The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 14: THE FIGHT AT OMARUNUI
Chapter 14: THE FIGHT AT OMARUNUI
THE DISTRICT OF Hawke's Bay south of the Wairoa was not seriously troubled by the Hauhau propaganda until late in 1866. Shortly after the Volkner tragedy at Opotiki in 1865 and the arrival of the Pai-marire prophets in the Poverty Bay and East Cape settlements, Mr. Donald McLean (afterwards Sir Donald) and his colleague Mr. J. D. Ormond took measures to influence the Hawke's Bay native chiefs against the spread of Pai-marire in their territory. McLean, before settling permanently in Hawke's Bay, had acted for many years as native adviser and land-purchase agent under successive Governments, and had won the confidence of the leading men in many tribes. At this time he was Superintendent of the Hawke's Bay Province, and was also the Government Native Agent for the East Coast. Mr. Ormond, afterwards for many years a member of the Legislative Council, had been elected to the House of Representatives in 1861; he was a leading settler in the province and a coadjutor with McLean in his public work. McLean's first step was to call meetings of the Hawke's Bay chiefs and urge them to set their faces against the murderous doctrines of the Pai-marire apostles. The principal rangatiras of Ngati-Kahungunu—the old warriors Tareha, Te Moananui, and Renata Kawepo, supported by Karauria, Karaitiana Takamoana, and others—agreed to do their utmost to stay the spread of Hauhau unrest, which they admitted had permeated some sections of their people. The subjugation of the rebellious faction among Ngati-Porou and the defeat of the Poverty Bay Hauhaus at Waerenga-a-Hika produced a good effect among the small doubtful sections of Ngati-Kahungunu, and in fact the only menace to European settlement on the plains of Hawke's Bay did not come from that tribe, but from an outpost of Hauhauism in the interior, on the mountain-track to the Taupo country.
At the beginning of October 1866, the Ngati-Hineuru Tribe, a small but war-loving clan whose principal villages were Te Haroto and Tarawera—on the present Napier-Taupo Main Road— page 138 set out for the East Coast with the intention of delivering an attack on the Town of Napier. This bold scheme was due chiefly to the fiery counsels of the old warrior Te Rangihiroa, the hereditary head of the clan, and the Pai-marire preachings of a prophet named Panapa; and it had obtained the approval of Rewi Maniapoto and other Kingite leaders, to whom emissaries had been sent from Te Haroto. Panapa had sent spies down to the coast to gain what information they could regarding the likelihood of success in a raid on Napier Town. These men went through the town in the guise of peaceful visitors, ascertained where the barracks were, where the arms and ammunition were kept, and returned to Panapa and Te Rangihiroa with the information. A few days later the Ngati-Hineuru war-party, numbering about eighty men, marched over the range at Titiokura and descended to Pohue and the plains. The “Tekau-ma-rua” (“The Twelve”), as the Hauhau war-band was called, irrespective of its numerical strength, included some wild spirits from other tribes, as far away as the King Country. Besides Te Rangihiroa and Panapa, there were four chiefs of Ngati-Hineuru named Kipa and Kingita (who were Rangihiroa's half-brothers), Nikora, and Petera Kahuroa; with them came a powerful and savage fellow from the eastern shore of Lake Taupo, a big black-bearded man named Te Rangitahau, of whom a good deal will be heard hereafter; he was the principal man of Waipahihi and Waitahanui, and was of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa Tribe. From the Ngati-Maniapoto country there was a young warrior named Peita Kotuku, who had fought in Taranaki in 1860 and was one of the gallant three hundred who held Orakau pa in 1864.
At Te Pohue the force appears to have been joined by recruits from other parts, including some from the Wairoa district, for before a move was made on Napier the total strength was about one hundred and thirty. The column was divided, Panapa going on to Omarunui, on the Tutaekuri River, six miles from Napier Town, with the greater portion of the force, while Te Rangihiroa remained with about twenty-five mounted men. The plan of attack was that Te Rangihiroa was to make a night attack on the town by way of Petane (Bethany), the settlement near the sea on the north side, while Panapa, Nikora, and Te Rangitahau were to deal simultaneously with the out-settlements of pakeha and Maori and then join in the sack of Napier. It was expected that at the same time Wi Hapi and Hauhau sections of Ngati-Kahungunu would march on Porangahau and other settlements in the south of the province. In the event of a successful attack on Napier the Hauhaus in other districts were to rise and descend on the pakeha and the friendly Maoris; the Urewera were expected to page 139 make forays to the plains, and the Waikato Kingites were to renew the war on their frontier. A disaster at Napier, therefore, would have involved many other parts of the country in razzias and bloodshed.
The arrival at Omarunui of Panapa and a hundred armed men was reported by the friendly natives to Mr. McLean; and Mr. Hamlin, Native Interpreter to the Superintendent, who had been sent out to inquire the intentions of the strangers when they were halted at Petane, was now deputed to warn them to return to their homes, otherwise they would be attacked. For a long time the Hauhaus remained silent. At last Panapa said that peace and war were both good; but nothing more definite could be gathered as to his intentions. The Hauhaus took no notice of the Superintendent's warnings, and it was evident that they meant mischief, although by Panapa's instructions they remained quiet and refrained from any act of violence. The place where they had taken up their quarters, Omarunui, was a fenced village on a flat above the cliffy bank of the Tutaekuri; the chief of the kainga, Paora Kaiwhata, with most of his people left and joined Tareha in the strongly stockaded settlement called Pa-whakairo (“The Carved Fort”), about a mile distant.
The people of Napier were now fully alive to the danger of attack, and preparations were made for action against the invaders from the mountains. The armed force available consisted of the Militia, numbering about one hundred and thirty men and youths, and a company of Napier Rifle Volunteers, forty-five rank and file, under Captain Buchanan. A message was sent to Wairoa for Major Fraser and his company of Military Settlers, who had done good service in the East Cape and Poverty Bay campaign. Fraser and his men, numbering forty, and also a party of Wairoa Maoris under Kopu-Parapara and Ihaka Whanga, reached Napier on the 11th October. The Napier forces were under the command of Colonel George Whitmore, who had been military secretary to General Cameron; he had left the Imperial army and was now a settler in Hawke's Bay. He saw that everything was in readiness for action, and detached Fraser and his veterans to guard the approach from the Petane side. Reports had been received that Te Rangihiroa and his party would pass down the valley at Petane on the morning of the 12th, and Fraser was instructed to await them at a point where the track passed through a defile close to the home of Captain Carr (late R.A.), who had a sheep-station at Petane. Simultaneously Whitmore moved on Omarunui to demand the surrender of Panapa's force.
The Napier citizen soldiers, numbering in all about two hundred, including some twenty-five volunteer cavalry, marched out from the town soon after midnight on the 11th October page 140 and took up positions on the Tutaekuri in co-operation with the friendly Maoris under Mr. Locke, Native Agent, and the chiefs Tareha, Renata Kawepo, and other tribal leaders. The Omarunui settlement was surrounded by daylight, the Maori contingent taking up a position on the edge of a swamp in the rear. At daybreak the Hauhaus began their fanatic services round the niu pole of worship which had been erected in the village, Panapa the prophet standing at the foot of the mast and leading the Pai-marire incantations.
Mr. Hamlin was sent into the village under a flag of truce with a message from Mr. McLean demanding the surrender of the Hauhaus in an hour, otherwise they would be fired upon. Hamlin returned and reported that the natives would not listen to any proposal. After waiting an hour the order was given to attack the village.
The Militia, two companies under Major Lambert, were sent forward to ford the river opposite the settlement and take up a position on the bank. The Hauhaus were still undecided how to act, for they had not intended to take the offensive until the signal was given that Te Rangihiroa was attacking Napier, and there was no word from him. At any rate they permitted the Militia to ford the river, cross the wide shingle bed, and ascend the bank near the village without opening fire, and so lost an opportunity of inflicting heavy loss on their pakeha foe. Orders were now given to open fire, and volleys were poured into the village from three sides. The Hauhaus ran for the shelter of their whares and the large meeting-house and returned the fire; some skirmished out to the open, but a number fell, and the huts proved precarious cover. Panapa, the war-priest, came out into the open and was shot dead. The firing continued for over an hour, and the Maori casualties grew heavy. At last, seeing it hopeless to hold the village longer, and disheartened by the fall of their prophet, whom they had believed to be invulnerable to bullets, the majority of the survivors decided to surrender. A number of the defenders rushed out in the rear and attempted to escape to the hills across the swamp, but Captain Gordon and his volunter cavalry galloped round and intercepted the fugitives. All except one or two were killed, wounded, or captured. Those who remained alive in the village hoisted a white flag, and the “Cease fire” was ordered. Nikora was the leader of those who surrendered; he had fought gallantly and received a severe wound. The brothers Kipa and Kingita both were killed. The Hauhaus lost in this short sharp affair twenty-one dead and about thirty wounded, of whom some died in hospital, Fifty-eight unwounded prisoners were taken. Very nearly the whole war-party, therefore, was accounted for by death, wounds, or capture.page 141
Peita Kotuku (Ngati-Maniapoto and Patu-heuheu Tribes), who was one of those captured, described to the present writer (1921) his share in the engagement. “At the beginning of the fight on the river-bank at Omarunui,” he said, “I had no gun, but when one of my comrades fell I took his double-barrel gun and his cartridge-belt, nearly full, and fired at the pakehas advancing to surround us. I expended all my ammuntion here. A bullet struck me in the stomach, but its force, somehow, was deadened by my clothing, and it did not injure me beyond inflicting a heavy blow; it entangled itself in my shirt. Another bullet thudded on my chest just over my heart, but my waistcoat and shirt stopped it from penetrating, or else the angle at which it was fired caused it to glance off. This was at a range of about 100 yards. I saw Nikora shot in the body; two bullets struck him. A number of us retreated across the swamp and took to the hills, but we were surrounded there by cavalry and forced to surrender. All of us who could walk were marched to Napier, and the wounded were taken to hospital there. Then we were shipped off to Wharekauri (Chatham Islands) in a steamer. Kikora and the other wounded men were sent after us when they had recovered in hospital. Only one of my comrades succeeded in returning to Te Haroto: this was a young man named Maniapoto. Three years afterwards he was killed at Te Pononga, near Tokaanu.”
Whitmore's casualties were slight. One Militiaman, Private W. Young, and a Ngati-Kahungunu Maori were killed, and Captain Kennedy, eight other Europeans, and five Maoris were wounded.
Meanwhile Fraser's small force despatched to Petane had gained an equally decisive victory. Early on the same morning as the battle of Omarunui (12th October, 1866) the company of Military Settlers, reinforced by Captain Carr and some armed settlers, intercepted Te Rangihiroa's war-party in a narrow pass through which the road ran. The Hauhaus numbered twenty-five, all mounted. Fraser sent some of his men to cut off their retreat, and there was nothing for it but to fight against heavy odds. The encounter was as sharp as that at Omarunui, but much shorter. Old Te Rangihiroa, an inveterate foe of the pakeha, was killed, and eleven of his men fell with him; one was wounded, and three were taken prisoners. The only European casualty was Sergeant Fletcher, wounded. Among the Maoris who escaped were two rather noted men, Paora Toki and Anaru Matete. The latter was a most determined fighter. In 1868 he joined Te Kooti, and fought under him in all his raids and skirmishes. Anaru at last surrendered to Captain Ferris at Te Reinga.
Thus the bold enterprise of Ngati-Hineuru and their allies ended in complete disorder, wiping out the fighting strength of page 142 a tribe renowned for its war-making proclivities. The total number of the combined Hauhau parties was set down at 128. Of these thirty-three were killed, several died of wounds, and the other wounded and prisoners numbered about eighty. The total disposed of was given as 114, leaving only fourteen at liberty. Most of the prisoners were deported to the Chatham Islands to join those captured at Waerenga-a-Hika.
The explanation of the daring manifested in the attempt of so small a war-party to attack a well-armed European settlement is to be found in its extraordinary confidence in supernatural aid produced by the preachings of the Pai-marire apostles. Panapa's disciples believed that the Atua of the Chosen People, who were the Maoris, would endow them with strength to prevail over their enemies; moreover, there was the faith implanted by Te Ua that the pakeha's bullets could be averted by the magic incantations and the favour of the gods. The double defeat on the outskirts of Ahuriri convinced the survivors that the Hawke's Bay pakeha had not only a more powerful Atua, but were endowed with an unexpected capacity for fighting. The lesson was not lost on the tribes when the news of Ngati-Hineuru's ruin spread through the interior, and whatever troubles befell other settlements Napier was never again menaced.
A monument unveiled by the Hon. J. D. Ormond at a jubilee gathering in 1916 now stands on the battlefield of Omarunui, on land presented by Mr. W. Kinross White.