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The Old Frontier : Te Awamutu, the story of the Waipa Valley : the missionary, the soldier, the pioneer farmer, early colonization, the war in Waikato, life on the Maori border and later-day settlement


We broke a King and we built a road—
A cow thouse stands where the reg'ment goed,
And the river's clean where the raw blood flowed,
When the Widow give the party.
—“Barrack-Room Ballads.”

The eviction of Mr Gorst from Te Awamutu served to precipitate the Waikato War, but in truth a conflict had become inevitable. There was a widespread feeling that the time had come for a racial trial of strength, and the conflict was due as much to the aggressive policy of the Government and the anti-Maori tone of the newspapers and the politicians as to the martial preparations of the Kingites.

The construction of the military road and the establishment of military posts in obvious readiness for an advance into the Waikato confirmed the natives in their belief that the Government meant to force a way into the interior and shatter their home-rule plans.

The first definite act of war was Lieutenant-General Cameron's despatch of troops across the frontier, the Mangatawhiri River, on 12th July, 1863.

Te Huirama, with a body of Waikato, barred the way with rifle-pits on the Koheroa ridge, near Mercer, and on 17th July the first engagement took place. The troops under Cameron charged the Maori position with the bayonet, and the Kingites were driven out with the loss of their leader and about thirty others. Numerous skirmishes followed in the South Auckland country on the northern side of the Mangatawhiri; the Lower Waikato and Wairoa and Hauraki war-parties carried gun and tomahawk into their enemy's country, following their favourite tactics of ambuscade and plunder. There were many bush fights, in which the Forest Rangers and the Forest Rifle Volunteers, as well as Imperial troops and militia, were engaged.

The three principal fortified posts of the Kingites in the early stages of the war were Paparata, Meremere, and Pukekawa. These positions were designed to stop the southward progress of the troops and enable the Maoris to levy war on the frontier settlements.

page 36

Pukekawa is the beautiful round green hill on the west side of the great elbow of the Waikato, where the river bends westward below Mercer; anciently a fortified pa of the Ngati-Tamaoho stood on its summit. When the Waikato War began the Ngati-Maniapoto came down the river in their canoes and selected it, as their headquarters, and from Pukekawa as a convenient base they made raids on Patumahoe, Mauku, Camerontown, and other frontier districts. They expected to be attacked there, and entrenched themselves, but General Cameron did not carry the war to the west side of the Waikato.

Presently the arrival of gunboats specially adapted for the river war enabled Cameron to outflank and capture the strongholds on the east bank of the Waikato and to occupy Ngaruawahia, the Maori King's headquarters, unopposed. His only serious check was at Rangiriri, where in disastrous frontal attacks the Imperial naval and military forces sustained heavy casualties—47 dead and 85 wounded. The pa surrendered next day, and 183 prisoners were taken. The Lower Waikato was conquered, and the General with his steam flotilla shifted the army to the Waikato-Waipa delta for the final blows to the Kingite cause.