The Rua Kenana Expedition

Vol 46, No. 6 | NZPA | Mon July 1st, 2013

The July 2013 issue of Police News featured a story on the arrest of Maori religious leader Rua Kenana in 1916, based on an article written by a police officer who was part of the mission to capture Kenana. The following is a full, unedited reproduction of G J Maloney’s story first published in The New Zealand Police Journal (a forerunner of Police News) in November, 1937.

The Rua Expedition

By G. J. Maloney

The Rua Expedition was the name given to a large force of Police sent into the Uriwera Country, to Maungapohatu, to arrest the Maori Prophet, Rua Kenena, on warrants for failing to pay fines for breaches of the Licensing Laws in 1916.

It was in 1913 that I first became acquainted, with the “Prophet.” At that time I was sta­tioned at Patutahi, near Gisborne, and my “Beat” took in the Hangaroa Country, border­ing the Uriwera where Rua lived.

A message had been received by the Magis­trate at Gisborne from one of the back settlers in Tahora, saying that Rua was camped with about 200 followers at Waimaha (Hukinui's Pah) on the bank of the Hangaroa river, about 40 miles from Gisborne, and that he was dig­ging up the bones of Maoris who, some seven years before, had died of Typhoid fever and been buried there.

The Magistrate asked the Police to investigate and Ex-Constable M. Doyle, then of Te Karaka, Constable Bill Sleeth of Matawai, and I were sent out.

We set out on horseback. We were all used to horse work in those days. When we arrived at Tahora we caught up to a party of about 20 Maoris, all on horseback. Buggys could not be used, as the road was not formed that far. At the head of this Maori party was an old man named Eria Rakauroa. He was a “Tohunga” and years before was reputed to be an old follower of the Hauhau chief Te Kooti, the leader of the Poverty Bay massacre, about whom so much has been written.

Old Eria was well known to me. He lived at Ngatapa, the locality in which Te Kooti made his last stand, where there was a small Maori pah and settlement. Eria was riding like the rest of his band, and he was carrying a port­manteau in front of him on the horse. We wondered at the time what the portmanteau contained. Eria was dressed in a long black coat and was wearing a hard bowler hat. On his coat cuffs in large gold letters were the words “Holy Church,” and the same was worked into the collar of his coat. He looked an odd character as he rode along the track.

The Maoris were then about a mile from their destination, “Hukinui’s Pah.” We spoke to them, but they appeared to be in a great hurry, and would not stop, so we followed them in to Hukinui’s.

On arrival at Hukinui’s I saw Rua who was dressed in a red shirt and riding trousers, sit­ting in front of the meeting-house surrounded by a large number of Maoris, men, women and children.


Rua Kenana and sonsRua with his sons Whatu (left) and Toko (right)

June Hukinui, whom I knew well, introduced us to Rua and his followers. When I looked around to see what was attracting some of the natives, I saw that old Eria had opened his portmanteau on the marai, and was there displaying the bones of some dead ancestor which they had brought up in the portmanteau from Waituhi Pah, near Patutahi, as we afterwards found out.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, I must hasten to explain that the Uriwera Maoris have a secret burial ground for the final resting-place of the bones of their departed, away in the fast­ness of the Maungapohatu Mountain.

From what I could learn from the Maoris of the tribe, the bones of the dead are all thrown down into a deep cave which, according to the Maoris, “has no bottom.”

After having a long talk with Rua and his men, and getting his assurance that no more remains of dead Maoris would be disturbed, we left them, and went up to Mr. Cyril White’s homestead for the night, where we were hos­pitably received.

I stayed on for a few days to see the Maoris depart for Maungapohatu. This they did, after Rua and his secretary and wives paid a parting visit to Mr. White’s and said good-bye to us all.

I saw very little of Rua after that until the trouble at Maungapohatu, although bands of his followers often came down into my district, scrub-cutting and shearing.

They were a peculiar type of Maori. Most of the men allowed their hair to grow long, down on their shoulders, and they looked a wild lot when met suddenly on a bush track, as I often met them.

The Journey from Ngatapa

In April, 1916, I received instructions to meet other members of the Force at Ngatapa, and to go by horse-back, carrying baton, hand­cuffs and service revolver and ammunition.

I went to Ngatapa and there met Constable Sleeth and Constable L. T. Moore, now sergeant at Gisborne, and a little later we were joined by Sub-Inspector J. Johnston, then of Gisborne. With him was ex-Constable Butterworth.

From Ngatapa we proceeded to Wharekopae, in the direction of the Uriwera, and there were joined by ex-Constables Miles, Doyle and J. Williamson, from Te Karaka, and Motu respec­tively, both mounted.

Sub-Inspector Johnston and Constable But­terworth came out from Gisborne with a buggy and pair of horses. This turnout was from a livery stable in Gisborne, and as the police wanted to keep their destination a secret, they did not tell the stablekeeper that they were going on a long journey; so he gave them a pair of old crocks, and the horses were getting very tired when we got to Wharekopae.

From Wharekopae we travelled up what was known as the “Strock track.” We managed to get the buggy along this track for about 10 miles, and then had to abandon it. The track was only about four to six feet wide in places, and much of the time the buggy wheels were travelling along in the scrub or on the side of the bank.

After leaving the buggy we put saddles on the buggy-horses for the Sub-Inspector and Butterworth, and went slowly on till we came to Cyril White’s sheep station, near the Han­garoa river. It was then pitch dark and get­ting late. Some of our party had travelled 50 miles and all were dead beat.

We tried to find the woolshed at White’s, but failed in the dark. I made my way up the range to the homestead and Mr. White gave me directions. He wanted us to stay at the home­stead, but there were too many of us.

We spent the night at White’s woolshed, sleeping on woolpacks. They were hard, but we were exhausted after the long day in the saddle, and slept all right. We left early next morning after receiving some provisions and part of a sheep from Mr. White.

The scenery about the Hangaroa river, after leaving White’s station, was beautiful. High ranges came down close to the river, covered in native bush of all descriptions.

As soon as we made the crossing of the Han­garoa, which was by a limestone ford, we were in the Uriwera country. We kept up the river along the western bank for some six miles, travelling over low hills, through bush and scrub, and then came to a clearing of about 10 acres, by the side of the river. This is known as Rua’s old clearing. He was camped there with his followers some years before, and had built several slab whares, the remains of which were still to be seen. In the clearing there was plenty of grass for the horses, and we took off their saddles and had a meal, boiling the billy with water from the clear river below. I can still remember doing justice to that meal.

Our next anxiety was to strike the old Maori track, which we knew must lead out of the clearing into the bush and on to Rua’s strong­hold at Maungapohatu. We eventually found the old track, which was now well overgrown and evidently had not been used for some years. Some of the second-growth on it was 10 feet high. I believe at one time it was a Government survey track,

From the clearing mentioned to Maunga­pohatu would be 30 miles, and all through heavy bush. The track from the clearing led up along a high ridge, and then along ridge after ridge of high country, sometimes dip­ping down to cross a small mountain stream.

After travelling through the bush for 15 miles or so, we decided to camp for the night by a mountain stream. We soon had the billy boiling and another meal on the way. This was a very pleasant, quiet spot and we saw no horse or foot marks on the track at any time to show the Maoris had been there for a long time,

Some long poles from the bush were placed across the track, before and behind our camp, to secure the horses. We settled down for the night; the weather was perfect and the ground was dry for camping.

After a good night’s rest, we took our time next morning, as our “sealed orders” were that the main body of police would arrive at Maungapohatu about 11am that day.

We rode leisurely on through the bush, and the going for a few miles was good, over easy country; but we soon started to climb into high country again, along the birch ridges and through broken, mountainous country.

Constable Doyle’s horse was going over an old bush culvert, made of bush saplings, to cross a limestone chasm, when he horse went partly through. Doyle jumped quickly off when he felt the horse going down, and when lightened of the weight of the rider the horse, which was a very good hack, was able to spring back on to solid ground. It was a close call. Doyle, a very active man, saved the situation by springing off and retaining the bridle rein.

We had a good view of the surrounding country from time to time from the high ridges. The country to the east appeared to be low, undulating country, all bush clad. We could see no clearings.

Before reaching Rua’s pah, we came up abreast of Maungapohatu mountain, which we appeared to be such a long while reaching. The mountain reared up for hundreds of feet on our left, and huge limestone walls showed up clear and steep on its face. The mountain is bush clad on top.

The First Arrivals

We skirted the mountain down between high bluffs, through bush, and so on into Rua’s pah, reaching there about 11am. We found the main body of police from Auckland had not arrived, so that we were the first police on the scene.

We met Rua and his followers. They did not expect a party from Gisborne, but Rua said he was expecting police from Rotorua and Auckland.

We made ourselves at ease, and Rua gave in­structions to get us something to eat, and we had a cup of tea and a snack with the Maoris.

I could see Rua was rather restless, and from time to time he would take a pair of field glasses and scan the bridle track which was showing clear for miles in places along the ridges, leading out towards Ruatahuna, the track down which the Auckland and Rotorua police would come.

Rua’s pah at Maungapohatu is situated in beautiful surroundings facing the sun, with Maungapohatu mountain in the background and a mountain stream flowing down in front.

The next police to arrive after the Gisborne men, were a small party under Constable Tim Cummings of Whakatane who came in, like ourselves, across country. This party came by the Waimana river, and they told me they had a rough ride through, having to take to the river bed in most places, as there was no track whatever. They were simply travelling by direction.

About noon the head of the Auckland and Rotorua police came into view down the Ruatahuna track. There were a few horsemen amongst them, but nearly all were on foot, between 50 and 60 all told, if I remember rightly.

It was rather an unusual sight to see the men marching in uniform, in single file, down the rough track. The men were still marching strongly and went on up the rise and on to the marai (the level space in front of a Maori meeting house). Mr. J. Cullen, then Commis­sioner of Police, was in charge and was one of the horsemen.

Some of the men were carrying service rifles, but the majority were armed only with service revolvers, carried in holsters at the waist.


The Men ArrivingRua had a great name as a prophet amongst the Maoris, and many of the settlers of Poverty Bay were anxious whenever he arrived with his followers in the district. He was supposed by some to have a stronghold and machine guns at his pah and was certainly full of his own importance.

I am certain Rua never thought the police would march right up on to the marai and ar­rest him out of hand. He would expect the police leader (Commissioner Cullen) to come up first with one or two of his officers, as was the usual old Maori custom, and have a long “korero” over the matter first.

The Commissioner taking his force up on to the marai took Rua by surprise, and both he and his followers were very excited at seeing such a large body of armed and uniformed police arrive on their marai, and so they made to move back towards the bush.

When Rua and his men moved back, the Commissioner saw he might escape into the bush, so gave the order to detain Rua.

The Melee

Sub-Inspector Johnston walked up to Rua and caught him by the arm. Rua pulled away, and his shirt sleeve came away in Mr. John­ston’s hand. By this time several of the police were up by Rua and he struggled to get away. Rua’s followers, including his two sons Whatu and Toko Rua, were all around him and tried to assist him. By this time there was a general disturbance, and Rua was calling out in Maori.

During the disturbance one Constable drop­ped his rifle or put it down to assist in the arrest of Rua. A strongly built Maori picked up the rifle and was trying to work the bolt, which had been set at “safety.” Two constables seized this Maori and were taking the rifle from him, but had some difficulty in doing so on account of his great height and strength. Next he was knocked out by someone, and secured

Constable Neil, of Rotorua, who had been carrying an axe, which he had used to clear the track coming in, dropped the axe and went to assist in the arrest of Rua, who was putting up a big struggle with the police, he being a very strong man. Whatu Rua picked up the axe and was running with it to assist his father, the prophet, when he was very neatly floored by Sergeant J. O’Hara, now Inspector. Whatu was handcuffed and secured, so also was Rua; and they and others arrested were taken to the meeting house and placed under guard.

Rua and Whatu under arrestRua (centre) and his son Whatu under arrest. 

At about the same time a shot was fired – “the first -shot” – it is not known by whom, al­though there was a lot of discussion over it at the trial.

Now several shots were fired at the police from the scrub by Maoris who had scattered when Rua was being arrested. The firing was taken up by the police and it became general. The police were mostly in the open, and the Maoris had taken to the scrub and bush along­side the pah. There was a lot of firing going on, evidently the Maoris obtained the firearms quickly from the little whares which were dotted around in the scrub, and were making good use of them.

I took up a position beside a tree stump on the side of the gully which the Maoris had rushed, and had just settled there when Con­stable W. “Darkie” Wright came up and knelt beside me. I had not seen him for some years. We only had time to say “Good day” to each other when all of a sudden “Darkie” called out, “I’m shot.” He rolled over my legs down the bank to where Constable L. Moore and others were. He was taken down to the dressing sta­tion at the meeting house, shot badly in the back.

“Darkie” Wright was shot by a Maori named Te Maipi from higher ground behind us. Const. Rushton and Rodgers and I then went up the hill behind where Wright was shot. The hill was covered in long rank grass and stumps, and as we reached the top we saw the Maori down on one knee taking aim at us. He him­self was soon shot dead.

I recovered Te Maipi’s gun with which he shot Const. Wright. It was a Browning Auto­matic shot gun, 12 gauge, and carried five rounds. It was a very handy weapon. It is now at the Arms Office store at Auckland with other firearms seized at the time.

At the time of Rua’s arrest, Toko Rua ran down across the gully and up along the other side. He was a very active young man. The police called on him to stop, but he would not do so. No one fired on him as he was then un­armed.

Toko continued on up the gully to a small whare which he entered. He came out again immediately with a double-barrel shot gun with which he started firing on the police. He was a good sport and could easily have got away, but evidently preferred to make a stand and fight it out.

Toko took what cover he could while firing at the police, but he was soon shot. He had just previously fired at and wounded one of the police, Constable O’Neil, I think it was, of Hamilton. We found Toko a little on from where Te Maipi fell. He had received a wound in one wrist which had been freshly tied up, and I found out later that the dressing of this wound was hurriedly done by an old Maori wo­man. It was a sad ending, for Toko was well liked amongst the Maoris.

There were four of the police wounded, the most serious being Const. Wright, some of the shot penetrating his lung. He recovered after a long illness. The other members of the Force soon recovered. The police party were unable to leave the pah for two days, on account of Const. Wright’s serious condition.

Two of the Maoris were killed and two died from wounds received. Rua and his son Whatu, were brought before the court at Rotorua on several charges, and later were tried at the Supreme Court, Auckland. They were defend­ed by Mr. J. “Jerry” Lundon.

Rua and counsel at trialThe trial, I believe, was a record one for length, and the number of witnesses called on both sides. It lasted for about two months and ended with Rua receiving two years and his son being acquitted.

Rua did his time, and I heard was a model prisoner. He went back to his wives and fol­lowers at Maungapohatu, who worshipped him, and he probably told them of the queer ways of the white man.

Rua gave no more trouble. He died recently at Maungapohatu and was buried there in a large concrete tomb made by his faithful follow­ers, at his wish, in strange contrast with the deep cave in the mountain where the bones of his ancestors were cast.

Rua and his counsel at the trial. 

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