England and the Maori Wars
Chapter 8 — Rise Of Te Ua And The Gate Pa Disaster
Te Ua is a fruitful branch; he is a fruitful branch by the water spring, and his branches extend over the fence.
His parents brought him up in evil and his relations were evil towards him.
But his bow will still be strong, and the sinews of his arms are made powerful by the hands of Rura, whose sceptre is the stone of Canaan.
This fateful year, 1864, saw two notable events of ill-omen from the British point of view. The rise of the “Pai Marire” religion was linked closely with political happenings and its spread was encouraged by the leaders of the King movement. The British disaster at the Gate Pa, though soon avenged, could scarcely fail to encourage Maori resistance.
On May 26, 1864, Grey forwarded a letter from Wanganui containing a report of a body of fanatics which had recently arisen among the Maoris in that district. John White, Resident Magistrate, reported that he had suspended Rimitirui,1 a native assessor, who had joined a party of men (inveterate rebels) who professed to have been favoured with a revelation from some of the heavenly beings:
“A few days after the death of Captain Lloyd,2 whose blood had been drunk, the Angel Gabriel appeared to those who had partaken of the blood and by the medium of Captain Lloyd's spirit ordered his head to be exhumed, cured in their own way and taken through the length and breadth of New Zealand; that from henceforth this head should be the medium of man's communication with Jehovah. These injunctions were carefully obeyed, and as soon as the head was taken up it appointed Te Ua to be high priest and Epanaia and Rangitauira to be his assistants, and communicated to them in the most solemn manner the tenets of the new religion—namely:
1 ? Retemanu.
2 See above, p. 196.
The followers shall be called Pai Marire. The Angel Gabriel with his legions will protect them from their enemies. The Virgin Mary will certainly be present with them. The religion of England as taught by the Scriptures is false. The Scriptures must all be burned.
All days are alike sacred, and no notice must be taken of the Christian Sabbath. Men and women must live together promiscuously, so that their children may be as the sand of the sea for multitude.
The priests have superhuman power and can obtain for their followers complete victories by uttering vigorously the word ‘hau.’
The people who adopt this religion will shortly drive the whole European population out of New Zealand. This is only prevented now by the head not having completed its circuit of the whole island.
Legions of angels await the bidding of the priests to aid the Maoris in exterminating the Europeans. Immediately the Europeans are destroyed and driven away, men will be sent from heaven to teach the Maoris all the arts and sciences now known by Europeans.
The priests have the power to teach the Maoris the English language in one lesson, provided certain stipulations are carefully observed—the people to assemble at a certain time, in a certain position near a flagstaff of a certain height, bearing a flag of certain colours.
“However absurdly such ideas present themselves to the European mind, they nevertheless prevail and obtain among the Kingites of the Patea portion of this district, and as Rimitirui has given his assent to such, I recommend his dismissal. I would instance some of the cruelties and absurdities practised by the followers of this religion. While Rangitauira was at Waiota Pa, a native attempted to steal Lloyd's head, for which he was so furiously beaten that his life was despaired of. Another native for the same offence was taken to a creek and drawn to and for under a canoe and left to all appearances lifeless.”1
1 C.O. 209, 180.
On May 30, 1864, Grey reported that a body of Hauhau fanatics (“Gabrielites”) had attempted to descend the Wanganui River with a view to attacking the town. On May 14 they were opposed at the island of Moutoa by a party of friendly natives and nearly wiped out, their high priest being among the killed. The Colonial Office gratefully acknowledged the help of the friendly natives and expressed the hope “that the action may have effectually suppressed the detestable fanaticism described in these despatches.”2
“While all this was going on,” wrote Deputy Quartermaster-General Gamble, “matters began to assume gradually a more serious aspect on the East Coast…. It must be here stated that down this East Coast there are two tribes, the Ngatiporou and the Arawa, who regard each other with deadly hatred. The Government sympathized with the Arawa, and promised them assistance and arms, and Captain Drummond Hay of the Auckland Militia, attached for general purposes of interpreting, etc., to this department, and Lieutenant McDonald of the Colonial Defence Force (both of whom are excellent Maori linguists), were sent with some of the Forest Rangers to aid and try to discipline the Arawas.”
1 W.O. 33/16. See Te Hekenga, p. 117, for a description of one of Te Ua's meetings. The first niu, or tall pole, around which the disciples of Te Ua marched chanting their hymns, was part of the mast of the Lord Worsley (S. B. Babbage). See frontispiece.
2 C.O. 209, 180.
- Rule 1. If wounded or captured whole, and the butt of the musket or hilt of the sword be turned to me, he will be saved.
- Rule 2. If any Pakeha, being a soldier by name, shall be travelling unarmed and meets me, he will be captured and handed over to the directors of the law.
- Rule 3. The soldier who flees, being carried away by his fears, and goes to the house of the priest with his gun (even though carrying arms) will be saved. I will not go there.
- Rule 4. The unarmed Pakehas, women and children, will be spared.
In view of these developments troops were sent to Tauranga1 instead of Taranaki. The force in front of the enemy position, the Gate Pa, on April 28 was 79 officers and 1,616 men.
1 Cf. William Fox, The War in New Zealand (1866:) “Tauranga was in fact the harbour of Waikato, and the only harbour it had. It was through it that the rebels in the latter district received supplies, and it was the easiest route by which east coast contingents could reach Upper Waikato. Thompson was well aware of this, and used every exertion to keep this important port open for himself.” See also Gorton, Some Home Truths re the Maori War. General Cameron ascribed to orders of Grey the freedom allowed to the Maoris to construct the Gate Pa.
“The work, it must be observed, was, in the interior, honey-combed with rifle-pits and underground passages, and the enemy, lying concealed, had no doubt considerable advantage in shooting our men from concealed positions, while the assailants no doubt got into confusion, which must have been increased by their suddenly being deprived of so many of their leaders. The Lieutenant-General, hastening to the front on seeing the repulse, ordered the immediate commencement of a line of entrenchment at about 100 yards from the left angle of the pa, and where many of the men sought the cover of a fall in the ground. Evening now closed in, the formation of the entrenchments continued, and the Lieutenant-General intended to resume operations next morning. About two hours after nightfall (as we have since ascertained) the enemy abandoned the work under cover of darkness, leaving behind some of his dead and wounded. The manner in which the natives defended the position proved them to be an enemy anything but despicable, either in intelligence or courage…. The readiness with which they stood to their posts and met the assault, as well as their endurance during the bombardment, would reflect credit on disciplined troops.
“When the guns opened on them a voice in the pa (probably Rawiri's) was heard from the 68th side saying: ‘Tena, tena, e mahi i to mahi.’ ‘Go on, go ahead, carry out your work.’
“And again: ‘Ko te manawa-rere, ko te manawa-rere, kia u, kia u.’ ‘Trembling hearts, trembling hearts, be firm, be unshaken.’
“When our men had retired from the work, a man stood on the parapet and said: ‘Pakeha e, ka kapi ahu parepare i o hipapaku.’ ‘Oh! Pakeha, my trenches are blocked with your dead.’ It is doubtful on account of the distance from which it was heard, whether this was said in triumph, or whether it was not said to intimate that the bodies might be removed.”1
1 For Maori accounts of the assault and a description of the chivalrous conduct of the defenders to the fallen, see Cowan, I, 415–23.
Colonel Greer's report ended thus: “I must not conclude without remarking on the gallant stand made by the Maoris at their rifle-pits; they stood the charge without flinching, and did not retire until forced out at the point of the bayonet.”1 Grey, reporting the engagement in a despatch of July 1, also referred to the great bravery of the Maoris. Rawiri, who was slain, “was a brave man and behaved like a chivalrous gentleman.”2
In his despatch of May 3, 1864, Cameron dealt with the operations at the Gate Pa. The despatch was illustrated by a sketch by Lieut. H. Robley, 68th Regiment. Referring to the retreat of the 43rd Regiment after the position seemed to have been taken, Cameron wrote: “This repulse I am at a loss to explain otherwise than by attributing it to the confusion created among the men by the intricate nature of the interior defences and the sudden fall of so many of their officers.”3
1 W.O. 33/16.
2 C.O. 209, 181.
3 Fortescue, History of the British Army, XIII, p. 502, writes: “The sight of some scores of heads, taking the assailants by surprise, over-whelmed them with the imagination of a countless host, and so caused them to turn.” In a note he says: “The best opinion (of those consulted in New Zealand) favoured the explanation in the text; though who can account for a panic?” As the Maoris had no water, “there was no occasion to assault it at all. Indeed, friendly Maoris with Cameron pressed him not to do so.”
Horatio Gordon Robley, afterwards Major-General, who was born in 1840 and died in 1930, left on record scores of drawings and water-colours depicting scenes in the New Zealand war. He published Moko, a monograph on tattooing, and Pounamu, Notes on New Zealand Greenstone.
The Times of August 15 reported from the Melbourne Argus of June 25 an affair at Auckland when sailors of the Esk had attacked the New Zealander office, owing to a statement that they had deserted Captain Hamilton at the Gate Pa. They were only restrained by the publication of an extraordinary edition “with a ridiculous denial of the charge against the Naval Brigade, page 223 and attributing the panic which caused the retreat to a mistake of the 68th Regiment.” An officer of the 43rd, in a letter to a relative published in The Times of September 3, 1864, said: “When we had been in the place a quarter of an hour, the sailors called out, ‘The Maoris are coming down on us in thousands,’ and immediately turned tail and ran, and then there was a regular panic, and our men followed their example.”
The Melbourne correspondent of The Times, in a despatch written on May 26 and published on July 14, 1864, gave the “main facts” of the Gate Pa disaster as follows: “Our troops having entered the pa found it, to their surprise, almost deserted. Only two or three wounded natives were seen inside. Thrown off their guard the men dispersed, and it is said fell to plundering. In an instant there opened from beneath and from every side a tremendous fire of musketry, pointed by unseen hands. The whole ground was alive with Maoris, and the air was rent with savage yells. A panic seized the 43rd, and the whole party, in spite of the heroic efforts of their officers, fled in terror from the deadly place. The second force despatched to their support, under Captain Hamilton of the Esk, arrived just in time to share their fate. Their gallant leader himself, while standing on the parapet and waving his sword to the bluejackets, was shot through the head, almost all the other officers being either wounded or killed. The men poured headlong out of the breach like a flock of sheep. To complete the story of the disaster, the 68th who had gone round…by the rear of the enemy's position, were also repulsed in an attack on another face of the pa. Thrice they were led to the assault, and thrice driven back by the deadly cross-fire. The night of the 29th closed on a scene perhaps unparalleled in British military annals. A regular force of infantry, supported by the crews of three or four men-of-war and by 13 large guns, had been beaten in a hand-to-hand conflict with a horde of savages. A British regiment had fled in terror from perhaps an equal number of Maoris.… The 43rd Regiment lost in officers alone as many as, perhaps, any single regiment at the battle of Alma.”
On December 14, 1864, a letter from Colonel H. H. Greer, commanding the 68th Light Infantry, dated October 1, was page 224 published in The Times. He referred to the Melbourne correspondent's despatch on May 26. Of the paragraph about the repulse of the 68th he wrote: “In that statement there is not a particle of truth; nothing of the sort occurred. The 68th did not attack any face of the pa. It was not repulsed, it was not led to the assault, and it was not once driven back; nor was the 68th ordered to attack, nor was it any part of its duty to do so; in fact to have attacked such a position as the Gate Pa in front and rear simultaneously could only have resulted in the mutual destruction of the assaulting parties. The 68th were sent to the rear of the Gate Pa by a difficult march the night before the attack (not, as your correspondent states, by a road during the attack) for the purpose of cutting off, or preventing, the escape of the Maoris. The Lieut.-General had stated in his despatch how the 68th did its duty.… It is evident that your correspondent when he wrote had not seen the position, had no personal knowledge of his subject, and was unfortunate in the selection of his intelligence.”
Gamble concluded his report of July 7, 1864, on the military situation, by observing: “There does not seem just at present any immediate prospect of the Maoris, as a people, coming forward to make peace, although it is more than probable they do not contemplate any aggression if let alone. The effect so far of the operations has been that the enemy, who were at one time infesting the bush in the vicinity of Auckland, have been driven back beyond a line 120 miles distant from it; that military settlements are being at the present moment established on the frontier, and that nowhere now do hostile natives venture to show themselves near our ports, while simultaneously with all this, the safety of the other settlements in the Northern Island had been effectually provided for. If the enemy has not yet formally yielded, he appears at least to have resigned himself to our armed occupation.
(Founder of the Pai Marire Religion)
(1) Establishing a southern frontier across the island, by producing the present line within the delta of the Waipa and Horatiu Rivers to Kawhia, on the west, and to Tauranga on the east coasts, and the confiscation of all hostile native lands within that line; (2) the occupation of part of the country of the Ngatimaniapoto tribe, beyond the above line; (3) the confiscation of land north and south of the town of New Plymouth, in the Province of Taranaki, to an extent to be determined on, and of the country from Wanganui to a point northwards on the coast, about fifty or sixty miles from the settlement of Wanganui.
“Without entering on the special difficulties of carrying out quickly the first and second of these plans, and the impossibility of executing all together, it will be enough to say that the third project appears to be the most likely to be undertaken, if the policy of confiscation be not meanwhile arrested by the arrival of prohibitive instructions from England. Though as yet the Maoris have made no offer to yield, it still remains to be seen whether the sufferings of the present winter and the indications of easier terms in Mr. Cardwell's first despatch (published since the transmission of last month's journal) will not have the happy effect of bringing about the termination of a war which is accompanied by more than ordinary difficulties for us, and which, though it has assumed large dimensions, is not, in its result, really identified with Imperial, so much as with Colonial, interests.”
The Duke of Newcastle died on October 18, 1864, aged 53. He had been Secretary of State for War during the Crimean War, and The Times, in an obituary notice on October 19, said: “The Duke had so generously borne himself when he was expected to endure all the brunt of our Crimean disasters that when in 1859 Lord Palmerston offered him the Secretary-ship of the Colonies, every one was glad to hear again of his accession to office…. The war in New Zealand was almost the only serious colonial difficulty with which we have had to contend. The dispute was a complicated one, but perhaps most persons in this country would be inclined to regard it as curious and vexatious rather than important. Whatever be its real character, the Duke left office without the satisfaction of seeing his policy rewarded in an end to the dispute, and the Maoris have submitted under Mr. Cardwell's rule.”page 226
This impression that the Maoris had submitted was founded on a telegraphic summary of the surrender of the Tauranga Maoris to Colonel Greer, and on October 25, 1864, The Times, after enlarging on the wonders of the electric telegraph, said that one of its drawbacks appeared to be due to the impossibility of correctly summarizing long reports: “Thus we have recently laboured under the agreeable mistake that the war in New Zealand is at an end, and now awake to the chilling conviction that out of the many tribes which have taken up arms against us it is only one section that has laid down its arms…. Still there can be no doubt that the merciful treatment extended to the first tribes which have made their submission will have the very best effect upon native opinion throughout New Zealand. There is no excuse now for the argument of desperation—for the feeling that all is lost by surrender and therefore nothing is endangered by continuing the war. The best argument is thus taken out of the mouths of the native agitators…. The announcement that after the close of the present year the burden of the war expenditure will fall in a great measure on the Colony has, we have reason to believe, operated a most beneficial change, if not in the opinions, at any rate in the projects of the Colonial Government. They are disposed to be moderate because it has been made quite clear to them that the cost of a violent and aggressive policy will have to be borne by themselves. No amount of confiscated land, the only property of which it is possible to deprive the natives, would compensate the colonists for a few months of that expenditure which has hitherto been borne by the Home Government. It is their interest to conclude the war just as they conceived it to be their interest to continue it, and we doubt not that they will govern themselves accordingly.”