Bush Fighting. Illustrated by remarkable actions and incidents of the Maori war in New Zealand.
Bush fighting, where practised—Qualifications for it—Equipment of a Bush fighter—Head-dress, and how one should be shod—Service in Africa, and in the American forest—Mounted Riflemen—Americans appreciate them—Hants Mounted Rifles—First experience in Bush fighting in the Andamans—Mounted Rifles at the Cape—The Bush in New Brunswick—A sketch of the Islands of New Zealand and the Maoris.
Bush fighting is a comprehensive term for warfare conducted in forests, in broken ground, and on the hill-side. Wherever cover can be got, in attack and defence, under the canopy of heaven, there bush fighting can be practised, and it is highly useful to practise it as a part of the army manœres.
Of course, active and wiry men, of sound constitutions, are best adapted for bush fighters. page 2Acuteness and intelligence are also wanted, not heedless blundering, and needless exposure, until the proper moment for the bold and fearless dash. The true bush fighter is content with plain and wholesome fare, is very temperate in drink, or slakes his thirst, on service, at the crystal spring, if stimulants are absent. He is also not a slave of the narcotic pipe, and thus is much more wide-awake than those who are "blowing clouds" from "morn till dewy eve," spoiling sight, and nerve, and appetite, and good looks—the latter rather important for young men who may wish to engage with a nice partner, "battles over." The attitude of a bush fighter, when near his enemy, is not a dignified one, neither is that in deer-stalking (which is an excellent preparation for rough service in the field); he must stoop, and creep, and take advantage of whatever cover presents itself. A very clever medical man, Dr. Prothero Smith, maintains (and he has excellent reason for his theory) that for health and longevity one should preserve the S or hollow in the back, page 3as long as possible;—if this is not attended to, the bodily functions in front, those of the heart, liver, stomach, &c., are deranged and obstructed. This will be found to be perfectly true, on the least reflection, so after the object the bush fighter may have had in view, by stooping, &c., is accomplished, he should resume the elegant "Roman fall."
The equipment of a bush fighter is of great importance, loose, warm, serviceable clothing, nothing tight, or that would constrain action; head-dress light, and, if possible, sun and sabre-proof, and well ventilated. Before 1866 the German soldiers had a heavy helmet; they threw it away, and adopted a light and pleasant skull-cap as a helmet, and they retain it. For infantry, or mounted riflemen, the helmet (much more soldierlike than the shako) should be under a pound weight, with a light chain and ornaments, no spike, but a small, neat, "pine apple" or "acorn" knob at top.
The body to be clothed in a crimson Norfolk jacket, with inside pockets, and dark loose page 4trousers, boots 8 inches high, heels I inch,* and leggings straight cut, and pulled on before the boot, then pushed down over it, with a light strap under the knee to prevent it shifting round, and having no side buttons, as the boots have no ties. Soles of boots 4 inches broad; and if young men would consent to wear straight-soled boots, they would find them to last three times longer, and wear straighter and more even than the usual kind, and look better after several months' wear.
The above arrangements for the feet enable a soldier to "shoe" himself, at a moment's notice, and in the dark; a back loop helps this, and no ties or buttons to trouble him.
* This sort of short boot was found the best for shooting in the Irish bogs, and was well tested.
I was obliged to equip my men for the bush, in New Zealand, in blue "jumpers" (leaving the red tunics in store), because I could not get crimson flannel shirts. At 1000 yards, all colours are alike, as I proved; red, grey, green, blue, black, all look hazy, except any man wearing a white cross belt, he becomes the target.
At the Cape of Good Hope we had leather trousers or "crackers" for the thorny bushes; but these are not adapted for moist climates; they do well in dry South Africa; also the veldt schoon, or field shoe of untanned hide, which the natives wear, and shift daily, have broad straight soles, and give no corns; rather a comfort.
In Africa we had brown belts, no pipeclay, and long pouches to divide the weight of the ammunition round the waist, the pouch or pouches supported, if too heavy, with shoulder straps. The rifle was cased against damp. For months we slept on the ground, on skins, without a tent, but in rainy countries a pair of blankets page 6supported by rifles, and four men inside with two other blankets; and if waterproof sheets are added, it is a shelter not to be despised. One may be wet all day, as when we were employed exploring in the American forests; but it would have been foolish, and one would not last long, if there was not a change to sleep dry at night; and it was agreable in these woods to be lulled by the music of the breeze on the tops of the pine trees, and refreshed by their wholesome, turpentine smell.
For messes of half a dozen, a small iron pot and kettle, half a dozen tin plates, "tots," and pewter spoons (all having their own knives), might serve for the cooking apparatus.
Mounted riflemen are of great value in bush fighting, those who have seen them on service appreciate them highly. The mounted riflemen of our American cousins following some British infantry, and coming up with them in a wood (in the War of 1812), fatigued after a long march, attacked them at great advantage to the fresh rifles. This was a lesson not to be forgotten.page 7
I could find no good manual on bush fighting; but this we know, that the people who have had most experience in it are the Americans. Some of their late operations in the bush were on a very large scale, and splendidly carried out; both sides being most expert in the use of the axe, and in bush work, entrenchment, and abattis, on the greatest scale; these were made in a surprisingly short space of time, and both held and attacked with the greatest tenacity.
Some of the accounts of them published at the time of their sanguinary distressing civil war, were most interesting.
I consider Colonel Bower's Corps of Hants Mounted Riflemen quite a pattern one. I saw a number of them at the Autumn Manoeuvres of 1872, in low-crowned hats and feathers, grey loose coats, loose cords, Napoleon boots, rifles and swords; they seemed able to go at any place or ditch. Dismounted, and one holding three horses, to skirmish with great effect on foot.
What was objected to by some old officers page 8was carrying the rifle, when mounted, muzzle up, in a Namaqua bucket in front of the right knee, and not slung at the back. But I carried my rifle in the same way in Africa: it is a wonderful comfort on the march, and it can be easily slung at the back on occasion. Colonel Bower thinks it might pull a man off his horse in galloping through thick cover, or in a fall break a man's back, or get broken. Let both ways be tried, and, as the Maoris say, "enough of this."
Lieut.-Colonel Evelyn Wood, V.C., 90th Light Infantry, who raised a cavalry corps in India, has experience and good ideas of what mounted riflemen should be; that is, mounted infantry carried to a particular point, and executing certain duties without delay.
Mounted men might be of three classes: dragoons, broad-backed and stalwart, to charge with an overpowering crash, or complete a victory on a beaten foe; light cavalry, to reconnoitre and feel for the enemy, as the russian Hulans did in the late war; and page 9mounted riflemen, never firing or fighting mounted, but dangerous on foot, as well-trained marksmen, and "aiding and abetting" the artillery.*
My first experience of bush fighting was under very peculiar circumstances, and in a strange locality, since rendered notorious by the cruel assassination of the deeply regretted Governor-General of India, Lord Mayo, in the Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal.
* In the bush fighter's kit, besides his Bible, I would particularly recommend that he place a very useful and portable volume by a very distinguished officer—'The Soldier's Pocket-book for Field Service,' by Colonel Sir Garnet Wolseley, C.B., K.C.M.G., Assist. Adj.-General, Horse Guards.
Presently black heads appeared in the bush; we made signs of drinking, and approached the wild-looking natives, a negro race supposed to be from an Arab slave ship wrecked here long ago. They immediately drew their arrows to their ears, and defied us to approach. I offered them handkerchiefs, the red cap of the coxswain, all in vain, no signs of peace. The mate stood by me and the brave Malay coxswain; the Lascars had all fled, and waded into the sea to get to the boat. We had no arms except a sword I carried, so it was resolved to return to the ship and get an armed party. This was done; Major Hilton gave some of his fine old corps, the Sherwood Foresters. We landed again; but a hut of the natives having been discovered by the soldiers inside the bush, and some of the fishing gear in it being pulled about, must have irritated the natives, for we had not proceeded far along the beach, till a rattling shower of arrows came among us, page 11wounding three men. We fell back in skirmishing order facing the bush, backs to the sea; a volley was delivered at the bush, and as the nearer we got to it the safer we were, the bugle sounded the advance, and we charged into the bush. The natives immediately fled—little active fellows they were; we then found the water, sat down to a meal, and the natives stole on us and shot a man in the loins, and he died. We kept the assailants off with men in the trees, and, filling our casks, rowed off to the vessel. I have much reason to be thankful to Divine Providence for not having "a brief career" on this occasion.
After this we saw some powder burnt in Burma, on the Irrawaddy; where else I smelt the villanous saltpetre "in the open," I need not here more particularly recapitulate. We wanted "bush" in the Crimea for firewood, but it was very hard to be got. At the Cape of Good Hope there was plenty of bush fighting in the first Caffre war; there I saw mounted riflemen working on foot like a pack of hounds; page 12Hottentots, with keen eyes, and curious in spoor or tracks. Their double-barrelled carbines were disliked by the Caffres, they thought it was not fair fighting. Afterwards I fought in the bush with wild beasts for a living, while exploring and surveying for the Government in the interior of Africa. I made a narrow escape in the bush, on the banks of the Tagus at Santarem, in the civil war in Portugal. From wearing a white cap in the hot sun I became a target.
With Lieutenant Simmons, R.E. (now Lieut.- General Sir J. Lintorn A. Simmons, K.C.B., Governor of the Royal Military Academy), and Lieutenant Woods, 81st (now Major Woods), we attacked the bush of New Brunswick and Canada East with axes, and, with our three parties of lumbermen or woodsmen, hewed our way through it for 300 miles, to explore and survey a track for the military road, Quebec to Halifax.
As if I was never to have done with the bush, I was directed to go to New Zealand to assist in the Maori war, in 1860. Thus, in various page 13ways, I gained experience, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes painfully, of "the bush."
New Zealand, where occurred the bush fighting it is intended to describe in this work, though one of the last of the colonies of the British Empire to be settled, may rise to be one of the first in importance hereafter. It has various and many advantages; the two large islands, the North and the South Island, and the smaller Stewart's Island, are in parallels of latitude in the great Southern Ocean, where health can be enjoyed in climates similar to those of the British Isles, and longevity attained.
This favoured region of volcanic origin has a very diversified surface, ridges of lofty mountains and isolated peaks, many of them thousands of feet in height—the grand Mount Cook of the Southern Alps is 13,200 feet high. Amongst these grand ranges are valleys filled with everlasting glaciers, cascades, and on the sea border deep fiords.
Magnificent forests of valuable timber clothe page 14the hill-sides, and extend into the valleys, where there is abundant fine land for pasture or tillage. The country is abundantly supplied with water, streams, and picturesque lakes. The burning mountain, Tongariro, sends its smoke banner over the waters of the great Taupo Lake; and the most extraordinary region of hot springs is east of it at the famous warm Lake Rotomahana, and the white and pink Cascades of Te Tarata. Good harbours are round the coasts, and there is mineral wealth in gold, copper, iron, and coal.
The native inhabitants of New Zealand, the warlike Maoris, are a very fine race of men, of Malay origin, and who are supposed to have found their way to New Zealand in large canoes, and escaping from oppression and trouble in their own land 500 years ago.
The powerful, well-built brown men have well-developed heads, covered with thick wavy black hair, and the faces of the older Maoris are tattooed in cirćles; many of the younger ones, and the half-breeds, omit this ornamentation.page break page 15
The older Maori women have the lower lip tattooed blue, and a little tattooing on the chin. Many of the younger ones omit this; have fine eyes, and a fascinating expression. I hope they will not adopt the fashion, dangerous for the hair lasting long, of drawing it back and depriving the features of their natural frame, the hair. Many of the people still wear flax mats, with tasteful borders of various patterns; others use blankets, shirts, and trousers, and stuff gowns. They look best in their native attire. I tried to introduce for the men the kilt and knickerbockers, instead of trousers, where I was stationed. Of course I did not venture to suggest changes in the ladies' costume.
The language of the Maoris is forcible and expressive, and not difficult to be acquired. They are fond of oratory, and introduce songs in their harangues; as to music, they are much impressed and touched with it. I am not aware that they have yet had the advantage of hearing the martial strains of the great Highland bagpipe, than which nothing is more exhilarating page 16to march to, or the lively tap of the kettle drum and the spirit-stirring bugle.
Thirty or forty years ago the rough whalers and traders, who came from the North to the coasts of New Zealand, did not improve the manners and customs of the Maoris; firearms were introduced, native wars went on, and land was acquired from the natives by sometimes questionable means, leading afterwards to disputes and great trouble. Then the missionaries appeared on this field, and were of great service in the cause of civilization and religion; they did their best, and certainly put an end to cannibalism, which now it is a disgrace even to hint at. No doubt it originated in a craving for animal food where there were no wild animals to satisfy a raging hunger.
Missionary influence might always be well exercised in promoting the construction of better ventilated houses than the lowly and confined huts or wharrés of the natives, suggesting sanitary arrangements generally, and how to preserve health by self-control in various ways.page 17
Merchants of high character and settlers, who would disdain to occupy native land improperly, have materially helped, and will assist in the work of native progress.
The Maoris are great agriculturists, and since the destruction of the gigantic race of birds, the Moas, 12 and 14 feet in height, and the want of objects of the chase, the Maoris were obliged to look to their mother earth for support. Potatoes, originally left by the great navigator Cook, form their staple food, and pigs, also Cook's gift. There are now wild cattle in the woods; pheasants introduced of late years are rapidly spreading in the islands; and game will probably be plentiful.
A beautiful and interesting publication by Dr, Walter Lawry Buller, F.L.S., &c, Resident Magistrate of Wanganui, gives the history of the birds of New Zealand, their appearance, and peculiarities. It was high time that a complete account should be given of the ornithology of New Zealand before any of the native species disappear or become very rare; and the in-page 18telligent author of that work has spared no pains or trouble to produce it in a most attractive form.
The New Zealand quadrupeds consisted long ago of a rat. In the lakes and rivers there are only eels and a species of white-bait, but round the coasts abundance of the finny tribes. Salmon are attempted to be introduced. They require a cold sea to resort to, and this can be got off the South Island.
The Maoris have shown themselves not only to be brave soldiers, but good whale fishers, bold and active in boats. In the days of Cook it is supposed they numbered 200,000 souls, and now 40,000; the Europeans 200,000. As at Natal, where some tribes under British protection do not diminish but increase, so might the Maoris under good management and a wise system.
New Zealand has been under British governors since 1840. It was necessary to assume possession of it to check the lawless proceedings of the rough white men of various nations, and page 19who required to be kept in check. His Excellency the Governor is assisted by a Legislative Council of forty. The House of Representatives consists of seventy-six members, four of whom are intelligent Maoris. The qualifications to vote for Representatives are paying a rent of 10l. in town, and 5l. in the country, or owning property of the value of 50l.
New Zealand is divided into nine provinces, for the purpose of local district government, viz., Auckland, Waikato, New Plymouth (or Taranaki), Nelson, Otago, Canterbury, Hawkes Bay, Southland, and Marlborough. I had the honour of commanding in the first of these—Auckland—for some time.