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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa


page 165


In 1865, owing to the recrudescence of trouble emanating from the Taranaki district, an uneasy feeling was created in Hawkes Bay owing to the continual visits of Hauhau emissaries to Napier and other parts of the East Coast. In December, 1885, Mr. Donald McLean accepted the important position of agent for the General Government on the East Coast, and it is certain that no better appointment could have been made. Poverty Bay at this time was much disturbed, and so was Wairoa. The full strength of No. 4 Company, residing within ten miles of the Mohaka stockade on the beach to the south of the river-mouth, and six miles out from Wairoa, was ordered for regular drill, and though this greatly interfered with the work on the farms, especially in Mohaka, the men turned out very smartly. The murder under shocking circumstances of the Rev. Carl Volkner at Opotiki by Kereopa Te Rau deepened the unrest. McLean's scouts brought in the news that an attack on Napier was contemplated, the object probably being to secure a good supply of arms and ammunition. But while the people of Napier slept, uneasily no doubt, McLean's scouts were gaining, information that was intended to weave a web that would catch the enemy before there was any further accession of numbers. Silently the scouts rode out and back. No one saw them go, and few heard the clatter of the unshod horses' feet. On 11th October, Major Fraser, the popular and capable fighting officer of "The Fighting Fifty," who was camped at Huramua (now the page 166farm of Mr. A. T. Carroll), embarked at the Wairoa heads on the Star of the South, with forty rank and file of the Military Settlers, with orders to proceed to Omarunui. The force reached Napier at 4 p.m., and a change was made in the destination, for at midnight the force, under Major Fraser, Ensign W. A. Richardson and Lieutenant Wilson, was marched out to Petane to intercept a strong party of rebels expected to arrive from the direction of Te Pohue, and generally to act on the line of march of the enemy's reinforcements. Major Fraser halted his men at Captain Carr's place, a few miles up the Petane valley, and not a moment too soon were the dispositions made, for in half-an-hour it was reported that the Maoris were advancing through the valley. The Wairoa force at once fell in two-deep and soon engaged the enemy, who were defeated by 8 o'clock the following morning. Rangihiroa, the cannibal chief of Te Pohue, a repulsive-looking man, was killed, and the death of the leader and fifteen others completed the rout. Only three prisoners were taken, and the only casualty on the part of the loyalists was the late Mr. James Fletcher of Marumaru, who got a bullet wound in the knee. For treatment he had to go to Sydney! Private Isaac Kent told the writer the disposition of the force from Wairoa. He said:

"We were told off in three parties, most of the best shots being placed on the hill. Another party was to take cover in a deep ditch and behind a bank-face, whilst the rest of the men were extended across the track, taking shelter behind the thick flax page 167and toi-toi. We waited anxiously for about twenty minutes, which to us seemed to be an hour at least. Then we heard Mr. Martin Hamlin calling out to someone to at once surrender, and this not being replied to, Major Fraser gave the order to fire. Down we went on our knees and fired four or five volleys. The Maoris turned and tried to cross the river. They found they could not get past us and we were glad to hear our comrades posted on the hill give a cheer, for we were too weak to stop the enemy had they come straight on. At the cheer we jumped to our feet and were after them but Major Fraser called us back, and I don't think many got off unhurt."

On the same day, in fact almost simultaneously, Lieutenant-Colonel Whitmore advanced on Omarunui, a few miles beyond Napier. There were in addition the Napier Volunteers, with militia under Captain Buchanan. This force had advanced the previous night by way of Taradale and Puketapu Hill, Captain Kennedy leading the militia. A force of friendly Natives was also well posted, the volunteers on the east front of the pa and the militia on the west. At daybreak the volunteers were marched out to the bank of the Tutaekuri river, the whole force mustering 180 strong, independent of the friendlies, the volunteers lying flat down on a ploughed field. After some parleying in an effort to get the Maoris to surrender the militia opened fire. They had been firing for some time when the volunteers were given the order to fix bayonets and charge on their side of the pa. After about an hour and a half's fighting the fort was taken, fifty per cent of the enemy being either killed or wounded.

page 168

Actually thirty-three were killed, twenty-nine wounded and fifty-six taken prisoners. The noted chiefs Kipa and Kingita were killed, also Panapa, the tohunga, whose faith in the cult of "the Uplifted Hand" had sadly failed him. The European force had one killed, Private Young, and the Native force lost one of their number, Karamou. In both engagements there was a complete smash-up of the rebel forces, and Napier had no further trouble in this way. In a few days Major Fraser's force returned by the Sturt and re-occupied the camp at Huramua. Everything in this highly successful engagement was carried out according to arrangements, even to the capture of a number of canoes at Petane, despite the protests of the friendly Natives that they were the owners. The military authorities, however, were not disposed to take any undue risks, and they held the canoes, but restored them at a later date. In one respect, however, an error in the posting of the several units was made, resulting in several casualties from our own rifles. The disposition of the men was good for preventing the escape of the enemy en masse, but the "surround" was so complete that our fire found a few of our own men. Omarunui is now a scene of peace, and Pakeha and Maori are working together in the interests of peace and progress.