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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

Chapter 36: The Advance on the Waipa

Chapter 36: The Advance on the Waipa

page 336

THE TRUMPET-CALL of “Boot and saddle” in the cavalry and mounted artillery camps, and the infantry “Assembly” bugle, set all hearts bounding when the news came that Cameron's march for the Upper Waikato had begun. Already large infantry detachments had gone forward from the advanced camp at Rangiriri to Ngaruawahia, where the British flag was hoisted on the 8th December, and the main army was now to be transported into the heart of the Maori country. Horse, foot, and guns streamed southward in the beautiful midsummer weather; in their train came an endless procession of munitions and stores in transport-carts. The river was alive with the steam flotilla and the boats and canoes of the transport service. Bend after bend of the broad Waikato was invaded by the steadily churning gunboat - paddles and the flashing oars of the heavy boats manned by the newly organized Water Transport Corps. The time-songs of Te Wheoro's and Kukutai's friendlies rang like war-cries along the Waikato as they came sweeping up in their long canoes, carrying thirty or forty men apiece, and loaded, like the boats, with commissariat stores. Then, too, one would hear English sea-songs strangely far inland, for most of the pakeha Water Transport Corps were sailors, and they chantied as they stretched out on their oars that they would “go no more a-roving,” and at their camp - fires they raised the old choruses of “Good-bye, fare you well,” and “Rio Grande.” And many a man of Jackson's and Von Tempsky's Forest Rangers—now two independent companies—swinging light-heartedly along the bank, joined in the chanties, for a large proportion of the blue-shirted carbineers had at one time or another followed the sea.

Crying their farewells to their old homes and chanting the ancient tangi laments over sacred Taupiri, their mountain necropolis, the Kingites abandoned their hold on mid-Waikato and drew off to the open delta that lay between the Horotiu and the Waipa. They realized now that the pakeha would not be page 337 satisfied until the garden of the Upper Waikato was occupied, and that Cameron intended to break the Maoris by cutting them off from their main source of food-supply, the cultivations at Rangiaowhia and the surrounding districts. So, after evacuating Ngaruawahia, they set desperately to work fortifying the principal avenues of approach to the central granary of the Kingitanga. Two main tracks led to Rangiaowhia from the river highways. The usual route was from the Waipa at Te Rore in an easterly direction across the hills of Paterangi and Te Rahu; this was a Maori cart-road used for the transport of wheat and flour to the Auckland market. The other was from Kirikiri-roa (now Hamilton), on the Horotiu—the name for the upper part of the Waikato River, where the current is swift and the banks high, from the water-junction at Ngaruawahia to the rapids near the base of the Pukekura Range. There was also a track from Ngaruawahia parallel with the Waipa, passing Tuhikaramea, Whatawhata, and Pikopiko. At Pikopiko (Puketoki) and Paterangi the Maoris now constructed the most formidable systems of redoubts and entrenchments built in this campaign; and in rear again they threw up fortifications almost as strong, at Rangiatea and Manga-pukatea, completely barring the way to Rangiaowhia. Wiremu Tamehana's people, the Ngati-Haua, presently occupied a stronghold of their own at Te Tiki o te Ihingarangi, on the west bank of the Waikato, a short distance above the present Town of Cambridge. Paterangi was the headquarters; here at one time in the early part of 1864 nearly two thousand Maoris were in garrison, the largest Kingite force ever assembled in the war.

The Maoris had made some preparation for the defence of Ngaruawahia. When, on the 8th December, General Cameron's advanced force occupied the abandoned Kingite capital and hoisted the British colours on Tawhiao's flagstaff it was found that some trenches and rifle-pits had been dug on the point of land at the junction of the Horotiu and the Waipa, and a partly constructed earthwork pa 300 yards square, overlooked the mouth of the Waipa, about 200 yards up the bank of that river. A suggestion had also been made to bar the progress of the troops at Taupiri, where the opposing lofty ranges made a grand natural gateway, forested Taupiri on the east side and a spur of the Hakarimata Mountain on the west. But without artillery the defence of these points was hopeless against Cameron's armoured gunboats.

The small steam fleet on the Waikato was now busy transporting troops from a point near Rangiriri to Ngaruawahia, and by the end of 1863, there were nearly three thousand soldiers, Imperial and colonial, assembled at the apex of the Waikato- page 338
The Maori King's Capital, Ngaruawahia

The Maori King's Capital, Ngaruawahia

This drawing was made by Lieutenant (afterwards Colonel) H. S. Bates, of the 65th Regiment, staff interpreter, in the early part of 1863, before the war. The sketch shows the junction of the Waikato and Waipa Rivers, and the Kingite village, the site of the present town and railway-station of Ngaruawahia.

Waipa delta for the conquest of the territory to the southward. General Cameron moved his field headquarters forward to Tuhikaramea, with the Waipa River on his right flank. By this water highway great quantities of army supplies were hurried to the front. Later, supplies were also brought across by packhorse from Raglan, when the “Avon” was temporarily out of service through striking a snag and sinking in the Waipa. At the end of January Cameron moved the army headquarters forward to Te Rore, three miles from Paterangi, and Colonel Waddy, with six hundred men, took up an advanced position three-quarters of a mile from the pa.*
“It was little wonder,” says a veteran of Nixon's Cavalry, “that General Cameron declined to assault Paterangi pa. The place was immensely strong. We felt very dubious about it as we watched it week after week and waited for the General's decision. An attempt to storm it would have cost even more page 339 page 340
From military surveys, 1864] Map of the Waikato-Waipa Country Showing military routes and positions of redoubts, 1864.

From military surveys, 1864]
Map of the Waikato-Waipa Country
Showing military routes and positions of redoubts, 1864.

page 341 lives than Rangiriri.” And an Imperial officer who had fought in the Crimea declared, when he inspected the fortifications later in the year, that the Paterangi works were stronger and more skilfully designed than even the Redan. Some of Cameron's staff, like Despard at Ohaeawai, declined to believe that the Maoris were capable of planning such ingenious defences, and imagined that some European must have assisted them. It was difficult to convince some of the Regulars that, like Kawiti and Pene Taui in 1845, the men who drew the lines of the Paterangi redoubts and intricate trench-system, though none of them held a Royal Engineers commission or had gone through a staff college course, were military engineers of a high order.

The Paterangi works occupied a bold and commanding site, formidable of front, with a comparatively open rear. The highest central part only was stockaded; the rest of the works consisted of a network of trenches and parapets. The frontal earthworks were unusually solid and broad; and it was on these parapets that the natives, as they saluted the coming of the troops with a great war-dance, gave many of the troops their first view of the Maori forces in large numbers. The hill-crest which formed the front is the western terminal of a long ridge trending east and west, with low and swampy country on three sides of it. It overlooked the whole valley of the upper Waipa, from the mountain-range of Pirongia on the west to Maunga-tautari on the east. The position can readily be identified to-day, and an exploration of the hill and the sloping ground on the south reveals many traces of the works of 1863–64. As in so many battlefields of the Waikato, a road passes through the middle of the works. This is the road connecting Pirongia and Te Rore, on the Waipa, with the Ohaupo—Te Awamutu main road on the east. Paterangi village and churches are one mile east of the pa site, and the township of Pirongia is three miles to the south-west.

Our plan of Paterangi, from a survey made by Captain Brooke, R.E., in 1864, shows how cleverly the Maori engineers entrenched the whole western and south-western faces of the ridge with works completely blocking an advance over the ground between the flanking-swamps. The central works, on the hilltop, consisted of three strong redoubts; the two on the east—separated from the other by the present line of road—were connected with the western hill-crest pa by a line of covered way, about 100 yards in length, a deep ditch with a frontal parapet and a roofing of timber and earth. Close to this trench was a deep well. From the south side another trench with a high rampart curved down the hillside and across the road to a hollow under the slopes. In this depression was a spring of page 342
From a plan by Captain E. Brooke, R.E.] The Maori Entrenchments at Paterangi, 1864

From a plan by Captain E. Brooke, R.E.]
The Maori Entrenchments at Paterangi, 1864

page 343 water; the trench and the wall, about 10 feet high, protected the water-carriers from observation. Thence the line of ditch and bank extended in a south-easterly direction to the lower hill of the ridge, and effectually barred any attempt to mount the ridge on that side. The native cart-road which ran from the Waipa landing at Te Rore through Paterangi to Te Rahu and Rangiaowhia, across which the entrenchments were made, is followed almost exactly by the modern road. A portion of the parapet, about 6 feet high, defending the way to the water-spring, is still standing, on Mr. H. Rhodes's property, “Parekura,” on the south-west slope of the hill.

The general outline of the main redoubt and trenches on the level crest are indicated by slight depressions extending over an area of about 2 acres, and on the eastern side of the road the traces of a pa converted into a British redoubt after the occupation are equally plain in the turf. Te Huia Raureti, when pointing out the sites of the redoubts, showed a depression in the ground which marked the place where a large shell-proof whare was constructed by Ngati-Maniapoto and occupied by Rewi, Raureti, and their party. This slight hollow, retaining the shape of a house-excavation, is near the southern end of the main works on the hilltop west of the road. About it are the traces of other excavations and of parapets. The roofs of some of the shell-proof ruas (or dug-in shelters) and whares in the pa were so strong, covered with heavy timber and with earth, that drays were driven over them. These drays were used by the Maoris in carting in provisions to the pa from Rangiaowhia, ten miles in the rear.

On the western side the hill of Paterangi falls steeply to a narrow swamp of raupo and manuka, on the opposite side of which the land rises into undulating country about 200 feet below the level of the pa on the crest. The scrub- and fern-covered slopes here and the swampy valley were the favourite lurking-grounds of the Maoris, who were accustomed to skirmish daily with the troops, without much damage to either side. From the large expenditure of ammunition there the natives gave the place the name of “Maumau-paura,” or “Waste of gunpowder.” The advanced British camp, under Colonel Waddy, was on the slightly rising ground to the south of Maumau-paura and about south-west of the pa; the road now passes through the spot, half a mile from the site of the fortification. The Armstrong guns were posted there, and frequently threw shells into Paterangi without inflicting much damage.

Te Huia Raureti states the Rangiatea was the first fortification built for the defence of the Rangiaowhia country. The second pa constructed was Manga-pukatea, intended to block page 344
From a sketch by Captain E. Brooke, R.E.] No. 1 Redoubt, Paterangi pa, 1864

From a sketch by Captain E. Brooke, R.E.]
No. 1 Redoubt, Paterangi pa, 1864

This Maori redoubt was one of a series of strong field-works on Paterangi Hill, connected by lines of trench and parapet. The site is very close to the present homestead of Mr. H. Rhodes. The view is south-west, looking towards No. 3 Redoubt, on the crest of the hill; Mount Pirongia in the distance.

the road from Kirikiri-roa via Ohaupo; it was built by Ngati-te-Kohera, from West Taupo. When these forts were completed the united force of the Kingites threw up the large defences of Paterangi. The entrenchments at Pikopiko—usually called Puketoki (Axe Hill) by the Maoris—were made by Ngati-Apakura and other Waikato tribes; the place is two to three miles north of Paterangi.
As in Meremere, the Kingites in Paterangi derived some moral support from the possession of artillery of a kind. They had two cannon—old ship's guns, originally from Kawhia Harbour. A Ngati-Maniapoto veteran, Pou-patate Huihi, of Te Kopua, who was with Raureti in the Paterangi trenches, says that these guns had been carried overland to Te Kopua long before the war, and stood near the mission station there. They were borne over the Rau-a-moa spur of Pirongia Mountain from Oparau, via Hikurangi, slung on strong poles, which were shouldered by parties of men in frequent reliefs. The guns lay on the bank of the Waipa at Te Kopua for many years. When Paterangi was fortified they were taken down in canoes to Te Rore and carted to the fort, where they were mounted behind the parapets (in which there were embrasures) on the south-west front, in a position that would sweep the only road by which the troops could advance. The gunner who had charge of them was Te Retimana, who had had experience with the artillery at Meremere. He was page 345
From a plan by Captain E. Brooke, R.E.] The Maori Entrenchments at Pikopiko (Puketoki)

From a plan by Captain E. Brooke, R.E.]
The Maori Entrenchments at Pikopiko (Puketoki)

a man of very short stature, belonging to Ngati-Wairangi, a hapu of Ngati-Raukawa. Retimana had been in a blacksmith's employ before the war, and spoke English. The cannon were loaded with heavy charges of powder and crammed with pieces of bullock-chain (tini-kau), steelyard-weights, and scraps of iron. The little gunner had a small fire burning close by, and in this he had an iron heating, ready to fire the guns. He slept by his artillery; he was ever on the alert for the advance of the soldiers. But the troops did not come within range, to Retimana's great disappointment, and so the guns were never fired. They were reserved for the always-expected rush. The two pieces were within a few yards of each other, one on either side of the road. Stout sections of tree-trunks were sunk in the ground, and each gun was made fast to these posts with aka vines, in lieu of rope page 346 breeching, to prevent capsize from the recoil. One of the guns now lies in the disused well on the eastern side of the road.

Rangiatea pa, a strong fortification, was built in rear (eastward) of Paterangi in order to cover more effectually the sources of food-supply at Rangiaowhia. The pa was on the crown of a narrow ridge of land, and the trenches ran down to a deep swamp on one hand and the swampy border of the Ngaroto lakes—now partly drained—on the other. It was along this ridge, the prolongation of the Paterangi high ground, that the Maori cart-road passed from Rangiaowhia to Paterangi and to the canoe-landing at Te Rore. The present road from Pirongia and Paterangi eastward to the Ohaupo—Te Awamutu main road and Te Rahu passes through the Rangiatea works, long since obliterated by the road and by filling-in and ploughing. The spot is on Mr. W. Taylor's farm, a quarter of a mile west of the junction of the Paterangi, Te Awamutu, and Ohaupo Roads. On Mr. George Finch's farm, along the same road, near the Lake Road Station, are the tree-covered remains of a fort named Tauranga-mirimiri, occupied for a time during the war period 1863–64. The position is on a commanding hill, with the Ngaroto lakes below on the northern side. Near the eminence known as “Green Hill,” overlooking Te Awamutu, there was a Maori settlement named Te Rua-kotare, but this was not occupied as a fortification.

The Engagement at Waiari

As the expected assault on Paterangi was never delivered, the fighting was mostly long-range sniping, varied by occasional shelling from the British guns; but the period of waiting for action was relieved on the 11th February, 1864, by a sharp skirmish at Waiari, on the Mangapiko River, a mile south of the fortifications. In this encounter five soldiers and forty-one Maoris were killed. The central scene of the engagement is an ancient earthwork fortification of the Ngati-Apakura Tribe, built in a loop of the Mangapiko. The river doubles back on itself here, and across the narrow neck of land on the left bank of the stream are three lines of very high and broad parapet and deep ditches. Covered with thick manuka and fern in 1864, the place is in very much the same jungly condition to-day. Just above the pa the river is very narrow, at one place not more than 15 feet in width, and across this deep run at the time of the fight there lay a precarious Maori bridge, a single tree-trunk, smoothed on the upper surface. A short distance from the old fortress was a large pool which the soldiers in Colonel Waddy's advanced camp used as a bathing-place.

page 347
From a water-colour drawing by Major Von Tempsky, 1864] The Forest Rangers at Waiari (11th February, 1864)

From a water-colour drawing by Major Von Tempsky, 1864]
The Forest Rangers at Waiari (11th February, 1864)

Colonel Waddy's camp, the most advanced British post, was situated on a hill with an abrupt front towards Paterangi, and a gentle slope at the back where the tents of the 40th and 50th were pitched, sheltered from Maori bullets. The native scouts reported that if they worked round to the rear of the hill they would be able to surprise the camp by night from that side. The Paterangi leaders therefore planned an attack to be delivered by about a hundred warriors, who could conceal themselves during the day at the Mangapiko Creek, below the camp. After their first volleys on the camp in the night they were to be supported by large bodies from Paterangi. However, Colonel Waddy had sent that day a large bathing-party of the 40th Regiment to the creek. The Maoris were hidden in the bushes on the south side, close to the water and a short distance from Waiari pa. They could not resist firing on the bathing-party and the small covering detachment of soldiers. The soldiers were soon reinforced by two hundred men of the 40th and 50th from the advanced camp, under Lieut.-Colonel Havelock. With the reinforcements came Captain William Jackson, of No. 1 Company page 348
Photo by J. Cowan, 1920] The Mangapiko River and Waiari (From the north bank)

Photo by J. Cowan, 1920]
The Mangapiko River and Waiari (From the north bank)

Forest Rangers, and Captain C. Heaphy, of the Auckland Rifle Volunteers. In the skirmishing that followed Jackson shot a Maori in the river, and secured his double-barrel gun.

Some of the troops crossed the stream and closely engaged the Maoris in the manuka and fern; others fired across the narrow gully of the river. The natives were driven down-stream and took cover in the overgrown ditches of Waiari.

Reinforcements were hurrying down from Paterangi and threatening the British rear and flanks. Von Tempsky and half of the Forest Rangers were in their camp at Te Rore, two miles away, when the firing began, but with their usual eagerness they rushed off at their utmost speed when the news of the fight reached them. Colonel Havelock, carbine in hand, was directing the attack when Von Tempsky and his panting Rangers reached the southern side of the Mangapiko. He requested Von Tempsky to clear out some Maoris who had taken cover in the thicket that filled an olden trench in the rear of the British party, page 349 and away the Rangers went. “A ditch of the breastwork of an ancient pa sloped down into the river,” Von Tempsky wrote. “It was densely covered with scrub, as well as the bank of the river. My men bounded down into it like tigers. On our hands and knees we had to creep, revolver in hand, looking for our invisible foes. The thumping of double-barrel guns around us announced soon that we were in the midst of the nest. I had in all about thirty men. Some were stationed on the top of the bank, others in the very river, and the rest crawling through the scrub. There were some strange meetings in that scrub. Muzzle to muzzle, the shot of despair, the repeating cracks of revolvers and carbine thuds, and the brown bodies of Maoris made their appearance gradually, either rolling down the hill or being dragged out of the scrub.”

It was nearly dark by the time the old pa was finally cleared of the Maoris, and the troops returned to camp, skirmishing with large bodies of Maoris under cover of low bush and manuka on the right flank of the route. The Rangers covered the return of the force and remained in action until darkness fell.

Soon after the battle opened at Waiari Captain Charles Heaphy, of the Auckland Rifle Volunteers, performed a deed for which he was promoted to Major and received the only Victoria Cross awarded to a colonial soldier in the Maori wars. Heaphy was attached to the force as staff surveyor. He had arrived in the colony in 1839 as one of the New Zealand Company's survey staff, and had distinguished himself as an explorer in the South Island. While trying to rescue a wounded soldier he raised the man's head in his arms, and in doing so received a volley from thick cover, at close range, five bullets grazing and contusing him. A soldier of the 40th came to his assistance, and Heaphy directed others to where the natives were; five of the Maoris were shot.

The Maoris who fell in this skirmish numbered forty-one. Twenty-eight bodies were counted; others fell in the river. Two wounded prisoners were taken. Many of those engaged were Kawhia men who had only recently arrived at Paterangi. One of their principal chiefs killed was Te Munu Waitai, of Ngati-Hikairo; others were Taati, Ta Keriri, Taare, Te Kariri, and Hone Ropiha (Ngati-Maniapoto). Some of the dead were buried on the north side of the river, and close to their graves the troops, soon after this fight, built a reduobt to guard the crossing at Waiari. The parapets and trench of this redoubt (on Mr. H. Rhodes's farm) are still well preserved, and are marked by a grove of acacia.

page 350
Scene of Operations at Rangiaowhia and Hairini Showing positions captured by the British on the 21st and 22nd February, 1864.

Scene of Operations at Rangiaowhia and Hairini
Showing positions captured by the British on the 21st and 22nd February, 1864.

* Describing the advance on the Kingites' new positions, Von Tempsky wrote in his journal:—

“On the 27th of January, 1864, the two columns from Tuhikaramea and Whatawhata started on the main road for Pikopiko. For miles and miles now there was an unbroken stream of soldiers, bullock-drays, artillery, packhorses, and orderlies meandering over the plains and fern ridges of the sacred Maori delta. Yellow clouds of dust hovered along our road, to the great disparagement of our faces, sight, and clear speech. We had the special honour to escort on the first day some Armstrong guns dragged by bullocks. On a low backed ridge of considerable width, near a deserted village, the army encamped under their blanket tents. I saw Jackson's blue - blanket tents in the Tuhikaramea column. We had discarded even that trouble and slept in the fern, in line of battle, at the most exposed flank, opposite the bush.

“On the following morning we sighted Pikopiko, and one's heart began to beat as soon as the General began to mass his troops in columns before the Maori stronghold. There it lay, no despicable object even in the eyes of the greatest ignoramus of works of defence. There were the Maoris—at least, their black heads visible on the parapet; here and there sentries walking on the parapet, and again, some fellows dancing on it and waving to us and shouting ‘Come on!’

“For more than an hour we were kept in suspense regarding the intentions of the General. (The loyal chief Wiremu Neera, of Raglan, now made his appearance with a party on horseback.) Our suspense was broken at last by the columns filing away to the west, past Pikopiko, towards the Waipa, and this night we camped unmolested near Te Rore. Our encampment extended nearly a mile from the banks of the Waipa to the hills opposite Paterangi. The headquarters were pitched in a grove of fruit-trees on an eminence isolated by gullies on three sides, and at the foot of it the two companies of Forest Rangers were ordered to pitch their camp. We had also charge of a picket guarding the entrance to a valley on the Waipa where all the commissariat stores and munitions of war were kept. We were, moreover, to be ever ready to move to any one point, be it night or be it day; and we felt proud of this kind of honour, and to the last man in the two companies our alertness was never found deficient.

“From our most advanced post, under Colonel Waddy, of the 50th Regiment, you could see the daily life going on at Paterangi. A little battery of Armstrongs kept the alertness of the Maoris somewhat in practice, and from a still more advanced hill a picket amused itself daily by long shots at the Maoris.

“I had a great desire to make a sketch of Paterangi,” Von Tempsky continued, “so, getting leave of the General, I took five men with me and started. I had chosen five of my best shots, to keep heads below the parapet while I made my sketch, and I also had chosen them from amongst the new men to see what effect the whistle of a bullet would have upon them. I passed the picket hill, and, leaving my men with Roberts in some fern, I advanced to see how far the Maori sharpshooters would allow me to come. An Enfield bullet striking the ground at my feet soon convinced me that I was far enough. On returning to my men I told them to commence whenever they saw a shot. I also began my sketch. It was not long, however, before another Enfield bullet struck within a foot at my right. I shifted to the left. Another one checked as closely as before my shifting in that direction. However, I persevered with my work, and my men blazed away as happy as larks—till again that same rifle cracked and a bullet struck the ground in front of me. I shifted once more, but got two more close shaves from the same rifle (evidently out of a casemate hole), and having finished my sketch I waved a complimentary adieu to my friend with the Enfield rifle and departed, highly contented with the behaviour of my men and with the acquisition of the sketch, which I had intended for the General.”