The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)
Chapter 37: The Invasion of Rangiaowhia
Chapter 37: The Invasion of Rangiaowhia
The English Church at Rangiaowhia
This historic mission church was built for the Ngati-Apakura people some years before the Waikato War, and was one of many churches established under the first Bishop Selwyn. It is now used by the European residents of Rangiaowhia and Hairini. The principal scene of the fighting on the 21st February, 1864, was a short distance to the right of the picture, and many Maoris took refuge in the church.
Nixon's cavalry galloped ahead, and the crack of carbines and popping of revolvers, replied to with double-barrel guns, broke the quiet of Rangiaowhia. The main forces of the Kingites page 353 were in Paterangi and Pikopiko; those occupying Rangiaowhia were chiefly people of the Ngati-Apakura and Ngati-Hinetu sections of Waikato, engaged in supplying food to the garrisons at the front. There were about a hundred men in the settlement, with many women and children. Alongside the road, lined with whares extending from the south end of the village to the hill on the north where the Roman Catholic church dominated Rangiaowhia, great quantities of food were laid out—potatoes, kumara, pigs, and fowls—packed ready for carting to Paterangi. The Maoris, recovering from their first astonishment at the attack, took cover in their raupo huts and in one or two houses of sawn timber, and opened fire on the cavalrymen. The Rangers were soon up in the centre of the village, followed by the 65th, and the skirmish spread along the street between the rows of houses. The cavalry gave their attention to some large whares to the south and south-east of the English church; these houses, one of which was the home of the chief Ihaia (“Isaiah”), of Ngati-Apakura, were clustered at a spot called Tau-ki-tua, about the head of a long swampy valley which extended in a northerly direction; a little to the south was Tioriori kainga. Lower down this valley, the Rua-o-Tawhiwhi, was a flour-mill similar to that at Pekapeka-rau. The Forest Rangers found the Roman Catholic church crowning the mound at the north end of the settlement, called Karanga-paihau, crammed with armed Maoris, who showed a white flag, and so were not pressed further. In rear of the church, surrounded by lines of whanake or cabbage-trees (these whanake, now grown to enormous trees, still adorn the old village-site), was the kainga Te Reinga, the headquarters of Hoani Papita (“John the Baptist”) and his people of Ngati-Hinetu. Between the church and this settlement was the house of the priest of the district. The Rangers, fired at here and there from whares—one or two of these snipers were women—hurried down to the right, where heavy firing was now going on. The English church, too, was filled with Maoris, and some shots came from the windows, but the action centred in one of the large houses on the slope above the spring at the head of the little valley. Close by was a house which belonged to a European, a man named Thomas Power, who had a Maori wife. In both of these houses a number of Maoris had taken refuge.
From a drawing by J. A. Wilson, 1864]
The Fight at Rangiaowhia (21st February, 1864)
The soldier shown falling is Colonel Marmaduke Nixon, commanding the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry, who was shot from the doorway of the Maori house in the middle of the picture.
Von Tempsky came running up with his Rangers, and, followed by a dozen of his men, rushed at the doorway of the large whare. Sergeant Carron thrust his head into the low doorway, seeking a target in the gloom of the house, but could see nothing at which to fire. At this moment Corporal Alexander, of the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry, ran up and, crouching at the open door, was about to fire his carbine into the house when he was shot dead. The Rangers dragged the dead corporal away from the door, and Von Tempsky quickly fired the five shots of his revolver into the corner from which he had heard the last report. Then he pulled the body of the 65th soldier away and drew his men off a little distance. One of the Rangers, a young Canadian named John Ballender—a surgeon by profession, and a very brave fellow and a fine shot—fell wounded in the hip; he died from his injury some months later. Four cavalrymen, including Sergeant Hutchinson and Trooper E. Mellon, rushed forward with a stretcher and carried Colonel Nixon out of the line of fire. Then they went back for Trooper Alexander, who was lying outside the door shot through the throat. The shot had been fired at so short a range—only a few feet—that his whiskers were burned by the powder-flash.
The garrison whare was now on fire, like the neighbouring huts. A veteran of the cavalry says that one of the troopers had run round to the rear of the hut and set it alight; but an old Forest Ranger considers that the thatch may have been ignited by the firing. “We put the muzzles of our carbines close to the raupo walls,” he says, “and fired through the thatch. The Maoris inside were doing the same, and naturally the inflammable walls would soon catch fire from the flash and the burning wadding.”
The flames at last drove one of the occupants out. A tall old man, clothed in a white blanket, which he was holding about his head, emerged from the doorway of the burning house. His upstretched arms showed that he had no weapon. He advanced towards the crescent of troops in surrender, facing a hundred levelled rifles. “Spare him, spare him!” shouted the nearest officers. But next moment there was a thunder of shots. Staggering from the bullets, the old hero recovered his poise for an instant, stood still with an expression of calm, sad dignity, page 356 then swayed slowly and fell to the ground dead. The episode enraged the chivalrous officers who had entreated quarter for him, and young St. Hill, of the General's staff, pointed to a soldier of the 65th Regiment and shouted, “Arrest that man! I saw him fire!” But Leveson-Gower, the captain of the detachment, replied, “No, I'll not arrest him; he was not the only one who fired.” The truth was that the troops clustered promiscuously about the burning houses were not under the immediate control of their officers at the moment of the Maori's surrender; and there were many who burned to avenge the fall of their beloved Colonel Nixon.
No more Maoris surrendered after that sacrifice. The house was now wrapped in flames. A man stepped out of the pit of death, stood in front of the doorway, and fired his last shots from his double-barrel gun. A volley from the soldiers, and he fell dead. Yet another appeared from the doorway and was shot dead while aiming at his foes. The burning house crashed and fell inward. When the troops were able to approach it they found in the smoking ruins the charred bodies of Sergeant McHale and seven Maoris. The brave little garrison had numbered ten, opposed to some hundreds of the invaders, and the taking of the raupo hut cost, besides, three whites shot dead and two mortally wounded.
None of the other whares was defended in this determined manner. About a dozen houses were burned down; some of their occupants had dispersed to the northward, making across the slopes for the Catholic church on the hill; others took refuge in the swamp or fled eastward into the bush. At the Catholic church* some of Hoani Papita's men made a short stand. Twenty or thirty of them rushed into the church and fired through the windows, and it was thought at first that they intended standing page 357 a siege there, but they discovered that the weatherboards were not bullet-proof. The Rangers and some Regulars attacked, and the church-walls were soon perforated with bullets. At last the defenders dashed out through the door on the northern side, and fled to the swamps.
Twelve Maoris, including the chiefs Hoani and Ihaia, were killed in the morning's encounter, and above thirty prisoners, some wounded, were taken.
The Battle of Hairini
The news of the General's surprise expedition and the attack on Rangiaowhia brought the main body of the Waikato and their allies pouring eastward into the invaded village, and a few hours after the fight the leaders were hastily planning the fortifications for the defence of their supply headquarters. They realized now that Paterangi, Pikopiko, and Rangiatea represented so much heavy labour lost as the result of the British turning movement, and those forts were evacuated immediately. A position was selected for an entrenchment to block the road from Te Awamutu to Rangiaowhia. The place chosen was the crest of a ridge at Hairini (“Ireland”), the highest part of the approach to Rangiaowhia from the west. An old line of ditch and bank, fencing in some large cultivations, crossed the crown of the height from north to south. This line the Maoris quickly strengthened on the morning after the invasion of the village, deepening the ditch and converting the bank into a strong parapet, with a stake fence surmounting it. The road was blocked by a rifle-trench with a narrow opening. The entrenchment ran down the hill on the north side—the defenders' right flank—into a deep swamp; on the south side the ditch and bank extended along a slope to the cover of thick bush and manuka, which continued thence steeply down to the kahikatea forest in the swampy valley of the Manga-o-Hoi. The flanks of the Kingites were thus well protected. Members of many Kingite tribes shared in the work of defence. Besides numerous subtribes of Waikato, there were many Ngati-Maniapoto, one of whose chiefs was Wahanui—a gigantic figure of a man, afterwards the most celebrated orator of the King party—some men of Ngai-te-Rangi from Tauranga, and a contingent of nearly a hundred Urewera warriors, under Piripi te Heuheu, Hapurona Kohi, Te Whenuanui, and Paerau. With the Ngai-te-Rangi was a savage fellow of Ngati-Rangiwewehi from Rotorua, named Kereopa te Rau; he became notorious in the following year as Kereopa Kai-Karu (the “Eye-swallower”), the Hauhau apostle who put the missionary Volkner to death at Opotiki.page 358
Wahanui, whose home was at Hangatiki, received a slight wound in the fight at Hairini. He was the most prominent chief of Ngati-Maniapoto after the war, and was the leading representative of the Maori King party in the negotiations with the Government.
On the morning of the 22nd February, the day following the attack on Rangiaowhia, an outlying picket on the north side of the Manga-a-Hoi Stream at Te Awamutu was fired upon by a party of Ngati-Maniapoto from the cover of some manuka at Matariki, on the river-bank a short distance above the bridge. The troops in the camp at Te Awamutu had been reinforced by a large body from Te Rore, including the 50th Regiment (under Brevet-Colonel Weare), a detachment of Royal Artillery, and a party of Royal Navy men from the ships at Auckland, page 359 with two 6-pounder Armstrong guns and a naval 6-pounder. The soldiers were just preparing for dinner when the “Assembly” sounded. The Colonial Defence Force Cavalry, under Captain Pye, v.c., and Captain Walmsley, led the advance upon Hairini which was now ordered, and the Forest Rangers, as usual where there was fighting in prospect, were well ahead of the other infantry corps. The General, immediately on learning that the natives had taken up a position on Hairini Hill, determined to attack before they had time to strengthen their defences, and early in the afternoon nearly a thousand bayonets flashed back the sun as the column advanced in fours along the narrow road towards the ridge with high fern on either side. (The present main road follows exactly this route.) A mile from Te Awamutu the route led under the southern crest of a rather steep spur; below was a gully of scrub and bush and swamp. A Maori skirmish line under cover of a hedge was driven in, and on a hill about 500 yards in front of Hairini height the guns were placed and opened fire on the entrenchments, now manned by five or six hundred men. The infantry went on and halted in the ferny hollow between the two hills, awaiting the order to storm the position. Just outside the road gateway at the trenches a wild figure leaped and brandished a taiaha, yelling defiance at the troops and encouraged his comrades with cries of “Riria, riria! Patua, patua!” (“Fight on, fight on! Strike, kill!”) This was Kereopa te Rau. The field-pieces fired shells over the heads of the Forest Rangers (mustering seventy-nine) and the 50th (480 strong)—the 65th were in support, and the 70th Regiment in reserve—and the Maoris all along the line replied heavily with their double-barrel guns. “It was as pretty a bit of hot firing as I have ever seen,” says a veteran of Jackson's company of Rangers. “The Armstrongs were sending their shells screeching over us, and the Maori bullets were cutting down the fern near me with as even a swathe almost as you could cut it with a slash-hook. We were lying down within 300 yards of the enemy. At last the ‘Charge’ was sounded, and away we went, the whole of us, we Rangers making for the Maoris' right flank, and the 50th Regiment, on our right, for the centre. With a great cheer the 50th swept splendidly up to the parapet with bayonets at the charge. We on their left stormed the Maori line on even terms with them; we had no bayonets, but used our revolvers for close-quarters work.”
The Kingite warriors maintained a heavy fire, but their bullets flew too high, and as the fatal line of steel approached they broke into confusion and flight. Some raced down to the left into the shelter of the deep swamp on the north side, and struggled across it in the direction of Rangiaowhia; others fled across page 360 the hill in the rear and into the cover of the bush on the south.
Now came the opportunity for the cavalry. One detachment of the Colonial Defence, under Captain Walmsley, advanced on the right flank, taking the high ground overlooking the Manga-o-Hoi Valley; the other troop, under Captain Pye, galloped up on the left, crossing a maize-field above the swamp, with its patches of kahikatea bush. The trumpet sounded the “Charge,” and the troopers rode into the Maoris with their sabres, cutting down a number as they went over them. Some of the warriors bravely faced the horsemen. Captain Pye's men met a volley. “Our detachment,” says a veteran of this troop, “got in among a party of Maoris who attempted to resist us. I made a cut with my sword at one man, but he jumped aside and I missed him. As I passed ahead I looked round and saw another trooper, Middleton, running his sword through him. Some of the Maoris ran down on the south side of Hairini, where we could not follow them; others retreated across the swamp at Pekapeka-rau, where the Maori dam and flour-mill were.” This was one of the few occasions on which cavalry charges were practicable in the Maori wars. Cavalry were used at Orakau, a few weeks after the Hairini fight; the other principal instances of charges with the sabre occurred at Nukumaru, on the west coast, in 1865, and at Kiorekino, on the Opotiki Flat, in the same year.
The Forest Rangers, under Von Tempsky, meanwhile were firing from a peach-grove on the left upon the Maoris escaping through the swamp, and they, with some of the 50th and the 70th, skirmished up towards Rangiaowhia, where the fighting ended. The village was looted, and the Rangers and many other troops returned to Te Awamutu laden with spoils in the way of food and Maori weapons.
The day's casualties numbered two soldiers killed, one of the Defence Force Cavalry mortally wounded, and fifteen others wounded, including Ensign Doveton, of the 50th. The Maoris lost about a score killed, besides many wounded, some of whom were captured and treated in the field hospital at Te Awamutu. The troops probably would have suffered more severely when doubling along the road to the assault but for the clouds of dust that obscured them.
A British redoubt was built at Rangiaowhia, near the brow of the hill Hikurangi, overlooking the Manga-o-Hoi forest and swamp (the district school now stands close to the spot). The post was garrisoned by a company of the 65th Regiment, under Captain Blewitt. In later years, when the Waikato frontier was threatened by the King Country Hauhaus, a blockhouse was built on the site and held by the armed settlers, some of whom were old Forest Rangers of Jackson's No. 1 Company.
The whole of the mid-Waikato and the fertile plain of the delta between the Waipa and the Horotiu (upper Waikato River) as far south as the Mangapiko River was now under British occupation. General Cameron left detachments to garrison Te Rore, Pikopiko, and Paterangi, and at Kirikiri-roa, on the Horotiu, established a post which became the present Town of Hamilton. The gunboats “Pioneer” and “Koheroa” steamed up the Horotiu for the first time on the 2nd March, 1864, with a detachment of the 65th, and anchored below the deserted native settlement of Kirikiri-roa. Next day the “Koheroa,” under command of an officer of H.M.S. “Eclipse,” ascended the strong river as far as Pukerimu, and the officers and surveyors on board made a rapid reconnaissance of the country. Redoubts were built soon after this at Pukerimu and Kirikiri-roa, and were garrisoned by detachments of the 18th and 70th Regiments; later, the settlements were occupied by men of the Waikato Militia. The Ngati-Haua and their allies, including many Ngai-te-Rangi from Tauranga, had now strongly fortified themselves at Te Tiki-o-te-Ihingarangi, where the Pukekura Range, an out - spur of Maunga-tautari, terminates above the precipitous left bank of the Waikato River. Soon after the first visit to Pukerimu the General advanced with a force of several hundred men from Te Awamutu and skirmished towards the Ngati-Haua positions. After a little firing at comparatively long range the troops retired. The pa was occupied for several weeks, but at last was evacuated before Cameron had made up his mind to attack it. This was the only strong position in the Waikato country remaining to the Kingites in March. There were now nearly five thousand troops, Imperial and colonial, distributed in the occupied territory; the greater number was encamped at Te Awamutu, where the army spent the winter of 1864.
Photo by W. Beattie, 1906]
St. John's Church, Te Awamutu
This mission church was built in the early “fifties,” when Te Awamutu was the station of the Rev. John Morgan, of the C.M.S., who introduced civilization and English methods of agriculture among the tribes of the Upper Waikato. Mr. Morgan carried on mission work and industrial education here from 1841 until the beginning of the Waikato War. The soldiers who fell at Orakau and other fights in the district were buried in the churchyard.
Numerous scouting expeditions were made from Headquarters at Te Awamutu by the Forest Rangers and by the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry. It was after one of the troopers' rides to the neighbourhood of Kihikihi, where Maoris were again seen to be gathering—one was shot at long range by Lieutenant (afterwards Colonel) McDonnell—that it was decided to build the redoubt just mentioned. An expedition marched before daylight one morning, under Colonel Waddy and Colonel Havelock, with the Forest Rangers, as usual, forming the advanced guard, to pay a surprise visit to Kihikihi, but the natives again retired in time. Von Tempsky went on through some maize-fields and skirmished across a swamp with some of the Maoris, but did not get close to them. That night he took the men into the kahikatea bush and swamp which flanked Kihikihi, in an attempt to reach the Maoris who had retreated into some distant whares on a rise, and after a very rough experience, scrambling through the swamp and jungle in the darkness, reached the whares at daylight and rushed them, but found them empty. Sergeant Carron reported that there were Maoris in the bush which nearly surrounded this settlement, a little distance to the eastward of Kihikihi Village. von Tempsky withdrew his men from the whares, and received a harmless volley from the bush-covered hill. He took up a position within 300 yards of the huts, under cover of logs and fern, and awaited a Maori advance, but the Ngati-Maniapoto party wisely remained in their cover. The Rangers returned to Kihikihi, and from the central hill that afternoon they saw some hundreds of Maoris in the distance driving their cattle and horses into safety southward of the Puniu.
The site of Rewi Maniapoto's council-house “Hui-te-Rangiora,” burned by the troops, is a little distance to the south-west of the present Presbyterian church in the Kihikihi Township. Near this church is the house which the Government built for Rewi shortly before the Kingites finally made peace in 1881; close to the house at a street-corner is his grave; he died in 1894. The name “Hui-te-Rangiora,” celebrated in Maori-Polynesian tradition, is still honoured among Ngati-Maniapoto; it has been given to the house (a gift from the Government) on the south bank of the Puniu River in which Rewi's widow, Te Rohu, now lives.page 364
The redoubt on Rata-tu, the highest part of the Kihikihi ridge, was a military post for about twenty years after its construction. It was occupied as a barracks by the Armed Constabulary, 1870–83, and was an important place in the chain of defences along the frontier against the often-threatened Kingite and Hauhau invasions of the Upper Waikato. The lines of the redoubt can be traced just behind the present police-station in Kihikihi Township.
The head of river navigation for the wheat-growers of Kihikihi, the headquarters of Ngati-Maniapoto, was at Tokatoka, afterwards known as Anderson's Crossing, on the Puniu River, about two miles from the village. Large canoes carrying sixty or seventy men could come up the Puniu River in the old days, before it was blocked with willows, and cargoes of wheat and potatoes loaded there were taken down into the Waipa, and thence into the Waikato for Auckland. A mile north of the Tokatoka landing was the flour-mill of the Kihikihi Maoris; the waterpower was supplied by a small stream which drained the Whakatau-ringaringa swamp on the west and south-west side of the Kihikihi ridge.
“The Natives took cover in the Roman Catholic church after most of the whares on the lower ground had been cleared of them; the huts were nearly all set on fire by natives firing through the raupo walls at the troops. The church was held by them for only a brief period; they retreated quickly before the advancing Forest Rangers and troops. The Rev. Father Vinay, who resided at the church for many years after the war, cleverly effaced and closed up the bullet-holes left in the building during the skirmish, and yet these were long visible upon close inspection. The temporary stand made by the natives in the church formed the closing scene of that morning's encounter.
“A great deal of wild talk arose as to the burning of the Maori whares designedly, but the firing of Maori guns and of soldiers' rifles at close range into dry raupo whares is a sufficient explanation.”