The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 3: THE BATTLE OF MOUTOA
Chapter 3: THE BATTLE OF MOUTOA
NEARLY FIFTY MILES up the Wanganui a low shingly island, roughly diamond-shaped and about half a mile in length, lies in the course of the strong river, with rapids above and below and on either side. The upper part of this island—the only one in the Wanganui—is composed of bare shingle and boulders; the lower half is covered with manuka and fern, with a few trees. This is Moutoa (“Isle of Heroes”), a famous battle-ground of the river tribes. Many a combat to the death has taken place on the desert island, set in the midst of the rapids, and the most celebrated of all was also the last, the battle of the 14th May, 1864, when the Lower Wanganui tribes routed a picked war-party of the up-river Hauhaus, killed fifty of them, and saved Wanganui Town from invasion. Moutoa lies about half a mile above the large native village of Ranana, and two and a half miles below the settlement Hiruharama (Jerusalem). A short distance above the island, on the right bank, is the pretty little village of Tawhitinui, with its abundant groves of fruit-trees. Here an old native war-track comes in from Weraroa, on the Waitotara River. This village was the rendezvous of the Hauhaus before the battle which decided the political destinies of the Wanganui tribes.
Soon after the surprise and slaughter of the British party under Captain Lloyd at Te Ahuahu, Te Ua and his chief adherents in Taranaki determined to send the heads of the slain soldiers (perfectly preserved from decay by the ancient process of drying with heat and smoke) from tribe to tribe throughout the Island, and the Upper Wanganui people were the first selected for the proselytizing process. Matene Rangi-tauira, who came from the Upper Wanganui, was dispatched with a party to the Waitotara and Pipiriki, carrying Lloyd's head. He found the natives of Pipiriki and neighbouring settlements ready and willing to embrace the Pai-marire faith; they were very bitter over the losses their tribes had sustained at Katikara, Tataraimaka, in the previous year, when the casualties in the storming of the entrenchments by the British force were nearly all page 31 Wanganui men. The kinsmen of the fallen warriors received Matene and his trophy with savage enthusiasm. A niu mast was erected under the prophet's directions on the marae in the large village of Pipiriki; it stood on the west or proper right bank of the Wanganui, opposite the site of the present hotel and township, which was then a cultivation ground known as Te Kapua, with the flour-mill on the Kaukore Stream. The spot where the pole of worship stood was on a terrace at the landing-place a little below the Rangiahua Hill, the beautiful wooded headland (opposite the steamer-wharf) which is a blaze of kowhai flowers in the spring of the year.
Mr. Booth, who was the Resident Magistrate and Government Agent at Pipiriki, and his brother and family were the only Europeans living in the district. They had a very narrow escape from death in the dangerously changed temper of the people, but were at last permitted to leave in a canoe, leaving all their property behind, and reached Wanganui safely. Living under Mr. Booth's guardianship was a little half-caste boy about eight years of age, the son of a British military officer and a chieftainess of the Atiawa Tribe of Taranaki; the mother was dead, and the father had returned to England, entrusting the boy to Mr. Booth for education. Booth endeavoured to take this lad away with him, but the Hauhaus would not permit it, and kept him with them; and he retains to this day a very vivid memory of the thrilling scenes that followed his guardian's departure.*
The white soldier's head (it is known now that it was Captain Lloyd's) was passed round from hand to hand in the Pai-marire ceremonies at the foot of the niu. It is described as that of a fair-whiskered man with shaven chin, in the fashion of those days. The head had been thoroughly dried in the mokomokai or paki-paki-upoko process. Its bearer, the prophet Matene, was a tall page 32 man with long hair and a flowing black beard. He led the people in their newly learned chantings, and round and round the sacred mast the half-crazed devotees marched. In their procession they came closer and closer to the niu, until many of them embraced it, one after another, and revolved about it, whirling round and round until they sank at its foot in a fit of giddiness and religious mania. The white man's head was passed from hand to hand among the frenzied worshippers, and there were some extraordinary scenes of fanatic fury. Some of the people, particularly those who had lost relatives in the Taranaki War, gnawed the dried flesh in their demonstrations of hatred and revenge. One, a handsome young woman, who had been brought up in Mr. Booth's family and who had been regarded as a quiet, gentle girl, was so overcome by the new madness that she snatched the pakeha's head from her neighbour at the niu and bit the flesh of the neck with horrible savagery. The people, indeed, were transformed by Matene's teachings; the appeal to the feelings of revenge swept them along irresistibly, and made them easy instruments in the prophet's unauthorized plan of campaign.
The adherents of Pai-marire, incited by Matene and other leaders, determined upon a bold attack on Wanganui Town, and a flotilla of war-canoes was prepared. Each waka-taua was decorated with carved figurehead and streaming plumes after the ancient fashion. A message was sent to the Ngati-Hau Tribe at Hiruharama asking them to join in the attack on the whites. Ngati-Hau were otherwise inclined, and immediately summoned the down-river tribes to their assistance against the Hauhaus.
The people of Hiruharama and other Ngati-Hau villages removed down the river in a body to Ranana, below Moutoa Island. Matene and his Pai-marire host—men, women, and children—embarked in their war-canoes and swept down the Wanganui to Tawhitinui Village, which they occupied and fortified. A message was sent to the chiefs at Ranana, saying that they intended to pass down the river to drive the Europeans into the sea. An uncompromising refusal of the right of way was returned by Haimona Hiroti, Mete Kingi, and the other leaders, not so much out of regard for the pakeha of the Town of Wanganui as for the mana of their river. Ngati-Hau, Ngati-Pamoana, and the lower-river men were resolved to resist to the utmost the insolent passage of an enemy war-party. “If you attempt to force your way down the river,” they replied to Matene, “we shall fight you on Moutoa”.
The challenge was accepted, and it was arranged through the messengers between Tawhitinui and Ranana that the issue should be fought out on the following morning, the 14th May.
Both camps were busy all the day before the fight making page 33 cartridges, moulding lead into bullets, and drying gunpowder, spread carefully on cloth, and in the evening there were hakas and war dances and fervid whai-korero or speech-making. In the Hauhau quarters the Pai-marire ceremonies and chantings were continued nearly all night, and even the children were schooled in their part for the great conflict on the morrow. The women took them in hand, and (as Mr. Booth's protégé of 1864 relates) they were instructed to give a kind of moral support to the warriors by waving their hands, open palms backward toward their shoulders, calling as they did so, “Hapa! Hapa!” (“Pass over!”), so that the bullets would fly harmlessly past their champions' heads. The children went into this new war-game with enormous zest, and there was little sleep in Tawhitinui that night.
Very early in the morning the picked warriors of the Hauhau force, numbering about a hundred and twenty, crossed over in state to the island for battle. It was little more than a push-off, but they crossed with all ceremony in their great canoes, carved, painted, and plumed for war. Grounding the canoes on the shingly beach at the upper end of the island, they leaped ashore and lined up for the war-dance, the necessary prelude to battle. The eager spectators, gathered on the green terrace at Tawhitinui, saw their warriors dance their peruperu, led off by the big blackbearded prophet, and then watched them move toward the middle of the island and enter the manuka thickets.
The loyalist or friendly Maoris had in the meantime posted a selected band of their fighters in the scrub on the island. This party had crossed from the Ranana side of the river at the break of day. It numbered a hundred. Half of the warriors crouched in the thick cover near the middle of the Island; their leader was a chief of great courage and determination, Tamehana te Aewa. The remaining fifty men, under Haimona Hiroti (of Ngati-Pamoana), another good soldier, were posted at the lower end of the island. The main body of the Lower Wanganui men, who had marched over the hill from Ranana, did not cross to the island, but remained as a reserve on the left bank of the river.
As soon as the first shots were heard all the Hauhau onlookers set to at their magic-working incantations. Seated in rows on the Tawhitinui terrace, they cried their Pai-marire spell prayers. Led by the women, the children waved imaginary bullets back over their shoulders with both hands, exclaiming as they did so, “Hapa! Hapa! Hapa!” The old women were crazy with excitement, running back and forward, reciting their high chants, and crying to the young people, “Kai kaha te hapa! Kia kaha te hapa!” (“Let your hapa be strong!”) bidding them redouble their efforts; and into it the children went as hard as they could go, throwing Kupapa bullets over their shoulders—“Hapa! Hapa! Hapa!”
Down on the smoke-hazed island the battle was turning against the firendlies. The Hauhaus, encouraged by their first success, were steadily forcing Tamehana te Aewa's party toward the lower end of Moutoa. Some were panic-stricken and were ready to abandon the fight, but the gallant Tamehana, by a desperate effort, rallied his men and stayed the Hauhau advance. After shooting two Hauhaus, one with each barrel of his tupara, he killed a third man with a spear, and another with a tomahawk. He continued his fight with another gun, killing a fifth man, when he was put out of action by a bullet which broke his leg, shattering the knee-cap. Haimona Hiroti now dashed into the battle with his supports, and, joined by Tamehana's unwounded men, page 35 charged upon the Hauhaus with irresistible force. The combat was hand to hand with tomahawk and gun-butt. The Hauhaus were driven to the beach and into the river; they had no time to think of launching their canoes. More than forty lay dead on the island; some were shot or tomahawked in the water.
The finale to this great tournament was the killing of Matene Rangi-tauira the prophet. He had received a wound, and was swimming across the river to the right bank. Haimona Hiroti, standing on the gravel beach of Moutoa, gave his whalebone club (patu-paraoa) to one of his men, Te Moro (afterwards a policeman in Wanganui), and, pointing to the shaggy black head of the struggling prophet, said, “Yonder is your fish.” Te Moro dashed into the rapid river and overtook Matene just as the prophet reached the Tawhitinui side of the river and grasped an overhanging shrub in an effort to drag himself out of the water. The Kupapa warrior, seizing him by his long hair, killed him with a smashing blow of his patu on the side of the head. Te Moro returned to the island, hauling the dead priest of Paimarire by his hair, and, dragging the body ashore where Haimona stood watching, said to his chief, “Ina to ika!” (“Here is your fish!”)
The Hauhaus lost about fifty killed, and had nearly as many of their number wounded. The Kupapa faction lost less heavily; fifteen men were killed and thirty wounded: the dead included the chiefs Kereti, Hemi Nape, and Riwai Tawhito-rangi. The brave Tamehana, who turned the tide of war against the Hauhaus, was taken down to Wanganui with the other wounded, and had one of his legs amputated. The casualties on both sides were extremely heavy in proportion to the numbers engaged. One European lost his life: this was Lay-Brother Euloge, who was a member of the Roman Catholic Mission, under Father Lampila, at Kauaeroa, a mile above Tawhitinui. He was shot while in charge of a small party of the mission Maoris who had been posted on the left bank opposite the upper end of the island.
The battle over, the downcast spectators on the marae at Tawhitinui were hurriedly joined by the morehu, the survivers of their war-party. In intense sorrow and dejection the defeated braves climbed the bank and stood there before their weeping friends, a long line of weary men. Many had suffered tomahawk-cuts and bullet-wounds, and the blood flowed down their naked chests and limbs. With heads bowed in sorrow and humiliation they stood there by the niu, which had lost its magic virtue, for its prophet lay dead on Moutoa. A little old chief, very fierce and wild, ran up and down in front of them gesticulating with his tongue-pointed taiaha, shouting himself hoarse, and heaping taunts upon them for their defeat.page 36
The Hauhaus did not remain long in Tawhitinui after their crushing repulse. Had the Kupapas under Hiroti and Mete Kingi followed up the victory on the island and rushed Tawhitinui they could have killed every one, but they rested content with their chivalrous fight on Moutoa. The tribes from up-river, however, feared a renewal of the attack, and so all the women and children were hurried up a wooded valley in rear of the village across country by the war-track to the Waitotara River. They came out at Perekama, a large settlement of Ngarauru on the Waitotara below the Weraroa pa. The fighting-men remained awhile at Tawhitinui and followed up as a rearguard. Perekama became the Hauhau headquarters, and the fort on the commanding hill at Weraroa, overlooking the whole of the lower Waitotara country, was enlarged and strongly garrisoned.
Desultory fighting betwen the Upper and Lower Wanganui tribes followed Moutoa, and lasted until early in 1865. Pehi Turoa, Pehi Hitaua, and Topine te Mamaku were among the Hauhau chiefs prominent in the hostilities; on the side of the friendlies the old chief Hori Kingi te Anaua and his kinsmen, Mete Kingi and Hone Wiremu Hipango were the principal leaders. The heaviest fighting was at Ohoutahi, five miles below Pipiriki and near Hiruharama, in February, 1865. Both sides fortified themselves here, and several men were killed. The friendlies lost their leading fighting chief, Hone Wiremu Hipango: his body was brought down to Wanganui and buried with military honours at Putiki-wharanui.
Like the Clan Quhele and the Clan Chattan in the classic combat on the Inch of Perth, the Wanganui men fought for the honour of the tribe. To Mete Kingi, Haimona Hiroti, and their fellow-warriors the chief issue was whether a hostile warparty should be permitted to force a passage down the river. But they fought also to protect Wanganui Town, and their determined stand won the gratitude of the townspeople and the Government. A monument below the old stockade hill of Pukenamu, in Wanganui Town, bears the names of the fifteen Maoris and Lay-Brother Euloge, and the inscription “To the memory of the brave men who fell at Moutoa, 14th May, 1864, in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism.”
* This eye-witness, Mr. H. D. Bates, is a resident of Wanganui. He is the son of Colonel H. Stretton Bates (65th Regiment), who died in England in 1918. Colonel Bates was a subaltern in New Zealand before and during the first Taranaki War, and acquired a good knowledge of the Maori language. He was at one time A.D.C. to Sir George Grey, and in Taranaki and Waikato he was staff interpreter to General Cameron. His wife, a rangatira woman of Te Atiawa, closely related to Te Whiti, died when the little son was three years old. She was a granddaughter of the chief Matangi, who was the first to sign the deed of sale of the site of Wellington City to the New Zealand Company in 1839; her father was Manihera Matangi, of Ngauranga, Wellington, a fine-looking well-tattooed chief, who was a great favourite with the pioneer colonists. Colonel Bates was a clever artist in water-colours, and some of his drawings of warscenes, lent by his son, are reproduced in Volume I of this History.
It was through the help of the Governor, Sir George Grey, that young Bates was recovered from the Hauhaus on the Waitotara and restored to his guardian, Mr. Booth, at Wanganui.