A Sketch of the New Zealand War
Ropata and the Hau-Haus XV
On retiring from Her Majesty's service, I was appointed to make an inspection of the Army Medical Department of the Colonial forces. This brought me into close contact with a new set of men. I shall not enlarge upon my own adventures and hair-breadth scapes. It is sufficient to say that, though insignificant, they were quite startling enough for a man of my prudent turn of mind. My object is to sketch a contrast. For this purpose I need only confine myself to bare narrative.
I arrived at Waiapu, on the east coast of the North Island, where Major Fraser was in command of about a hundred Europeans and as many friendly Maori as for the time cared to join in the consumption of his supplies.
We marched in the dark, so as to arrive soon after the break of day at the enemy's fortified pa, Puke-Marire. We found it perched on a hill, skirted by forest on each side, open and page 144easy of access in the front. Major Fraser took up a position about 400 yards to the front of the pa, and threw his handful of men out in skirmishing order, giving instructions that no man must venture beyond prescribed limits, which were carefully pointed out. The Colonial troops opened fire. The friendly Maori sat down at a secure distance to watch events. Major Fraser folded his arms and walked up and down like the captain of a ship, occasionally examining the position with his glasses.
One of our men had advanced too near the pa on our right front. The Major sent a corporal and two men to fetch him back. He was marched back between sentries, and when brought face to face with the Commanding Officer, he commenced cursing and swearing in the most voluble manner. Major Fraser dismissed the corporal and his guard, and took no notice whatever of the prisoner. This made the worthy Colonist more furious than ever. He tore off his cartouche-box, hurled it on the ground, rammed his bayonet up to the muzzle of the rifle into the earth, danced upon his forage-cap, called Major Fraser a white-livered sneak, who, afraid to fight himself, would not let any one else do it for him.
Major Fraser walked impassively up and page 145down like a deaf-mute. The Colonist could make nothing of this, so he presently took out his pipe, lit it, sat down, and had a smoke.
I watched this man when the fun really began. He snatched up his rifle, seized his cartouche-box, and, forgetting both his forage-cap and his anger, rushed with all speed lest any other fellow should get into the pa before him.
Well, all I can say is, the whole affair was quite unlike anything I had ever seen before. When the word was given, every man fought for himself; and though they were all well forward, there was little for the enemy to fire at. My attention was diverted from the advance of the Europeans by the arrival of our allies, the Ngatiporou, under Major Ropata. They advanced at full speed in a solid square, with their bayonets aloft glittering in the sun. They ran for hundreds of yards, without breaking their formation, and then in a moment scattered like a flock of birds. I was my own master, so I pelted after them as fast as I could run. They took to the forest on our left. After a toilsome chase, I overtook them. They were now established at the rear of the enemy's position.
Here the Puke-Marire pa fell sheer to the page 146river, and towered above us about thirty or forty feet. The rock was of a soft sandstone formation. As we stood at the foot of this precipice we were safe from the Hau-Haus: their fire passed over us. Major Ropata instructed some of his men to climb the forest trees, where, under the shelter of the spreading branches, they acted as sharpshooters. The rest of the force set to work with axes, and cut zig-zag steps in the sandstone. As soon as this was done, men mounted, and about five feet six from the level of the pa, which was built close to the precipice, they cut out a junk lengthways, about eight or ten inches deep. They worked upwards at this until they could look over and fire straight into the enemy's rifle-pits. A body of men now occupied this vantage-ground. At the word of command they all loaded. Then the right-hand man sang out, "Hi! Ha! Hau!" At the final word, "Hau!" each Ngatiporou placed his rifle above his head, resting it on the bank in front of him, and pulled the trigger. The result was a uniform close volley.
This tactic was renewed again and again, till invariably at the word "Hau!" the hostile Maori ducked his head, and disappeared in his rifle-pit. At a given moment when the word page 147"Hau!" was heard, the Ngatiporou diverged their fire to the right and left, leaving a V-shaped space secure in the middle. A small Maori boy, furnished with a hawser, jumped on to that area of safety, and, making weird movements of defiance, cast the loop of the hawser over a large post of the stockade, and then jumped over the precipice, and was caught by his waiting tribe.
A noble-looking antagonist, with shaggy head and glittering eye, rose with an axe to cut away the loop of this hawser. He was shot dead by one of Ropata's men perched in an adjacent tree. The bulk of Ropata's men at the base of the precipice hauled on the hawser, while the sharpshooters from the trees and the men on the ledge poured in a deadly fire on the enemy. Ropata now found a drain at the right angle of our position of assault. It had been cut to let the storm-water run freely off the pa into the river.
Into this drain Ropata crept, till he got inside the fortification. Here he seized his nearest unsuspecting enemy by the feet, dragged him out, and hurled him down to his tribe, who danced a war-dance; then at the word of command scaled the precipice like swarming bees, rushed through the breach page 148where the beam had given way, and carried the whole position on that side as the Europeans entered on the other. Nearly all the enemy got into the forest, as they knew well the crucial moment, for flight. Except for the moral effect, the victory was of little value, for the hostile Maori merely ran away to fight again.
In point of fact, the Maori war wore itself out as the charm of the national and religious sentiment became attenuated. No armies could conquer such a people in such a country. Food was all the time practically abundant, and unless you exterminated the whole race, you could not wipe out their feverish ambition and restless, imaginative self-confidence. The Maori never had any quarrel with the Colonists, who in their hearts loved and respected the fierce spirit of independence which is the chief characteristic of this wonderful race.
It must ever remain a monument to the wisdom and humanity of the Parliament of New Zealand that it succeeded in securing and maintaining the confidence of such a people.
It must not be forgotten that there were two epochs in the war—the National movement under Wiremu Tamihana, the King-maker, and the wave of religious enthusiasm called page 149"Hau-hauism" which followed it. The Imperial troops broke the back of the National movement both in Taranaki and Waikato. The Colonial troops with their Native allies saw the religious fever flicker and die. The Maori race remains, and competes in the field of intellect and athletics to this day.
If the truth were known, the New Zealanders were more proud of their Maori contingent in the late Jubilee procession in London than of anything else, except their own Anglo-Saxon blood. The New Zealanders hold they are the first people who, neither conquerors of nor conquered by a coloured race, have made them friends and equals to the advantage of all.
On leaving Waiapu, I went to Opotiki, where Mr. Volckner had been murdered. Here I fell in for the first time with Colonel McDonnell in his new character of soldier and Maori captain. I saw his contingent go into action, and was much struck by the novelty of the method.
Colonel McDonnell, armed with a breech-loader, started out in a rough country at the rate of about five miles an hour, personally to engage the enemy. His Maori soldiers kept up to him as well as they could in a long page 150"gypsy streel." As soon as the engagement commenced, nothing could restrain Colonel McDonnell's zeal. He was at the head of everything; led in a series of personal encounters of which the battle consisted, and seemed to carry a charmed life. The Native chiefs on McDonnell's side vied with him in personal gallantry, and the common men filled up the space anyhow.
The singular good temper with which the antagonists killed each other in this encounter was the chief feature. If the wrong man happened to be shot by the wrong side, there was not much fuss about it. It seemed to be all in the day's work.
The singular thing about a Maori is that he always talks without bias, in a perfectly calm, philosophic spirit. This arises from the fact that his intellect is cultivated from childhood. The life is in common, and the smallest bairn has the right to enter into discussions touching the affairs of his hapu, or tribe.
"Why did you murder Volckner?"
"We executed him according to law. He was fairly tried in our runanga-house, openly confronted with his own letters giving information to the soldiers, our enemies. He was one of our people; we had adopted him into our tribe. He acknowledged the adoption, and lived with us for many years. He was a traitor, and we hanged him according to the law of nations."
"But Kereopa tore out the dead man's eyes, and swallowed them!"
"There is nothing in that. There is no difference between a dead man's and a dead fish's eye. As Kereopa swallowed the right eye, he said, 'This is the Queen.'Of the left eye he said, 'This is the Parliament.' It was only a symbol."page 152