Deserter and renegade.
A new biography of Bent, Kimble appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Kimble Bent was born at Eastport, Maine, U.S.A., on 24 August 1837, the son of Waterman Bent, shipbuilder. His mother, Eliza Senter, was a half-caste Red Indian of the Musqua tribe. At the age of 17 he ran away to sea and served for some three years in the United States Navy. After a brief spell ashore, he went to England. Stranded and penniless at Liverpool, he enlisted in Her Majesty's 57th Foot Regiment in 1859. During recruit training at Cork he deserted but was recaptured, and received a court-martial sentence of 84 days in prison. After serving that term he was shipped with his regiment to India where he spent two years. The 57th was then ordered to New Zealand, arriving at Auckland after a voyage of 89 days. Presently the regiment was sent to barrack life at New Plymouth, and then to Manawapou, in south Taranaki, near the Tangahoe River. There the regiment went under canvas. For an offence against discipline, Bent received 25 lashes at the triangles, his company, No. 8, being paraded in review order to “witness punishment”. After serving a prison term in Wellington, he was sent back to the regiment. Then, on 12 June 1865, he deserted.
Kimble Bent crossed the Tangahoe, and presently fell into the hands of a Maori of importance in the Ngati Ruanui tribe, Tito Te Hanataua. Tito took the deserter to Hangai, Taiporohenui, and Keteonetea where, though at times in danger, he was accepted by the Maoris. His life was by no means an easy one, as he became Tito's slave. At Otapawa, a stronghold further up the Tangahoe, Kimble Bent was given a wife, Te Rawanga. She was about 25 years of age and no beauty, with one eye and thick lips. The hesitant husband, faced with matrimony or a sudden end by tomahawk, chose the former. He was fully received into the tribe and, as a mark of favour, was given a Maori name, Ringiringi, one of the names of his captor, Tito.
At Otapawa, Kimble Bent met the Hauhau prophet, Te Ua Horopapera Haumene, who treated him with much consideration. Shortly before the capture of Otapawa by British forces under General Trevor Chute on 14 January 1866, Te Ua's owl-god, Ruru, obligingly advised him to leave the pa. Kimble Bent's old regiment, the 57th, bore the brunt of the attack, and the voice of the deserter was recognised calling on the defenders to “Fire low”. He certainly played his part in preparation for the defence of the pa. The fugitives from Otapawa camped further up the Tangahoe, and established themselves at Rimatoto, the site of an old-time village.
As time went on, Kimble Bent became the property of Rupe, a chief of Taiporohenui, who rewarded him for services rendered during a son's serious illness with a new wife, Rihi or Te Hau-Rorori-Ua. She was quite young and had handsome features. She was fully tattooed.
In 1867, the “Year of the Lamb”, Kimble Bent met the great Taranaki war chief, Titokowaru a very able general, who was then engaged in travelling from village to village making preparation for his final campaign. Kimble Bent became Titoko's mokai or slave, was adopted by him, and was given a new name, Tu-nui-a-moa. As well as being a gifted military leader, Titokowaru was a tohunga or priest of considerable mana tapu or sacred prestige. He revived many of the ancient practices of Maoridom. While associated with Titokowaru, Bent was largely occupied in cartridge making.
Early in 1868 Kimble Bent was located at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, “The Beak of the Bird”, some 10 miles from the modern Hawera. This Hauhau stronghold was the headquarters of the Ngati Ruanui and Nga Rauru belligerents. It was from Te Ngutu that Titokowaru sent forth the war party which attacked the pakeha redoubt at Turuturumokai in the wintry dawn hours of Sunday, 12 July 1868. Kimble Bent did not accompany this war party which included another renegade, Charles King, a deserter from the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. King was subsequently killed by the Maoris for treachery.
While Kimble Bent was absent from Te Ngutu seeking material for the manufacture of cartridges, the pakeha forces under Colonel McDonnell, Majors von Tempskyand Hunter, on 21 August 1868, captured and burned the pa. The Maoris promptly rebuilt and fortified the stronghold. The disastrous second attack on Te Ngutu-o-te-manu took place on 7 September 1868, when a strong force under Lieutenant-Colonel McDonnell was repulsed with severe loss. At the start of the engagement, Titokowaru entrusted a kit containing some of his treasures to Kimble Bent, and sent him away from the pa to join the priest Te Waka-takerenui at a camp in the forest. As a result of this unfortunate defeat, the pakeha were driven south of the Patea River. Major von Tempsky was shot at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu by Te Rangi-hina-kau. Kimble Bent, at the request of Titokowaru, viewed the pakeha dead, and identified the body of von Tempsky. He was present at Te Ngutu when the Nga Raura people from Waitotara cooked and ate one of the bodies, the remainder being cremated at the orders of Titokowaru.
Kimble Bent had plenty of adventure until Titokowaru finally lost his mana at Tauranga-ika, a strongly fortified post which was abandoned in February 1869. This marked the beginning of the end of the final campaign in Taranaki. When the pa was deserted, Kimble Bent quietly slipped away. He found a place of refuge up the Waitara River, though life there was far from easy. He acquired a third wife, a good-looking Ngati Ruanui girl of about 18. He finally came out of “exile” in 1878, and thereafter lived in various places. He died at Blenheim in the South Island in 1917.
Though possibly picturesque in some ways, Kimble Bent was a deserter and a renegade, a Maori slave, and cartridge maker.
by John Houston, O.B.E., LL.B. (1891–1962), Author, Hawera.
- The Adventures of Kimble Bent, Cowan, J. (1911)
- The New Zealand Wars, Cowan, J. (2 vols., 1955)
- Hawera Star, 14 Jan 1933.