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With the Lost Legion in New Zealand

Chapter VI — A Frolic with the Kupapas

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Chapter VI
A Frolic with the Kupapas

The late general had not deemed it expedient for the regular troops to enter the bush—that is to say, to follow the Maoris into the trackless mountains that, covered with enormous forests, constituted the interior of the North Island and surrounded Mount Egmont, which a glance at the map will show the reader to be the centre of the big blunt promontory that juts out of the west coast of the North Island.

Sir Trevor Chute, however, saw the absolute necessity of carrying the war into the natives' own country and compelling them to sue for peace.

He had therefore determined to force his way due north through the bush to Taranaki and show the Hau Haus that the difficulties of their natural fortifications were not unsurmountable. By this march he would pass to the east of Mount Egmont and penetrate a country that had never previously, except on one occasion, by Father Pezant, been crossed by a European.

This was a big order, but I shall relate how it was carried through in due time. Suffice it for the present to say we left camp before daylight and saw the road all clear for the column, which joined us on the banks of the Waingangora during the afternoon.

Later on Mr Roach called me and said: "Burke, page 96I have been ordered by Colonel McDonnell to accompany the chief, Te Kepa, who with one hundred and fifty Kupapas" (friendly natives) "leaves camp on a reconnoitring expedition. He has also instructed me to take four of my own company with me. Would you like to come? I will not disguise the fact that the work will be very hard and that we shall have a rough time, but we are sure to see some real Maori warfare, native against native."

Of course I jumped at the chance, and he despatched me to warn my three mates to draw four days' rations and be ready to start at sunset.

At the appointed time we joined our officer and proceeded over to the Kupapas' lines, where for the first time I saw the famous righting chief, Te Kepa, who was even to rise to greater fame before the end of the war, and was undoubtedly one of the chief factors in terminating it.

Te Kepa was a Maori, able to grow a large beard, an appendage rare among natives. He was not above middle height, but had a tough, wiry look about him that denoted great strength and an ability to stand any amount of hardship. This chief was better known among the Europeans by the name of Major Kemp, and was highly respected by all ranks of society. His men were chiefly drawn from his own tribe, the Wanganui, and were about three hundred in number, big, brawny fellows, good fighting men, but an officer required the tact of Satan as well as an intimate knowledge of their manners and customs to handle them.

No sooner had we reached the Kupapas than night fell and Te Kepa indicated it was time to page 97march, so we stalled along a rough track that led inland.

The object of the expedition was to reconnoitre a big pah called Ketemarae so as to ascertain if it were strongly held, as it was the intention of the General to move the column on there next day, and, in case we found it strongly occupied, Mr Roach was to find out the ways of approaching it.

Our scouts had gone on some time before we started, and we had hardly made a move when the heavens opened and it began to pour with rain, which it steadily continued to do all night long.

This made the march, which was over a bad bit of country, very miserable, as the track, if it could be called one, was intersected by many steep gullies, the sides of which were slippery to a degree, so that we were soon not only soaked through but became plastered with mud from top to toe.

We, however, must push on, and did so, arriving in the vicinity of Ketemarae just before dawn. Here we halted and shivered till the sun rose, when the clouds cleared away with every promise of a fine hot day; then as soon as we had made sure our firelocks would go off we extended and advanced towards the pah.

We had not moved more than a hundred yards when two of our scouts joined up, who reported that to the best of their belief the pah was unoccupied, which surmise Kepa very soon found out to be correct. It was a strong place, but we did not remain in it as Te Kepa deemed it better to take up a position in the bush. Here we rested, and I was glad of the spell, as it gave us the chance page 98to dry our sopping clothes and get rid of some of the superfluous mud.

Mr Roach, Te Kepa and three or four chiefs now held a runanga (council), and I was much struck, although of course I could not understand a word uttered, by the elegant and forcible manner in which each chief gave his opinion, and how carefully and earnestly every man listened to the arguments of the others, notwithstanding, it was easily to be seen, there was a considerable difference in their ideas.

When each man had had his say Te Kepa gave his orders, to which they all acquiesced without demur.

As soon as the debate was over, Mr Roach kindly told me the purport of the meeting, which was to try and solve the problem why the pah had been abandoned without a show of resistance, as this was contrary to Maori war etiquette, which required at least one volley to be fired in honour of the pah, although it might not be deemed advisable to hold it to the bitter end.

The opinion therefore come to was that the pah was not abandoned, but that the Hau Haus, not expecting such unwonted activity on the General's part, had temporarily withdrawn for some purpose, probably to hold a tangi (wake) over the warriors killed at Otapawa, and were most likely to return that day to reoccupy the pah.

It was also decided that if they did so it would be as well to allow them to enter it, as then, our being on the spot, we could hive them, holding them inside till the arrival of the General, when not a man of them would escape. It was therefore page 99Te Kepa's determination to lie dog-o and try to entrap the Hau Haus in their own stockade.

The position we had taken up not being considered a satisfactory one to carry out this purpose, it was after much deliberation changed, and we made ourselves as comfortable as we could in the thick, damp bush, though as no fires were allowed, and the sun could not penetrate the dense foliage, the amount of comfort, thanks to the incessant drip from the trees, did not amount to a row of pins. Of course we had a patrol of scouts out on all sides of us, and on that day I began to take an interest and acquire a rudimentary knowledge of the fascinating, though highly dangerous, game.

The day dragged on and I was only able to get a few moments' broken sleep, as I was not yet sufficiently broken in to be able to sleep under such disadvantageous circumstances, and envied old Jack, who snored away on the soaked ground as if he had been on a feather bed. Nor can I truthfully say I enjoyed my dinner, composed as it was of sodden, rancid salt pork and a handful of wet mouldy biscuits.

As I said before, we had our scouts out, and we learned during the afternoon that the enemy had theirs out also, for one of our fellows came into camp with a gaping tomahawk wound in his shoulder, while his own weapon, and in fact his whole person, looked as if he had indulged in a blood bath.

His yarn was short. He had met a Hau Hau scout face to face; neither of them could get away nor hide, so they turned to and had it out with tomahawks. Our man had the best of the argu-page 100ment, which he proved by producing not only the tupara (double-barrelled gun) and tomahawk of his opponent as a spolia opima, but also certain portions of the enemy himself, so that no doubt could exist in the most sceptical of his encounter or victory. He received great kudos, and submitted, without a tremor or complaint, to having the gap in his shoulder sewn up in the roughest possible manner. Nor did it seem to interfere with his appetite, as, noticing his eyes glued on my mass of putrid pork, I handed it to him, and he devoured it with a gusto I quite envied.

This little contretemps showed Te Kepa that the Han Haus must be well aware of our presence, though perhaps not of our exact locality, and as he became extremely desirous of ascertaining theirs more scouts were detached for that purpose.

The trap was no longer to be thought of, as the enemy were far too astute to allow themselves to be shut in, especially as they must now be fully aware of the advance of the column, which in fact shortly arrived, heralded, as usual, by Pierre and George.

These two beauties we found out afterwards had smelt out our lurking-place early in the day, but, not being able to decide whether we were friends or enemies, had sat tight and waited for the main body to close up. They had, however, managed to get into the pah before the soldiers, where they discovered a hidden stock of potatoes, with which they joined us, so we had a feed of spuds that night.

As Colonel McDonnell still wished Mr Roach to remain with the Kupapas we camped with them. Te Kepa receiving orders to advance next morn-page 101ing and reconnoitre the country for another day's march ahead, his remaining men also joining us made up our party to over three hundred men.

We had now every prospect of a fight, as our scouts came in with information that large numbers of the Hau Haus were in our vicinity though they were so skilfully protected by their scouts it was impossible to locate them to a certainty, but still they were convinced they were mighty adjacent and hungry for a fight.

Te Kepa therefore took every precaution, each of which I noted carefully, Mr Roach being kind enough to explain their raison d'étre. He also told the chief that I was not only a well-born rangitera (gentleman), the descendant of war chiefs, but was in my humble position so as to acquire the wisdom and knowledge of war, whereupon Te Kepa was good enough to take great interest in me, presented me to his principal warriors, and instructed his men to look after me as I was his guest.

This Mr Roach informed me with a laugh was better than taking out a life policy, as the natives hold themselves responsible for the safety of their guests, so they would take the greatest care of me, and that, even should I unhappily come to grief, my remains would be carried off at any cost, for to allow a guest to be turned into long pig would be the greatest disgrace that could befall the tribe.

Long before daylight next morning we were on the move, and it was simply wonderful how we slipped through the silent bush without a sound. I could no more have walked through that pitchy darkness under the trees and through the tangled shrubs by myself, much less have moved in a straight page 102line, than I could have flown, but in accordance with Te Kepa's orders I was attended by four huge savages, one of whom led each of us, the one attending to me sometimes even placing my feet so as to prevent my tripping over obstacles I could not see.

After a sharp march which, for all I knew, we might have made alone, my attendant suddenly halted, pulling me down behind a big tree-root. What made him do so I knew not. I had not heard so much as a twig snap, not a whisper had passed along the line of invisible skirmishers, and why he had come to such a dead stop I could not divine, except it was some subtle instinct that warned him there was danger ahead, or that by some extraordinary system of transmission of thought his chief could convey his wishes to his men. Whatever the reason may have been, there we stuck until a dim twilight penetrated to our lurkingplace, when I indistinctly saw we were close to the edge of the bush, which here ran out into an open glade some one hundred and fifty yards across, on the far side of which it began again.

All of a sudden, without a word of orders, my mentor rose, beckoning me to do the same, and we emerged from the bush simultaneously with the rest of the party, when in a moment the glade that had been deserted before was filled with a long line of men clothed in belts, pouches and a few feathers, devil a rag else, in extended order, looking, as Egan subsequently remarked, "like a regimint on bathing parade," but it showed how wonderfully the natives had kept their line and how exact pre-given orders or instinct had guided them.

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That Te Kepa must have gained news as to the whereabouts of the Hau Haus is to me now evident, as, taking advantage of a slight ground mist, he moved us rapidly across the open, nor did anyone seem surprised when we were greeted by a tremendous volley which, strange enough to say, hurled over our heads without touching fur or feather.

Immediately our men let out a yell of derision, poured in their answering volley, and without a pause charged through the mist and smoke straight at their concealed enemies.

We reached the bush on the run and pressed forward, our men still being careful to take cover but yet advancing so rapidly that the enemy must needs give ground or stand up to a hand-to-hand fight, which, as we outnumbered them, was not to be thought of, so that after a short, sharp conflict, in which much powder was burned and an immense amount of breath expended in yelling, the Hau Haus retired at the run, leaving behind them three dead bodies, this in itself being an acknowledgement of defeat, as a Maori will run very great risks rather than allow a wounded or dead tribesman to fall into an opponent's hands. We had begun our day well but there was still plenty of work in front of us, and Te Kepa was not the man to waste time, so, dividing his men into two parties, he despatched one of them to try and cut off the retreating enemy, and with the other, among whom were our party, followed on the track of the flying Hau Haus.

They had not, however, flown far, for before long we came to the remains of an old deserted pah in which they had taken post, and as we page 104advanced opened on us with a heavy fire, at the same time yelling defiance, and challenging us to assault them.

To this our men replied with a step or two of the war-dance, a couple of volleys and a baldheaded rush that sent the rotten old palisading galley west, and into the ancient works we poured.

The Hau Haus fought well, but it was our boys' day out and they would not be denied but drove them helter-skelter out of the place, forcing them to abandon five more dead bodies.

Without a pause we followed on in full pursuit, but they had had enough of it, so broke and bolted all over the country. This, however, did not check Te Kepa, for, selecting the spoor of the biggest mob, we pushed on, but failed to bring them again to action.

During this pursuit our detached party joined up, who reported, producing evidence, that they had killed two more Hau Haus, and Te Kepa, after a short halt, decided to move on and attack, or at all events reconnoitre a large pah called Mawhitiwhiti.

This was decidedly a piece of presumption on our part, but the Kupapas were full of wakahihi (fighting spirit), profoundly believing it to be their lucky day. Up to now they had not a single man wounded, and at Te Kepa's orders would have attacked Old Nick himself.

Moving on, therefore, as jovial as a party of schoolboys out bird's-nesting, although not a precaution was relaxed, you bet Te Kepa watched that we came in sight of the place strong enough to make an army pause, and boldly advanced page 105towards it, our men all game for a rush whenever they received the order. But it was not to be, for although the enemy fired volley after volley at us while we were at a long range, and yelled like blazes, yet the moment we started to close in and charge they evacuated the place and fell back to another position even stronger.

This was not playing the game, so our men got vexed, and we went after them hot-toe, attempting to surround the new pah in which they had taken post, so as to cut off their retreat should they be so inconsiderate as to try any more runaway tactics, but unfortunately we could only surround them on three sides.

The Hau Haus had also received strong reinforcements, so that both Mr Roach and Te Kepa deemed it advisable to send back to camp for assistance, which was done, but not wishing to waste time we set about the job ourselves, and that to some purpose, for, after both sides had fired and yelled as hard as they could for over ten minutes, word was passed that the Hau Haus were escaping down a steep, densely bushed gully on the side we had been unable to occupy.

Immediately a general rush was ordered and we charged the place at top speed, swarming over the defences like monkeys and driving out the last of the enemy, who fled precipitately, leaving behind them seven more bodies, together with a large number of fine fat pigs and an immense amount of potatoes. They had indeed left us their breakfasts, for the hangis (underground ovens) were full of deliciously cooked pork and potatoes, on which we regaled ourselves sumptuously.

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The Kupapas now considered they had done enough work for their day's pay and declined to follow on the flying enemy, but after a huge repast they indulged in a short war-dance and prepared to fall back on the camp.

First of all everything we could not take away with us was destroyed, and the dead bodies mutilated, in accordance with Maori customs, for although our men were not openly acknowledged cannibals, yet all the senior men had been, while the juniors were not a generation removed from the practice, so that mutilation of the dead and many other uncanny customs were still adhered to.

Then the pah itself was insulted and dismantled and everything inflammable burnt, after which we fell back, treating Mawhitiwhiti and the other places in the same way.

I was now to learn another lesson, for Te Kepa, notwithstanding our success, would not abate one jot of his precautions.

Our men were loaded with loot, they could please themselves whether they carried it or not, but they must do their duty, and it was well such was the case, for presently, when we were in thick bush, one of our rear scouts (yes, my would-be military reader, it is just as requisite in irregular warfare to scout to your rear as well as to your front, and don't you forget it) ran in with the information that the Hau Haus, furious and indignant with the treatment we had served out to them, were in full pursuit, determined to exact utu (payment or revenge) for our manifold misdeeds.

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On hearing this news Te Kepa caused us to rapidly push on till we came to a long clearing in the bush, at the camp side of which he ordered two hundred of us to lie down and take cover, thus forming an ambuscade. The remaining men, after they had thrown down their plunder, he led back towards the advancing Hau Haus. These he quickly encountered and engaged, but after an exchange of shots he and his men, all at once simulating panic, turned tail and bolted, closely pursued by the now exulting enemy.

Away our men rushed in headlong flight, crossing the clearing and breaking through our hidden line like frightened deer, and after them rushed the triumphant Hau Haus, every man of whom was hungry for slaughter, and faith they got it, but not in the way they wished; for as they put on a spurt to cross the clearing they were met half way by a smashing volley, behind which came our charging line, which so astonished them that they turned about and sprinted all they knew to safer localities.

Te Kepa would not allow us to pursue, no doubt having good and sufficient reasons for not doing so. We therefore again humped each man his plunder—mine was a well-grown, succulent young pig—and continued our journey back to camp, where, loaded with good things, we white men rejoined our own company, who received us with open arms, while the Kupapas spent the evening in feasting, singing songs of triumph and dancing war-dances in honour of their own merit.

True, they had done well, for they had taken and burnt five pahs, killed a lot of the enemy, page 108looted and destroyed large quantities of food, and done all this without having one single man wounded.

Individually, I was very satisfied. I was gathering lots of valuable information, could now hump my swag with but little discomfort, and had thoroughly satisfied myself that, no matter how rough and hard the life and work were going to be, I had go enough in me to tackle anything I might be called on to perform. So that I ate my dinner with gusto, sang a song when called upon to do so at the camp fire, and slept as soundly on my fern bed as an innocent child in its cradle.