The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 4: THE SIEGE OF PIPIRIKI
Chapter 4: THE SIEGE OF PIPIRIKI
SOON AFTER THE Battle of Moutoa Island and the skirmishing at Ohoutahi the military authorities determined to establish a post at Pipiriki, fifty-five miles up the Wanganui, in order to hold the river against the passage of the hostile tribes under Pehi Turea, Topine te Mamaku, and other powerful chiefs of the Upper Wanganui. Pipiriki was selected because it was a convenient line of demarcation between the Hauhau tribes and those friendly to the Europeans; it was also the point at which overland tracks from the eastern part of the Island reached the great inland waterway. For some years there had been a Church mission school at Pipiriki; there was a flour-mill driven by water-power, and there was a considerable amount of cultivation on both sides of the river. It was a kind of advanced frontier post, beyond which the chiefs of old Maoridom held undisputed rule. The upper waters of the Wanganui were an almost unknown region to the pakeha; even in the “sixties” very few except adventurous colonial travellers, missionaries, and occasional military officers had ventured up as far as the Manganui-o-te-Ao or to Taumarunui by canoe. One or two pioneer missionaries, such as the Rev. Richard Taylor, were the only men who were at all intimately acquainted with the geography of the people of this wild part of New Zealand, where the swift river, the narrow gorges, and the roadless ranges were the inhabitants' almost impregnable defences.
The force sent up the Wanganui river to Pipiriki at the end of April, 1865, consisted of Nos. 8 and 9 Companies of the Taranaki Military Settlers, under Captains T. Wilson and Pennefather, and a company of the Patea Rangers, under Lieutenant J. Hirst. Major Willoughby Brassey, N.Z. Militia, a veteran of the Indian and Afghan wars, was in command of the expedition. One of the officers of the Patea Rangers was Captain W. Newland, a young Taranaki-born soldier; he served with great distinction throughout the wars from 1860. Dr. J. B. Suther was the surgeon of the force. The expedition was despatched from New Plymouth to Wanganui, and, after being taken a page 38 short distance up the river in the steamer “Gundagai” (Captain Fairchild), marched to Parikino and there embarked in canoes for Pipiriki. The European force, numbering two hundred, was joined by a Native Contingent (Lower Wanganui men), about sixty strong. The canoe flotilla, numbering some scores of long river-craft, laden with men, baggage, and stores, paddled and poled up the swift river, the native crews inspired by the stirring chants of their captains. Major Atkinson, then Defence Minister, accompanied the expedition, and returned to Wanganui after he had seen Major Brassey established at Pipiriki.
The position taken up was on the right (west) bank of the river, close to the Pipiriki native settlement and directly opposite the terrace on which the present township and the Pipiriki Hotel stand. Three earthwork redoubts were built close to each other. The main work, No. 1 Redoubt, was built on the ridge at the bend of the Wanganui near the prominent wooded hill called Rangiahua, overlooking the river; there was a much better site, but it was a Maori wahi tapu, or burial-place, and so was not occupied. The second redoubt, Popoia, was built on a spur, a little to the north-west of Rangiahua Hill, nearly opposite the present steamer landing-place; and No. 3 Redoubt was thrown up on the south side, close to an ancient native pa called Koanga-o-Rehua, and about 500 yards from No. 1 Redoubt.
The main position was garrisoned by the Taranaki Military Settlers. The Native Contingent, under Kepa te Rangihiwinui (Captain Kemp, afterwards Major), and the Patea Rangers built the other redoubts. After some weeks the Native contingent was ordered down the river again to assist in the operations against the Weraroa pa, on the Waitotara.
The arrival of the Government force at Pipiriki and the fortification of the positions commanding the river were accepted by the Hauhaus as a challenge, and before long a formidable body of warriors nearly a thousand strong was assembled in camps on both sides of the Wanganui a short distance above the Pipiriki landing.
The Hauhaus included all the Upper Wanganui hapus as high up as Taumarunui, and many men of Ngati-Maniapoto, Ngati-Raukawa, and Ngati-Tuwharetoa. The leading chief was Pehi Turoa, the rangatira of highest rank on the Wanganui. The principal position occupied by the natives was Pukehinau pa, a commanding fortification on a hill about a quarter of a mile in rear of the terrace on which the present township stands. Another large camp was pitched on a terrace about two miles higher up the river, at a place called Ohinemutu, on the same side as the redoubts. The usual Pai-marire pole of worship was page 39 erected on each side of the river. That set up by the Pukehinau force stood near the site of the present Pipiriki Hotel. It was 60 feet or 70 feet in height, with a butt 18 inches in diameter; it was crossed with a yard like a ship's, and was firmly stayed; and from its halliards flew the Hauhau war-flags, in designs of black, red, and white.
No hostilities occurred until well on in July. Meanwhile the Upper Wanganui was lively with warrior crews paddling furiously down to reinforce the Pipiriki camps for a grand assault on the pakeha forts. Friendly natives in the village near the redoubts conveyed warnings to Major Brassey, through Lieutenant Newland (who acted as interpreter after Mr. Booth, the Resident Magistrate, had gone to Wanganui). The friendlies predicted an early assault, and the Major took additional precautions. The troops lay down at night fully accoutred, ready to turn out at an instant's call. A picket of six men had been maintained at the store-tent on the river-bank where canoes landed, but on the evening of the 18th July Major Brassey fortunately called in the picket; and this saved it, as was afterwards discovered, from a planned attack which would have annihilated it.
On the merning of the 19th July Lieutenant Chapman, of the Patea Rangers, when walking down towards the picket tent, was attacked from ambush at close quarters, but escaped to his redoubt. This was the beginning of fighting which developed into a regular siege and lasted for twelve days. The Hauhaus seized the wahi tapu, or burial-place, and opened a heavy plunging fire on the Taranaki Military Settlers' position (No. 3 Redoubt, called the “Gundagai”). The range was not more than about 30 yards. Other Hauhaus appeared on the ridge in rear of the main redoubt and commenced sniping at the troops. It was necessary to drive the Maoris off Rangiahua at all costs, and this was done by Lieutenant Clery with a party of twenty men, who gallantly stormed the position with the bayonet. Clery was slightly wounded, and two of his men were hit, but none were killed. The Hauhaus lost several shot dead as they fled from the bayonets into the low bush at the foot of the hill. The Maoris had begun to entrench themselves on the hill; these rifle-pits were completed by the captors of the position, and a small field-work was thrown up and defended until the end of the siege.
Meanwhile the position of the Rangers and Military Settlers withstood a general attack by the main body from the broken ground in the rear. The Hauhaus in strong force marched along the right bank of the river from Ohinemutu, and appeared on the side of the range about a third of a mile from Rangiahua. “We had a magnificent view of them as they advanced,” narrated Captain Newland. “It was the finest sight I ever saw. page 40 They had fuzzed out their hair in an extraordinary way; none of us had ever seen Maoris do this before. They had wooden trumpets 4 feet or 5 feet long, on which they played some of our bugle-calls.”
The greater number of this war-party halted in a gully, and Newland and the Rangers, who had a better view of their enemy than the men in the headquarters redoubt, opened fire at a range of about 200 yards. The fire was effective; the Hauhaus were in close order, and many of them fell. They abandoned their intended assault in force and scattered for cover, dragging their dead and wounded away. Some hastily dug rifle-pits on the hills; others returned the Rangers' fire under cover of the bush and manuka and the inequalities of the ground. The earthworks of the corps, however, gave good cover; the parapets were high and well loopholed. The tents were struck when the fighting began, and bundled up on top of the parapet, facing the main body of the Hauhaus, to give additional head-protection.
This frustrated rush in a body gave place to sniping and guerrilla tactics. From the 19the to the 30th July the high wooded hills about Pipiriki swarmed with Hauhau musketeers, abundantly supplied with ammunition, and from entrenched positions on the high ground they maintained a persistently heavy and annoying fire. There was little to fire at in return, except the puffs of smoke from the Hauhau guns, and orders were given to be careful of the ammunition, as the reserve supply was not large. Half a dozen of the best shots of the Rangers were told off to reply to the enemy's fire. Three of the snipers were Sergeant J. R. Rushton (now Captain), Sergeant C. MacDonald, and Private George Foreman. Firing steadily, these sharpshooters kept the Hauhaus well to their cover. Sometimes a reckless fanatic would leap on to a parapet showing on the hillside, and yell Hauhau chants and battle-cries. A prophetess, who apparently believed that her Atua Pai-marire had given her imunity from bullet-wounds, was conspicuous in front of one of the entrenchments on the high ground above the redoubts. She paraded up and down, chanting her songs, and cheering on her warriors with cries of “Riria, riria!” (“Fight on, fight on!”) Marvellously she escaped death many times. Sergeant Rushton, after an unsuccessful shot, said to his comrade Sergeant McDonald. “I was low; try her at full 400 yards.” The marksman fired, and Rushton, watching through his glasses, saw the warrior chieftainess fall. It was learned afterwards that she had been shot through the head.
The Hauhaus frequently changed their positions and dug fresh rifle-pits during the night. On the third morning after the fighting began, Newland was ordered out with twenty of his page 41 Rangers to storm some freshly dug trenches. He advanced the men by rushes, firing, and charged with fixed bayonets, under a heavy fire, from several positions; and the Hauhaus ran. The rifle-pits were filled in, and the party returned to their redoubt without loss.
By day the swarming Hauhaus kept up a continual fire from the whole face of the hills above the redoubts; the nights were unrestful with their Pai-marire chantings and their loud fighting speeches and watch-cries. They sounded bugle calls in imitation of the soldiers; some of them had learned the “Reveille,” the “Advance,” and other military calls, and played them on their tetere—the trumpets made with twisted-up green flax-leaves or hollowed-out tutu branches with mouthpieces. Similar bush bugles were used by the garrison of Weraroa pa, on the Waitotara. On both sides of the river the Hauhau gunmen were busy, opening their fire at daylight in the mornings. Some of them had good cover in the narrow gorge of the Kaukore, the small stream on which the old flour-mill stands, below the terrace opposite Rangiahua. This flour-mill, driven by the crew, had been built by the Booth brothers for the furtherance of agricultural industry among the natives; it now became the haunt of Pai-marire snipers, who gave the beleaguered force a good deal of trouble. The niu which stood on that side of the river at the cultivation ground called Te Kapua, in full view of the redoubts, was the centre of daily gatherings. Hundreds of Hauhaus, in a fury of fanatic exaltation, marched round and round the flagstaff chanting their hymns. The warriors, as they barked out their “Hau, hau!” at the end of every Pai-marire verse, brought the butts or the muzzles of their guns and rifles sharply down against the foot of the mast. When the siege was over and the Maoris were dispersed the troops found the niu-butt marked with the blows from innumerable guns delivered in this way.*page 42
The Government positions were completely hemmed in, for the Hauhaus not only held the hills but drew their lines between the redoubts and the river. The Rangers were in bad straits for water. The only way they could obtain it was by crawling down through the bushes at night to a spring on the lower side of the redoubt and bringing up in buckets a scant supply for the next day. Rations ran low—in the end they were reduced to quarter-rations of biscuit and salt meat; but, curiously, there was plenty of grog, and the men got three tots of rum a day. Despite the care exercised in the expenditure of ammunition, the supply was running very short. The position was one of great anxiety for Major Brassey and his small force, out-numbered five or six times by the Hauhau army. It was considered that the natives were sure to make a resolute attempt to storm the redoubts. Probably it was only the fear of the bayonet that prevented such an assault.
Major Brassey now determined to try and communicate with Wanganui. He wrote out a number of messages to headquarters, appealing for relief. Some were written in Latin, some in French, and these were carefully sealed up in bottles and thrown into the river after dark. In each cork a feather was stuck to attract attention. One of these bottle-letters which ran the gauntlet and survived the rapids and the rocks was picked up below Wanganui Town by Mr. G. F. Allen. The message that all were well but ammunition was urgently needed was worded thus: “Omnes sunt recti. Mitte res belli statim.” Another Latin message was brought in by a friendly Maori by way of Waitotara; it ran, “Sumus sine rebus belli satis,” which was the Major's terse way of informing the authorities that he was running very short of ammunition. These appeals were delivered to the Militia Office in Wanganui.
In order to make sure that the authorities were informed of the garrison's critical position Major Brassey resolved also to communicate with the town by canoe. Volunteers were called for, and two men of the Patea Rangers, Sergeant Constable and Private A. Edgecombe, were chosen for the perilous mission. Taking Major Brassey's despatches, they quietly put off in a small canoe under cover of darkness and made the river passage safely. At Hiruharama they met a relief expedition, under Major Rookes, in a great fleet of war-canoes manned by the Lower Wanganui friendlies.
Meanwhile fighting had temporarily been suspended. The Hauhaus, to the surprise of the troops, hoisted a white flag; they had heard by secret messages from the lower river of the approach of a relief force. A chief came to the Government headquarters with the white flag and declared that Pehi Turoa page 43 wished to make peace. After a great deal of talk it was at last decided that Lieutenant Newland, the acting interpreter, should go up to the main camp at Ohinemutu and discuss the terms of peace. Two Maoris poled the plucky Newland up to the Hauhau headquarters. It was so risky an adventure, in view of the unreliable temper of the enemy, that the commanding officer declined to order the expedition: Newland went as a volunteer. A chief who had gone to the troops as messenger was retained as hostage for the safe return of Newland.
The dangerous mission to Ohinemutu was fruitless. Pehi Turoa told Newland that the people had now changed their minds, and did not intend to go down and surrender. The armed natives sitting round, scowling at the white officer, were clearly in a dangerous mood, and as Newland saw nothing could be done he returned to camp in the canoe, after some very anxious moments when it seemed uncertain whether he would be permitted to return or be put to death. On leaving the Popoia Redoubt to go up-river on his perilous mission he had given instructions to his men to shoot the Hauhau hostage if at the expiration of a certain time he (Newland) had not returned. This native was given in charge of a squad with loaded revolvers. “Never was a Maori more relieved,” says a veteran of the Rangers, “than this man was when, within two or three minutes of the time stipulated, the small canoe with Newland safe on board shot round the bend of the river just above the Paparoa Rapid.”
Lieutenant Newland reported that there were from a thousand to twelve hundred armed men in the great camp at Ohinemutu, besides women and children; there were warriers there from all parts of the Island. They must have been in severe straits for food-supplies towards the last, and many of them had no shelter from the wintry weather but breakwinds of manuka and fern and blanket tents. It was evident that the Hauhaus had never intended to surrender, and extra precautions were taken in the redoubts, for it was thought that the warriors might make a final attack that night. But the anxious night passed without the expected Pai-marire charge; and next morning the canoes of the relief expedition were sighted poling up the bend below Pipiriki, and the river-gorge rang with the canoe choruses of the toiling crews.
From a photo by the Hon. Sir Maui Pomare]
The Last Niu
This last remaining relic of the Pai-marire worship was standing at Maraekowhai, on the upper Wanganui River (53 miles above Pipiriki), when Sir Maui Pomare photographed it in 1905. It is the lower mast of a niu, or Hauhau sacred pole, with the lower yard.
After meeting Major Brassey and finding the long-beleaguered posts all well, Major Rookes took a strong force up the river, some in canoes and some marching along the right bank, to attack the Hauhau camp at Ohinemutu. It was found deserted. The other side of the river was also examined, but the Hauhau army had melted away into the up-river fastnesses. Not a Maori was to be found to make a target for the relief force. Ohinemutu was burned, the cultivations destroyed, and the niu poles demolished. The main body of Major Rookes's force returned to Wanganui in a few days, leaving George's Rangers to augment page 45 Brassey's garrison. In August all but Captain Wilson's No. 8 Company, Taranaki Military Settlers, were ordered down the river to embark for Opotiki, and soon afterwards Wilson was relieved by Brevet-Major Shortt with two companies of the 57th Regiment: this force held Pipiriki for the rest of the year.
In the whole of the fighting at Pipiriki Major Brassey's force did not lose a man killed, and only three or four were wounded. The troops found and buried six Hauhaus, and it was known definitely that thirteen were killed. The total Maori casualties were probably about twenty killed and more than that number wounded.
* Captain J. R. Rushton, of Kutarere, Ohiwa, narrates the following incident: “For several days we had been much annoyed by a Hauhau sniper, at about 350 yards from our redoubt, across the river. Just on dusk one evening Corporal David White and myself got across in a canoe unseen, and when under cover we drew him by a shot from our hidingplace. He banged at our smoke, and exposed himself, when we covered him, both firing at the same time. We could not go to look, but he never troubled us again. We made exit quick to our canoe and paddled across the Wanganui.”
Captain Rushton adds: “Our enemy Topia Turoa, the chief of the rebels, took the oath of allegiance afterwards and joined Colonel McDonnell's forces in pursuit of Te Kooti in the Bay of Plenty. I was chief scout at Opotiki at the time, and found Topia to be a very good fellow.”