The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
THE SECOND ATTACK by Lieut.-Colonel McDonnell on the Hauhau bush stronghold at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu was delivered on the 7th September, 1868, and resulted in a disastrous defeat for the Government column. The repulse had far-reaching consequences, for it brought large accessions to Titokowaru's band and so weakened the numbers and the morale of McDonnell's force that all the country northward of Patea was soon abandoned to the Hauhaus.
The force, which marched out from Waihi just after midnight in freezing weather, numbered 360, of whom nearly a hundred were friendly natives from Wanganui. Lieut.-Colonel McDonnell's force was in three large detachments. The Armed Constabulary, Wellington Rifles, Wellington Rangers, and some Taranaki Volunteers made up the first and second detachments; the third was composed of the Kupapa, or Maori, force. The detachments were made up as follows: No. 1 Detachment, under Major Von Tempsky—No. 2 Division of the Armed Constabulary, 16 men; Patea Rifle Volunteers, 14 men, under Captain Palmer; No. 5 Division A.C., 59 men, under Captains (Sub-Inspectors) Brown and Roberts; Wellington Rifles, 45 men, under Lieutenants H. Hastings and Hunter; Taranaki Rifle Volunteers, 26 men, under Lieutenant Rowan; Volunteers from Waihi, 2 men: total, 142. No. 2 Detachment, under Major W. Hunter—No. 3 Division A.C., 32 men, Captains Newland and Goring; Wellington Rangers, 65 men, Captain G. Buck, Lieutenant Fookes, and Ensign Hirtzel; Patea Cavalry (dismounted), 11 men, Captain O'Halloran: total, 108. Maori Contingent—110 Wanganui natives (Kupapas) under Captain W. McDonnell and Kepa te Rangihiwinui and other chiefs. Dr. Walker accompanied Von Tempsky's command as surgeon, and Dr. Best was with Major Hunter. The half-caste woman Takiora, a celebrated guide in the war-days, accompanied the column.
Colonel McDonnell's plan was to strike deep into the forest and endeavour to surprise the Hauhaus in their village Te page 207 Rua-ruru, which was believed to be in rear of Te Ngutu-o-te-manu. It was well on in the afternoon, and the column had penetrated the great rata forest in the direction of Mount Egmont for seven or eight miles before a sign of the Hauhaus was found. A track was discovered, and this was followed back in a southerly direction. Then one of the Wanganui Maoris climbed a tree and reported smoke about half a mile farther along the track. Maori voices were also heard in the distance. McDonnell advanced, and his leading Maoris surprised a sentry's camp on the track. Here the Kupapas killed a man and two little children. Another child, a small boy, was saved and carried throughout the fight on a Wanganui man's back; he became well known in later years in Taranaki as Pokiha (Fox) Omahura. Up to this time the leaders of the force did not know exactly where they were, but it was presently discovered that they were well in the rear of Te Ngutu-o-te-manu. A break in the interminable forest was seen ahead, and the force moved on cautiously towards the edge of the clearing. Kepa was ordered to take his Wanganui Maoris and work round the pa on the left flank, and Von Tempsky's division went ahead towards the pa, crossing a small creek (the Mangotahi) which bounded the clearing on the west and north.
As Von Tempsky's men, with part of Major Hunter's division, moved up in skirmishing order through the rata and mahoe timber to the north end of the clearing a heavy fire was opened on them, at very close range, from Hauhaus well concealed behind the undergrowth and logs and in the branches of several of the rata trees. It was now that Captain Kepa came running up and told McDonnell that the place was Te Ngutu-o-te-manu. Casualties became numerous, and McDonnell was undecided whether to advance or retreat. It was a fatal moment of indecision, for he left his subordinates without definite orders, and the units of the force quickly lost touch with each other. Men fell struck down by bullets from unseen marksmen. Lieutenant Rowan was shot in the face, the bullet breaking both jaws. He was carried out of fire by Private J. H. Walker and others, and handed over to the surgeons and Father Roland, the Catholic padre, who had again accompanied the force.
Volleys were fired into the rata trees and at the cover on the edge of the clearing, but no advance was made, and men continued to fall fast. It was very clear that defeat was near if the force remained only on the defensive. The seasoned men of the Armed Constabulary were able for the most part to take care of themselves, like the Maoris, but many of the unfortunate recruits of the Wellington Rangers and Rifles, quite unfamiliar with bush-fighting methods and fatally slow in the art of seeking cover, were perfectly useless when pitted against the active page 208 foresters of Titokowaru's band. Some of the new levies, chiefly Wellington Rifles, were seized with panic and ran, reaching Waihi camp first and reporting the force as wiped out.
Had the order been given to storm the place the casualties would have been fewer, but McDonnell imagined a far stronger force was opposed to his. Ensign Hirtzel, who was with Captain Buck, of the Wellington Rangers—“Buck's Bruisers” they were called—heard his captain ask McDonnell, “Where are the axes? Why don't we charge the pa?” But no order came, and the force became disorganized under the continuous heavy fire, to which there was no chance of replying effectively except by a charge.
Had McDonnell but correctly gauged the position he scarcely would have hesitated to assault the place. The fact was that there were not more than about sixty men in Te Ngutu-o-te-manu when the engagement began, and that most of these skirmished out into the forest to meet the troops, leaving the pa easily assailable by a determined commander. Hunter and Von Tempsky both requested permission to storm the place, but McDonnell still hesitated. At last, seeing how numerous the casualties were and considering it his duty to extricate his force with as little further loss as possible, he ordered a retreat to the Wai-ngongoro. The wounded were sent on under Major Hunter, and McDonnell following with about eighty men. There was no track on the route taken, which was a course through the tangled bush in as direct a line as possible for the open country. Captains Brown, Newland, and Cumming accompanied the larger part of the expeditionary column. A heavy rearguard action was fought. The Hauhaus had now been reinforced by men from some of the neighbouring villages, and pressed the retreating force hotly to the gully at Te Maru. Father Roland took his turn at the toil of carrying the wounded out, and there were bullet-holes through his hat when the day's battle was over. Kepa and some of his best men fought well in keeping the Hauhaus in check. The force took out fourteen wounded, some of them carried on crossed rifles in lieu of stretchers.
In the meantime the senior officer remaining before the palisaded village, Major Von Tempsky, waited vainly for the order to advance against the pa. Indignant at not being permitted to charge the place he moved restlessly to and fro, careless about taking cover. He was shot down at last by one of a party of Hauhaus crouching in the undergrowth near the bank of the Mangotahi Stream. Some of the defenders of the pa had opened fire from the rata and pukatea trees—several of the large hollow trees had been loopholed as redoubts—but soon after the fighting began they rushed out to skirmish in the forest. It is generally agreed by Ngati-Ruanui and Nga-Ruahine page 209 that it was an elderly warrior named Te Rangi-hina-kau who shot Von Tempsky. He was one of a party of eight men of the Tekau-ma-rua who sallied out from the stockade and took cover near the creek-side. His comrades were his son Whakawhiria, young Tutange Waionui (of Ngati-Hine and Pakakohi), Wairau, and four others. Taking careful aim at an officer whom he saw armed with a curved sword, he shot him through the head. Other pakehas fell, and when the fight was over there were eight or nine men lying near the slain officer, whom the Maoris found out afterwards was the celebrated “Manu-rau,” as Von Tempsky was called. After the troops had fallen back before a charge led by Katene Tu-whakaruru—erstwhile on the Government side—one of whose young children had been cruelly killed by a Wanganui Maori, several of the young men dashed forward to tomahawk the fallen whites. Tutange Waionui delivered a tomahawk-blow on “Manu-rau's” temple, and took the dead Major's sword, revolver, cap, and watch. These trophies were afterwards laid before Titokowaru as battle-spoils, and when a division was made Tutange received the revolver as his share and used it in the war. Some survivors of the European force declared that Von Tempsky was shot from a rata tree, but this was incorrect. He fell to a bullet fired from ground cover not more than 12 yards away.
All this time within the stockade in the bullet-swept clearing the war-chief Titokowaru remained walking up and down, taiaha in hand, reciting prayers to his Maori gods and shouting to his soldiers. “Patua, kainga!” he cried; “kill them, eat them!” And again and again he shouted in his far-carrying voice, “Whakawhiria, whakawhiria!” bidding the warriors encircle their foes. It was from this battle circumstance that the son of Te Rangi-hina-kau received his name, Whakawhiria. Earlier in the day, as soon as the first shots were heard in the distance, Titokowaru had despatched Kimble Bent out to the forest in rear of the pa to join the women and children, and the white deserter had a narrow escape from death as he made his way through the bush, for he was fired on by some of the troops who took him for a Maori, and only evaded them by hurrying down the bed of the Mangotahi Creek.
Soon after the bush battle began, the pagan rite of the whangai-hau was performed by two tohungas, Wairau and Tihirua, the priest of the burnt sacrifice. The veteran Pou-whareumu Toi, of Weriweri Village (son of Toi Whakataka, Titokowaru's lieutenant), thus described the savage ceremony as he narrated on the spot the episodes of the fight:—
“One of our warriors was the old priest Wairau, whose comrade and coadjutor was young Tihirua, of the Ngati-Maru page 210 Tribe, from Waitara. Both of them shared in the tomahawking of Von Tempsky and other soldiers who fell at the north end of the clearing. Wairau rushed to the body of the first white man killed, cut the chest open with his tomahawk, and tore out the heart, for the ceremony of the whangai-hau, or feeding the gods of battle, Tu and Uenuku. Wairau held up the bleeding heart, and Tihirua applied fire to it. The young man carried pakeha matches, and, striking these, he held them to the flesh till it began to singe and sizzle and smoke. The smoke (paoa) that rose from it was regarded as a tohu, or omen. Wairau watched it intently to see the direction of its drift. The smoke rose and drifted out through the trees in the direction of the pakeha force. Had it been blown the other way, across or towards the stockade, it would have been a fatal omen for the Maoris, indicating the speedy fall of the place (ka hinga te pa). But the breath of the atua directed it the other way, and Wairau knew then that the white soldiers would be the vanquished ones that day.”
Scarcely any two accounts of European survivors agree as to the events on the battlefield after the withdrawal of McDonnell. The salvation of those who lived to reach the Waihi Redoubt once more, after a terrible night in the trackless bush, was due to the gallant Captain J. M. Roberts (now Colonel Roberts, N.Z.C.), who had been Von Tempsky's subaltern in the Forest Rangers in Waikato. Roberts collected the disorganized remainder of the force, some sixty in number, got them into some kind of order, and with the help of some cool fellows who instilled confidence and hope into the men he made his way out to the open country. His narrative of the engagement and the retreat (a story never before published) is the only connected accurate account of the happenings after the main body moved off with most of the wounded.
“To this day,” said Colonel Roberts, “I do not know precisely why Colonel McDonnell decided to retire as he did, leaving the rest of us without definite orders. We could have taken the pa, I believe. We were handicapped, however, by the presence of some unfit men, particularly the Wellington Rangers; their officers were very good, but the men should not have been sent into the bush. They couldn't walk in the bush and carry a rifle, far less fight in the bush. The practised bushmen among us, like myself—I had done pioneering bush-work before the Waikato War began—had grown to look on a tree as a friend. The recruits from Wellington knew nothing of the bush, and were easily panic-stricken when required to work in skirmishing order, where a man is necessarily separated from his comrades. They were falling over logs and vines; a man needs to get his bush-legs just as a sea passenger needs to get page 211 his sea-legs; he must learn where to place his feet and how to get through the bush with the greatest speed and the least trouble. The new men crowded together, and in consequence made easy targets for the Maoris.
“We had no definite orders after the fight began. The last I saw of Major Von Tempsky was near the creek in rear of the pa, some time after the fighting had begun. I remember well that he struck me as being curiously listless. He was cutting away with his sword at a hanging bush vine, not cutting it through, but rather chipping it downwards, cutting shavings off it. He was waiting for orders from McDonnell.* Presently Captain Brown came along and said, ‘I've got a job, Roberts, I'm going out with the wounded.’ Then, speaking in a low voice as he passed me, he added, ‘You get out of this as soon as you can—don't stay here.’
* Lieut.-Colonel McDonnell sent a message to Von Tempsky by his brother, Captain William McDonnell, requesting him to follow No. 2 Division when it retired; but it is doubtful whether, if the Major received the message, he understood it as a definite instruction to withdraw. He certainly remained anxious to attempt the storming of the pa.
Lieut.-Colonel Thomas McDonnell, N.Z.C.
Lieut.-Colonel Thomas McDonnell was the son of Lieutenant McDonnell, R.N., who settled at Te Horeke, Hokianga Harbour, in the early part of last century. He served as a young officer in the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry in the Waikato War, and was awarded the New Zealand Cross in 1886 for a daring scouting exploit in 1863, when he and Von Tempsky made a reconnaissance from the Lower Waikato in to the Maori position at Paparata. (See Vol. I, page 271.)
“I worked back through the bush towards the other side of the pa, passing some of my men who were still sticking to it. They called to me ‘Don't go back, sir! You'll be shot!’ They said they believed the Major was shot. I went along the flank two or three chains towards the creek that ran in the rear of the pa. I saw nothing of Von Tempsky, but he must have been lying close by. It was all dense bush here, with some very large mahoe trees—the biggest I had ever seen—and some rata. At last I turned to come back, and just as I did so a bullet buried itself in a sapling behind me. I made my way back towards the place where I had left Captain Buck a quarter of an hour page 213 previously, and I found him lying on his back, dead. I got together all the men I could find and disposed them as well as I could to resist the Hauhaus, who were pressing us hard, yelling ‘Surround them, surround them!’ in Maori. I formed the men into a rough half-moon front, and instructed them to fire volleys—‘Blaze away as hard as you can, boys, blaze away!’ We fired a number of volleys, and this had a great effect on the Hauhaus, who kept a greater distance after that.
“By this time it was getting quite dusk in the bush, under the close, dense foliage. I came to the conclusion that I had better try to make my way out to camp with the wounded. I had heard firing away on my right and knew it must be McDonnell fighting his way out to Waihi. There were eleven wounded, but most of these could walk. My total strength now was fifty-eight men. Sergeant Russell fell shot through the hip; he was a fine brave fellow. We had to leave him there lying propped up against a tree, with a loaded revolver in his hand. We had some faint hopes of rescuing him later, but the Hauhaus got him, after he had stood them off at first with his revolver. Lieutenant Hirtzel was with us, and another good man was big James Livingston, of Waipapa, Hawera, who had come with the force as a volunteer; he was a splendid fellow, cool and brave, and a first-rate bushman. When we were under a very heavy fire he was picking up the rifles of men who had been killed or wounded and smashing them against the butts of trees, saying that the Hauhaus would never be able to use those guns. He broke Russell's carbine before we left him.
“I kept my men together as well as I could in the bush, and got my wounded along; we went very slowly, occasionally turning to fire. I don't think we were travelling more than half a mile in the hour. All of us were now very exhausted, and I ordered the men to sit down in the bush undergrowth for a rest, waiting till the moon rose, so that I could fix my course. We had two or three friendly Maoris with us, Kupapas from Wanganui. I kept them close by me, for I was depending on them to lead us out of the bush; in fact, I put a sentry over them to make sure they did not give us the slip.
“We were still within cooee of the pa; in fact, we could hear the Hauhaus' yells and war-songs all night, we were that close. About 2 o'clock in the morning the moon rose over the tree-tops, and now that I had an idea of the points of the compass I made a start again. I sent the Maoris ahead, telling my man who was keeping an eye on them to make sure that they were not attempting to leave the column. ‘If they do,’ I said, ‘you know what to do.’
“When we started on our retreat we were well in on the page 214 Egmont or inland side of McDonnell's route. By about daylight we got out on to the track leading down to the Wai-ngongoro ford—the track we had come in the morning—and we reached the camp at Waihi about 8 o'clock. Some of them had given us up for lost. My friend Captain Brown (afterwards killed at Ngatapa) was one of those who hurried down to meet us. As he shook hands with me he said, ‘Some of them said you were all killed, Roberts, but I knew you'd turn up, because you know the bush.’”*
All the dead and some of the wounded were left on the battle-field. The death-roll numbered twenty-four, of whom five were officers. Twenty-six wounded were brought off the field. One man, Private Dore, of the Wellington Rangers, who was shot through an arm in Robert's retreat, was lost in the bush, and did not reach Waihi until four days afterwards. Of the officers, Major Von Tempsky, Captain Buck, Captain Palmer, Lieutenant Hunter, and Lieutenant Hastings were in the list of dead. Palmer and Hastings were with Robert's force, and were mortally wounded. Palmer died as he was being carried through the bush, and was left there.