Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand
Chapter I. — Landing of Troops at Wanganui
Landing of Troops at Wanganui.
At early dawn on a peculiarly brilliant morning in the beginning of the year 1865, the quiet settlement of Wanganui was startled from its slumbers by the booming of a gun, announcing the arrival of the first of seven regiments despatched to crush out the Maori rebellion in that district. The township of Wanganui is situated half-way between Wellington and Taranaki, and is surrounded by the finest agricultural land in New Zealand. It derives its name from the noble river which waters it, and is navigable for steamers up to Pipiriki, a native settlement sixty miles from its mouth. As the troops landed, all was bustle and page 3commotion, and the quiet agricultural village suddenly became a centre of importance. I was soon on the wharf, and shall never forget the martial bearing of Colonel Logan as he marched up the beach in command of the 57th Regiment—as fine a body of men as ever had the honour of serving their country. Our Major Cooper, then senior officer in command, received and quartered them in the York Stockade, taking precedence of Captain Blewett, in command of two companies of Her Majesty's 65th Regiment, who had been stationed there for some time. Soon after, Major Rookes, one of the most soldierly-looking men the colonial force ever had, with considerable military experience, gained in both cavalry and infantry regiments, and who had seen some service, was appointed commanding officer of militia and volunteers. I also had the honour to receive Her Majesty's commission as lieutenant and quarter-master, after having for months served as a full private, doing picket duty on alternate nights, subject to the orders of my son-in-law, who was captain and adjutant, and of my own son, who was a lieutenant. Such was then the fortune of war in New Zealand.
The first outbreak in Wanganui occurred in the year 1848, when the up-river natives, led by their old chief Maketu, murdered the Gilfillan family, drove in the out-settlers, and actually occupied and held possession for some time of a portion of the town, although it was garrisoned by several companies of Her Majesty's 58th Regiment. During this siege a settler, named John McGregor (now a wealthy settler there), seeing some of his cows on the opposite side of the river, crossed with the intention of bringing them in, and was ascending Shakespeare's Cliff, when an ambush of Maories, from a ti-tree scrub, suddenly rose and pursued him. He turned and fled for his life, and as he looked round at his pursuers, they fired. A ball entered his mouth and passed out of his cheek without displacing a tooth. Finding himself hard pressed, page 4John MacGregor leaped over the cliff on to the beach below—some say a height of fifty feet—and so escaped. This settler afterwards headed a deputation to Sir George Grey (who was always to be found where danger threatened), asking him to remove them to Wellington, and abandon the settlement. But Sir George Grey, with his knowledge of human nature, replied, "Before I assent to your request, I should like to see how many of you really wish it." He then directed all those who were anxious to run away from the natives to move to the other side of the room. Not a man stirred, Sir George Grey having by this speech roused their courage, and saved the settlement. Now, again, the outbreak had commenced by the up-river natives threatening a second descent on the township, although it was protected by Her Majesty's troops. But the town natives, learning their intentions, took possession of a small island in the middle of the river, determined to be the first to oppose their progress.
Vincent Brooks, Day & Son Lith.
Sir George Grey K.C.B.
Sampson Low & Co. London.
Every day some fresh incident occurred to prove the hostile character of the natives around us, and an order was issued for the out-settlers to bring in their wives and children for protection. This order had not been in force many days, when the murder of Mr. Hewitt took place. This gentleman, having settled on land in the neighbourhood of the Kai-iwi river, eight miles from town, had removed his family for safety, but continued, with his servant, to occupy the house, there being a military station within half a mile of his farm. He had ridden into town, and, having turned his horse into my paddock, he (on coming for it in the evening) requested my wife to go and comfort Mrs. Hewitt, who was in very low spirits, and did not wish him to sleep at the farm, having a presentiment that something would happen. "But," he continued, "as I have left the man there, I cannot desert him." He accordingly rode out, and in the middle of the night was awakened by the furious barking of his dogs. He incautiously went outside with his man to ascertain the cause, and, hearing Maories talking in the bush around his house, was in the act of returning when he was shot down. His man fled from the place, and leaping a bank and ditch fence caught his sock on a stake, which held him head downwards in the ditch. This saved his life. It was very dark, the Maories gave chase, thinking he was far ahead, and he escaped to the station: on returning with assistance, he found poor Hewitt's lifeless trunk. The head was gone, and the heart had been cut out. The head was afterwards placed on a pole and carried by the page 6natives through the country as a trophy, together with that of Captain Lloyd who had been shot at Taranaki a short time before. These murders so incensed the settlers, that old and young came forward to avenge them. In the meantime a company of Bush Rangers, under the command of Major Von Tempsky, Captain George, and Lieutenant Westropp, having made a forced march through the bush, arrived, after encountering the natives, and losing in the skirmish one of their officers (Lieutenant Whitfield), whose body they brought in for interment.
Vincent Brooks, Day & Son Lith.
Major Von Tempsky.
Sampson Low & Co. London.
General Cameron, so well known and appreciated as a man of undoubted courage and experience, could not brook this incessant murder of his men. He looked upon the Maories as too insignificant a foe to waste a British soldier's life upon; consequently, after repelling a second attack, made on the day following by the natives in force, who again surprised the camp, and although roughly handled succeeded in killing five men of the 18th picket, and several others, he withdrew his men to the beach, forming camps at the mouth of the Waitotara, Whenuakura, and Patea rivers, and nothing could induce him again to approach the bush. Sir George Grey wrote to the general to inquire why he had passed on up the coast without reducing the Wereroa pah, which he had left in his rear full of armed men. General Cameron replied that it would have cost the lives of too many of Her Majesty's troops had he acted otherwise. This feeling was shared by many who had not suffered by the revolt, but the settlers in the disturbed districts, smarting under the destruction of their farms and homesteads, and the coldblooded murders of their friends and relatives, became a page 9formidable foe. They had something to avenge, and the Bush Rangers, led by Major Atkinson, Von Tempsky, and McDonnell, were more dreaded than any two British regiments. These men, used to bush life, scouring the country far and near, in a manner which could not be imitated by disciplined British troops, fought the Maories in their own way, which kept them in such a constant state of alarm, that they dared not even sleep in their pahs. Had this mode of guerilla warfare been generally adopted, the war would have terminated more satisfactorily to all concerned.