The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 15: McDONNELL'S TARANAKI CAMPAIGN (1866)
Chapter 15: McDONNELL'S TARANAKI CAMPAIGN (1866)
AT THE CLOSE of Major-General Chute's campaign on the West Coast there was a brief cessation of active military operations, and the settlement of the confiscated lands was begun, but occupation was precarious, for Ngati-Ruanui, Te Pakakohi, and Nga-Rauru were only waiting their time. Areas totalling about 50,000 acres, mostly open land, south of the Wai-ngongoro, were laid out in military settlements; the townships were Kakaramea, Mokoia, and Ohawe. Many of the Military Settlers took up the occupation of the sections to which their period of service entitled them—there were chiefly men who had already had farming experience—but the majority in the end disposed of their grants and left the district.
When the Government in 1866 came to the decision to occupy the confiscated lands between the Wai-ngongoro and the Waitotara the West Coast portion of the expeditionary Force at Opotiki was recalled, and in June went into camp at Patea. This body consisted of the Patea and Wanganui Rangers, two companies of the Taranaki Military Settlers, and the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry. A contingent of the Wanganui friendly Maoris who had been doing garrison duty at Pipiriki now joined the Taranaki column, peace having been established on the Wanganui by a pact with the up-river tribes under Pehi Turoa.
On the 16th June, 1866, Mr. S. Percy Smith (afterwards Surveyor-General) and several companions had a narrow escape from an ambush-party. “I was riding across the fern plains at Hawera,” Mr. Smith narrated, “in company with Mr. Octavius Carrington (then Chief Surveyor of Taranaki), Major McDonnell, and Lieutenant Wirihana, of the Native Contingent, on the way back from the Wai-ngongoro to Kakaramea, when we fell into an ambuscade near where the middle of the Town of Hawera now is. We were cantering along the narrow winding track among the fern and bushes. I had a big horse, a brute to hold in. When we reached a point at the junction of General Cameron's old route with the track that turns off to Ketemarae I heard Wirihana, who was behind me, call out, ‘Hauhaus!’ I turned my head towards a clump of flax bushes and fern, and there about 40 yards off saw a lot of black heads popping up above the fern. I could not pull my horse up quickly, and page 145 while I was doing my best to stop him we got a heavy volley from the Maoris. None of us was hit; it was an amazing escape, for the bullets knocked up the dust in the track about us, and I could hear and see them striking the flax, and saw the tops of the fern snipped off. I got my horse turned round, and we all galloped back the way we had come, with a lot of shots fired after us. Major McDonnell vowed he would get even for these attacks so near his post, and it was a night or two later that he raided the Hauhaus at Pokaikai. There were more than forty Hauhaus firing at us; our escape was miraculous. If it had not been for Wirihana, who saw their heads moving in the flax, we should all have ridden right into the ambush and have perished. We reached the Waingongoro Redoubt safely, and Captain Dawson gave us an escort of ten troopers and fifty of the 18th Regiment part of the way, and from Manawapou we had another escort on to the camp at Kakaramea.”
After this ambuscade, which occurred at Te Haumi, between Hawera and the Waihi Stream, McDonnell sent to the Ngati-Tupaea hapu at Pokaikai a cartridge, a percussion cap, a bottle of rum, and a white handkerchief bearing the words “Rongo pai” (“Good tidings”), asking them which of the emblems they would accept. They retained the handkerchief and returned the other articles, thus signifying their intention to remain peaceful. However, a short time later (1st August) McDonnell suddenly marched on Pokaikai with two hundred men and attacked the village early in the morning, No. 8 Company of Military Settlers charging in with the bayonet. Two men and a woman were killed, and a girl received four bayonet-wounds. There were many women and children in the place. Most of the Hauhaus escaped to the bush down a gully, the majority of them in their alarm leaving their guns in the huts. They received volley after volley as they fled. One of McDonnell's men was killed, a young man named Spain, who had recently left Mr. Smith's survey-party, then camped at Manawapou. According to one report he had gone into a whare to bring out a dead Hauhau; another version was to the effect that he was searching for loot. At any rate, he was fired on and mortally wounded. It was reported that he was shot in mistake for the renegade Kimble Bent, who was supposed to be in Pokaikai. Bent at the time was in Taiporohenui Village, Ngati-Ruanui's headquarters, three miles away. Three days previously he had been in Pokaikai, sent there by his chief and owner Tito te Hanataua, but had returned to Taiporohenui at the bidding of Te Ua the prophet, who had had a dream of bad omen, portending some disaster, and had counselled the pakeha to leave Pokaikai. The troops captured thirty-five guns of various makes left by the page 146 fugitive Hauhaus. The village was burned, and the expedition marched back to Manawapou.
The affair was not very creditable to McDonnell. The natives complained afterwards that they had been lulled into security by the peace messages of the Governor sent through his prophet Te Ua on his return from Wellington (whither he had been taken as a prisoner by General Chute in 1866), and by McDonnell's white-handkerchief message. A Commission of inquiry into the Pokaikai surprise was held, and after taking evidence from both sides the Commissioner (Mr. George Graham) reported that the attack was unnecessary, and that McDonnell's action in lulling the natives into a state of security and then attacking them was “improper and unjust.”
This surprise attack was followed by negotiations with the Tangahoe Tribe and a section of the Pakakohi, resulting in many of these Hauhaus surrendering and signing the declaration of allegiance. The greater part of Ngati-Ruanui, however, still held aloof, and in the beginning of September a reconnaissance-party had a slight skirmish near Ketemarae.
In September a redoubt was built at Waihi, and this position became the field headquarters of the South Taranaki force. Captain Newland and a body of Rangers and the Native Contingent who constructed the redoubt had numerous small skirmishes with the Hauhaus, who frequently fired on the working-parties from the edge of the bush half a mile away.
The Ngati-Tupaea and others of Ngati-Ruanui presently exacted utu for the attack on Pokaikai. On the 23rd September a cart convoy escorted by three troopers of the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry left the post at the Round Bush, near the present Town of Hawera, for the redoubt at Waihi. The cart was loaded with fresh meat and bread, and contained also an invalided Wanganui Ranger, Michael Emerson, formerly of the 65th Regiment. It was driven by Private George Tuffin (afterwards one of the defenders of Turuturu-mokai Redoubt, where he received five wounds). Two of the troopers, William Wallace and Haggerty, rode ahead, and the third, Michael Noonan (killed near Waikare-moana, 1869), was rearguard. When about half-way between Hawera and Waihi the little convoy was ambushed by a party of twenty Maoris from the cover of high fern and tutu bushes. A volley was suddenly delivered at Haggerty, whose horse received six bullets and fell dead. Haggerty was thrown on the track with a wound in the leg, and instantly there was a rush of Hauhaus from the fern and a flash of tomahawks as they despatched him. “They were on him like a pack of wolves,” says Wallace, the sole survivor to-day of that escort. Wallace was the target for the second volley, page 147 but, as if by a miracle, he escaped. The Maoris then shot the shaft horse in the cart team; a wounded Hauhau rode the leader away. Tuffin, who was unarmed, jumped out of the cart and ran for his life; he reached Waihi Redoubt unhurt. Emerson, who was suffering great pain, got out and appealed to the troopers not to let the Hauhaus get him. “It's all right, Mick,” shouted Wallace, “we won't leave you.” Emerson was unable to mount a horse, but hobbled along between the two cavalrymen, who kept the Hauhaus off with their carbines and revolvers until a party of Rangers, volunteers, and Wanganui natives came doubling up from Waihi, led by Captain Newland. The Hauhaus secured Haggerty's carbine, revolver, and sword, but had not time to plunder the cart. Captain Smith, commanding at Hawera, was put under arrest for sending so small an escort through perilous country.
Captain J. R. Rushton, of Kutarere, Ohiwa, describes how vengeance was exacted for Haggerty's death. Rushton had been a sergeant in the Patea Rangers, and had resigned, but was now serving as a volunteer without pay. “The Maoris,” he says, “now became very enterprising, and often fired from a point of bush about 800 yards away. I think I suggested this trap for them. I took six or seven men out, and when some distance from the bush started a sham survey—that is, I told the men to use their carbines as if cutting lines. I stood at a distance as surveyor, directing them towards the part of bush the firing had come from. A party under Ensign Northcroft had come out of our redoubt unseen by the Maoris, and as we moved forward kept in touch with our flank. Now came what we expected—a heavy volley right at us; but luckily no hits. Our supports now sprang up, charging right into the bush. We thought that our ruse had failed, when our brave little comrade Winiata fired point-blank at a Maori trying to shelter behind a rimu tree, and killed him. ‘This is utu for my friend Haggerty,’ cried Winiata, as he ran up to tomahawk the fallen Hauhau. We followed up the rest, who bolted. After this we prepared to attack Pungarehu, as that place and Te Ngutu-o-te-manu were the chief strongholds of the Hauhaus.”
The principal engagement of the campaign was fought at Te Pungarehu, a village in the bush on the western side of the Wai-ngongoro and not far from the afterwards celebrated Te Ngutu-o-te-manu. The position of the place was not exactly known for this bush country was unmapped and unexplored by Europeans; but McDonnell's practice was to scout about until a well-marked track was found, and then follow it up. With a force of about a hundred and ten men he crossed the Waingongoro late on the night of the 1st October and marched page 148 in past Mawhitiwhiti, following a trail which led to a clearing in the heavy timber. Whares were scattered about this clearing, which was found after the fight to be Pungarehu, peopled by many families of the Nga-Ruahine Tribe. Lieutenant C. A. M. Hirtzel (Palmerston North), then in the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, thus describes the attack on the kainga:—
“We lay in the bush on the outskirts of the village, after crossing a small creek, until dawn; the cocks were crowing in the settlement as we halted. Just at daylight one of the men's rifles went off accidentally, and so we had to rush the place at once. I jumped up, calling to my corps—the cavalry, dismounted—to follow me, and ran for the village. Our sergeant-major, Duff, dashed past me, and was into the place first, I think. Some men rushed to each whare, and McDonnell demanded the surrender of the people. The Maoris opened fire, and we replied, firing into the whares. Some of the natives rushed out; others fired at us from the hut doorways. Sergeant-Major Duff was stooping down to look into the doorway of one of the dug-in huts when he was shot and mortally wounded. I saw a woman with a baby in her arms come out of the largest whare—the one where Duff was hit—and walk away into the bush on the right flank of the clearing. One of our men was about to shoot her when I stopped him and protected her. She stood looking at me a moment and then disappeared in the bush. I asked Captain Newland to send some men to help me get Duff's body away, and I was just in the act of getting over a fence when I was shot in the back, and after I was carried to the rear I saw no more of the fight. The bullet struck near my spine below the shoulder and went right round the back. Meanwhile there was hot firing, and the village was in a blaze. Ensign Northcroft, as I heard afterwards, ran up and carried Duff off into shelter. The Maoris kept up a heavy fire from the bush at the rear end of the clearing, and more came up from Te Ngutu-o-te-manu to assist them when they heard the firing; they tried to work round on our left flank and surround us, and the withdrawal of our force was risky and difficult, but McDonnell carried it out well.”
Five of the whares in the village were fortified, according to McDonnell's report. In order to dislodge the occupants, who had fired heavy volleys on being called on to surrender, the troops scraped off the earth which covered the roofs and pulled down the slabs to fire into the defenders. In half an hour the attackers were masters of the position, and firing ceased. Then the force, when engaged in setting fire to the whares, was suddenly fired on heavily from the bush, and as this firing increased it was evident that the Hauhaus had been reinforced strongly, and page 149 the withdrawal of the troops began. Some casks of gunpowder exploded in the burning houses as the force moved off.
Besides Duff, two men had been mortally wounded, and several others were hit in the heavy skirmishing which followed the first attack, and these were carried off in blankets by the main body when the return march was ordered. Captain Newland, Captain Kepa, Ensign Northcroft, and a few men held the Hauhaus in check while the main body withdrew, and fought a gallant rearguard action with a much larger body of Hauhaus. Those who had escaped from the whares in the clearing were reinforced by warriors hurrying down from Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, and they hotly pressed the retiring force through the bush and the gullies. Those who particularly distinguished themselves in this hard-fought affair were Ensign (afterwards Captain) Northcroft, Poma Haunui (of Hiruharama), and volunteers J. R. Rushton and David White. The rescue of the dying sergeant-major from the Hauhau tomahawks was one of a series of brave deeds which earned for Northcroft the decoration of the New Zealand Cross, tardily bestowed on him long afterwards.* Poma Haunui, an athletic deeply tattooed warrior from Hiruharama, on the Wanganui, and several of his comrades had a close-range encounter with double their number of Hauhaus, and killed four of them and secured their arms. Rushton and White, two devoted comrades, had been sergeants in the Patea Rangers. All the men of that corps had resigned owing to the Government's niggardly treatment of them in the allotment of land, but the two sergeants had volunteered for service without pay, seeing McDonnell's great need of experienced men. Rushton had the stock of his carbine smashed at Pungarehu.
* Lieut.-Colonel McDonnell wrote as follows to the Under-Secretary of the Defence Office, under date 30th March, 1871: “For the consideration of the Hon. the Defence Minister, I have the honour to state that at the attack on Pungarehu in October, 1866, Ensign Northcroft, of the Patea Rangers, and now a Sub-Inspector in the Armed Constabulary, did, with great bravery, and at the risk of his life, rescue Sergeant-Major Duff, who was mortally wounded and helpless, from the enemy; also at the attack upon Tirotiro-moana, in November of the same year, Mr. Northcroft, being on that occasion in front in the bush with Private Economedes, was met by the enemy, who fired and killed the latter. Mr. Northcroft held his ground until assistance came up, preventing mutilation of the body and the capture of carbine and revolver, besides a considerable sum of money the man had on his person. This officer would have been recommended by me for the above to the Hon. Colonel Haultain as deserving the Victoria Cross could it have been conferred on a colonial soldier.” It was not, however, until after the lapse of forty years that Captain Northcroft was awarded the New Zealand Cross for his gallant deeds.
After this well-planned and well-executed blow against the bush-dwellers Major McDonnell carried out several surprise raids upon forest settlements, compelling those Hauhaus who did not deem it expedient to make submission to retire farther into the interior. Keteonetea, Te Popoia, Tirotiro-moana, and other settlements (lying to the east of the present railway-line) were the principal objectives of these expeditions. There was a brisk action on the 18th October at Te Popoia. The force advanced to the attack just before dawn, but at a place where the Maoris had felled trees across the narrow bush-track heavy volleys were fired into the advance-party, and, as it was still dark, a retirement was ordered. Captain William McDonnell, who was leading, was severely wounded in the hip.
In another expedition to this place on the 22nd October a detachment of the 18th Regiment from the Wai-ngongoro Redoubt took part; the column was commanded by Major Rocke of that regiment. This was a more successful attack, for it was delivered in daylight. The Maoris made resistance at the barricade of logs, but the troops rushed it, killed two Hauhaus, and destroyed the village. The British had one man killed.
The Hauhaus at this place made use of a curious bush-engine against their enemies. Just alongside the tracks leading to Te Popoia they set some formidable tawhiti, or spring traps, formed of growing trees. The tawhiti was a sapling of some tough and elastic timber, preferably matipo. Such a tree by the trail-side was stripped of its branches and bent down and back without breaking it, until it was lying as nearly horizontal as possible, in such a position as to sweep the road. The end was fastened with a flax-line carried across the track, so laid than any unsuspecting invader coming along the track in the darkness or uncertain light would release the trap and the next instant receive the full force of the rebounding tree. (A very similar device, consisting of a bent sapling, an invisible trap-line, and a spear has been encountered by explorers and page 151 punitive parties in the Solomon Islands and in Papua.) The old Hauhaus of Taranaki claim that some of the Kupapas (Wanganui Native Contingent) were injured by these tawhiti in the night advance on Te Popoia; however, any casualties thus caused could not have been serious.*
On the 5th November Major McDonnell took a force much farther inland, intending to surprise the Ngati-Tupaea clan at their village, Tirotiro-moana, by approaching it from the rear. The column had a long bush march, working round over what is now the Eltham district. On crossing the Mangemange Creek, which flows out of the Ngaere Swamp and joins the Tangahoe below Otapawa, the leading files received a volley from a Hauhau party in ambush behind some logs on the high bank. Economedes, a Greek—an excellent soldier—was killed. The force rushed up into Tirotiro-moana Village, which was a short distance above the creek, but found it deserted. Natives were seen in considerable numbers in a clearing, but McDonnell's force was scarcely in condition to follow them up after the long and wearying march, and the order was given to return to Waihi.
Another expedition about this time was of importance because it was the first visit of a Government force to Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, and also because it was the last occasion on which the 18th Royal Irish Regiment took the field against the Maoris. The force included, besides a detachment of the 18th from the Wai-ngongoro Redoubt, the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, a useful little corps which did a great deal of dismounted work in Taranaki. Sir George Grey had come to oversee McDonnell's operations, and he accompanied this expedition. A veteran of the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, Mr. William Wallace afterwards sergeant in No. 2 Division Armed Constabulary), gives the following account of the discovery of Titokowaru's forest stronghold:—
* Kimble Bent, the pakeha-Maori, told me that in 1866, when he was living with the Ngati-Tupaea, he saw ten or twelve of these sapling spring traps, or tawhiti, set on the tracks just outside Te Popoia.
This log-cabin kainga is very close to the place where McDonnell was defeated in the second attack on Te Ngutu-o-te-manu in 1868.
* Regarding this unusual type of Maori whare, the Rev. R. Haddon (Tahu-Potiki), who is closely related to Titokowaru's family, in a conversation on the subject at Nga-pua-rata, Normanby, said: “I have heard from my old people of this whare-rakau or whare-tuwatawata settlement. I believe they got the idea in the early days before the war from the Rev. Skevington, the missionary, who lived in a house built in log-cabin fashion down at the Inaha, where the Riverdale Cheese-factory now stands. It was from this whare probably that they learned how to notch the ends of the poles and saplings so that they would fit in closely together.”