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

Chapter II

page 20

Chapter II.

The Tataraimaka block of land in Taranaki—Abandoned, and to be reoccupied—Appropriation of the Waitara block the cause of the previous war—Is now given up, yet the natives assume the offensive by a deed of blood—A party of officers and soldiers surprised by an ambuscade and slain—Preparations for attacking the hostile natives—Their positions in strong ground—General Cameron forms a corps of cavalry—Lieut. Wallis's adventure—The troops march out of New Plymouth to engage the enemy at Katikara—The transport service—Dispositions for the attack of the enemy's position—The details of the fight—Loss of the enemy, and their gallantry—Their defeat—The troops thanked—The General returns to Auckland to engage in another campaign in Waikato.

The Tataraimaka block of land, twelve miles south of New Plymouth, Taranaki, from which the European settlers had been driven during the previous contest with the Maoris, had been retained by the natives as they said "by right of conquest," and it was now determined to reoccupy it.

The cause of the war of 1860-61 was the page break
D.J. Gamble. Edwa Weller, Litho. Red Lion Square.Published by Sampson. Low,. Marston Low. &-Sazrle; Crown Buildings. 139 Strt. London.

D.J. Gamble. Edwa Weller, Litho. Red Lion Square.
Published by Sampson. Low,. Marston Low. &-Sazrle; Crown Buildings. 139 Strt. London.

page 21occupation of the block of land, one mile square, at the mouth of the Waitara, Taranaki, though a sum of money had been paid for it to an individual of the tribe, Taera, who alleged it was his, but the whole tribe claimed it. The chief of the tribe was Wuremu Kingi. The policy of the government of the colony was now to remove the chief cause of dissatisfaction on the part of the natives, and it was resolved to issue a proclamation to the effect that the Waitara block was to be given up.

Unfortunately before the proclamation was issued, the Tataraimaka block was occupied by the troops at St. George's Redoubt, the natives making no opposition. General Cameron had long before strongly advised that whilst negotiations were in progress for peace, the Tataraimaka block should be reoccupied as one of the preliminary conditions of peace; but this wise counsel was not followed.

In a letter to the War Office, of March 1862, General Cameron says, "Before leaving the Waitara, and while the bulk of the force page 22(employed in the war of 1860-61) was still in the province of New Plymouth, I referred to the late Colonial Government the question of the occupation of the Tataraimaka block, which might at that moment have been carried out without opposition, as the natives had retired to their own districts. This course was not pursued at the time, and it is probable could not now be adopted without exciting a general war."

On the 4th of May, 1863, the natives assumed the offensive, marking their hostility by a very dark deed of blood; formerly they used to give warning of hostile intentions, but on this occasion they did not do so. Two officers, Lieutenant Tragett and Assistant-Surgeon Hope, were coming in from Tataraimaka to New Plymouth, and having reached a point on the sea beach (four and a half miles from Tataraimaka) where the Wairu* stream passes into the sea, were observed by an escort of six soldiers of the 57th Regiment with a prisoner, marching behind them, to stop. When the escort came up to the

* Turbulent water.

page 23officers, the whole party were fired on by Maoris concealed behind a bank. The whole were shot and tomahawked except one man, private Kelly, who was wounded, but escaped; he crawled into the bush, and was found by a party who came to the relief from Tataraimaka.

Two bullock drays on their way to Tataraimaka, with stores from Poutoko* post (half-way to Tataraimaka from New Plymouth), were at the moment of the attack descending a hill to the Oakura river, accompanied by four drivers and an escort of a corporal and four men (too few in so dangerous a locality). They saw what had happened from about half a mile. The drays immediately turned to retire, and the party, pressed by the Maoris, were compelled to fall back, leaving the two drays, one of which (laden with flour and potatoes) the Maoris carried off with the team of bullocks belonging to it; the other was afterwards recovered, and brought back to Poutoko.

* A boundary stake; that is, a staff driven into the ground to mark a boundary.

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A party of thirty men, under Captain Shortt, 57th Regiment, immediately proceeded from Poutoko to Wairu, and found the bodies of the officers and men. One body was not discovered until the 30th of May.

In consequence of this atrocity the Oakura (St. Andrew's) Redoubt was thrown up on high ground commanding the beach, at a point two miles south of Poutoko, and garrisoned by 150 men of the 57th Regiment.

The day before the massacre of the party just described, a report was brought into New Plymouth that an ambuscade was about to be laid; the report was not believed, but Captain Greaves, Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General, was directed to go towards Tataraimaka to make observations. He did so, and as he approached the place where the party was afterwards destroyed, a Maori woman came out of the bush, and throwing her arms round the neck of Captain Greaves' horse, and pointing to the bush below, said, "No go!—bad man—no go!" This was at noon, when Maoris usually eat. A settler came page 25along who had not been harmed, and Captain Greaves, seeing nothing, rode back to town. But the Maoris had, no doubt, been in the bush, and had merely retired for a short time. All praise is due to the Maori woman for her good intentions towards Captain Greaves.

His Excellency the Governor Sir George Grey, K.C.B., and General Cameron, C.B., Commanding the Forces, were at this time at New Plymouth, the military head-quarters not being yet removed from Auckland. It had been intended that the 65th Regiment should have embarked for England, and be relieved by the 2nd battalion of the 18th Royal Irish; but all moves were now suspended, and the Head-quarter Staff, 150 men of the 70th Regiment, and 100 of the 40th Regiment, with a quantity of entrenching tools, camp equipage, &c. were placed on board H.M.S. "Eclipse," for New Plymouth, where they were disembarked on the 10th of May.

The Maoris now were full of fight, and took up a strong position on the spurs of the Kaitaki page 26range, and about 4000 yards inland, facing the sea. Their position was strengthened with riflepits; they made signals at night by fires, and during the day by pouring water on heated stones, and the steam thus generated was seen to a great distance.

Though the ground was in many places open to the eye towards the Maori position, yet it was intersected by deep gullies, covered with bush and clothed with high fern, and in several places with thick undergrowth.

The redoubts at Oakura and Poutoko were square, 50 yards by 40, and flanked at opposite angles by square projections or bastions.

To supply the want of cavalry, General Cameron had decided on the employment of a mounted force at Taranaki, and made arrangements for 100 men, under the command of a zealous and intelligent officer, Captain Mercer, R. A., being at once converted into a troop of cavalry, as a temporary measure in this emergency. Sabres, carbines, and revolvers were issued to them.

page break
OakuraTo face page 26.

OakuraTo face page 26.

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In the first Caffre war (1835), at which I assisted, Sir Benjamin d'Urban mounted a very useful body of men in a similar manner from the 75th Regiment.

On the 29th of May, Lieutenant Wallis, 57th Regiment, when passing between Oakura and Poutoko redoubts, was fired on by a party of natives in ambush, half a mile out of Poutoko. His horse was shot through the head—one of the natives rushed to tomahawk Lieutenant Wallis; he fired his revolver, and the native fell, and the others made off. The wounded man was afterwards captured by a party under Colonel Warre, C.B., 57th Regiment.

It was on the left bank of the Katikara river that the natives had collected about 600 fighting men in a strong pah, and General Cameron determined on attacking their position and striking a decisive blow.

He accordingly marched out of New Plymouth on the night of the 3rd of June, with nearly the whole of the regular troops forming the garrison of the town, and proceeded towards page 28the Katikara river. In order that the march might not be impeded, the guns, mortars, and reserve ammunition had been sent on a few hours before, under a strong escort, and no tents or baggage of any kind were allowed to accompany the column. The officers and men (dressed in dark blue serge tunics) carried each a blanket and a day's provisions in their haversacks, cooked. The weather was cool, and all were in good health, and in a mood to revenge their surprised and murdered comrades.

The column having been joined on the line of march by detachments of the 57th Regiment from the outposts, arrived at St. George's Redoubt a little before 4 o'clock on the morning of the 4th of June. The strength and composition of the force was as follows:—

General Staff, 5; Field officers, 5; Serjeant, 1.

Medical Staff, 2.

Commissariat Staff, 1.

Royal Artillery—Captain, 1; Subalterns, 3; Non-commissioned officers and men, 125.

Royal Engineers—Subalterns, 2; men, 13.

40th Regiment—1 man.

57th Regiment—Field officers, 2; Captains, 3; Subalterns, 8; Staff, 3; Non-commissioned officers and men, 380.

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65th Eegiment—Captain, 1; Subalterns, 2; Non-commissioned officers and men, 82.

70th Regiment—Field officer, 1; Captains, 3; Subalterns, 6; Staff, 1; Non-commissioned officers and men, 224.

Transport Corps—Captain, 1; Non-commissioned officers and men, 6.

Total, officers and men, 873.

Before leaving New Plymouth the General had arranged with Captain Mayne, R.N., that H.M.S. "Eclipse" should be at the mouth of the Katikara river before daybreak, ready to cooperate in the attack.

Colonel G. D. Gamble, the Deputy Quartermaster-General, to whose share fell all the arrangements for moving and camping the troops, remarked, as to transport, that the bullock-carts in the province of Taranaki could not be surpassed in suitability to the nature of the country. A light handy dray, capable of conveying half a ton, was drawn by four or even two bullocks; these carts kept up tolerably well with the ordinary pace of a column, and were, in fact, the only kind of transport which could be relied on for communication in New Zealand during the winter months, when deep ravines page 30and rivers have to be crossed, and unmetalled roads, cut up by traffic and rain of tropical force, have to be traversed.

The Katikara river, which was the southern boundary of the Tataraimaka block, and divided European from native land, takes its rise in one of the ranges of Mount Egmont, that noble feature in the New Zealand landscape, its snowcapped peak 8270 feet high. The Katikara flows between steep banks of from 50 to 60 feet high, in a N.W. direction to the sea. The stream is rather rapid, average breadth 25 feet, except at its mouth, where it spreads out, and is only a foot and a half deep.

Besides this ford Mr. Bayley, a Tataraimaka settler, gave information of another 600 yards up the river, and giving easy access to the left bank.

About 600 yards from the upper ford, and S.E. of it, the Maoris had thrown up a palisaded earthwork or pah; this marked the right of his position, whilst his left rested on the flax bushes and the road near the beach.

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To attack this position the general ordered the following disposition of the force to be made. The demi-battery, Royal Artillery, under Captain Mercer (three Armstrong guns) moved along the right (or north bank) of the Katikara river about 500 yards, and unlimbered close to its edge; the 57th Regiment, under Colonel Warre, took up a position in support of the guns and to their left. The guns were to shell the gullies, rifle-pits, and surface of the ground on the opposite bank and plateau, so as to drive the enemy from his cover, and were also to play on the enemy's redoubt above alluded to, and which appeared to be his strongest point.

Under this fire, combined with that of H.M.S. "Eclipse," on board of which was his Excellency the Governor (well acquainted with Maori warfare in 1846), the 57th Regiment was to cross the stream at the upper ford, there two and a half feet deep, and on descending the bank throw out skirmishers to the front; one division to wheel to the right, sweep the plateau towards the sea, clearing the enemy's rifle-pits at the page 32point of the bayonet, and turn up from the bend of the road towards the pah: another division was to show front towards the pah, with a view of checking any movement from that direction, after which the redoubt was to be carried by assault, and an attack was also to be made on a Kainga or native village, Tiki-tiki-papa, one mile to the south.

All these arrangements were carried out in a way that left nothing to be desired.

At a preconcerted signal the heavy guns of H.M.S. "Eclipse" threw their shells (100-pounder Armstrong and 8-inch) with good effect into the enemy's position. The 57th advanced under Colonel Warre, C.B., in admirable style, under the accurate fire of Mercer's Armstrongs, their right being covered by skirmishers of the 70th Regiment along the right bank of the river; the 57th ascended the plateau, when they came on a sharp musketry fire from the thick fern and from the rifle-pits of the enemy, whom however they soon drove in confusion before them.

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The leading division, conducted by Colonel Warre, C.B., consisted of volunteers under Lieutenants Brutton, Waller, and Ensign Duncan; Brevet Lieut.-Colonel Logan commanded the supports.

While these movements were in progress, the 70th and detachment of the 65th Regiments were in reserve in rear of the St. George's Redoubt (which was near the beach, and 280 yards north of the mouth of the river), and were ready to move to any point at which they might be required.

As soon as the General perceived that the 57th Regiment were carrying everything before them towards the road and the sea, he led the reserve rapidly across the river's mouth, and ascended to the table-land without opposition; the enemy, having thrown up a mound, with a light palisading, had already fled with precipitation from that point. On reaching the high ground, the musketry and cheering announced that the 57th were assaulting the pah.

Lieutenants Brutton and Waller had wheeled page 34their parties to the right, extended, and turned the rifle-pits towards the sea so as to free the lower ford; they followed the enemy about a mile, inflicting loss on him, and burning the wharrés or huts of the kainga or village.

Meanwhile Ensign Duncan had wheeled his party to the left, and, supported by the main body under Colonel Logan, pushed on towards the pah, strongly entrenched. The 57th were received by a heavy fire from the rifle-pits round the pah, but nothing daunted by the serious opposition and heavy fire of the enemy, Ensign Duncan pushed steadily forward, closely followed by the divisions under Captains Shortt and Rupell, under the immediate command of Colonel Logan, and supported by Captain Woodall and Lieutenant Thompson with the two remaining divisions.

In a few minutes the fire was returned, but finding it of no avail against an almost invisible foe concealed in rifle-pits, the whole rushed forward with the bayonet, and vied with each other in entering the position. Jumping over page 35the rifle-pits, from which they met with a most determined opposition, the Maories fighting desperately to the last, a hand-to-hand combat ensued, which was terminated by the wharrés catching fire, and burning many of the defenders in the ruins. Ensign Duncan and Captain Shortt were the first to jump into the Maori redoubt, followed by Privates I. Donaghy and B. Stagpool, and the other officers and men. The Maoris stood on the parapet to receive the stormers, and were there bayoneted by the men.

Twenty-one Maoris were taken out of the rifle-pits killed, and seven were burnt in the wharres, and many wounded were seen to escape into the bush, after fighting with great bravery.

The loss to the troops in this very dashing and well-arranged conflict, was three men killed and eight wounded.

The General was an eye-witness to the rapid and regular manner in which each party performed the duties allotted to it. Of the personal page 36staff who on this occasion, and in previous arrangements, were of the greatest assistance, there were Lieut.-Colonel Gamble, Deputy Quartermaster-General, Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals Mouat, C.B., Lieut.-Colonel Hutchings, acting military secretary, Major M'Neil, A.D.C., Brevet-Major Paul, Brigade-Major, Captain Gorton, 57th Regiment, extra A.D.C. Colonel Whitmore, late military secretary, now settled in New Zealand, was also present on this occasion.

Colonel Warre thanked Lieutenant and Adjutant Clarke for his zeal and energy, Ensign Mace of the Taranaki Militia, Mr. R. Parris, assistant native secretary, Quartermaster Martindale, Sergeant Cleary, and nine volunteers of the 70th Regiment.

The wounded were taken on board the "Eclipse" for New Plymouth, to which the Lieutenant-General and staff, with 150 of the troops, returned by the same opportunity, and disembarked at 1 o'clock p.m. The remainder of the troops marched back from Tataraimaka to page 37their respective posts, the New Plymouth portion arriving at their destination about 5 p.m., having within the twenty previous hours marched thirty miles, taken part in an action with the enemy, and twice forded four rivers by the way.

The whole force was in high spirits, marched splendidly to a man, and behaved throughout with the characteristic bearing of the British army.

Since the action at the Katikara, the southern natives, Taranakis and Ngateruanuis, were much disheartened with their defeat. Two principal chiefs fell that day, and the son of one of them afterwards tried to rally his father's followers round him.

They began to strengthen a position on the Kaitaki ranges, two miles from the sea, and midway between New Plymouth and Tataraimaka, with long rows of palisading, and flanked at intervals, besides a square pah or redoubt which commanded the approach.

The inhabitants of Taranaki province in the vicinity of New Plymouth were now obliged to page 38come into town for safety, and the cattle were guarded at the pastures.

Colonel Gamble, accompanied by Captain Mercer, R.A., and directed by the Lieutenant-General, made a reconnaissance on the north bank of the Oakura river to select the most favourable position for shelling the enemy on the Kaitaki ranges. The natives yelled at the party from the south side of the Oakura river.

It was now found that the enterprising enemy, finding that their rifle-pits had been jumped over, covered them with a line of palisading, a space being left between the bottom of the palisades and the ground (except at intervals) to admit of the men firing on the ground level, after the usual way of defending pahs.

The weather being now very bad in the New Zealand winter, the shelling was deferred, and the General proceeded to Auckland to confer with his Excellency the Governor.

A letter came into New Plymouth from page 39Hapurona,* the fighting chief of the last war (of whom I made a sketch), challenging the troops to come out and fight "by the light of the sun."

By direction of the Lieutenant-General, Colonel Gamble now embarked in the "Eclipse" with 300 men, detachments of the 40th, 65th, and 70th Regiments, and proceeded to Auckland; the head-quarters of the 18th Royal Irish now arrived—a very timely aid at this particular crisis, when trouble was expected in the Waikato. Colonel Warre remained at Taranaki as colonel on the staff, with 1500 men of the 65th and 70th Regiments and the militia.

The Waikato country—the expected scene of active operations—would combine the advantages of river communication with the benefit of a good road, at which the writer had lively recollections of labour for months when in command of the troops of the outposts of the Waikato.

Military telegraphs had also been judiciously established from Auckland in the direction of the Waikato.

* Absalom.