Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand
Chapter XIX. — General Chute's Campaign—continued. — Fight at Te Putahi and Otapawa: Narrow Escape of the General
General Chute's Campaign—continued.
Fight at Te Putahi and Otapawa: Narrow Escape of the General.
The following day all hands were employed In destroying the plantations at Okotuku; and on the 6th January, 1866, the force marched to Te Putahi, a position of great natural strength, situated on a spur of the plateau above the Whenuakura river. About midday the camp was pitched on the opposite ridge, within six hundred yards of the Hauhaus, numbers of whom could be seen preparing for the attack; and it was evident that this would be a more serious affair than that of Okotuku. The general wished to attack at once, but Major McDonnell urged him to wait, as the enemy from their elevated position could observe our point of attack, and mass their men in any position to oppose our advance up the narrow and densely-wooded ridges, where a very small front could be made by the attacking party, and a corresponding loss of life must ensue. Upon these representations the general agreed to defer the attack until 2 a.m. the following morning, to the great satisfaction of all concerned. To while away the time the contingent managed to get up a skirmish in the afternoon, and had a man wounded. He was shot through the chest, the ball sticking in the skin of his back. He made no fuss, but walked into camp, and quietly requested Dr. Walker to remove the ball. When it was done he seemed perfectly happy, and took no further notice of the matter.
About 2 a.m. the attacking column, consisting of detachments of the 14th, 18th, and 50th Regiments, Forest Rangers, and the friendly Maories, marched to the attack. Avoiding the spurs on which the enemy had strong ambuscades, they made a détour of a mile or so, and climbed page 112the precipitous slope of the plateau, reaching the top just as the first streaks of daylight were visible. The Hauhaus, after dancing the war-dance, were just commencing their religious ceremonies round the niu, little thinking that our men were within a few hundred yards of them. Major McDonnell with his Maories were detached to take them in rear, and our men were closing quietly but rapidly with the enemy, when some of the kupapas (volunteer Maories) opened a useless dropping fire. The Hauhaus fled with great celerity to their rifle-pits, and the chance was lost. This piece of idiotcy so incensed the general, that he threatened to send the whole of the kupapas back as useless. The imperial troops were now ordered to storm the position, and the Hauhaus, after a sharp engagement, retreated to the bush, leaving fourteen dead behind them. Our loss was two killed and twelve wounded, among the latter Major McDonnell. A bullet entered the muscles of his foot, and effectually prevented his taking an active part in the future action of the campaign, though it did not prevent his remaining with the general, as he feared complications with the Maori portion of the force should he be absent. A small party of fugitives was intercepted on the opposite side of the river by an ambuscade of the 50th Regiment under Colonel Weare; one Hauhau was killed and another taken prisoner.
This fight ended the operations south of the Patea river; the majority of the Hauhaus retreated to their inland pahs, but the bolder and more able-bodied portion joined the Tangahoe tribe in their stronghold at Otapawa. Up to the 9th the men were engaged in destroying pahs, rifle-pits, and plantations; but on the 12th they pitched camp in the neighbourhood of Otapawa. On the following day Ensign McDonnell with the Native Contingent reconnoitred the Hauhau position. He was fired upon several times, but without loss—not an unusual thing in early Maori warfare. After reporting the result of his observations to the general, it was decided to attack at once.page 113
Three hours before daybreak the men stood to their arms and marched off. The plan of attack was that the troops and Forest Rangers should follow the track previously taken by the reconnoitring party, and attack on the comparatively open front of the pah, while the contingent and kupapas marched through the bush to the rear of the position, with the view of cutting off retreat. The plan was a good one: had it been carried out, few of the enemy would have escaped; but when the general arrived in front of the pah he ordered an Armstrong gun to be brought up, and fired several shells into the place, to make the enemy show their strength. Some whares were set on fire, and, as we afterwards heard, a man's head blown off his shoulders; but the garrison made no sign. All was still as death; not a sound could be heard, and the general would not believe that the enemy were there. Under these circumstances he declined to wait for the contingent to get in rear, they having a long and difficult road to travel, and ordered the detachment of the 57th Regiment under Lieut.-Colonels Butler and Hassard to storm the stockade, supported by the 14th. Well the old Crimean veterans maintained their reputation. On advancing, they found that the enemy had carefully levelled the ground in front of the pah to prevent the attacking party finding cover, and when within fifty yards of the palisades the hitherto perfect silence was broken by a volley from at least 200 Hauhaus, who, hidden in their rifle-pits behind the strong palisades, rained death and destruction upon the gallant 57th, For a moment the storming party halted; but Colonel Butler's voice, calling out "Go on, Die Hards!" steadied them; and rushing to the palisade, they tore it down with hands and tomahawks, and entered the pah, killing all who had the presumption to stop, or not time to escape. Meanwhile Major Von Tempsky with his Forest Rangers had been engaged with a party of the enemy who were in the bush on the right flank of the pah, and had driven them back, with a loss to himself of two men wounded. The enemy lost twenty-nine men killed, page 114and our casualties were equally heavy, being eleven killed, and twenty wounded, among the latter the gallant Colonel Hassard mortally, and Lieutenant Swanson, of the 14th Regiment, slightly. It was reported that the former of these two officers fell by the hand of Kimball Bent, a deserter from the 57th, who, having been punished by the colonel some time before, had fled to the Hauhaus. That such was the case appears unlikely, for the tribe with whom he was living were not present during the action. This wretch is still living with the Hauhaus. General Chute had a very narrow escape, for while directing the attack a bullet cut one of the buttons off his coat. He merely remarked, "The niggers seem to have found me out. Go on, Colonel Butler." The Native Contingent arrived in rear of the pah too late to do more than follow up the enemy, of whom they overtook and killed three; but half an hour's delay in the attack would have enabled them to take their place in rear of the pah, in which case the rebels must either have surrendered or been killed, as there could have been no escape. This is the first and last really well-defended pah ever taken by assault in New Zealand, though it has often been tried both before and since.