The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
THE FIGHT AT TE PORERE
THE FIGHT AT TE PORERE
A few days were spent in scouting the enemy's position by Captain Northcroft, Lieutenant Preece with some natives, and Sergeant C. Maling with the Corps of Guides. It was ascertained that the Hauhaus occupied the settlement Papakai, under the western slopes of Tongariro. Seventy Wanganui natives arrived under Major Kepa and Captain William McDonnell, and the whole force moved up to Roto-a-Ira. On the 3rd October McDonnell advanced with combined columns, only to find that the enemy had retired from Papakai and was holding two hills and a strong earthwork redoubt at Te Porere, on the tableland at the edge of the bush north-west of Tongariro. It was arranged that Major Kepa was to move to the left under cover of a low ridge, and that after he had had two hours' start he, with the Constabulary in the centre and Ngati-Kahungunu on the right flank, was to make a swift attack on the three positions. The two advanced positions were soon taken; one of these, Roipara, was on the right bank of the Wanganui River, here a small stream issuing from the west side of the Tongariro volcanic range. Just as the force was fording the river Captain St. George ordered Lieutenant Preece to take the Arawa to the right flank. This was done, and the Hauhau redoubt was determinedly assailed on three sides. The forest extended to within a short distance of the pa on the west and north-west sides, and McDonnell was not able to extend his force completely round the position in time, otherwise Te Kooti would have been cut off from the refuge of the forest, and his career would have ended on the battlefield of Te Porere.
A party of the Hauhaus took post in the edge of the bush and opened fire on the left flank of No. 2 Division as they were advancing to the assault. McDonnell detached a party to deal with them and launched the rest against the pa. Captain St. George and a force of Constabulary and friendly Maoris came at the double up the easily sloping hill on the east and rushed at the front of the work. St. George was leading on his men gallantly, charging through the short fern, when a bullet fired by Peita Kotuku, pierced his brain and he fell dead. But a very page 377 few moments later the walls were stormed and the Armed Constabulary and Kupapas, with bullet and bayonet, took abundant revenge for their slain. Just before the final assault the chief and most of his men escaped to the bush in the rear; Te Kooti himself was wounded, for a bullet had cut off one of his fingers and passed through his side.
Peita Kotuku, describing the defence of the pa, said:—
“Our redoubt was a massive earthwork—it is standing there to-day—but it had one defect, which resulted in our defeat. In making the loopholes (huarahi-pu) in the sod and pumice walls, interlaid with fern, we made them straight (horizontal), and could not depress the muzzles of our guns to fire into the ditch. The Government troops, pakeha and Maori, got up under the parapets, and many of them snatched up lumps of pumice (pungapunga) and stuffed up the firing-apertures with them. We therefore could not see our nearest attackers unless we exposed ourselves over the top of the parapet.
“It was I,” continued Peita, “who shot a pakeha officer as he was leading his men in a charge up to the front of the pa.” [This was Captain St. George.] “I was just behind the short parapet (parepare) covering the gateway immediately inside the entrance. My weapon was a breech-loading carbine. When the officer, rushing ahead of his men, was about twenty paces from the entrance I fired and shot him dead. It was not Te Kooti who shot him, as some have said. At that stage of the fighting Te Kooti was in a rifle-pit in an angle on the left flank of the pa, some little distance from the kuwaha (gateway). He was sitting there surrounded by a bodyguard of women.”*
Sergeant W. Wallace, No. 2 Division, narrating the incidents of the attack, said:—
“The first shots fired in the Porere fight were from the top of a hill just to the Roto-a-Ira side of the Wanganui. I saw the flash of a gun-barrel there, and called out, ‘We'll get a volley directly,’ and so we did, but none of us was hit. We crossed the river and skirmished up to the pa. The redoubt held by the Maoris was built of pumice, earth, and ferns, and their bullets sent the pumice from the ground around flying into our eyes. I had some good shooting there as they were retreating, running out of their gateway, into the trench, and then making for the bush. Pompey, of Wanganui, was with us; he ran around the east angle of the pa to get a better shot, and was killed between that point and the gateway. I was trying to get one fellow who wore a smoking-cap. Lying flat on the ground I got a splendid shot, and he disappeared. I don't know whether it was I or some page 378 one else who got him, but I don't think I missed; our Terry carbines were very good up to 400 yards. This man at whom I was shooting was armed with a spear consisting of a bayonet fastened on a long pole.”
All the Hauhaus found in the pa when the attackers at last succeeded in rushing it were shot or bayoneted. Thirty-seven Hauhaus were buried within the walls after the fight. The Government loss was four killed and four wounded. One of the killed was Komene, an Arawa sub-chief. The two Wanganui natives who fell, Winiata Pakoro and Pape (Pompey), belonged to the Ngati-Hau Tribe, and were fighters of exceptional activity and bravery. Winiata was shot dead while firing down into the Hauhaus from the top of their own parapet. Colonel McDonnell had ordered him to come down, but Winiata, who had been firing shot after shot into the crowded pa, said, “Only one more shot,” and fired; the next moment he fell from the earthwork, shot through the heart. His brother, Tonihi, had him buried in a running stream; the watercourse was diverted, a grave was dug in the gravel, and the stream was then allowed to return to its channel. This was done lest the Taupo Hauhaus should disturb the remains of Ngati-Hau's hero. Renata Kawepo, the old warrior chief from Hawke's Bay, was severely handled by a young Taupo woman, the wife of Paurini, a chief who had been shot in the attack. In the tussle she gouged out one of his eyes. This occurred in the edge of the bush where Renata was pursuing some of the Hauhaus who had left the pa.
The death of Captain St. George, killed while charging up to the pa front, was a source of deep sorrow to all his friends. Major Gascoyne wrote of him, “He was brave to rashness, and the finest horseman I ever knew.” St. George and Gascoyne had both joined the Hawke's Bay squadron of the Colonial Defence Force in 1863. The gallant soldier was laid to rest on the shore of Roto-a-Ira; two years afterwards Gascoyne brought his remains out to Napier, to be interred there with military honours.
Captain J. St. George
(Killed at Te Porere, 1869.)
“Who sleeps the sleep no more to wake
On earth, ‘mid loveliest scenes afar,
Where Tongariro's snows disgorge
Their flames by blue Te Aira's lake—
Young, kindly, chivalrous St. George!
Whose honour-fired aspiring brain,
Before that instant-blighting ball,
Flashed into darkness without pain.
So swiftly his bold course was run,
That ardent spirit's duties done.”
The pa at Te Porere, the last redoubt constructed by Te Kooti, is in a very fair state of preservation to-day. Diverging from the Waimarino—Tokaanu Road near the foot of Tongariro volcano we follow a horse-trail parallel with the Wanganui—here a little brawling brook—in the direction of the great forests which stretch far away to the west. A short distance from the road we come to page 380 the scene of the conflict on the edge of the tableland, close to a thick belt of bush. This pa is locally known as Mahaukura; Te Porere is the general name of the district. Its earth walls and rectangular flanking-works at the angles are in nearly as good order, except that their straight lines have been softened by bushes of flax and thick growth of fern, as when the rebel leader and his musketeers built the pa in 1869. The redoubt measures about 25 yards in length by 20 in width. The flanking bastions, devised to enfilade the outer side of the high parapet, would each have held about twenty men. The walls were built of sods and pumice, interlaid with fern, and square loopholes for rifle-fire were made in the parapets and kept open with pieces of timber. These loopholes, however, had been constructed without allowing for depression, so that when the Government men lined the outer ditch the Maoris within could not hit them without exposing themselves over the top of the parapet. The parapets are 8 to 10 feet high and 5 to 6 feet thick. The gateway on the eastern side of the redoubt is cleverly covered by earth parapets or traverses just within. In the interior of the work a long grassy mound marks the grave of nearly forty of Te Kooti's warriors.