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Bush Fighting. Illustrated by remarkable actions and incidents of the Maori war in New Zealand.

Chapter X

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Chapter X.

Orakau—Remarkable in the history of the Maori war—Brigadier-General Carey joins the troops on the Waikato—Major McNeil, A.D.C., gains the Victoria Cross—The Maoris strongly entrench themselves at Orakau—Plan for attacking the pah—The enemy opens fire—Death of Captain Ring—Gallantry of Captain Baker, Deputy Assistant-Adjutant-General—A sap determined on—A breach attempted—A native reinforcement is shelled—Desperate resistance of the Maori garrison—Summoned to surrender—Refuses to do so or to send out the women—Sudden abandonment of the pah—The column of Maoris pursued and scattered—Casualties—Remarks by Sir Duncan Cameron.

Orakau. This word will recall to the recollection of troops engaged in New Zealand warfare a very remarkable or even painful "action and incident" of the war, 1864, showing the native character in a new and unexpected light, and exciting a great desire in the heart of every true aboriginal protectionist that manly races should be preserved, improved, and settled on peace in God's wide earth.

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Brigadier-General G. J. Carey's services not being required on the east coast at Tauranga, General Cameron directed him to join the troops in the Waikato, and he commanded at Te Awamutu.

About this time the native orderly, carrying the mail from head-quarters to Pukerimu, was intercepted by a party of the enemy, and neither the native nor the mail was heard of again.

Major McNeil, A.D.C., when returning from Te Awamutu, accompanied by an orderly, was fired on by fifty or sixty natives. His orderly and his horse rolled into a potato-pit concealed in the fern, but the Major did not gallop off, but waited, caught the horse, helped the man to mount, and carried him off in safety to a party engaged in levelling an abandoned pah, and thus secured the Victoria Cross.

On the 30th of March it was reported to the Brigadier by Lieut.-Colonel Haultain of the Waikato Militia, commanding at the Kihikihi redoubt, that natives were seen in force at the village of Orakau, about three miles from his post.

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The Brigadier immediately rode over from Te Awamutu to make a reconnaissance, and found the natives were engaged building a pah. It was then too late in the day to attack at once, and he returned to his camp and made arrangements for marching on the enemy's position during the night.

Captain Baker, 18th Regiment, Deputy Assistant -Adjutant-General (a very valuable officer, who had done good service in the Crimea and in India), fortunately found two men in camp, Mr. Gage and Mr. W. Asle, who, from their local knowledge, were at once engaged as guides to enable the Brigadier to determine on a combined attack.

The plan of attack was to advance with the main body along the dray road to Orakau; to detach a force of 250 men under Major Blythe, 40th Regimet, who would take a circuitous route through a somewhat difficult country, crossing and recrossing the Puniu river, and, marching on the right flank of the main body, to take the enemy's position in reverse; and page 162thirdly, to draw a force of 100 men from Rangiawhia and Haeirini, under Captain Blewett, 65th Regiment, who would march across to the enemy's position on the left: the three bodies of troops arriving, if possible, simultaneously before the enemy's stronghold shortly before daylight.

The troops marched as directed; the road from Rangiawhia, by which Captain Blewett had to advance, was found to be difficult, being intersected with deep swamps and thick bush. The Brigadier with the main body, in passing Kihikihi, where Colonel Haultain commanded, took him on with 150 men, and arrived at Orakau as the day dawned.

The enemy, evidently taken by surprise, opened fire on the advance guard, composed of 120 men of the Royal Irish and 20 Forest Rangers, gallantly led by Captain Ring, 18th, and supported by 100 of the 40th Regiment, who immediately rushed forward to attack in skirmishing order.

The position was found to be very strong, on page 163an eminence, an earthwork with good flank defences, deep ditches, with a fence of post and rails outside, and nearly covered from view by flax bushes, peach trees, and high fern. The advance guard were forced to retire, but at once reformed, and being reinforced by another company of the 40th Regiment, again tried to take the place by assault, but with no better success. Here Captain Ring, 18th, fell mortally wounded, Captain Fisher, 40th, severely, besides four men were killed and several wounded. Captain Ring had mentioned previously he had a presentiment he was to fall at this place.

On Captain Ring's falling, Captain Baker, 18th Royal Irish, Deputy Assistant-Adjutant-General, most gallantly galloped up, dismounted, and calling for volunteers again endeavoured to enter the place by assault, and they also failed.

Brigadier Carey finding that there was no chance of taking the pah in this manner, from its great strength, and other men having fallen, he determined to desist from this mode of attack. Having ascertained that both Major Blythe and page 164Captain Blewett were at their appointed posts, the Brigadier decided on surrounding the place, and adopting the more slow but sure method of approaching the position by sap, which was shortly after commenced under the able direction of Lieutenant Hurst, 12th Regiment, Assistant Royal Engineer.

At this time Lieutenant Carré, R.A., endeavoured to effect a breach on the enemy's work, but could make no impression on it. A further supply of entrenching tools and some gabions (which had been previously prepared for service on the Horateu or Upper Waikato river) were immediately ordered up with the men's blankets, additional food, &c., and every possible precaution taken, by the proper distributing of the force, to prevent the escape of the enemy.

During the afternoon a reinforcement of some 150 or 200 of the enemy from the direction of Maungatautari appeared in sight, evidently determined on relieving the place. They advanced to a grove situated about 900 yards in rear of the outposts, but seeing that it was page 165scarcely possible to break through the line formed by the troops, they halted and commenced firing volleys, at the same time exciting the men in the pah to increased energy by dancing the war dance and shouting.

Captain Betty, R.A., threw some well-directed shells at the enemy in the bush, which evidently disconcerted them considerably.

The wounded were sent into Te Awamutu and Kihikihi, the sap was pushed forward vigorously, and the troops so posted as to prevent any possibility of escape of the natives during the night. Heavy firing was kept up by the enemy on the troops both in the sap and round the place, during the day and night, causing but few casualties, however, as the men contrived to cover themselves in temporary rifle-pits dug out with their bayonets and hands.

A reinforcement of 200 men, 18th and 70th Regiments, under the command of Captain Inman, joined in the afternoon from head-quarters; and on the proceedings at Orakau being reported to Sir Duncan Cameron, he despatched (and guided page 166by Captain Greaves, Deputy Assistant-Quarter-master-General) 150 men, 12th Regiment and Forest Rangers. This party arrived at daylight on the morning of the 1st of April. This enabled the Brigadier to relieve the men in the sap more constantly, and to carry on the work more quickly; Captain Greaves also affording material assistance in the duties of his department. This day was spent in working at the sap and making rifle-pits round the pah, few casualties occurring.

Captain Betty, R.A., being now in command of the Royal Artillery, enabled Lieutenant Carré to render some assistance to Lieutenant Hurst in carrying on the sap, he having been at it without intermission. During the night a few of the enemy were perceived trying to effect an escape from the pah, but being immediately fired upon, they returned to their earthwork.

At an early hour in the morning of the 2nd April Lieut.-Colonel Sir Henry Havelock, Bart., Deputy Assistant-Quartermaster-General, arrived with hand grenades, which were at page 167once thrown into the enemy's position with great effect by Sergeant McKay, R.A., who there rendered good and gallant service at great personal risk, under a galling fire.

About noon the Brigadier ordered Captain Betty, R.A., to have a 6-pounder Armstrong gun carried into the sap; an entrance having been made, it opened fire on the enemy's works, destroying the palisading, making a considerable breach, and silencing, in a great measure, the fire of the enemy on the men engaged at the head of the sap.

The Commander of the forces, with his staff, &c., arrived on the ground at this time, but allowed the Brigadier to continue his operations without interference with his arrangements.

Colonel Mould, C.B.R.E., coming up with General Cameron, gave his able assistance towards the completion of the sap.

General Cameron being aware that there were many women and children inside the pah, told Mr. Mainwaring the interpreter to call out to the defenders of the pah, "Hear the word of the page 168General: you have done enough to show you are brave men; your case is hopeless; surrender, and your lives will be spared."Their reply was,"This is the word of the Maori; we will fight for ever, and ever, and ever!" (Ka whawhai tonu, aké, aké, aké!). They were then told, "Send away the women." They answered, "The women will fight as well as we;" and the firing recommenced.

The Honourable Mr. Fox, late Native Minister of the colony, in alluding to this, remarked, "Does ancient or modern history, or our own 'rough island story,' record anything more heroic?"

The troops were now getting desperate, a hand to hand encounter was imminent, and a private throwing his cap into the ditch jumped after it. About twenty men, led by Captain Harford of the Colonial Defence Force, followed; the Maoris delivered a withering volley and ran to the inner works. Captain Harford fell shot through one eye, and ten men out of the twenty were down.

Some of the 65th and militia tried the ditch page 169on the other side, but got no further either. It was now 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the third day's investment and attack on Orakau, during which time all the 300 Maoris had to subsist on was some raw potatoes, and not a drop of water, whilst grape, bullets, and grenades poured into the work.

Suddenly on the south side of the work, invested by a double line of the 40th Regiment, the Maori garrison came out of their entrenchment on to the open, and in a silent and compact body moved on without precipitation. There was something mysterious in their appearance as they advanced towards the cordon of troops without fear, without firing a shot, or a single cry being heard even from the women and children, who with their principal chiefs were in their midst.

As Colonel Gamble observed, "An overwhelming force surrounded them, and all hope of relief had failed, but still, with extraordinary devotion to their cause, calmly in the face of death they abandoned their position without yielding."

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The first line of the 40th was disposed under a slight bank, which partly concealed the men from the pah. The Maoris made for this, and it is said jumped over the heads of some of the soldiers, and passing on, walked through the second line.

The cry was now raised, "The Maoris are out of the pah!" the troops quickly rose and started in pursuit of the dark column. The retreating Maoris now quickened their pace, and broke away for a neighbouring swamp and scrub. Here they might have escaped in a body, but were headed by Lieutenant Rait, R.A., and his artillery troopers, and Captain Pye, of the Colonial Defence Corps, and suffered a serious loss in a pursuit of six miles.

It was deeply to be regretted that in the pah and in the pursuit some three or four women were killed, unavoidably, owing to the similarity of dress of both men and women and their hair being cut equally short, rendering it impossible to distinguish one from the other.

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The troops were recalled at sundown, and bivouacked around the enemy's late position.

Diligent search was made at an early hour on the 3rd of April for the killed and wounded of the enemy. Their loss was considerable, amounting to 101 killed, besides eighteen or twenty reported by the prisoners as buried in the pah, twenty-six wounded and taken prisoners, and seven taken prisoners.

Besides Captain Ring, 18th, there were sixteen non-commissioned officers and privates killed of the force; and Captain Fisher, 40th, Ensign Chayter, 65th, Captain Harford, Militia, and fifty-two wounded.

General Cameron duly acknowledged the services of Brigadier-General Carey and his officers, among whom were particularly distinguished Captain Baker, 18th, Deputy Assistant- Adjutant-General, Captain Greaves, Deputy Assistant - Quartermaster - General, Lieutenant Hurst, 12th Regiment, A.R.E., Captain The Hon. F. de P. Trench, 40th, A.D.C.

Brigadier-General Carey recommended for page 172favourable notice, Colonel Leslie, C.B., commanding 40th Regiment, and commanding detached forces; Major Blythe, 40th; Captain Blewett, 65th; Captain Vereker, 12th Regiment; Captain Inman, 18th; Captain Cay, 70th; Captain Betty, R.A., and Lieutenant Rait, R.A.; Lieut.-Colonel Haultain, commanding Waikato Militia; Captains Jackson and Von Tempski, of the Forest Rangers; and Dr. White, 65th Regiment, senior medical officer in charge of the field force.

A remarkable instance of Maori determination and endurance may be here recorded. Captain Greaves, armed with a rifle, had gone to the head of the sap, and was watching for an opportunity to enter the pah. He stood behind the first gabion. Presently the shaggy head of a very fierce-looking Maori appeared above the parapet; he was making ready to fire, but Captain Greaves was too quick for him, and fired first, and the head disappeared. When the pah was entered, after the retreat of the column, Captain Greaves saw a Maori come page 173forward with a white flag in his hand. A soldier was rushing at him with his bayonet, when Colonel Mould, who was by, pushed the soldier aside, and saved the Maori's life. Captain Greaves then looked for the warrior he had fired at. He found him lying dead from a bullet between the eyes, and one of his legs, which had been broken previously, was tied up with flax and a tent peg, to enable him to continue fighting to the last extremity.

Some may remark, on reading this account of the capture of Orakau, "It would have been generous to have held one's hand, and not pursue and fire at the retiring column of Maoris." Certainly it would; but it is to be considered that the soldiers had suffered, too, from the determined resistance of the enemy, and their blood was up. In a case like this, one does not pause to reflect, and the dark warriors had arms in their hands; they might have turned suddenly and fired into the troops. It is said that they wounded two or three of the 40th in passing, probably with their toma-page 174hawks. War hardens the heart, and will do so until a blessed reign of peace prevails on the earth.

A native girl, a great beauty, was found in the pah, severely wounded in the arm, and a corporal proposed to marry her. She was taken every care of, and sent to the Rev. Mr. Ashwell's family, and named Marianne.

Sir Duncan Cameron, whilst deeply regretting that the Maoris did not accept the terms which had been offered, added, in his report to the War Office, "I cannot, in justice, refrain from paying a tribute to the heroic courage and devotion of this band of natives, who, without water and with but little food for more than two days, and deprived of all hope of succour, held out so long against a vastly superior force, and at last, disdaining to surrender, silently and deliberately abandoned their position, under a terrific fire from our troops."

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G. R. Greaves. Edwd Weller Litho Red Lion Square.Published by Sampson Low, Marston Low & Scarle, Crown Buildings 188 Fleet Strt London.

G. R. Greaves. Edwd Weller Litho Red Lion Square.
Published by Sampson Low, Marston Low & Scarle, Crown Buildings 188 Fleet Strt London.