The last great raid of the Musket Wars

 

The warning from Te Rauparaha to his ally and fellow kinsman Te Puoho had been clear and concise: do not expect the peoples of Murihiku to be sitting in trees with their breasts open like pigeons facing the sun.

Te Puoho-o-te-rangi of the Ngati Tama was determined however in his plans and with fifty hand-picked warriors he departed his new home in what we know now as Golden Bay to lead what was to be the last great raid of the Musket wars.

This would also prove to be one of the most audacious and disastrous expeditions ever attempted in the history of Maori warfare.

It was the summer of 1836 and the preceding years of terrible slaughter which had raged throughout both the North and South Islands of New Zealand had largely begun to settle into a new routine of exhausted and uneasy stalemate. Only the eastern Bay of Plenty and central North Island regions still suffered from the violent convulsions of total warfare, brought about by the introduction of firearms into the Maori feudal orbit.

Te Wahi-Pounamu, dominated once more by Kai Tahu, after breaking free from the shackles of Te Rauparaha’s brief and savage hegemony was once more providing food from renewed planting and uninterrupted fishing harvests.

The breadbasket of this massive area was Murihiku, now known as Southland and with Kai Tahu’s traditional island fortress of Ruapuke close at hand, guarding the ever lucrative trade found in the Foveaux Strait, renewed calm had been restored in the South Island.

Te Puoho’s plan was simple, he likened it to the scaling of a giant fish.

Instead of raiding down the east coast as Te Rauparaha had done before him, he would come in the back-door way: down the entire length of the west coast he would raid; picking up supporters along the way before descending through the Haast Pass and falling on the economic center of Kai Tahu’s vital agricultural region.

This massive destruction of food stores would deprive Kai Tahu of much needed sustenance for the coming battle ahead and make their inevitable destruction and total enslavement a near certainty.

By way of waka, Te Puoho and his party proceeded down the western coastline until they came to the mouth of the Grey River where they hoped to swell their ranks with others of their blood who had made this place home some years before, in 1828 under the leadership of Niho.

Niho however was unimpressed with Te Puoho’s plan and like Te Rauparaha, attempted to dissuade him from such an audacious undertaking.

Undeterred, Te Puoho managed to encourage a few dozen of Niho’s people to join with him before setting out for the last and most grueling leg of this mighty endeavour.

Their march south was fraught with great difficulty and hunger and the tiny collection of emaciated figures which emptied out from the last high pass of the Southern Alps was but a mere shadow of the brave and determined band which had started out all those many months before.

After attacking and capturing a small fishing party near Wanaka, Te Puoho led his warriors down into the green fertile low-lands of Murihiku with the express purpose of finally putting his overall scheming into action and in so doing make a name for himself which would be remembered by his people for all time.

Despite the hunger prevalent in his party, Te Puoho chose only to supply the children of his captured enemies for eating as he wished to use the adults as beasts of burden. He had even gone so far as to build a number of large pens in his Golden Bay homeland, within which he intended to keep the ‘soft peoples’ of the south as cattle: to do with as he chose.

The element of surprise which his plan had largely relied upon was gone however as a few fleeing survivors managed  to escape and warn Kai Tahu.

Kai Tahu: under the command of the legendary Tuhawaiki or ‘Bloody Jack’ as he was more commonly known; swiftly organised a large war party to counter this impertinent invasion.

Travelling at the utmost speed from Ruapuke Island, Tuhawaiki led his heavily armed band of some few hundred warriors northwards, towards where Te Puoho had last been seen, several miles south of modern-day Gore at a place called Tuturau.

Here they launched a surprise attack in the dead of night, during which Te Puoho and almost his entire band were killed outright and mostly in their sleep.

When word of Te Puoho’s death slowly drifted north to his distant home, one of his wives: a slave girl he had shown some affection for, was strangled by a few of the other women.

Only four people managed to escape with their lives, most of whom entering into slavery at the hands of their new masters: Wahapiro, a nephew of Te Puoho’s; a man named Parau; a woman by the name of Paturau and Te Puoho’s brother in-law Nga-whakawa whose supposed epic escape northwards over a period of some months through hostile country and difficult terrain has become somewhat of a story in itself. Various accounts contradict the name of this desperate fugitive with the formerly mentioned Parau.

And as for Te Puoho-o-te-rangi? The legendary fighting Chief and High Priest of the Ngati Tama? A man who had fought in the bitter final stages of Te Karaka and the fateful siege of Pukerangiora and who had gone on to lead his people in the three great migrations south from their homeland around Kawhia?

His head was removed from his body and shrunken in the traditional custom.

The ultimate fate of this rather macabre trophy of war is somewhat in dispute as it was sold for a profit to some European traders who bought it for an agreed upon price.

Some stories tell of it finding pride of place in an upmarket Sydney address while others suggest it eventually found its way home somehow, being interred in a cave of some secrecy upon Kapiti Island.

 

Sources:

‘The History of Otago’. McLintock, A.H. 1949.

‘Te Puoho’s Last Raid: the March from Golden Bay to Southland in 1836 and defeat at Tuturau’. Anderson, A, 1986.

‘The Musket Wars: A History of Inter-Iwi Conflict, 1806-1845’. R.D.Crosby, 1999.


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