Killings at Pukearuhe

13 February 1869

John Whiteley with his wife, Mary Ann
John Whiteley with his wife, Mary Ann (Alexander Turnbull Library, PA2-2209)

The Pukearuhe redoubt was 50 km north-east of New Plymouth. Its military settlers protected the overland route north to Mōkau and had also cleared bush for farms. This outpost was isolated and vulnerable, but as there had been no fighting in north Taranaki for some years there was little concern for the safety of its inhabitants.

On Saturday 13 February, a Ngāti Maniapoto war party led by Wetere Te Rerenga shattered this illusion of safety when they attacked Pukearuhe. Two soldiers were killed on the beach nearby. At the redoubt, Lieutenant Bamber Gascoigne was killed along with his wife and three children.

In the early evening the Wesleyan missionary John Whiteley approached Pukearuhe on horseback during one of his regular visits to outlying military settlements. He was seen by Te Rerenga’s war party, who shouted at him to go back. According to some accounts Whiteley refused, claiming that his place ‘was here for my children are doing evil’. A voice then called out, ‘Kahore e tangi nga tikaokao mate’ (Dead cocks do not crow). The first shot felled his horse. The coroner later found that Whiteley had been shot five times and received several tomahawk blows to his eyes.

Fearing that the Kīngitanga had taken up arms in support of the south Taranaki leader Tītokowaru, the colonial government put New Plymouth on a war footing. But there were no further attacks and the scare soon passed.