Bush Fighting. Illustrated by remarkable actions and incidents of the Maori war in New Zealand.
Apprehensions of an attack on Auckland—Preparations for carrying the war into the enemy's country—Disaffected natives near the settlements—Murder of settlers—Boats built for the Waikato—Colonel Wyatt's march to Tuakau Conversation with a Maori chief—The natives entrench themselves in defiance of the troops—Lieut.-Colonel Austen (14th Regt.) turns out his command and engages the enemy on the heights of Koheroa—General Cameron gallantly leads on to the rifle-pits—Difficult ground—The enemy defeated Their loss—Their arms—Captain Ring's convoy attacked in the bush near Drury—Eepulsed—Captain Ring attacks the enemy at Kiri-kiri—Reinforced by Colonel Wyatt—Account of him—Valuable services of the Navy—The "Avon" steamer on the "Waikato.
D.J. Gamble. Edwd Weller, Eitho. Red Lion Square.
Published by Sampran Low Marston, Low & Searle, Crown Buildings 188 Fleet [unclear: Str] London
Reinforcements were expected from Australia in July.
Whilst preparations were being made for the expedition up the Waikato, information that the natives were about to rise and murder the out-settlers reached Sir George Grey, from so many quarters, that he considered it necessary that steps should be taken, without delay, to remove all disaffected natives from the vicinity of the European territory.
With this view, on the 9th of July, General page 42Cameron assembled a considerable force at Drury; while magistrates were sent round to the native villages with instructions to all of the inhabitants either to take the oath of allegiance, or to remove into the interior of the country. All refused the oath of allegiance (it was hardly expected they would take it), some deserted their villages, others had to be expelled by the troops, and the greater part, instead of removing into the interior, retreated into the bush between Drury and the Waikato, from which, on account of its extent and density, it was difficult to expel them.
They murdered and plundered several harmless settlers living near the bush. Among those who suffered for remaining on their farms was Mr. Meredith and his son, who, while working in the field, were tomahawked within a mile of Drury; near the same place Fahey, an old soldier of the 58th Regiment, and his wife, were murdered in the same manner. He was a true specimen of the military settler, and had made his homestead a perfect little Paradise, and, page 43true to his military instincts, was ready to defend it against all comers.
The General established strong posts along the line of communication, and on the 12th of July he crossed, without opposition, the Mangatawhiri, and occupied the high ground beyond it with 400 men, an important position on the Koheroa range, to command the navigation of the Waikato river. The General also, with the assistance of Captain Sullivan commanding H.M.S. "Harrier," had boats built for the transport of provisions and stores up the Waikato, and it was also intended to bring a small steamer up the river to facilitate the operations in a district where they could look for no native supplies.
On the 12th of July 300 men of the 65th Regiment, under the command of Colonel Wyatt, C.B., marched from Drury, conducted by Captain Greaves, Deputy Assistant Quartermaster- General by a bush track towards Tuakau, a native village on the right bank of the Waikato, eight miles below the Bluff page 44Stockade, near the mouth of the Mangatawhiri. The natives of Tuakau were disaffected, and a fort was established on high ground to command the passage of the river.
When the 2nd battalion of the 14th Regiment had the honour of being at the advanced outposts of the Waikato, near the Mangatawhiri river, with other troops under my command in 1862, a chief with whom I had friendly intercourse had told me "there is a Totara tree at the Mangatawhiri, which, if you cut it down, and make it a bridge and cross Hoeahs (soldiers) on it to Maori land there will be war; if it is not cut down there will be peace." I said there was no intention of cutting it down, and I hoped that peace would continue.
The Waikatos having been active in hostility in the Taranaki, and also dangerous neighbours to the settlers near their own country, it had been resolved, as I stated, to move into the Waikato country. This intention seemed to be well known to the Maoris, for on the 12th of July a large number of natives were observed page 45from the 14th camp (which had now been formed on a commanding position east of the Mangatawhiri) to be entrenching themselves on the heights of Koheroa on the east side of the Mangatawhiri, apparently with the intention of obstructing a further advance up the Waikato.
Lieut.-Colonel Austen, 14th Regiment, an active and zealous officer, and much esteemed,* who was commanding on the spot, immediately called in all his working parties engaged on the South Road, &c, got his battalion under arms, and moved in skirmishing order against the enemy, followed by the detachments of the 12th and 70th Regiments, which were at the time arriving at the camp, as a reinforcement. The strength of the force was thus 553 officers and men.
Lieut.-Colonel Gamble, Deputy Quartermaster- General, who happened to be present superintending the encampment of the 12th and 70th Regiments, sent immediately a report of page 46what was occurring to General Cameron, who at once hastened across the Mangatawhiri, and overtook the troops during their advance.
When the troops came within musket shot of the enemy, he opened a sharp fire, to which the 14th skirmishers replied with such effect that the Maoris were soon compelled to retire, which they did slowly and without precipitation.
The advance was along a narrow track, which followed the curvature of open, tortuous fern ridges, the sides of which, in many places precipitous, fell into swamp. The tops of the ridges occasionally expanded into small tablelands of 100 and 200 yards in width, and again contracted into narrow necks and spurs, the whole forming a semicircle in front of the encampment.
The ground over which the enemy retired was thus most favourable for defence, as the only road by which the troops could advance against him led for about five miles over these very narrow fern ridges, the sides of which were too precipitous to admit of turning the page 47enemy's position by a flank movement; and at several well-selected points, completely commanding the narrow tracks over which the troops were compelled to move to the attack, he had constructed lines of rifle-pits.
The strength of the enemy was estimated at about 400.
The rifle - pits were defended with great obstinacy, and as there was no artillery in the field, the enemy could only be dislodged with the bayonet, which was done with great gallantry by the young soldiers of the 14th Regiment, led by their commanding officer Colonel Austen, who received a severe wound in the arm during the action.
On coming within range, Captain Strange, 14th Regiment, with his company ran rapidly forward and occupied a ridge on the right of the enemy's retreat, the latter halting immediately under cover of the crest, and opening a sharp fire across the intervening gully on the skirmishers, who rapidly replied.
The main body followed the line of the page 48enemy's retreat, and on reaching a small knoll within 100 yards of the second line of rifle-pits, was received by a rattling volley, which by its suddenness and severity for a moment checked the young battalion. The enemy here stood well, and kept up a heavy fire, but the General, galloping to the front, gave the word to charge, and led on, cap in hand. The men, led by their officers, gallantly dashed on, and drove the enemy in confusion before them.
As the troops advanced the Maoris, running in dismay to the nearest cover, sprang into a ravine to their right. At this juncture the troops, having formed round the semicircle of high ground which embraced the ravine, poured in a murderous converging fire on the enemy, as he fled through the bottom of it.
Many of them here fell, others again keeping on the high ground retreated to a further ridge, where they again opened fire on the advancing force. The troops again drove them from their vantage-ground, and at length, broken and disheartened, they fled to the Mara-marua, a tributary page 49of the Waikato, which some crossed in canoes and others by swimming.
The engagement at Koheroa commenced at 11, and ended at 1 o'clock. The enemy, in point of ground and knowledge of it, had every advantage, of which he availed himself with remarkable intelligence and dexterity; and it was a matter of congratulation that, for the first time in the annals of New Zealand warfare, he was defeated in fair combat on open ground without artillery, to the presence of which alone in former wars he attributed the British superiority.
It seems singular that the Maoris, with all their native pluck and activity, had not provided themselves with bayonets or substitutes for them for close combat. It is true they had the flat mere of stone or whale blade-bone and tomahawks, but no swords or bayonets for a charge, or to give confidence after a discharge of fire-arms.
The enemy's loss, always difficult to ascertain with certainty, could not have been less than page 50thirty or forty killed, besides wounded, of whom he subsequently acknowledged to have had a very heavy list.
Immediately after the action twenty bodies were counted, more were found next day, and there were marks of others having been meanwhile removed. The casualties of the troops were two men killed, one officer (Lieut.-Colonel Austen) and ten men wounded. The enemy threw away their arms, ammunition, food, and clothing to facilitate their escape: this is not unusual in defeats generally. In each of their haversacks or bags was found a three days' supply of damper (flour cakes), and one of the gospels or a Church of England prayer-book in the Maori language, showing that they had once been under the influence of Bishop Selwyn. The slain Maoris were all very fine-looking men, whom one could not help regretting. They seemed Waikato rangatera, or gentlemen.
General Cameron spoke highly of the conduct of the officers and men engaged at Koheroa, and of the able manner in which the troops were page 51led by their commanding officers, viz.: Lieut.- Colonel Austen, 14th, Major Byan, 70th, and Major Miller, 12th. Among the officers who had the good fortune to have the opportunity of distinguishing themselves by conspicuous forwardness in the attack were Captain Strange, 14th. (afterwards a Major), who did good service with the advanced skirmishers; Captain Phelps, who led his company to the charge; Lieutenants Armstrong, Glancy, and Ensign Green, 14th. Surgeon-Major Carte, M.B., 2–14th, attended to the wounded under fire, and obtained the C.B. Colonel Mould, C.B., R.E., was also present, and Colonel Gambier, Major M'Neil, A.D.C., and Lieutenant St. Hill, extra A.D.C., actively assisted on the staff of the General.
It was suggested about this time that a European regiment, or a regiment of Sikhs, should be sent from India to reinforce the troops in New Zealand, but this was not carried into effect.
A convoy and escort returning from the page 52Queen's Redoubt, Waikato river, to Drury, under Captain Ring of the 18th Regiment, was attacked on the 17th of July by a party of natives in ambush, at a place called, during the road-making operations of 1862, the "Stone Depot," about four miles from Drury.
The enemy, three times the strength of the escort, as was afterwards ascertained, had taken post in the dense bush, which came up close to both sides of the road, and after the head of the convoy had passed, fired a volley into the centre of it from their concealment.
The horses of one of the carts fell, and the cart to which they were harnessed thus blocking up the road-way, divided the party. The Maoris rushed on the road, and attempted to overcome each party in detail. Captain Ring having withdrawn his men a short distance, charged the enemy with the bayonet, and drove him into the bush.
Finally, the enemy attempted to surround Captain Ring's party, of one subaltern, two sergeants, and forty-seven rank and file, and page 53obliged him to retire to Martin the settler's house, which he occupied until reinforced—-the casualties amounted to four privates killed, and ten officers and men wounded,
The conduct of Ensign Bricknell and that of the men was admirable, under most trying circumstances.
Again on the 22nd July, Captain Ring, at his camp near Kiri-kiri, hearing that two settlers had been fired on by a party of natives, and that one of the settlers was killed, and hearing firing at about two miles from his camp, proceeded there with about 100 men of his detachment and fell in with natives, who were engaged with sixteen volunteers. Fire was opened, and the natives retreated for a time, but rallying, were surrounding the detachment, which lost a man, the natives securing his rifle and bayonet. Captain Ring, knowing that the 65th were not far off, sent an artillery officer, Veterinary Surgeon Anderson, who gallantly vounteered his services, to render assistance, by bringing up a party by a track in the enemy's page 54rear. Colonel Wyatt immediately got a party under arms, and proceeded to where he heard the firing and shouting, and at a turn of the path he suddenly came upon the combatants, the 18th men on an entrenched knoll, and the natives on level ground, but pressing them hard on three sides. The regimental call of the 65th and the "fire" was now sounded by Lieutenant Pennefather, which was answered by the 18th with a loud cheer. A rapid and continuous fire was now opened on the natives, ensconced in the gullies and sheltered by trees, from the fire of the 18th.
The Maories thus being taken by surprise from this timely succour to the 18th, after a smart action of ten minutes, fled toward the dense bush, and darkness now set in, but not before several natives had been seen to fall. The casualties among the troops amounted to one man of the 18th killed and four wounded, one 65th killed.
The officers and men under the trying circumstances to which they were exposed behaved page 55admirably, including a detachment of Auckland Militia.
The officers named as having distinguished themselves at this skirmish at Kiri-kiri, were Lieutenant Wrey and Ensigns Jackson and Butts, 18th Royal Irish, Lieutenant Rait, R.A., Captain Gresson, Lieutenant and Adjutant Lewis, and Lieutenant Pennefather of the 65th, and Ensign J. B. Hayes, Auckland Militia.
Colonel Wyatt, now deceased, was a rough and ready soldier, and had been in the Royal Navy, and was always "full of fight," and enjoyed the excitement of it—just the man for a bush campaign—and liked also to sing a song, and join in a glass of grog, "merry in camp" after a day's work,—
"When at night with victory crowned,
Around the fires upon the battle ground
Released from fighting, then we sink to rest;
The ground our bed, tho' hard, it is the best
That we can get.
We laugh and sing, tho' ready are for duty,
Smoke our cigar, and dream of home and beauty.
O vive l'amour, cigars and cognac,' &c.
The Royal Navy now came into play with excellent effect, as they had done, as I related in the campaign of 1860-61, always ready to drag guns into position, to fire them, and engage at close quarters with pistol and cutlass. In the old Burman war of 1825-26, none so active, as we recollect, over the stockades as the bluejackets, and here too at the Maori pahs.
The success of the troops in 1863 in New Zealand was owing in a great measure to the valuable assistance rendered by Captain Sullivan, senior naval officer, and the officers and men under his command. A large party of seamen and marines of H.M.S. "Harrier" encamped on the bank of the Mangatawhiri river since the 11th of July, and their services were of the greatest advantage to the land force, all the boats employed in conveying troops and supplies across to the Koheroa having been entirely manned by them.
At the request of General Cameron Captain Sullivan superintended the construction of six large flat-bottomed boats, especially adapted for page 57the transport of troops up the Waikato. Two of these were brought overland from Auckland, a distance of thirty-five miles, to the Mangata-whiri, where they were extremely useful.
Without the aid of such boats operations up the Waikato could not have been carried on, as there was no road on either bank of the river.
The small colonial steamer "Avon" was brought into the Waikato from the Manukau harbour, West Coast, by Commander Mayne, H.M.S. "Eclipse," and was anchored off the Bluff Stockade at Havelock.
Captain Mayne derived great assistance from Captain Greaves, 70th Regiment, D. A. Quartermaster - General, a very zealous and intelligent officer, who had surveyed the lower part of the Waikato the previous summer, and now sounded ahead of the "Avon" and showed the channel.
The "Avon" could carry 200 men—her bulwarks were made bullet-proof and she was armed with a 12-pounder Armstrong gun.
* He succeeded me in command of the regiment.