A Sketch of the New Zealand War
The Battle of Mahoetahi
The Battle of Mahoetahi.
Mahoetahi lay about five or six miles to the north of New Plymouth. It was a knoll with sides sloping irregularly. Somewhat egg-shaped, it was almost surrounded by a flax and raupo swamp. It was easily approachable on the north-east, where a dry ridge led from the open plain right up to the brow of the knoll.
When Waitini arrived at Waitara and joined forces with Wiremu Kingi, he carried things with a high hand. Haperona, a slave by birth, was Wiremu Kingi's fighting chief, a little, fiery man, with a jealous temper and great military talent. On Waitini's arrival, Haperona was relegated to an insignificant position. Wiremu Kingi was a man of imagination, with a practical turn for affairs. He was not carried away by any Utopian idea of Maori nationality. He had lived too long among white men of high intellectual order to deceive himself. He was at Waikanae the personal friend of Archdeacon Hadfield, a distinguished missioner, who had been educated at one of our great English universities. Archdeacon Hadfield united to great enthusiasm for the Church scholarly attainments of page 77a high character. He was by nature meant for a constitutional lawyer. Divine faith turned him into an apostle. Wiremu Kingi sat at his feet, and became an enthusiast for the British Constitution. Wiremu was forced into war by Governor Gore Brown's pragmatic incapacity.
Kingi had sufficient intellectual power to command a large following in the Parliament of the Colony. Isaac Earle Featherston, William Fox, William Fitzherbert, Archdeacon Hadfield, and Bishop Selwyn were the advocates of his views. Wiremu had used the wave of Maori enthusiasm to further his purpose and secure allies in men and money, but he had no intention of being swallowed up in the King movement. Therefore Waitini Taiporutu's arrival was to him by no means an unmixed blessing. To make war for the defence of his tribal land and constitutional privileges as a British subject, with the whole of Exeter Hall and half the New Zealand Parliament at his back, was one thing; to declare openly for the Maori king another. Wiremu Kingi dissembled. He said to Waitini, "Hitherto we have done nothing. Now indeed, with the chivalry of Waikato, under the command of our greatest soldier, we page 78can make a forward movement, and drive the Pakeha into the sea."
Waitini, accompanied by Haperona, and a few of his own tribe, scouted for a day or so. Finally they agreed to establish a post at Mahoetahi, on a part of the land in dispute, and challenge General Pratt to a pitched battle, beat him, and then by a forced march along the sea-shore cut him from his communications with the sea.
I have never been able to satisfy myself as to the cause of the absolute failure of this combined movement. Either Wiremu Kingi's courage failed him at the supreme moment, which is quite possible, as he was only a counsel chief, or Haperona, out of pique, determined to destroy Waitini, or there was an agreement from the beginning between Wiremu Kingi and Haperona to humble the Waikato. From personal acquaintanceship with Haperona, I am inclined to think that he merely obeyed Wiremu Kingi's orders, whatever they were. Haperona had military genius and a profound contempt for the soldier. His position was a perfectly safe one, practically chosen by himself. His chief also was out of danger, his rear being covered with capable scouts in touch with his fighting pas. Whatever the cause, Waitini Taiporutu was not assisted in the hour of danger, and the flower and chivalry of Waikato was left to perish at Mahoetahi.page 80