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

Chapter XIV

page 241

Chapter XIV.

Movement to Wanganui—Advance of the troops to the west—Nukumaru—Pickets attacked—Death of Lieutenant Johnston—Bold attack of the enemy—Charged by cavalry—Officers conspicuous in the action—General Cameron requires reinforcements—Home authorities wish to reduce the force—Supplies abundant—Advance on the Patea river—A smart action with the enemy—His flank turned—Manutahi—Extensive Maori cultivations utilised by the troops.

General Cameron, in compliance with instructions received from his Excellency the Governor, moved the 50th Regiment and nearly the whole of the 18th to Wanganui, and intended also to move his head-quarters there. Colonel Waddy, C.B., 50th Regiment, was appointed Brigadier - General. He encamped at Alexander's farm, and on the 24th of January, 1865, at half-past nine a.m., he marched according to page 242instructions he had received from General Cameron, towards the Waetotara river.

The advance of the troops west was necessarily very slow, owing to the steep ascent of the road from the beach to the sand-hills of the Okehu river, and the passage across these hills of the carts containing baggage and stores. The force, consisting of Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, 18th Regiment, 50th Regiment, and Military Train (Cavalry), amounted to 963 officers and men. They reached the kainga or village of Nukumaru about half-past four p.m. the same day, where camp was formed close to the Paetaia lake, and about half a mile from the village.

Immediately after the camp had been formed, pickets were ordered out, and as a picket of the 18th approached a bush close to the village which it was necessary to occupy, it was fired upon by a party of Maoris, who quickly retired and took up a strong position at the edge of the bush farther away from the village.

The men of the picket got under cover behind a railed fence with a small ditch.

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Firing was kept up by both sides till dusk, after which it gradually slackened, and ceased altogether about midnight. The Brigadier had to notice, with deep regret, the loss to the service of Lieutenant Johnston, 40th Regiment, Deputy Assistant-Adjutant-General, a most zealous and excellent officer, who proceeded with the picket to see it posted as the Brigadier had directed. He was mortally wounded soon after the firing began, and died next day at noon. Seeing the Maoris were in a strong position, and believing they occupied it in considerable numbers, which might soon be increased from the pah at Wereroa, about three miles off, the Brigadier sent out a reinforcement of 100 men to the front. The Maoris retired during the night, and next morning they were not to be seen or heard in the bush.

General Cameron and Staff joined on the 24th of January. On the 25th, at two p.m., the outlying pickets were suddenly attacked by the Maoris in large numbers, who managed to approach, under cover of the high fern and flax plants, un-page 244perceived till close on the sentries. After a short resistance the pickets were overpowered and forced to retire.

Immediately after the firing commenced, all the troops in camp got under arms, and a reinforcement of 100 men was sent to each picket. The attack on the left was soon checked, but on the right the Maoris, setting fire to the flax, under cover of the smoke advanced with great determination, and pushed on through the village of Nukumaru, and got within 150 yards of General Cameron's tent.

The Royal Artillery and Cavalry were rapidly moved to the right, and the guns, six-pounder Armstrongs, were fired into the bush, and drove the enemy out of it. The Cavalry also charged vigorously and effectively over difficult ground.

Nothing like this fight had ever before occurred in New Zealand. Here for the first time a force of 600 natives had appeared in the field, and in broad daylight measured their strength against the Pakehas. Their plan of page 245attack on both flanks was very good. The work was commenced with great determination and spirit, but for want of cohesion failed. The enemy was beaten by the steady discipline of the British troops and the excellence of their arms as compared with the inferior weapons of the Maoris.

The result of the fight was to raise the Maoris in the estimation of the troops, and to prove how readily they learn the European art of war.

They were particularly struck with a charge of cavalry; and since then large bodies of men were seen mounted, and cavalry videttes were observed.

Two wounded Maoris were brought into camp; one of them a near relative of the chief, Rewi. The prisoners said that 600 Maoris had come on to the attack of the position. Twenty-two bodies were found and buried, and many more fell and were removed, supposed seventy, on the 25th of January,—on the 24th the loss was not ascertained.

The British casualties were heavy, particu-page 246larly on the left, where the 50th Regiment was engaged, on the 24th of January; besides Lieutenant Johnston, there were three men killed and six wounded: on the 25th of January there were twelve men killed, and Lieutenant Wilson and Ensign Grant severely wounded, and twenty-four men wounded, many very severely.

Of the officers engaged in these actions, Colonel Weare, 50th Regiment, ably directed a portion of his regiment in the repulse and pursuit of the enemy, as did Brevet-Major Locke, 50th, in command of the first reinforcement. Captain Witchell, Military Train, commanded the cavalry, led his men most gallantly, and kept them well in hand. Major Rocke, 18th Regiment, reinforced the right picket on the 24th, and remained out all night, and was engaged on the 25th of January. Captains Shaw and Dawson, 18th Regiment, did good service with the pickets. Brevet - Major Greaves, 70th Regiment, Deputy Assistant - Quartermaster- General, gave the direction to the cavalry on their advance to the charge, and afterwards was page 247conspicuous in cheering on the infantry when driving the enemy into the bush on the right. Captain Leach, 50th Regiment, the Brigadier's Aide-de-Camp, was of great service in conveying orders.

Brigadier-General Waddy acknowledged the advantage he derived from the presence of Sir Duncan Cameron on the field; and here, as in the Crimea, the Brigadier's own activity, courage, and good judgment were conspicuous.

Colonel Mould, C.B., Commanding Royal Engineers, was present. Lieutenant-Colonel Williams, R.A., directed the movements of the Armstrong guns. Of the Staff, Colonel Carey, C.B., Deputy Adjutant-General; Lieut.-Colonel Gamble, C.B., Deputy Quartermaster - General; Major Pitt, Assistant Military Secretary; and the Aides-de-Camp—Lieut.-Colonel McNeil and Lieut. St. Hill; were present and ably assisted.

Since the action of Nukumaru on the 25th of January, the Maoris remained quiet in their pah of Wereroa, which stood on very high ground on the left bank of the Waetotara river, page 248about three miles from Nukumaru; the pah was well fortified and difficult of approach, on account of the dense bush by which it was surrounded. It shall be more particularly noticed hereafter.

Sir George Grey oeing desirous that five miles of the country, south of the Tataraimaka block in Taranaki should be occupied, this was accordingly done by the troops under Colonel Warre, C.B., as far as the Hangutahua, or Stony river.

Greneral Cameron, considering that two-thirds of his troops were employed in the protection of the different settlements or the occupation of the land taken from the hostile natives, and the natives in his front evidently mustering in force to oppose the advance of the troops, was of opinion that to carry out the views of the Governor and the Colonial Government, a reinforcement of 2000 men would be necessary.

On the night of the 4th of February, Brigadier-General Waddy was directed to march, with a force of 1104 officers and men, from Nuku-page 249maru, and to cross the Waetotara, which he did on the morning of the 5th by means of a cask-raft constructed by the Royal Engineers, at a mile and a half from the river's mouth. Colonel Weare, 50th Regiment, was left in charge of the remainder of the troops at Nukumaru.

The head-quarters and 350 men of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Regiment, stationed at Wellington, arrived at Wanganui, and 250 men of the 70th Regiment from Taranaki, to strengthen the force in the south-west.

In February 1865 the home authorities were desirous to reduce the force in New Zealand by five battalions, supposing that the Maoris had been subdued to that extent that such a force could now be spared; yet, from the determined attitude assumed by the Ngatiruanuis in the south-west, they did not seem to consider that they had had enough of fighting, or would yield to the Pakehas.

To save a heavy loss of life by attacking the formidable position of the Wereroa pah, General Cameron resolved to move to the page 250Patea river, in the hope of drawing the enemy from the pah, and having an opportunity of attacking it hereafter, if necessary, and at less disadvantage.

Accordingly, Brigadier - General Waddy marched with his force, on the night of the 15th of February, to the Patea river; and Colonel Weare, with his detachments, moved from Nukumaru, and took up Brigadier-General Waddy's camp on the Waetotara.

Sir George Grey was desirous of establishing a chain of posts along the coast to the Taranaki; and Sir Duncan Cameron intended to carry out his views as far as the means at his command would admit. In the meantime he was engaged seeing supplies collected at the Patea, and constructing two redoubts on each side of the river to protect them, leaving nothing to chance, and securing his advance. All was quiet at the Waikato frontier, at Tauranga, and at Taranaki, after the operations in this quarter, so well planned and well conducted.

The commissariat supplies were now abun-page 251dant and excellent, under the direction of Deputy Commissary - General Strickland and his staff. The well-cultivated farms of settlers on the south-west raising wheat and oats, rich clover, abundant well-bred cattle, and Scotch sheep, enabled the commissariat to effect the purchase of ample supplies for man and beast of the force.

H.R.H. the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, when applied to by the local Government to sanction enlisting from Her Majesty's regiments in New Zealand 1500 men as a colonial defence force, did not approve of that measure, as opposed to Imperial interests.

On the 9th of March, with a view to carry out the instructions of his Excellency the Governor, Sir Duncan Cameron ordered Colonel Weare to march with the division under his command from the Waetotara to the Patea river, leaving a detachment of 200 men under Major Rocke, 18th Regiment, to occupy a post on the left bank of the Waetotara, for the purpose of securing a passage across that river, page 252and keeping the communication open with Wanganui.

On the morning of the 13th, Colonel Weare was ordered, in the absence of Brigadier-General Waddy, who was incapacitated for duty by a severe fall from his horse, to move, with 1273 officers and men, up the right bank of the Patea towards the village of Kakaramea. The General was present with the troops.

After marching some two and a half miles, the right flank of the line of march became commanded by a range of hills covered with thick fern, affording a very strong position, and on which the advance guard skirmishers discovered the enemy skilfully posted.

The advance guard, under Major Butler, 57th, was then ordered to change direction to the right, and additional companies of that regiment were thrown into skirmishing order to prolong a line to the left, so as to turn the enemy's right, and keep him from escaping to the village of Manutahi, in the direction of the ultimate advance. page 253The cavalry was also drawn to that flank. While this was being done, the attention of the enemy was directed to their left flank by a few rounds from the artillery.

The whole line then advanced on the Maori position, supported by the 68th Regiment, with the 50th Regiment in reserve. The enemy clung tenaciously to his strong position, and many casualties must have occurred had he not seen that he was being outflanked, and his retreat about to be cut off by the cavalry. He then gave way, and was followed up over most difficult ground, consisting of a series of hills, with deep swamps running along their base, until the village of Kakaramea was reached.

It being impossible for the artillery and cavalry to follow the enemy over this ground, they were ordered to resume the original direction of march, supported by the 50th Regiment, and threaten the village of Kakaramea on the left, while the remainder of the troops pushed on across the swamps to take it in front. The enemy, seeing this disposition, did not page 254rally to defend it. Twenty-seven dead bodies were found, three wounded (who afterwards died), and two prisoners were secured. Had there been time to search the extensive swamps, many more might have been discovered; and it was understood that the enemy's loss amounted to about sixty killed and wounded.

The British loss was small in this fight at Patea—one man was killed and three men severely wounded—which was attributed to the arrangements made for turning the right flank of the enemy before advancing upon him. In this, the General being present, Colonel Weare derived the benefit of his advice and experience.

The name of Sergeant O'Connor, 57th Regiment, was brought prominently to the notice of the General for dash and soldierlike bearing.

Major Greaves, 70th Regiment, Deputy Assistant - Quartermaster - General, was conspicuous, as on all other occasions, for his energy and daring; also Captain Leach, 50th Regiment, Deputy Assistant-Adjutant-General, had thanks especially accorded to him. Staff Field-page 255Surgeon Home, whose anxiety to be ready to aid any wounded led him to be always up with the advance, and his kind attention to and sympathy for the wounded in this Wanganui campaign, was much felt by the soldiers.

On the morning of the 14th of March, on the return of the transport which had been sent back to the Patea river the previous evening for provisions, the field force again advanced, at ten a.m., over an open country covered with fern, but without roads, and much intersected with ravines, to the village of Manutahi, which is situated at the edge of a dense bush, and through a portion of which the troops had to pass before reaching the village. Such was the labour of making cuttings and passing the transport over the ravines, that, although the distance was only six miles, the rear guard with the last carts did not reach camp till eleven o'clock at night.

Manutahi was a large and important settlement of the Maoris, judging by the amount of crops growing, which was far in excess of those page 256found at Rangiawhia; and the loss of so much food was now a serious blow to the natives: 200 tons of potatoes were collected, besides other crops, and secured.

The Wanganui campaign was necessarily attended with much labour and fatigue, and now at the beginning of the New Zealand winter it was time to establish posts and secure what had been gained by the steady advance to the west coast.

The heroic Wolfe, the evening before his final battle on the plains of Abraham, Quebec, is said to have sung his favourite soldier's song, "How stands the glass around?" It concludes thus—

"'Tis but in vain (I mean not to upbraid you, boys), 'Tis but in vain For soldiers to complain: Should next campaign Send us to Him who made us, boys, We're free from pain; But should we remain, A bottle and kind landlady cures all again."