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Te Kooti's war

Page 6 – Ngātapa

From Matawhero, Te Kooti’s patrols swept across the Poverty Bay flats. In addition to much-needed supplies, about 300 Māori prisoners were seized. A combined Ngāti Porou–government force pushed Te Kooti back to the ancient hilltop pā of Ngātapa. His group now consisted of between 500 and 800 men, women and children. His fighting force of around 200 was made up of men from the upper Wairoa, Ngāti Kahungunu, Tūhoe from Te Whaiti and Maungapōhatu, some of his Ngāti Maru kin, and a number of escaped prisoners.

New Zealand Cross recipients

Nine of the 23 recipients of the New Zealand Cross were decorated for their part in actions against Te Kooti and his allies: Rāpata Wahawaha, Sub-Inspector George Preece and Constables Benjamin Biddle and Solomon Black of the Armed Constabulary at Ngātapa; Sergeant George Hill at Mōhaka in April 1869; Cornet Angus Smith at Ōpepe in June 1869; Private Thomas Adamson at Ahikereru (near Te Whāiti) in June 1869; and Captain Gilbert Mair and Sergeant Arthur Carkeek at Rotorua in February 1870.

The initial assault on Ngātapa began on 5 December 1868. The outer defence works were captured but then the force ran short of ammunition. Rāpata and his men fought on through the night, and he was later awarded the New Zealand Cross and promoted to the rank of major. Disgusted by a lack of support from Hōtene Porourangi’s Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungunu, Rāpata returned to Waiapu to recruit a new Ngāti Porou force. Whitmore and a combined force of Te Arawa and Armed Constabulary waited for his return. The assault on Ngātapa was resumed on New Year’s Eve.

Whitmore now had around 700 men at his disposal. He aimed to prevent any possibility of escape and quickly cut off the defenders from their water supply. On 4 January the outer defences were captured for a second time and Te Kooti’s defeat appeared imminent. But in the early hours of the following morning he and his followers lowered themselves by vines over the steep northern cliffs which Whitmore had considered an impracticable escape route. Their daring was only partially rewarded. Though Te Kooti once more eluded capture, some 270 of his group did not. Between a third and half of these prisoners were shot by Rāpata and his men – an action sanctioned by Whitmore.

‘I take you as my people’

Ngātapa was a serious blow to Te Kooti’s fighting strength. However, he received a much-needed boost when Ngāi Tūhoe made a formal commitment to him at Tāwhana in the Waimana Valley on 20 March 1869. Te Kooti replied in the words of God to Moses: ‘I take you as my people and I will be your God; you will know that I am Jehovah. You are the people of the covenant’.

With support from Tūhoe and Te Whakatōhea, Te Kooti re-established a fighting force of 160–200 men. Whitmore responded with a scorched-earth policy in a bid to stop Tūhoe sheltering Te Kooti and Pai Mārire adherents. Rāpata’s Ngāti Porou force helped to capture refugees driven south by Whitmore and Lieutenant-Colonel J.H.H. St John, who destroyed Tūhoe villages and crops along the way. The Tūhoe pā of Te Harema was captured, but Te Kooti evaded Whitmore and an Arawa contingent led by Te Pōkiha at Te Whāiti. Tūhoe now told Te Kooti that he must leave their territory.

How to cite this page

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