Hero Stories of New Zealand
The Dispatch Carrier
The Dispatch Carrier
VICTORIA Crosses and New Zealand Crosses have been won and generals' plaudits proclaimed for gallant deeds of dispatch-carrying in our national soldiering story. But there was no cross or medal for one of the pluckiest deeds of this kind in the Maori War days. It was a civilian who bore a dispatch that saved Wellington town from attack in its infancy. The story is very little known; here let me record it as an example of cool, resourceful courage under circumstances of peculiar peril.
Richard Deighton was a young Englishman who, with his brother Samuel—afterwards a magistrate on the East Coast—had settled in Wanganui. The brothers were two of the first passengers to land from the pioneer immigrant ship Cuba at Wellington in 1840, and both in a very few years became excellent speakers of Maori and obtained an intimate knowledge of native ways. In 1846 the little war between the hostile Maoris and the British troops and settlers was being waged in Wellington, and in July of that year Richard Deighton chanced to obtain sight of a letter bearing Te Rauparaha's signature, addressed to the inland and up-river Wanganui tribes, urging them to join their chief, Te Mamaku, who was at that time engaged, with Te Rangihaeata, in raiding the pakeha outposts in the Hutt Valley.
Deighton at once went to the Wanganui Magistrate, Mr. Samuel King, and offered to take a message to Wellington warning the Governor against Rauparaha and informing him that a war party was being organised up the river. Next day Wanganui town was startled by page 46 the sudden appearance of a flotilla of war canoes from up the river, bringing a body of over two hundred warriors, equipped for a fighting expedition. They were all armed with muskets, double-barrel guns and tomahawks, and were well supplied with ammunition. They admitted they were bound for Wellington, but they declared they were only going to “cry over” their chief Te Mamaku and persuade him to return home with them.
“That,” said Deighton to the Magistrate, when he called on him again about the war-party, “is clearly a subterfuge. I am convinced there is going to be a combined attack on Wellington; the town is really in great danger. Now, if you will write an urgent dispatch, I will volunteer to take it to Wellington and deliver it into the Governor's hands.”
The risk was discussed. Deighton fully realised the danger of discovery, but was determined to go through with it. So Mr. King wrote a letter on very thin paper in Indian ink, and one of Deighton's sisters sewed it up securely in his coat collar.
On the following day the war-party set out on the march down the coast to Wellington, accompanied, as was the Maori way, by a number of women who carried food and cooked for their lords on the journey; some of these women had their young children with them. The pakeha dispatch-bearer marched with them, telling the leader, Maketu, that he was anxious to reach Wellington as soon as possible because there was a box of goods awaiting him there from his father in England. On the first night of the journey the column halted at the inland native village of Whangaehu. Deighton carried page 47 his swag of food and blankets. When the party came to a halt he busied himself in making a snug bivouac under the lee of a flaxbush near the wharepuni, the large meeting-house. He was engaged in boiling his billy to make tea, when one of the young warriors came up to him and quietly warned him that he believed the Maoris had come to the determination to kill him. This was at the instigation of a man named Po-ngahuru, an emissary from Te Rangihaeata, who declared that the pakeha was carrying letters to the Governor. Deighton's young friend earnestly advised him to leave his camp under cover of darkness and return to Wanganui.
The dispatch-carrier, with a courage equal to his resourcefulness, resolved to brave it out with the warriors, and with Rangihaeata's messenger in particular. He entered the large assembly-house of Whangaehu, where the principal men of the war-party were assembled, and thus addressed them:
“I am told that you have resolved to kill me because it is reported that I am carrying letters to the Governor. Now, who is the man who has suggested this? There is only one among you who would accuse me of such a thing, and there he is!”—and Deighton pointed to Pongahuru. “That man,” he said, “comes from the tribe of Ngati-Toa, whose boast has been, and still is, that you Wanganui people are only a tribe of slaves, the remnant of their food when they feasted on the flesh of your tribe. If you believe him, send someone to search my pikau, while I remain here.” Deighton turned out the pockets of his clothes and showed them that they contained no papers.page 48
The Maoris took him at his word and sent a man to search his swag. No papers of any kind were found there. Now old Maketu stood up and metaphorically cast his mantle of protection over Deighton, telling him that he might go back to his meal, for no one would harm him. The dispatch-bearer, feeling his head more secure on his shoulders than it had been a few minutes previously, returned to his fire with an excellent appetite and slept undisturbed. Next morning Maketu confidingly sent for him and dictated a letter to Te Rauparaha, requesting him to deliver it into that chief's own hand as he passed through Taupo Pa on his way southward.
The next night's camp was pitched on the sand dunes of the coast near the mouth of the Rangitikei River. Po-ngahuru the suspicious here tried to catch the pakeha tripping, in this manner, as related in Deighton's own words:
“The sun was just setting, and Maketu, thinking it inadvisable to travel over the sand hills in the dark, determined to bivouac on the dunes and at daylight start inland for the Rangitikei village, where he expected an accession to his column. So, while they were all busy making sleeping places, I took the opportunity of counting, as well as I could, the number of firearms there were. On casting my eyes a little way off, I beheld my friend carefully shepherding me. Po-ngahuru, I suppose, divined what I was doing. Coming up to me, he said: ‘You are, I know, a friend of our Wanganui people, but for what reason are you counting the guns?’
Boulcott's Farm Stockade, Hutt River
This drawing, from a water-colour by Lieut. G. H. Page (58th Regiment), shows the Stockade around James
Boulcott's Farm buildings, Lower Hutt, shortly after the attack on the post by the Maoris, May 16th, 1846.
(See pages 40–44.)
The Death of Captain Swift (65th Regiment)
In the bush near Cameron Town, Lower Waikato, 1863. (See pages
69–77—“How Sergeant McKenna won the Victoria Cross.”)
“The suspicious fellow was satisfied, or appeared so, and, depend upon it, I was pleased at getting out of that awkward fix.”
Next morning the column broke off inland to gather in men at Rangitikei, and Deighton was left, much to his relief, to pursue his journey alone. He summoned up all his powers to make a quick march to Wellington. That night he slept at the mouth of the Manawatu River. Next morning a fierce southerly gale sprang up, with squalls of rain and sleet. He set out, immediately he had eaten his breakfast, determined to make as much progress as possible ahead of the advance guard of Maketu's force. He trudged on, soaked and shivering, and feeling rather unwell; he was now feeling, too, the nervous strain of his perilous march. He was scarcely able to move when he reached a village of the Ngati-Raukawa tribe, near the mouth of the Ohau River. These people, who were not on the side of Te Rangihaeata and his allies, treated him with hospitality, drying his clothes at a big fire, and giving him of their best food.
The gale had abated in the morning. Deighton gave his kindly hosts some tobacco, and set out determined to reach the British military post at the mouth of Porirua Harbour that evening. It was the longest day's march of all, ordinarily a two days' journey, but anxiety pressed him on. He tramped along the great beach of hard sand—long afterwards it was the coach thoroughfare before the days of the Manawatu railway—forded page 50 the Otaki and Waikanae Rivers and came to Paekakariki, where the cliffs began. He scrambled round the Pukerua rocks and over the steep Pukerua range, and so down to Taupo, where the seaside township of Plimmerton now stands. Walking through that headquarters village of the Ngati-Toa, he saw old Rauparaha squatting in the thatched porch of his house. He walked serenely past with Maketu's letter to the “Old Sarpint”—as the American whalers called Rauparaha—safe in his pocket; he intended it for very different hands. He made no halt all that day until he came to the Imperial stone barracks at Paremata, about a mile beyond Taupo (its ruins can be seen to-day from the railway near the entrance to Porirua Harbour). There he made known the nature and urgency of his mission, and he was entertained with the utmost kindness by the officers of the post. He needed it, after that day's really heroic tramp.
He was in safety now, but he was anxious to get his dispatch into the Governor's hands at the earliest moment. At daylight he was conveyed by boat up Porirua Harbour to its head, and from there he pushed on along the military road then being formed through the forest and over the hills to Wellington. Weary, but tremendously elated, he walked into Wellington town and up to Governor Grey's house. He was taken in to the Governor, just in the nick of time; Grey was about to embark in H.M.S. Driver for Auckland.
Deighton explained his mission, took off his coat, ripped open the collar and handed over the dispatch from Wanganui and the letter from Maketu to Rauparaha.page 51
Governor Grey read the documents carefully, then turning to the dispatch-carrier thanked him in the name of the Government and the colony for the service he had rendered. He appointed him straightway a special or extra interpreter and directed him to repair on board the Driver and await instructions. The rest is recorded history, the dramatic seizure of Rauparaha at Taupo at break of day two mornings later, and the disarming of Ngati-Toa, the “Old Sarpint's” conveyance to Wellington in the Driver, and his two years' captivity thereafter in the frigate Calliope, part of the time at Auckland.
Maketu and his war party, their plan of campaign frustrated, turned back to Wanganui. Had they joined Te Rangihaeata, all the out-settlements of Wellington would have been devastated and the town itself probably would have been attacked. It is not too much to say that Richard Deighton's dispatch saved Wellington.
I do not know whether the dispatch-carrier ever encountered his suspicious acquaintance Po-ngahuru in after years. If he did I should like to have heard the dialogue.