The Matawhero ‘massacre’ was Te Kooti’s revenge for his exile to the Chatham Islands (see 4 July) and subsequent events.
In the middle of the night, around 100 men, 60 on horseback, forded the Waipāoa River and moved quietly towards Matawhero. By dawn, they had killed about 60 people of all ages in the Pākehā settlement and adjacent kāinga (settlements). Some were shot, but most were bayoneted, tomahawked or clubbed to avoid alerting their neighbours.
Most of those who escaped the slaughter ran to Tūranganui (Gisborne), 6 km away, while some fled south towards Māhia. Hundreds of Māori were taken prisoner or joined Te Kooti with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
The violence was savage, but not random. Te Kooti was exacting utu for indignities heaped upon him since he had been accused of aiding Pai Mārire adherents in 1865. On his return from the Chathams, local magistrate Reginald Biggs – the man who had exiled him – rejected his request for safe passage to Waikato. Biggs and his family were among those killed at Matawhero.