Bush Fighting. Illustrated by remarkable actions and incidents of the Maori war in New Zealand.
March on Paparoa and Paparata—The New Zealand Bush—Cleared along the Great South Road—A party of woodcutters surprised, and lose their rifles—Ensign Dawson's skirmish—The enemy takes up a strong position and fortifies it at Meri-meri—The chief Wuremu Tamehana—The enemy's position reconnoitred—The Maoris attack and plunder the Cameron post—Captain Swift's party—Engages the enemy—Captain Swift killed and Lieut. Butler wounded—Gallant and skilful conduct of Colour-Serjeant McKenna—Non-commissioned officers and soldiers who distinguished themselves—Forest Rangers engaged—Major Lyons and Captain Inman's parties engage natives plundering the settlers.
* Broad plains.
† Rata, covered ground.
G.R. Greaves. Edwd Weller, Litho. Red Lion Square. Published by Sampran Low Marston, Low & Searle, Crown Buildings 188 Fleet Street London
The bush of New Zealand is wonderfully dense and entangled. A European going into it about twenty yards, and turning round three times, is quite at a loss to find his way out again, unless he is somewhat of an Indian pathfinder, and can judge of the points of the compass by the bark of the trees, the sun, &c. Trying to run through the bush, one is tripped up by the supplejack and other creepers. "Why don't they follow the enemy through the bush?" cries some one from an easy-chair at home. Well, the troops always did their best, at much damage sometimes to their shirts, trousers, and skins. It was not page 60the custom here, as we used to do at the Cape of Good Hope, to wear leather trousers, commonly called "crackers"—a great protection against thorns, but, as I said, unsuited for moist climates.
The Hunua forest, between Drury and the Waikato, is a particularly dense "bush;" and after what had happened to Captain Ring's party, on the representation of General Cameron, the Colonial Government had taken steps for clearing the thick bush skirting the road between Drury and the Queen's Redoubt, and the work was commenced by contract. The principle followed at first was, by way of experiment, to clear the undergrowth of thick stuff and saplings, with a view of burning them after a few weeks, in piles, round the large forest trees, which were left standing to be killed by the effect of the fire.
It was believed that, while the labour of clearing would thus be materially lessened, the enemy would be deprived of thick cover, while, should he attempt to avail himself of that page 61offered by the standing trees, there would be avenues made for following him. On the other hand, the large trees, if felled, would still afford cover for the enemy's ambuscades, and be, in the first instance, a serious obstacle to the troops in attempting to follow him.
On service, we all know that when a judicious order is given it should be most carefully obeyed. Thus General Cameron had directed that all working parties should have a covering party for protection near them; but on August the 25th this precaution was not taken by a party of one sergeant and twenty-five men of the 40th Regiment, who were employed as bush cutters on the Great South Road, and were at work about half a mile from a similar party of the 65th Regiment.
The men had piled their arms at the edge of the bush near the road under the charge of a single sentry; the enemy came stealthily through the bush and partial clearing overgrown with fern, at the opposite side of the road, drove in three or four civilian bushmen, page 62and before the party of the 40th had time to stand to their arms, they rushed (after receiving the fire of the sentry) and seized the whole of the rifles, with the exception of three stand.
While the men were running to fall in, two were shot dead, and the remainder, seeing the arms lost, and that the enemy were getting round them, fell back into the bush.
Fortunately at this moment the advance guard of the regular convoy coming from Drury appeared in sight, and they, with the escort under Captain Cook, 40th Regiment, engaged the enemy, who, it proved, from the extent of the fire, systematically occupied the line of road in force. A sharp skirmish ensued, which lasted more than an hour, the troops being chiefly in skirmishing order along the road, and under the cover afforded by a cutting. The enemy numbered about 160 or 200; one of them was killed, and his body found; five or six others were seen to fall, but were removed. A man of the 18th Regiment was wounded.
The officers, who did good service on this page 63occasion under Captain Cook, were Captain Ord, 65th Regiment, Captain Bishop, 18th Regiment, Lieutenant Warren, 65th, Lieutenant Thacker, 18th, Lieutenant Clark, Madras Cavalry (a volunteer attached to the Transport Corps), Lieutenant Pagan, 65th, and Ensign Haines, 18th. All the officers and men behaved extremely well.
The enemy had evidently laid his plans for some time, and came solely with a view of securing the arms. Colonel Gamble visited the scene of attack the next day, and arranged with the contractors that the whole of the axe-men, soldiers and civilians, should work together, and be protected by a covering party of forty men, to be furnished from the two nearest military posts.
* Placid river.
Single natives used to pay the troops daily visits at Whangamarino in the most daring manner—to have a shot at the sentries. One night the camp was alarmed By a sentry of the 12th Regiment, who had been attacked by a Maori on his post, and who attempted to seize the sentry's rifle with one hand and to tomahawk him with the other; he cut off the sentry's thumb, but did not get his rifle, and escaped uninjured into the forest.
About this time an Englishman made his escape from the Maoris by swimming the Waikato river. He had been in the Bengal Artillery; he was up the country when the war broke out, and was detained by the natives page 65and forced to teach them how to load and fire the ship guns they had in position at Meri-meri. To imitate the Pakeha, they used to fire off a gun at tattoo, and call "All's well," and made a horn of native flax to imitate the bugle-calls.
One day several large canoes were seen coming down the river from Meri-meri with a white flag flying. On being detained at Colonel Austen's post, they were found to contain a large quantity of potatoes and several milch goats, as a present for General Cameron and his soldiers, as the chiefs at Meri-meri had heard that the General and his troops were short of provisions, and in obedience to the Scriptural injunction, "If thine enemy hunger, give him meat; if he thirst, give him drink." So the chiefs had sent their presents.
* Bad night.
Captain the Hon. F. L. P. Trench, 40th Regiment, being ordered to move the inlying page 67picket to the support of the picket at Pokino village, when within half a mile of it he found the patrol under Ensign Dawson engaged with the enemy, who were firing from behind fallen timber. Captain Trench immediately reinforced the skirmishers, who advanced, drove the Maoris from the clearing and out of the village into the bush, Captain Noblett, 18th, joining in this affair. In scouring the bush two flint guns and some ammunition were picked up.
Besides Ensign Dawson, who had behaved in a most spirited manner before very superior numbers of the enemy, the names of Ensign Spiller, 65th, Ensign Gomez, 40 th, and Lieutenant Croft, 18th, were brought to the notice of the General for zealous services.
A greater clearing than was at first intended was made along the Great South Road; all trees exceeding two and a half feet in diameter were cut down, and, with the assistance of 100 Nova Scotians, and some German colonists, a breadth was cleared of 220 yards on each side of this important road, so that a passage could page 68be found for a horse through the remaining stumps and unconsumed logs.
There had been repeated reports of the intention of the enemy to return to the fightingground at Koheroa, but instead of that they took up a strong position higher up the Waikato, at Meri-meri native settlement. From the numbers observed to be engaged in the works there, and their industry in executing them, a determined resistance was evidently intended.
The general position of the enemy was on a high commanding slope on the right bank, looking directly over a reach of the Waikato. On this slope they had made a continuous double line of rifle-pits, running immediately across the track leading from the north to Meri-meri. This track has the great swamp of the Whangamarino, or Mara-marua river, on its left going south; after the swamp the track passes through a thick bush of Ti-tree, &c.
Low down, and near the water level, and in front of their main line of rifle-pits, they had page 69cleared a large space of Ti-tree and scrub, and thrown up an earthwork as a position for two ships' guns, which they had had for years in their possession.
The difficulty of carrying the position by assault could only be lessened by a covering artillery fire; and so four cargo-boats were purchased at Auckland, fitted for the reception of Armstrong guns with their carriages, so as to form floating batteries, and at the same time to transport the guns in a state ready for landing at any point.
* He was called the king-maker, for, to unite the tribes against the Pakeha (or white men) he had instituted a Maori king.
The 14th Regiment's head-quarters had been advanced to the mouth of the Whangamarino, and occupied a new stockade there.
On the Waikato were two friendly chiefs, Kukutai and Te Wheoro, and provisions were brought up the Waikato in canoes manned by friendly natives. At a post called "Cameron" commissariat supplies had been stored under the protection of Kukutai's people—en route to the Mangatawhiri for the Queen's Redoubt. The hostile natives, with a force of 200 men, attacked Cameron on the 7th of September, took the place from Kukutai's people, and destroyed the commissariat supplies, consisting principally of bran, oats, and maize, and set fire to the pah.page 71
Mr. Armytage, a district magistrate employed under the Native department of the Government, resided at Cameron in charge of the arrangements for canoe transport, had just reached the place before the attack, and was killed by the enemy.
The attack having been observed from the post at Tuakau, about seven miles higher up the Waikato, Captain Swift, 65th Regiment, commanding there, immediately started with one officer and fifty men in support of the friendly pah.
The route lay over a very difficult and circuitous bush track of about eight miles inland from the river. On coming near the place Maoris were heard through the thick bush speaking, and were at first believed to be approaching the party, who prepared to receive them. The enemy, however, not having come towards them, Colour-Sergeant McKenna volunteered to act as scout, and went forward alone to gain intelligence, and heard the Maoris conversing, and believed from their tone and manner thatthey were partly intoxicated.page 72
Captain Swift then directed the men to fix bayonets and charge into an open space, where the enemy were really on the qui vive, and awaiting them. As our men, led by their officers, came to the clearing, they received a close volley in front, and on the left flank; Captain Swift fell mortally wounded, but directed Lieutenant Butler, the only other officer, to charge the enemy. As this officer was leading the men on, he, too, received a severe wound across the abdomen, after which he shot two Maories with his revolver. Colour-Sergeant McKenna then assumed the command of the party, which he handled, as Lieutenant Butler stated, with admirable coolness and skill.
It should be stated that while Captain Swift was moving to the post, his advance guard of twelve men missed the track, and in consequence of the density of the bush got separated from the main body, which they were never again able to rejoin, although they too were, during a part of the time, engaged with the enemy. Thus the party who met the first and most fatal page 73fire of the enemy only numbered thirty-eight; these were further reduced by the number bearing the wounded to about thirty, and yet this handful of men, after both their officers were suddenly struck down, gallantly held their own in the presence of 200 of the enemy, who did not attempt to pursue them.
Captain Swift, before he left his post, had judiciously sent a report to head-quarters at the Queen's Redoubt, that he was about to start for the relief of Cameron, when the General at once decided on despatching from the Queen's Redoubt 150 men of the 65th, under Colonel Murray, in support.
When Captain Swift fell mortally wounded, after speaking a few words to Sergeant McKenna, he handed him his revolver, and told him to lead on the men after the fall of Lieutenant Butler. The sergeant and his men now charged the enemy furiously to revenge the fall of their officers. Men in charge of Captain Swift and Lieutenant Butler were sent to the rear, and the body of a slain soldier was covered and con-page 74cealed with fern. The sergeant being on an open clearing, and greatly outnumbered, determined to hold his own till dark, hoping that the men in charge of Captain Swift and Lieutenant Butler, with two wounded men, would get well to the rear, and would be joined by the advance guard.
About 6 o'clock the enemy had worked round to the rear of the party, and thus cut off their retreat by the way they came. The sergeant immediately ordered a charge, and was met by a volley, which killed one and wounded three men. He now determined to retreat down the hill, which was covered with fern, and, sending on the wounded, he threw out a line of skirmishers, with the order, "Fire, and retire."
In this way they retreated down the hill in a steady, orderly manner, the natives coming out of the bush and firing at the party, but without effect on the men in motion. At this time it was near dark, and scrambling through the bush they lost the track, when the sergeant, calling his men about him, told them he should stay page 75where he was until morning, and ordered that not a word should be spoken nor a pipe be lighted.
It was now found that four of the men were missing, but it was hoped they would turn up from the bush before morning. About five next morning the sergeant tried to regain the track out of the bush, and succeeded, and at 8 o'clock they were met half-way from Tuakau by Colonel Murray and his party, and regained the camp at 11 a.m. completely exhausted.
Acts of daring and gallantry like the above are sure to be appreciated, and deserve especial record; and Colonel Wyatt, C.B., recommended to General Cameron Colour-Sergeant McKenna for some special mark of approval on the part of Her Majesty, who, after both his officers had been shot, charged through an enemy heavily outnumbering him, and drew off his party through a broken and rugged country with small loss.*
* * He was most deservedly rewarded with a commission and the Victoria Cross.
The casualties in this affair were one officer (Captain Swift) and three men killed, Lieutenant Butler and four men wounded. Captain Swift was one of the best officers in the 65th; and Lieutenant Butler, in the previous Maori war, had always proved himself to be a valuable officer.
Lance-Corporal Ryan and privates Bulford and Talbot removed their dying captain from the field of action, and remained with the body all night in a bush surrounded by the enemy. Privates Thomas and Cole remained all night in the fern with Lieutenant Butler, and carried him in their arms in the morning towards the camp of the 65th, until assisted by Colonel Murray's party.
Drummer Welsh deserves especial notice, who, when private Grace was killed, picked up his rifle, and emptied his pouch of ammunition and copper caps, under a galling fire, and thus prevented the enemy obtaining that trophy.
Sergeants Bracegurdle and Meara did good service during this desperate affair. As to the enemy's loss, Colour-Sergeant McKenna stated page 77he believed between twenty and thirty of the enemy fell, killed or wounded; seven he saw shot dead, and dragged into the bush.
After I had the honour of being directed by H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge to raise the 2nd Battalion, 14th Regiment, in a private conversation with that noble officer—the late FieldMarshal Lord Seaton, in Dublin—he said, "We cannot too highly esteem that valuable body of men—the non-commissioned officers of the British army." And thus, as an old soldier, I take pleasure in recording their gallant conduct at all times, as well as that of the brave private sentinel.
On the same day with the above (7th September), a skirmish took place between a party of natives and thirty men of the Forest Rangers (a body of settlers) under Lieutenant Jackson, near Pukekohe, five miles from Drury, and two miles west of the Great South Road; the natives were repulsed with loss, and a Ranger was wounded. The natives also fired on the 65th's post at Razorback Hill.page 78
On the 9th September, Captain Greaves guided a party of the 40th Regiment, under Major Blyth, from the Queen's Redoubt, through the bush to Tuakau; and another party of the 65th, under Lieutenant Warren, to search for missing soldiers of the 65th, of Captain Swift's party; and near Cameron they found the body of private Grace, covered with fern, with a gunshot wound in the face, and a cut from a tomahawk in the chin. The pah was deserted and the huts gutted, and the stores and forage scattered about. One of the missing soldiers paddled himself up to Tuakau in a canoe.
A party of the 18th Royal Irish, under command of Major Lyon, late 92nd Highlanders, also Militia Volunteers, Auckland and Waeroa Rifles, were actively engaged against parties of Maoris attacking and plundering settlers' houses.
Major Lyon was ably supported by Lieutenant Rupell, 18th, Lieutenant Jones, Militia Volunteers, Ensign Tole, A.R.V., and Mr. McDonald, native interpreter, Lieutenant State and Ensign Johnson, Waeroa Rifles, and Quartermaster-page 79Sergeant Davies, 3rd Battalion Auckland Militia.
Lieutenant-Colonel Chapman, 18th Royal Irish, commanding at Drury, received a report from a Militia officer, Captain Moir, that his drays conveying stores had broken down at a bad part of the road not far from Pukekohe, and that firing was heard towards the stockade there. Captain Inman in command of a party immediately hastened towards the stockade, and found the enemy surrounding and firing into it; a sharp skirmish of an hour ensued, when the enemy withdrew, firing and shouting, leaving twelve men killed. The loss of the troops was three men killed, and Captain Saltmarshe, 70th, and six men, wounded.