Skip to main content

Te Kooti's war

Page 5 – Matawhero

During his time in exile, land owned by Te Kooti at Matawhero in Poverty Bay had been occupied by Major Reginald Biggs. The prominent trader George Read had also taken land in the settlement. Shortly before midnight on 9 November 1868 Te Kooti and around 100 men moved on Matawhero. By dawn nearly 60 people – roughly equal numbers of Māori and Pākehā – from Matawhero and the adjacent kāinga (village) had been killed. Some were shot but most were killed with bayonets, tomahawks or patu to avoid alerting their neighbours.

Te Kooti was precise as to who was to be killed: Biggs and Captain James Wilson as ‘Pharaoh’s overseers’, and those who now occupied Read’s claim or were living on Māori land. Biggs was dragged out of his house and beaten to death along with his wife Emily, their infant son and his nurse. One oral tradition states that Te Kooti was given a mere by Raharuhi Rukupo to encourage him to kill Biggs as utu for the killing of Rukupo’s relative, Pita Tamaturi, at Hungahungatoroa. Many of the killings were followed by the singing of Psalm 63, which concluded:

They who seek my life will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.

They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.

But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God’s name will praise him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Homes were torched while those who had managed to escape ran across the fields or along the beach to Turanga, 8 km away.

Te Kooti continued to seek utu from those he believed had wronged him. John Harris’s home at Ōpou was burned down. At Oweta pā, Paratene Pototi (also known as Tūrangi) and five other chiefs were executed.

Paratene had apparently mocked Te Kooti when he was exiled from Poverty Bay. As he prepared to execute Paratene, Te Kooti taunted him:

Greetings, my father who said. ‘Go on to the boat; go on to the boat.’
Son, you go on to the axe.

How to cite this page

Matawhero, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated