WORK OF THE WHAKATANE COLUMN
The left column under St. John had had much heavier fighting than Whitmore's force on the march into the interior. St. John's principal officers were Lieut.-Colonel James Fraser and Major William Mair, R. M.; the latter commanded the Native Contingent. The force, 425 strong (including 180 Maoris), was very heavily loaded with ammunition, biscuits, and bacon. A Constabulary veteran recalls the fact that when the march began his swag weighed 70 lb. There was no road into the interior but the river-gorge, and St. John's men, laden like packhorses, found that the easiest travelling often was in the water. The first day's march up the Whakatane, crossing the river many times, brought the column to Tunanui, about twenty miles from Opouriao. There was no sign of the enemy as yet. On the 5th the force reached Waikariwhenua, five miles up the gorge of the Waikari, a large tributary of the Whakatane, flowing in from the ranges of Maunga-pohatu. On the 6th the exceedingly difficult traverse by the Wharau Range was accomplished. This ascent, the most arduous day's work in the hard march inland, involved a climb of more than a thousand feet up a densely forested mountain-side; the ascent was necessary in order to avoid an unfordable part of the Whakatane where the river ran between high cliffs a short distance above the junction with the Waikari at Te Kuha-o-Wheterau. Descending again to the Whakatane Valley, the advance-guard of the column came suddenly down into the small village Whata-ponga, on the proper right bank of the river. Here the first shots were fired. Lieutenant David White
, leading the Guides, and Captain Gundry, with some Ngapuhi and other Maoris of No. 8 Division, rushed into the kainga
and surprised the few natives who inhabited it. Gundry went in pursuit of a Maori, an old man, who was running away with a little boy on his back in a shawl or blanket. He shot the boy and brought the man down wounded, and ran up and tomahawked him. Sergeant William Wallace
(No. 2 Division A.C.) witnessed this barbarous deed and remonstrated with Gundry, saying that it was not right to slaughter in this fashion. “I was taking utu
for my brother,” said Gundry. His young brother Fred, a lad of about fifteen, had been killed in the fight at Otautu, Taranaki, on the 13th March. Gundry was a half-caste Maori, a surveyor by profession. Another member of the column exacted utu
for a slain relative, regardless of the fact that
J. C., photo, 1921]
Te Paripari on the Upper Whakatane, Urewera Country
Lieutenant David White was shot from the opposite bank of the Whakatane River (the bush-covered terrace shown) when in the act of stepping into the water in the foreground to ford the river, leading his party of scouts, 7th May, 1869.
the victim was innocent of offence. This man was Tahawera, a chief of the Lower Whakatane. He killed a woman with his whalebone patu,
in revenge for his niece Ripeka executed by Te Kooti
's orders in the recent raid on Whakatane. The death-roll at Whata-ponga was three men, two women, and the little boy. Lieutenant White was slightly wounded.
The force camped for the night in the captured village, and next morning (7th May) continued the advance southward up the narrow valley of the Whakatane, pent in by lofty forest-blanketed ranges. About a mile above the scene of the skirmish the force
passed through the Ngati-Rongokarae village Ohaua-te-rangi, the principal settlement between Waikari-whenua and Ruatahuna. It was not occupied; the firing on the previous day had given the alarm, and it was realized that the Urewera were lying in wait at some of the narrows farther on. The force moved up the river, crossing from side to side of its gravelly bed. At Te Paripari (“The Cliffs”), about a mile above Ohaua-te-rangi, the expected volley from ambush was received. Here a small stream, the Mahaki-rua, flows in from the direction of Maungapohatu, joining the Whakatane at a ford facing a wooded terrace. St. John's advance-guard had descended to the eastern (right) bank of the river, and Lieutenant David White had just stepped into the water when a volley was fired by a large party of Maoris in ambush on the wooded bank on the opposite side, Te Paripari. The lieutenant fell in the water mortally wounded, and was picked up and was carried to the gravel-spit on the east side just above the junction of the two rivers. Heavy skirmishing now began, and lasted for several hours. White's body was buried on the manuka-covered flat in the river-bed, and Major Mair read the burial service, under a continual fire from the Hauhaus, who were in good cover, chiefly in the bush on the eastern side of the river.
Te Tupara, of Ruatoki, says that it was a man named Waikite who singled out and shot Lieutenant White, who was leading the scouts.
The Constabulary divisions chiefly engaged in the heavy skirmishing here were Nos. 1 and 2, under Captains Withers, Scannell, and Northcroft, and part of No. 4, under Captain Travers. The force advanced up the east side of the Whakatane and encountered sharp resistance on the march up over the Hukanui Hill, a steep bush ridge abutting precipitously on the right bank of the river. Low bush, scrub, and fern covered the lower part of the hill, and the defenders were strongly posted in the forest above. A party of Constabulary was detached to outflank the enemy's left, and this operation was carried out successfully. The ascent of the range was so steep that steps had to be cut with tomahawks in places. The Urewera abandoned their position on Hukanui, and fell back in the direction of Ruatahuna. Crossing a deep wooded gully, where a small stream joined the Whakatane on the east side, they took post in Te Whenuanui's pa, a strong earthwork redoubt called Tahora, about a mile beyond the top of Hukanui. The pa occupied a commanding position on a fern ridge trending at right angles to the valley of the Whakatane.
St. John halted his men for a meal on gaining the crest of Hukanui, and then moved forward to attack the Tahora work.
J. C., photo, 1921]
Junction of the Whakatane River and the Mahaki-rua at Te Paripari
This view shows the Mahaki-rua Stream coming in on the left, joining the Whakatane River opposite Te Paripari, which is on the proper left bank of the Whakatane. Lieutenant White was buried, under the Urewera's fire, on the manuka-clothed shingle-bank in the middle distance.
He sent Fraser with No. 1 Division and some of the Maoris to outflank the place on the left, and Nos. 2 and 8, under Scannell, were ordered to work round on the right. The centre was commanded by St. John himself. The Constabulary and natives descended into the intervening gully, across which there had been a good deal of firing at long range, and worked into the position allotted, but not in time to engage the Urewera closely. The defenders hurriedly evacuated the pa
shelter in the bush. It was now getting late in the day, and the force encamped on the Tahora spur for the night. Not far from the captured pa
was a small stockaded earthwork, a miniature pa,
a few yards square; it crowned a narrow part of the Tahora ridge, alongside the track. This was a highly tapu
spot, for it was the grave of Mura-Kareke, the most revered ancestor of the Urewera people. The Ngaitai Maoris who formed a portion of Major Mair's contingent desecrated the grave by making an umu
or earth-oven there and cooking some pork for their evening meal. This was by way of revenge for the death of one of their comrades, a young man named Maehe, who had received a mortal wound in the Paripari-Hukanui fighting. The Urewera in their turn seized an opportunity of retaliation in kind for this act of sacrilege a few days later, when, at Te Kooti
's order, they disinterred the bodies of Captain Travers and others killed in the Orangikawa engagement: “Let them be food for the beasts of the field and the birds of the air,” said Te Kooti