The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 28: THE SIEGE OF NGATAPA
Chapter 28: THE SIEGE OF NGATAPA
IMMEDIATELY ON HEARING of the Poverty Bay massacre and the retreat of some of the settlers towards the Mahia Peninsula, Colonel Lambert, commanding at Wairoa, sent Lieutenant Preece up to Whangawehi, on the north side of Mahia, with instructions to give what assistance he could and to report himself to Captain Westrup. Preece found two steamers at Whangawehi, one going to Napier and one to Poverty Bay. Captain Westrup instructed him to go to Turanganui with Ihaka Whanga's men, numbering about sixty. On arrival at the bay Preece found that Lieutenant Gascoyne had escaped the massacre, having been out scouting at the time, and had taken command. The whole country was smoking with the fires of burning homesteads. Captain Westrup returned next day with Captain Tuke and some Armed Constabulary men and Captain Tanner and a number of his Hawke's Bay Cavalry Volunteers. Lieutenant Preece remained at Turanganui a day and returned to Whangawehi by steamer, thence overland to Wairoa, where he reported to Colonel Lambert. Captain Westrup said he would await the arrival of a large force of Hawke's Bay Maoris, which he expected in a day or two, before taking the offensive. At Wairoa measures were taken to get a force ready to start from that point, and provisions and ammunition were collected. About the 25th November 200 Ngati-Porou men under Ropata Wahawaha and Hotene Porourangi, and 170 Wairoa natives under Lieutenant Preece, started in pursuit of Te Kooti via Te Reinga. The force had to move slowly as it was taking a good supply of ammunition and provisions. Information had reached Lieutenant Preece that the Hawke's Bay natives under their own chiefs and Lieutenant Gascoyne had engaged the enemy at Makaretu and held them there. On the third day of the march the Wairoa force reached the last crossing of the Hangaroa River. Here a consultation was held on the question of moving direct for Makaretu across country or taking the track to Patutahi, which was the base of operations for the troops. The latter course was decided on. From Patutahi a page 271 forced march was made, the column reaching the Wharekopae Stream, four miles from Makaretu, the same night. Next morning Ropata and Preece communicated with Gascoyne and planned the attack. The Wairoa natives were to move to the right, and at a given time attack the enemy on its flank. On the 3rd December the Hauhau position was assaulted in a most determined manner. Preece and his Wairoa men charged up one of the rifle-pitted hills on Te Kooti's flank and carried it, driving the Hauhaus out and killing three of them. Then Ngati-Porou and Preece's men, with Gascoyne and a few European volunteers and Ngati-Kahungunu, made a combined attack on the pa. “It was a beautiful sight,” wrote Gascoyne, “a line of fire and smoke half a mile long, with both flanks thrown forward, rapidly descending the hill.” The men closed on the centre as they approached the Hauhau entrenchments, and a deadly fire was concentrated on the camp. The Hauhaus fought well until the final rush, when they dashed out of their entrenchments and across the river into the forest, leaving about two score dead and dying in the captured position. A number were shot in the river immediately in rear. Among those who fell was the notorious Nama, who had been concerned in the murder of Karaitiana and his three comrades at Whataroa; he was mortally wounded by Henare Kakapango, one of Gascoyne's scouts.
Among the Hauhaus who fought at Makaretu was Peita Kotuku, some of whose war experiences have been related in the preceding pages. Describing his escape from Ngati-Porou, he said:—
“When the final assault on our pa was delivered I hastily filled all my pockets with cartridges, in a tent, and ran out with a rifle slung over my shoulder and another in my hands. I ran to the edge of the cliff above the river. The bank was perpendicular and about 50 feet high. It was no use staying to fight then; the enemy were in our lines. I jumped from the brink of the cliff into a deep pool of the river. As I dashed for the cliff I was fired at. Nama, who was near me, was shot. I got across the river and escaped into the bush, but many of my comrades were shot in the water or on the banks. There was high manuka growing on the other side of the river (the Wharekopae), and I crept into this. There I was seen by Huhana (Susan), one of Te Kooti's wives, who had escaped with him. She called to me from the bush, and I joined her and Te Kooti. Our leader was suffering from a wounded foot, which had been injured in the rocky bed of the river, and Huhana and I took turns in carrying him off on our backs in the direction of Ngatapa, where we made our next stand against the Government.”
From a drawing by the Hon. J. C. Richmond, 1869]
Ngatapa Fortress from the East
Te Kooti's strongly fortified pa is shown on the summit of the mountain. (See plan.)
During the operations at Makaretu Te Kooti was prudently preparing another and stronger position six miles in his rear, the mountain fortress Ngatapa. While he held up the Ngati-Kahungunu on his front, working-parties were busy renovating the defences of this stronghold, an ancient trenched pa long deserted, on the crest of a narrow and precipitous range more than 2,000 feet above sea-level. The scarped fort towered high above all the surrounding country, the most picturesque and most formidable position occupied by the Hauhaus in the war. On being driven from Makaretu Te Kooti and his fugitives, numbering about three hundred fighting-men, besides many women and some children, took up their quarters in Ngatapa and hastily strengthened the lines of entrenchment.
The weak feature of this pa, as in most Maori forts, was the lack of a water-supply within the lines. The front of the position, the face of the ridge, was defended by three parapets and trenches; the ditches were connected with each other by covered ways. The lowest and outermost line was about 250 yards long, with very high scarped walls terminating on the cliff at either flank of the fort. The second line of parapets was about 10 feet in height, and the third, protecting the huts built on the summit, was 16 feet high, surmounted with flax baskets filled with earth, a substitute for the European plan of sand-bags. The place was very difficult of approach; it was compassed about with gorges and dense forest, and the rear of the position was a sharp ridge like a knife-back, falling away precipitously for several hundreds of feet on each side.
On the recommendation of Colonel Whitmore both Ropata and Preece were awarded the decoration of the New Zealand Cross for their exceptionally brave attack at Ngatapa.
Ropata was disgusted at the defection of the main body of Ngati-Porou; and he wished to recruit fresh men. Whitmore was anxious to attack Ngatapa at once, but on the advice of Ropata and Gascoyne further operations were deferred until an adequate force was gathered to deal with Te Kooti. The European forces therefore remained in camp at Makaraka for nearly a month, while Ropata returned to Waiapu and strengthened his contingent for the new operations.
Further details of the operations in the first attack on Ngatapa show that on the 4th December, the day following the final fight at Makaretu, the combined Ngati-Kahungunu and Poverty Bay force, Ngati-Porou under Ropata and Hotene, and the Wairoa men, moved out by the ridge overlooking the Wharekopae Stream. The enemy's position on the crest of Ngatapa was seen in the distance, and, having located it, it was decided that the force should return to camp and march against Te Kooti next day. That night, therefore, was spent in the Makaretu camp, and next morning the leaders moved out with Ngati-Porou (200 men who had come from Wairoa), also the Wairoa natives and some of the Mahia men. It is said there had been a quarrel between Ropata and the Hawke's Bay Maoris under Tareha over a prisoner, and the latter party refused to march. Lieutenant Preece was with the advance-guard. There was a long narrow ridge to climb from a conical hill about two-thirds of the way up to Ngatapa fortress, and the men in the advance had to expose themselves to the enemy's fire. This hill was afterwards called the “Crow's Nest” it was some 700 to 1,000 yards from the pa. Just below there was a stream. There was a lot of felled manuka in front of the pa, and when the force reached the edge of this Mr. Preece halted and sent some men round the edge of the clearing with instructions to observe the position from that point, but not to show themselves, and on no account to fire on the enemy if they saw them, unless they were fired on. These men disobeyed the instructions. One of them fired when he saw some of Te Kooti's men, and this brought a murderous fire from the enemy. The men sent to the right came rushing down the hill, and numbers of Preece's men followed their example. Just then Ropata came up, and he and Preece stood across page 276 the track and threatened to shoot the next man who ran. This stopped the panic. Then the two leaders moved up to the left with only a few men, and held the advanced position at the end of the trench on the left immediately in rear of the front wall of the pa. Mr. Preece went down several times to try and bring up men who had been crouching round a fire during the day about 500 yards below his position. He and Ropata and a few others had taken the enemy's outer works, and were firing from there into the inner part of the pa. The only men who were killed in this attack were four of their party. One man was wounded, and, with assistance, Preece took him down to where the men were at the fire. He left him there with instructions that he was to be carried to camp. [It was ascertained afterwards that this order was disobeyed, and that the man was abandoned by his people, and was killed by the enemy after the withdrawal.] No attack was made on the right side of the pa that day. In Ropata and Preece's bold attack the killed men's guns were loaded as well as their own, and were used to keep up a constant fire. Very late in the afternoon Ropata said to Preece: “We can take the pa if we are supported. Go down to the main body and ask Gascoyne to get assistance.” The young officer went down with two men. When they got to the foot of the hill it was dark. They decided to follow the Wharekopae, and reached Lieutenant Gascoyne's camp at Makaretu at 8.30 or 9 o'clock that night after a very rough march down the stream, a slippery papa-rock river with gravel in places. Preece reported to Gascoyne that Ropata wanted immediate assistance. Gascoyne could not induce the natives to move that night; they said they would start at daylight in the morning. Tareha and his men had moved off on their return march. At daylight Gascoyne's Maoris were just ready to start when Ropata, who had held his position all night, came in, and he was so disgusted at not getting the much-needed help that he decided to return to Waiapu and recruit a new force. Lieutenant Gascoyne had done his utmost before Ngatapa to induce the retreating natives to return to the attack, but without avail.
Captain Preece narrates this incident to show how Maoris are affected by superstition: “Hemi Tapeka was a man whom I had seen distinguish himself at the attack on Pukemaire (Waiapu) in September, 1865; there he went right up to the flanking angle, killed one of the enemy, and held his position until others got up to him. He had been a good fighter, too, in the Upper Wairoa in 1866. When I went to get men to go up to the attack at Ngatapa I found him crouching by the fire (500 yards below the pa). I said: ‘Well, why are you here? You are not a coward.’ He replied: ‘No; but if I go up to-day I shall be killed. I had a dream last night. My thigh twitched; that is a tohu aitua’ [evil omen].”
THE SECOND ATTACK ON NGATAPA
It was late in December before Colonel Whitmore had perfected his arrangements for the reduction of Ngatapa. In the meantime the Hauhaus had been active, making several raids towards Poverty Bay. A party from Ngatapa came down one night and killed several people at Pipiwhakao, five miles from the Constabulary camp at Makaraka. The advance on Te Kooti's position was begun on the 24th December. Whitmore had four divisions of Armed Constabulary, totalling about four hundred men, and Ropata followed him up with three hundred and fifty Ngati-Porou who had been brought down from Waiapu by steamer. By the page 277 31st December the force had reached a hill on the same long ridge as the pa, but separated from Ngatapa summit by a deep gully; the distance between this post—which the Constabulary entrenched—and the pa was nearly half a mile. From this hill—which was a base of operations, named the “Crow's Nest”—as detachments were sent out to encircle the pa, shell-fire was opened on the Hauhau position with a Coehorn mortar, which had been brought up from Turanganui with great difficulty. It was seen that Ngatapa had been greatly strengthened since the first attack. A considerable area of ground in front had been cleared by felling and burning the bush so as to afford less cover to the attackers. A high wall, loopholed, had been built across the front, and another timber palisade had been built on the inner side. The flanks also had been stockaded. The pa was roughly in the form of a wedge, with the apex to the rear on the highest part of the mountain; the incline at which the ground lay enabled the gunners to shell the interior of the fort with accuracy. The first or outer line of entrenchment on the front covered the spring from which the garrison drew the water-supply. It was not possible to scale the steep flanks with a sufficient force to rush the place; in fact, the sides were scarcely scalable at all, although the bush and shrubs gave hand-hold for part of the way; and the attackers' attention was directed chiefly at the entrenched and stockaded front, with bodies of Constabulary and Maoris posted at various positions along the flanks and in rear. The first attempt to capture the Hauhau entrenchments was carried out by Captain W. Gundry and Captain T. W. Porter, the former leading a recently enlisted division of Arawa Maoris (Ngati-Whakaue, Ngati-Pikiao, and Tuhourangi), and the latter leading a picked party of Ngati-Porou. The force was detailed to surprise the Hauhaus' outer wall, and this was done with complete success, cutting the garrison off from the water-spring. The defenders withdrew to their inner lines, and the Constabulary and Ngati-Porou took possession of the outer line from cliff to cliff and commenced regular siege operations by opening flying saps directed towards the new wall. Shells were thrown into the fort by the Coehorn mortar, and many casualties, as was discovered afterwards, were inflicted by the bursting projectiles. On the Hauhaus' right flank the investing line consisted of No. 6 Division Armed Constabulary under Major J. M. Roberts, nearest the front; then a line of Ngati-Porou under Hotene; and in the rear Major Fraser and his No. 1 Division. On the Hauhaus' left front and part of the flank were some friendly Maoris under Mr. Edward Hamlin.
Major Ropata Wahawaha, N.Z.C.
Ropata, leading the Ngati-Porou native contingent, and his comrade Lieutenant G. A. Preece were both awarded the New Zealand Cross for their distinguished bravery in the first attack on Ngatapa. Ropata was the most vigorous and successful of all Maori officers who served the Government. He fought the Hauhaus on the East Coast and in the Urewera Country from 1865 until the end of 1871.
The night was wet and windy. Te Kooti, realizing that the position was hopeless, had given orders that the fort should be evacuated under cover of the darkness, and late that stormy night and very early in the morning hours the garrison escaped down the precipitous mountain-side on the right flank of the pa. A section of this side, between Hamlin's Maoris on the right of the attack and the lines of Fraser's No. 1 Division in the rear, had been left unguarded; the cliff here was perpendicular for some distance and then slanted very steeply down into the dense bush. Peita Kotuku, narrating his escape with the other Hauhaus, said:—
“The fall of Ngatapa was due chiefly to the fact that the Ngati-Porou cut us off from the spring which was our water-supply. The fort was taken because we were without food or water. (I mate ai tera pa na te kore-kai, na te kore-wai.) When our position became desperate and it was decided to retreat to the forest under cover of night, we let ourselves down the cliff on the flank of the pa by means of aka (bush vines, lianes) cut from the trees just outside the fort. The part of the cliff where I went down on an aka rope was about 60 feet high. I escaped into the deep forest, but many of our people were captured and shot.”
Immediately the abandoned fort was occupied by the Government force a pursuit was ordered, and Ngati-Porou and the Arawa Division went in chase of the fugitives. The Hauhaus had scattered into small parties, taking different trails in the effort to throw their foes off their track. Ropata adopted similar tactics, and ordered his men to break into small detachments each following up a trail.
Te Kooti and his immediate followers escaped, but a great many of the people, weakened by want of food, were captured before they had gone very far. Every male prisoner taken was shot—some on the spot, some near Ngatapa, where they were taken for execution. An Armed Constabulary scout who shared in the bush chase said: “All the men taken were despatched. We just stood them on the edge of a cliff and gave them a volley.”
Ropata's methods in ordering the summary execution of all the Hauhaus captured by Ngati-Porou may have been ruthless, but the memory of the massacre at Poverty Bay was still raw in every mind. The principal chief overtaken and killed was Nikora te Whakaunua, the head rangatira of the Ngati-Hineuru Tribe, of Te Haroto, on the Napier-Taupo track. He was one of the prisoners taken at Omarunui in 1866. In the siege of Ngatapa he had been severely wounded.
Te Kooti lost quite half his fighting force at Ngatapa and in the relentless forest chase. The estimates of the Hauhau casualties vary somewhat, but the most reliable reports give the total killed as 136, of whom 120 were summarily executed after capture, either singly or in batches. The wounded (excluding those killed in the captured pa by Ngati-Porou and the other Government Maoris) and the prisoners saved totalled about 150; most of the prisoners were women and children, many of whom had been carried off by Te Kooti from the coast. Adding to the Ngatapa losses those sustained at Makaretu, about sixty, the Hauhau leader's force was weakened by approximately two hundred men. Many of those who fell were recent recruits from the Poverty Bay district—some of them compulsorily converted to Te Kooti's tenets—and from the Urewera Country. Those who escaped from Ngatapa and found secure refuge in the forest of the interior could not have exceeded two hundred, including a number of women who survived the terrors and hardships of the bush fight.page 282
The casualties of the Government force at Ngatapa in the second attack beginning on the 31st December and ending on the 5th January numbered eleven killed and the same number wounded. Of the killed, five were members of the Armed Constabulary force and the rest Ngati-Porou and other Maoris.
Te Kooti's power having been shattered for the time being, Colonel Whitmore transferred the Armed Constabulary, including the new division of Arawa, to the West Coast in order to carry out the long-pending operations against Titokowaru.
Te Kooti's refuge-place for nearly two months was a well-concealed camp in the great Te Wera forest, on the headwaters of the Waioeka River, in the exceedingly broken and mountainous country to the westward of the present road via Motu from Gisborne to Opotiki. The camp when discovered two years later by the Ngati-Porou under Captain Porter contained thirty thatched houses roofed with totara-bark. It was naturally defended on three sides by cliffs, forest, and water. Here the fugitives were gradually reinforced by recruits from the Urewera, Whakatohea, and other tribes, and supplies of ammunition were brought in chiefly from the Opotiki district and Ruatahuna. By the beginning of March Te Kooti was in a position to renew the campaign of foray, plunder, and revenge which he had begun in the previous November. His mana as a priest and prophet, the founder of the new religion, grew apace; his magnetic personality and his skilful use of Scriptural passages applicable to the condition of the Maoris drew to him men from many a tribe who saw in his leadership, favoured by the gods, hope of successful war against the pakeha. He never really recovered from the blows inflicted upon his force at Makaretu and Ngatapa, yet so shrewd a soldier and a strategist was he, with a perfect genius for delivering lightning assaults in unexpected places, that he was able again and again to take the field and to maintain his resistance to the Government for more than three years.
Captain J. R. Rushton, of Kutarere, Ohiwa, supplies the following note:—
“That good soldier Major Mair was in command at Opotiki at the date of the capture of Ngatapa. In addition to the Waioeka redoubt, a blockhouse had just been built to protect the Opotiki settlement, near the entrance to the Otara Gorge. I was ensign in charge of this Otara blockhouse with twenty-five men—about half Maoris—and have good reason to remember the fall of Ngatapa. About 10 o'clock on the morning of the 7th January, 1869 (two days after its capture), I was reading in my room when a Maori with a double-barrel gun walked in. I sprang page 283 upon him, grasping hold of his gun, and pressing him down upon the floor. I threw him a loaf of bread, and with carbine at full cock and my Tranter revolver slung on my wrist I ran out calling for the sergeant of the guard. He came running up from just below the blockhouse. I said, ‘Where the hell are your men, and where is our sentry?’ I then called out for all to stand to arms, and ‘be damn quick about it.’ The sergeant, when shown the Maori in my room, turned as white as a sheet. We found the European sentry at the end of the blockhouse standing like a log, with his carbine between his legs, but a kick with my boot upon his posterior brought him to his senses. I sent out two of my best Maoris to watch the narrows of the gorge until nightfall. As I thought, the Maori was an escapee from Ngatapa, having deserted Te Kooti when they retired from the pa, and being related to Wi Kingi's tribe, the Ngaitai, made his way out by the Otara Gorge. I took him in to my commanding officer, Major Mair, and he told me that the Maori's arrival was of great importance because of the information he gave. This incident put an end to the growling I had from two or three grumbling Europeans of the garrison regarding my care in not allowing the door to be opened in the morning without all standing to arms; they called it funk. The occurrence showed how easily a post might be taken through carelessness of the sentry and guard.”
“It is Te Kooti's custom, when arising from sleep in camp, to call his followers to karakia (prayers), when the 32nd and 34th Psalms are sung, altered by Te Kooti to suit himself. After prayers, parties are ordered out to hunt food, &c. When pigs are to be found, the men are instructed to cut off the ears of the first pig caught and to offer up thanks to the Atua (God). In all cases where food is obtained thanks is given, and men going out are particularly instructed not to eat, drink, or smoke until they return to camp, lest the Atua should be offended. Should a party return unsuccessful, blame is attributed to one of them having disobeyed the orders given; for this sin the Atua has kept the food from them. The offender, if pointed out by his companions, is punished by Te Kooti, who in strong terms will sentence him to be deprived of the opportunity of hunting food by confining him to camp. Karakia (service) is held four times a day; the last is the prayer for sleep when retiring to rest, after which no one is allowed to move about, and silence is kept by all. No one dare approach Te Kooti's whare after that time. Te Kooti will often start out alone in the early morning bird-hunting with a decoy kaka parrot on his shoulder, or with a tomahawk to get honey from hollow trees. It is a practice of his to go out and reconnoitre the surrounding country, climbing to the tops of the highest ranges, not returning to the camp till evening. He professes that all his expeditions to murder or plunder are by the inspiration of his Atua, as when he was inspired at the Chathams to deliver his people from bondage. When so inspired he will often arise from his sleep and call his followers together to prayers, after which he informs them that the Atua has given something to him during his sleep, but whether food, man, or woman he cannot tell. A party is then despatched in a direction indicated by him. If a man or food is found, well and good; if a woman, she is to be brought to him. Should the party return unsuccessful the man to whom charge of the mission was given is tied up and confined in a whare for days without food or fire. Should a messenger or a man having been absent from camp some time return, no one dare hold conversation with him until he sees Te Kooti. He is led up to the chief's whare, and remains outside waiting the word page 284 to enter. It is a strict rule; no one approaches his house without permission.
“It is Te Kooti's practice to have intercourse with his followers' wives, by telling the men to send them to him—that his Atua has said they should become enceinte. Whatever men may think of this, they seldom dare refuse, or Te Kooti will at some future time profess that his Atua has revealed to him a traitor, and will request that man's death. He is never at a loss for a pretext to dispose of any one obnoxious to him.
“When thunder is heard, his men will inquire the words of the Atua; he will then reply to the effect that the Atua tells him that there are men among them desirous of escaping to the Government, and that they will be killed. A rainbow is another favourite sign of the Atua to him, denoting many things, as it suits him. He threatens future punishment for all men escaping to the Government; however long they may live in imagined security, judgment will come for deserting the Atua. He asserts that all the Government people will be delivered into his hands, and great power given him, when all seceders will be put to the sword. When a man is put to death, a Psalm is chanted over him, and then he is led to execution. When on the march or the war-path no one is allowed to smoke or eat till the word is given by Te Kooti. All fresh converts to his Atua are rechristened by him with Scriptural names.”