missionary to the Maoris at the Heads, and Mr John Torrance, Gaol Chaplain, also visited him frequently. On Saturday afternoon he was visited by the Visiting Justices, Messrs R. B. Martin, W. D. Murison, I. N. Watt, and Captain Fraser. After their departure, the whole of the Maori prisoners, including the deceased's father and brother, bade him a very affectionate farewell. They appeared to be greatly affected, the tears flowing down their cheeks as they shook hands and rubbed noses with him, after the Maori mode of showing their love and regard, and a few minutes afterwards he expired. -Otago Daily Times, 13/12/1869.
Wati Tumoerangi was one of 18 prisoners who died while serving their term in Dunedin. Most of the rest were freed in March 1872.
Wati Tumoerangi was one of 18 prisoners who died while serving their term in Dunedin. Most of the rest were freed in March 1872.
|Southern Cemetery, Dunedin.|
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