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Tales of Banks Peninsula



The remarkable pear shaped promontory which divides the upper end of Akaroa harbour into two smaller bays, is a locality possessing special-interest to the Maori annalist, not only from its having bten from ancient times the reported abode of an atua or guardian spirit, but more particularly because it was the site of the last occupied Maori fortress on the Peninsula, and the scene of a terrible encounter with Eauparaha's forces.

The summit of Onawe was called Te pa nui o Hau (the chief home of wind) There, amoDgst the huge boulders and rocks that crown the hill and cover its steep sloping sides, dwelt the Spirit of the Wind. Tradition tells how jealously it guarded its sacred haunts from careless intrusion; how it terrified the unwary or too daring trespasser by demanding with startling suddenness and in strange unearthly tones "What doest thou here?" instantly following up the question with peremptory command "Turn back!"—a command which none dared to page break
Te Rauparaha.

Te Rauparaha.

page 39disobey but those favoured persons who possessed the gift of spirit speech, which enabled them to hold intercourse with supernatural beings. Unfortunately for all in these days whose curiosity to hear a spirit's voice might tempt them to violate the privacy of its abode, the articulate utterances of the Spirit of the Wind have long ceased. It has been mute ever since the report of a mu-ket was first heard on Onawe, and the Maoris conclude that the loud and unaccustomed noise scared the atua away.

When the inhabitants of Akaroa became alarmed for their safety on account of Rauparaha's evident intention to extend his. conquests to the south of Kaikoura, they resolved to erect a fortified pa, capable of containing all who might require to take refuge in it. They fixed upon Onawe as the most suitable site, though subsequent events proved their want of judgment in selecting a position so easily assailed,

The remains of the defensive works which still exist attest the size and strength of the pa, and awaken a suspicion in the observer's mind that the Maoris received the assistance of Europeans in their construction. But this they most positively deny. They assert that the fortifications wera entirely designed and executed by themselves, and that any departures from the ancient lines of construction that may be observable were caused by the alterations necessary to meet the introduction of firearms. A deep trench surrounded the pa, the earth taken from it forming the walls, along the top of which a strong fence was erected. All round the inside of the fence was a covered way for the protection of the defenders. The approach to a spring on the south side of the promontory was by a covered trench, protected by walls running parallel to each other; but to ensure a supply of water in the event of this road to the spring being cut off, a number of large canoes were dragged up into the pa and filled with fresh water, and covered over with matting to prevent loss by evaporation. Ruas and whatas were stored with provisions, and every precaution taken to enable the occupants of the pa to sustain a siege.

page 40
The various preparations for defence were barely completed before the startling intelligence was brought that Rauparaha had invested Kaiapoi with a large military force, The inhabitants of Akaroa and its neighbourhood flocked at once into Onawe, and prepared for the worst. Tangatahara was placed in chief command, and under him Puaka and Potahi. They were able to muster about four hundred warriors, most of whom were armed with muskets, the rest having to content themselves with steel hatchets or the more primitive weapons used by their forefathers. During the six months the siege of Kaiopoi lasted the occupants of Onawo suffered constant alarms from the reports that reached their ears of atrocities perpetrated by Rauparaha's foraging parties. The condition of suspense was brought to a close by the capture of Kaiapoi and the arrival of a party of fugitives with the news of its destruction, and the important intelligence that they had left Rauparaha in the act of embarking his men with the avowed intention of conveying them round to attack Onawe. Everyone was now on the alert, and many were in dread expectation of what was to follow. Shortly after receiving this timely warning, the sentinels descried at a very early hour one morning a large fleet of war canoes pulling up the harbour, Rauparaha evidently purposed to surprise the place, but his design was frustrated by the watchfulness of tbe defenders. Finding his plan had failed, he retired, ordering part of his force to camp in Barry's Bay and part at the Head of the Bay. Ngatitoa landed near the short wharf in Barry's Bay, where they commenced to prepare for cooking their food; while Ngatiawa landed near where Mrs Shadbolt's house stands, and prepared to do the same. Innumerable fires were soon blazing on the little heaps of stones, gathered into the shallow basin shaped holes scooped in tbe ground, and on which, when sufficiently heated, the food would be placed, and covered with matting and earth to cook Observing that Rauparaha had divided his forces, and that between the two divisions lay a thick wood, and a stretch of swampy ground, it occurred to Tangatahara that by page break
Onawe. The cross marks where Te Rauparaha landed.

Onawe. The cross marks where Te Rauparaha landed.

page 41falling suddenly upon Ngatiawa, now they were off their guard, he might overpower them before Ngatitoa could come to their assistance. He accordingly sallied forth from the pa, and skirted along the edge of the rising ground on which Mr Callaghan's house now stands. But the enemy's sentinels posted in the wood quickly discerned his intentions, and raised the alarm by running to the top of the hill and calling loudly upon Ngatitoa to come to their help. Their cries were heard, and their comrades at once rushed forward, firing as they came floundering across the muddy beach that separated their camp from the promontory. Checked by the failure of this attempt to surprise the enemy, Tangatahara turned to meet the advancing Ngatitoa, and returned their fire. Tahatiti was the first Ngai Tahu shot. On seeing him fall, his companions began to retreat slowly towards the pa. Big William, then a boy about twelve years old, ran back to report the fatal result of the enemy's fire. On reaching the gap in the cliff, near the gate of the pa, he caught up to Tama, who, having been wounded in the knee, was hobbling towards a place of shelter. While the retreating band of Onawe warriors were standing about the gate, a number of Kaiapoi captives suddenly appeared amongst them, accompanied by their captors, Their appearanee very much disconcerted the defenders of the place, who were loth to fire upon their kinsmen, and yet realised the danger of permitting any of the enemy to approach too near. Rauparaha himself, accompanied by quite a crowd of Kaiapoi notabilities, came boldly to the walls, where he had a very narrow escape, for Puaka, recognising him, pushed his musket through a loophole, and levelled it at him, and must have shot him dead but for Tara, Pita te Hori's eldest brother, who was standing by Rauparaha, and pushed the muzzle of the gun aside. The Kaiapoi captives, partly at the instigation of their conquerors, and partly moved by a jealous dread lest Onawe should escape their own fate, urged the inhabitants to surrender. In the disorder and confusion occasioned by this unexpected parleying, some of the Northern warriors got inside the gates, page 42and commenced killing every one about them. A panic ensued, and for some minutes Onawe was the scene of the wildest confusion and bloodshed, the shrieks and cries of the dying mingling with the loud and furious shouts of the victors. Big William relates how, terror stricken by the fearful sights and sounds that surrounded him on all sides, he sought a hiding place in one of the covered trenches, but, having been seen, was followed by a young Ngatiawa warrior, whose handsome face made an indelible impression on his memory. Finding he was pursued, he picked up a spear and prepared to defend himself, and as the young man ran towards him in a stooping position, he thrust the spear at his face, and succeeded in piercing his cheek, and nearly putting out his eye Unexpectedly checked in this manner, the Ngatiawa called frantically for a gun to be brought to shoot his assailant, but another warrior running up the trench behind him, seized William, and, having tied his hands and feet, carried him down to his canoe, and eventually carried him off to Kapiti, where he grew so much into favour with his master, that he was treated more like a son than a slave, and finally allowed to return to his home in Akaroa.

Amongst those who escaped were two refugees from Kaiapoi—Aperahama Te Aiki and Wi Te pa, They happened to be outside the gate when the slaughter began, and at once sought shelter in the scrub that covered the hill sides to the waters edge. They were observed by two men in charge of one of the northern war canoes, who pulled to the beach just under their hiding place, exelaiming "Our slaves, two for us," and they might have been caught, but for the courage of Wi Te pa, who, fortunately, had a loaded gun with him. Creeping down through the bushes, he stood concealed just above high-water mark, and as the man in the bows was preparing to jump on shore Wi Tepa fired, and nearly blew the top of his head off; his companion, seeing what had happened, pushed the canoe back again into deep water with all speed, and the two fugitives made their way to the hills, where they were joined by tbe late Pita Te Hori and others, and hav-page 43ing evaded the parties sent by Rauparaba in pursuit, succeeded in making good their escape to the south. The majority of the inhabitants of Onawe were either killed or carried away into captivity. In the evening of the day on which the pa was taken, the prisoners were all examined, and the old men and women were picked. out and put to death on the flax flat, now Mr Callaghan's paddock in Barry's Bay, There the bodies were cut up, and so much carried off to the camps as the northern warriors required as a relish for their fern root.