The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 31: TE KOOTI'S ATTACK ON MOHAKA
Chapter 31: TE KOOTI'S ATTACK ON MOHAKA
AFTER EVADING THE combined European and Arawa force at Tauaroa, on the western border of the mountains that present a sierra-like wall above the plain of Kuhawaea and the Rangitaiki, Te Kooti led his warriors by a forced march through the Urewera forests and gorges to Lake Waikare-moana. It was a march toilsome in the extreme even for the hard-trained Urewera in the war-party, over lofty ranges by the ancient fighting-trails, through gloomy ravines, and across swift streams innumerable. Little rest was given until the shore of the lake was reached at a settlement on the long peninsula on the northern side which makes of the Wairau-moana arm almost a separate lake. Here Te Kooti announced that Mohaka and the Wairoa were the objectives of his expedition. “Te Kooti's intention,” says Peita Kotuku, who was a member of the war-party, “was to avenge himself upon the Ngati-Pahauwera Tribe, of Mohaka, and the Wairoa people because they had opposed our march inland after our landing from the schooner in which we had escaped from Chatham Island.” Moreover, the ammunition known to be stored at Mohaka, and the prospects of other plunder, were strong attractions.
The force crossed the lake in canoes to the southern shore. One party of men, forty in number, set out in a large canoe, the “Tarake,” before the leader had given his orders for the crossing of Waikare-moana. The canoe, too deeply laden, was caught in a sudden southerly squall outside Tikitiki headland and capsized in deep water. The men reached the shore by swimming, but lost all their guns and had their ammunition spoiled. Te Kooti, angrily reprimanding the culprits, made the accident his text for a sermon on the necessity for implicit obedience to his commands. The capsize of the canoe and the loss of the firearms were the Atua's punishment for disregarding the commands of their leader.
On the southern shore Te Kooti divided his force, sending one under Te Waru and Nepia to raid the valley of the Wairoa River, while the other, the main body, he led due south to Mohaka, Hawke's Bay, by the Putere track. The expedition against page 328 Wairoa, which was the first to leave the camp on the lake, met with no success, as it encountered a force of Ngati-Pahauwera which had been despatched against Te Waru's settlement on the Upper Wairoa, and was driven back with the loss of several killed. Te Kooti began his vengeance on the Mohaka people by attacking the Maoris at Ara-kanihi and the neighbourhood and massacring all who were captured. Most of the murderous work was done with tomahawk and bayonet. Early on the morning of the 10th April, 1869, the war-party was divided into two companies, and while one surprised the European settlers and Maoris at the crossing of the river opposite the homesteads of two sheep-farmers, Lavin and Cooper, the other division, under Te Kooti, went along the east side of the Mohaka and advanced against the two stockaded villages close to the mouth of the river. On the west or Napier side seven Europeans were slaughtered by the first division. The whites killed were Mr. and Mrs. Lavin and their children, a man named Cooper, and an old man named Wilkinson. Another settler named Sim (who had a public-house and store besides his run) had gone out early to work on his land, and so escaped; and his wife and several young children took to the bush in time to elude the raiders, having been warned in time by a friendly Maori woman who was afterwards killed. Another settler, Mr. Hudson, escaped to Napier. Dr. M. Scott, formerly of the Wairoa, was now settled at Mohaka, but happened to be away at Napier at the time of the raid. His half-caste wife and family took refuge with many others, chiefly women and children, in Hiruharama (Jerusalem), the larger of the two pas. Others ran to Te Huke, the smaller fort. Those in the small out-settlements who were surprised by the advancing force were mercilessly killed. Many were shut up in a wool-shed, and as they were brought out one by one they were tomahawked or bayoneted. Peita Kotuku says: “It was the Tuhoe (Urewera) men chiefly who killed these people, because they and Ngati-Pahauwera were ancient enemies.” Timoti te Kaka—Volkner's ex-deacon—Te Rangi-tahau, of Taupo, and the ruffianly half-caste Eru Peka Makarini (Edward Baker McLean) were also among the executioners.
Te Kooti laid regular siege to the two stockades in which the Ngati-Pahauwera had taken refuge. As most of the fighting-men of the tribe, numbering eighty to a hundred, under Hoani te Wainoho, Paora Rerepu, and Iehu te Kupa, were absent at Te Kiwi, near Waikare-moana, the defence devolved upon a very few able-bodied men, assisted by some old men and boys and the women. Each pa consisted of strong palisades with trenches inside; from earth banquettes the garrison in the trench could fire through the interstices of the stockade on the page 329 ground-level. The houses within the forts were in a measure safe from enemy fire, as their floors were dug out to a depth of about 2 feet below the level of the surrounding ground. The smaller or more compact pa, Te Huke, was well situated on the precipitous left bank of the Mohaka River, and about 300 yards seaward of its sister fort, Hiruharama. It was unassailable except immediately in front and on a small part of the right and left flanks, and there the palisade was very solid and strong, backed by a parapet. The Huke was an ancient fort which had successfully withstood all attacks. Hiruharama had the disadvantage of being rather straggling of figure and requiring a large garrison to man its trenches.
When the alarm was given that the Hauhaus had come down on Mohaka, about a dozen able-bodied men took post in Hiruharama to protect the large number of women and children who flocked to the pa, besides some men past the active fighting age. Te Huke was occupied by a stronger garrison, though small in numbers; it consisted of the remainder of the Mohaka warriors who had not marched in the Wairoa expedition. In this pa was the Government store of ammunition, buried under the house of the native sergeant of police. From the stockades the Ngati-Pahauwera beheld the burning of the European settlers' houses on the opposite side of the river, and heard firing in the out-settlements where stragglers were being sought out and slaughtered. Te Kooti, mounted on a white horse—recently looted—now appeared with a large body of his armed followers, while about one hundred and fifty skirmishers advancing along the Wairoa road took up positions under cover and opened fire on the two forts. The main body camped near the bank of the river and set about enjoying the loot from its plundered settlement. “When the public-house on the south side of the river was looted,” says Peita Kotuku, “some of our men got very drunk on the rum they found, and when they joined in the attack on the stockades they behaved so recklessly, heedless of cover, that several of them were shot dead. Te Kooti was very angry at his men getting drunk while they were fighting. They should have waited until we were on our return journey; then we halted at Ara-kanihi, a short distance inland, and remained there several days to enjoy the liquor we had carried away.”
Heavy fighting continued for some hours between the small garrisons and the Hauhaus on the front and flanks of the strongholds. Te Kooti's men dug numerous rifle-pits and also started a trench just under the fall of the ground near the Mohaka so as to command the river face of Hiruharama. The occupants of this pa fought particularly well. Boys, women, and old men kept up a steady fire and effectually swept the glacis page 330 with their rifles and double-barrel guns. A storming-party rushed at Te Huke, and, getting right up to the palisades, threw a chain over some of the stakes and tried to drag them down and make a breach. After a desperate fight they were beaten off.
Discovering that the place was too strong to be carried by assault, Te Kooti adopted different methods. He sent some of his men forward with a white flag, and, calling for Ropihana, the son of the chief Paora Rerepu—who was absent with the Wairoa expedition—proposed terms of peace. Ropihana warned the people that it was a rongo patipati, a deceitful peace; but Rutene Kiri-huruhuru, the native policeman, it is said, was persuaded to make a truce, and he and some others went out at the invitation of the Hauhaus and joined them at grog on the flat below the pa. Rutene had been at the mission college at Waerenga-a-Hika, Poverty Bay, and knew Te Kooti well. After grog, the Hauhaus entered Te Huke, in spite of the opposition of some of the people. The invaders professed peaceful intentions, but Ropihana, or one of his comrades, more alert than the others, detected a sign to commence the slaughter of the pa garrison, and fired at one of the Hauhaus. The enemy then threw off all pretence of friendship, and the massacre began. The foolish Rutene was killed, and nearly the whole of the occupants of the pa—men, women, and children—were shot down or tomahawked. Ropihana escaped by jumping over the bank on the flank facing the river, receiving a severe wound in the shoulder as he fled, and reached Hiruharama pa.
After slaying all the people they could find, the Hauhaus set fire to the place. They secured a number of guns and some ammunition, but the Government store of gunpowder was not discovered; it exploded when the house under which it was buried was burned.
George Hill, N.Z.C.
In recommending George Hill for the New Zealand Cross, Colonel Whitmore wrote: “Constable (now Sergeant) George Hill, No. 1 Division A.C., accompanied the Wairoa natives who under Ihaka Whanga proceeded to relieve Mohaka, then being attacked by Te Kooti. A party volunteered to run the gauntlet of the enemy's fire and to dash into the Jerusalem pa, then sorely pressed. This was a dangerous service, and it was in a great measure due to the example set by Constable Hill, who led that party, that it was successfully carried out … Hill animated the defenders by his exertions, and contributed greatly to the repulse of Te Kooti; and his conduct is spoken of in admiration by the natives themselves.”
(See notes at end of this chapter.)
These reinforcements saved Hiruharama. The defence was carried on with redoubled energy, and a sortie was made by some of the garrison. Sallying out from the pa, they charged the Hauhaus and drove them from their advanced rifle-pits, but the fire from the main body was so fierce that the Mohaka page 332 fighters were compelled to fall back with several wounded. George Hill was now the life of the defence. He had the palisade strengthened with some bullock-chains, so that they could not be pulled down readily with rope and cross-bar, and he kept up an accurate fire from one of the angles. The Hauhaus had begun to sap towards the stockade from the west side, but their progress was slow. By this time several of Te Kooti's men had been killed, including an Urewera chief named Kereopa (not the prophet of this name, the murderer of Mr. Volkner). The small garrison—there were only about forty able-bodied men in the pa—were continually on the alert to beat back an attack. Well the defenders knew that if the enemy once screwed up their courage to the assaulting-point they could soon have beaten down all resistance and tomahawked every soul. “I could have done for at least three with my rifle and a double-barrel gun the Maoris had brought me, if it came to a final scrimmage,” said Hill, narrating the incidents of the siege, “but there would not have been time to reload.” But the dreaded charge never came, and this mercy was undoubtedly due to the spirit infused into the defence by the fearless ex-man-of-war's-man.
Such was the position when early on Tuesday, the 12th April, the first relief expedition appeared off the mouth of the Mohaka. This was a party of fourteen armed men in the Napier lifeboat. The news of the attack had been taken to Napier by a wounded and exhausted Maori. Captain Cellem, the Harbourmaster at Napier, was in command of the lifeboat, which was manned by twelve volunteers, including some masters of vessels; with them was Dr. M. Scott, armed like the others with rifle and sixty rounds of ammunition. On arriving off the mouth of the river the crew watched the attack on Hiruharama, and saw the explosion of the gunpowder in Te Huke pa, which was on fire. Captain Cellem called for volunteers to land, in order to rescue any fugitives, when it was discovered that the blockhouse, although apparently deserted, was occupied by Hauhaus who were preparing to fire on the landing-party. Captain Cellem pulled out, and was about to sail northwards along the coast to investigate the position when the hidden Hauhaus opened a heavy fire on the boat from the blockhouse loopholes. The crew at the same time found themselves under fire from the cliff above the beach. Cellem and Scott returned the fire over the stern of the boat while the crew pulled out of range. It was now dark, and the party decided to return to Napier.
Some of the Hauhaus rode along the beach for several miles following the lifeboat and firing on it as it ran south under sail close inshore. When Napier was reached it was found that all page 333 the available local mounted men, numbering about eighty, under Captain Towgood and Captain Tanner, had been despatched to Mohaka. Dr. Scott returned to Mohaka at once in the cutter “Grayling,” which was conveying military stores, and on reaching the devastated settlement discovered his wife and children safe in Hiruharama pa. The palisades of the fort were seen to be thick with bullets which had failed to penetrate the timber. The fighting was over. Te Kooti had retreated on discovering the approach of assistance. His men, all mounted on horses looted from the Maoris and the European settlers, carried off all the plunder they could take, including the liquor from Sims's hotel. The Hauhau war-party halted and camped at Te Arakanihi, and there set to at the grog. Had they been followed up promptly and attacked, a deadly revenge for Mohaka could have been exacted.
The officer in charge of the relief expedition, Colonel Lambert, was extraordinarily lacking in military enterprise. He had a force of Constabulary and Mounted Rifles numbering over a hundred, besides the Mohaka and Wairoa natives. The Mohaka men, burning to take utu for the slaughter of their relatives, were ready to follow up the enemy, and the white troops were eager for action, but nothing would induce the cautious Lambert to move inland.
The Constabulary recovered and buried the bodies of the Lavin family and others who perished in the raid. Mrs. Lavin was lying on the ground, shot dead. Her husband lay by her side with his left arm under her as if he had been protecting her when he was killed; his revolver was in his outstretched right hand. The Lavin children, according to the veteran Armed Constabulary scout Ben Biddle, who was one of the first to find the bodies, had been killed by being thrown up in the air and caught on the points of the Hauhaus' bayonets, just as the Sepoys cruelly impaled white children in the Indian Mutiny. “The little ones' bodies were all over bayonet-wounds,” said Biddle.
The Hauhau camp at Ara-kanihi, six miles inland, was reconnoitred by Ben Biddle alone. On his return he reported to Colonel Lambert that the Hauhaus were in a drunken condition from their looted grog, and could be cut up with ease if a vigorous attack were made. The scout urged the Colonel to attack at once. Lambert's reply was that he would consider it. Major Richardson would have attacked without hesitation, but Lambert was in command, and the opportunity for ending Te Kooti's career passed, much to the disgust of the force. The plucky Biddle (who had won the New Zealand Cross at Ngatapa) followed up the Hauhaus by himself, and near Te Putere scouted up to an enclosure where the looted horses, numbering about one hundred and fifty, page 334 were kept. At night he broke down part of the fence to let the horses out, and nearly all of them returned to Mohaka. The Hauhaus only succeeded in taking ten away to Waikare-moana.
After enjoying themselves at horse-races on the beach at Waikare-moana, close to the Strait of Manaia, which connects the main body of the lake with the very beautiful western arm, Wairau-moana, the Hauhaus crossed in canoes to the north side, swimming the horses across the half-mile channel. At the fortified settlements Tikitiki and Whakaari, on headlands dominating the approach to the Urewera track, Te Kooti and his men remained for some time resting. While here, news came of Colonel Whitmore's march into the Urewera Mountains from the north, and of his capture of Ruatahuna. Te Kooti hurried a portion of his force on to attack Whitmore, who was expected to march to Waikare-moana. Peka Makarini, the ferocious half-caste, led this advance force. Te Kooti followed and prepared an ambush for the troops in a deep gorge through which they would have to pass on their way to the lake. The story of Whitmore's well-executed expedition into the heart of the Urewera Country is told in the next chapter.
Constable George Hill (No. 1 Division A.C.), popularly known in the New Zealand forces as Rowley Hill, received the rare decoration of the New Zealand Cross for his share in the defence of Hiruharama pa at Mohaka. His fighting career was one of extraordinary variety and adventure. A native of the famous little Devonshire town of Dawlish, he joined the Royal Navy in 1851 and saw over ten years' service as a blue-jacket. He was in H.M.S. “Leopard” at the bombardment of Sebastopol, and on returning to England from the Black Sea in 1856 he joined H.M.S. “Shannon” and went out in her to the China Station. When the Indian Mutiny broke out in 1857 the “Shannon” was ordered to Calcutta, and Hill was in Captain Peel's famous Naval Brigade which took a battery of 32-pounders into the heart of India. He fought at the taking of Lucknow, where he was slightly wounded, and at Delhi, and in the desperate battles at Cawnpore, under Sir Colin Campbell. In 1860 he was in the Mediterranean in H.M.S. “Hannibal,” and with three shipmates took French leave at Palermo and enlisted, like many other British bluejackets, in Garibaldi's Army of Liberation. After a brief campaign in Italy, where he was wounded, he rejoined his ship—the desertion was overlooked, for English sympathy with Garibaldi ran high—and afterwards served in H.M.S. “Euryalus.” On coming to New Zealand in 1863 he joined Von Tempsky's No. 2 Company of the Forest Rangers and fought in many actions in Taranaki and in the Hauhau campaign on the East Coast. Later he was in Major Fraser's No. 1 Company of Military Settlers in Hawke's Bay, and then for several years in the Armed Constabulary: last of all in the submarine mining section of the New Zealand Permanent Force at Auckland. He was living at Devonport, Auckland, at the date of writing.page 335
It was at Mohaka in 1869 that Hill met the native girl who became his wife, Harata Hinerata, who, with her three sisters—Lucy, Lizzie, and Amelia—half-castes of the Ngati-Pahauwera, took a gallant part in the defence of Te Huke pa. When Te Kooti first attacked the place these girls used their double-barrelled guns, and it was Lucy who shot the slayer of her grandfather, a venerable chief who was killed in the act of trying to server with a sword a chain with a cross-bar attached which had been thrown over the palisades by the Hauhaus in an attempt to pull down a portion of the fence. In the final slaughter, when the enemy gained entrance to the fort by falsely promising to spare the defenders, the sisters escaped by climbing over the palisade at the rear and sliding down the cliff and then swimming across the Mohaka River. Two of them carried children tied in a shawl on their backs. The plucky Harata in making her escape received a heavy blow on the back from the butt of a Hauhau's rifle. When Te Kooti retreated from Mohaka, Hill set off to take the news to Napier, and after swimming the river near the mouth travelled along the beach until he met the advance-guard of the cavalry from Napier. It was on Colonel Whitmore's recommendation that he was awarded the New Zealand Cross.
The Government blockhouse at Mohaka, from which the Hauhaus fired on the Napier lifeboat crew in April, 1869, was of rather unusual construction, being octagonal in form. It was of two storeys, with a double wall, filled in with gravel and sand, and both storeys, were loopholed. A stockade, with a ditch on the inner side, surrounded the blockhouse.
Te Tupara Kaaho, of Ruatoki, states that he was one of the Tuhoe (Urewera) men who joined Te Kooti at that settlement early in 1869 and accompanied him to Mohaka. The Tuhoe lost two of their chiefs, Ihaia and Kereopa, in the fighting at Mohaka. Tupara looted a horse in the raid, and it was one of the ten which were swum across Waikare-moana at the Strait of Manaia. Some of the horses were taken right through to Ruatahuna over the Huiarau, but several were killed in the rough traverse of the unroaded ranges.
Te Rangi-tahau, of Waipahihi, Lake Taupo, was one of the leaders in the butchery of the Ngati-Pahauwera, captured at Mohaka. He had been shipped to the Chatham Islands as a prisoner after his capture at Omarunui in 1866, and fought as one of Te Kooti's lieutenants from 1868 until the beginning of 1870. Many stories are told by the Maoris regarding his energy and fearlessness in battle and his callousness in the execution of prisoners. His favourite weapon for such tasks was a patu-okewa (or patu-kara), a sharp-edged hand-club of hard black stone. It was his practice on occasion to slay prisoners by throwing the patu. Singling out a man, perhaps sitting in a row of people in a house or on the village square, he would hurl the weapon at him with unerring aim and kill him with a blow on the temple.
I met Tahau, as he was usually called, at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, in 1900, when he told me something of his history. He was by repute a powerful tohunga, and had been brought up from Taupo to conduct the ancient ceremony of whai-kawa, or removing the baneful spell of tapu from a carved house, a rite which a number of us witnessed. He died suddenly a few days afterwards; in popular belief he was a victim to the spells of witchcraft (makutu) directed against him by a rival tohunga who also took part in the ceremonies at Whakarewarewa, the venerable Tumutara Pio, of the Ngati-Awa Tribe. But old Pio himself did not long survive his antagonist. Tahau was a very powerful athletic fellow, with a head that may accurately be described as shaped like one of the old-fashioned round bullets; his grim features were partly tattooed. At the time of his death he was about seventy years of age.page 336