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

Chapter V

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Chapter V.

The scene changes to Taranaki—Ambuscades planted by the troops—Skirmishes with the enemy—General Galloway—The Maoris advance to attack Poutoko—Major Butler and Captain Shortt engage the enemy—The wounded nobly assisted—Activity of the officers of the Rangers—A repulse in the province of Auckland of Lieut. Lusk's party—Expedition to the Thames, and its object—General Cameron reconnoitres the enemy's position at Meri-meri—The works there are abandoned and occupied by the troops.

The scene now changes for a time to Taranaki. Captain Russell, 57th, was in command of the party at Poutoko, and on advising with Mr. Carrington, of the Native department, it was determined to plant an ambuscade and surprise the natives near the post. Accordingly officers and men, to the number of ninety, went out on the 15th of September, and were placed under cover on both sides of the Wairao road. After waiting two hours, eight men of the enemy page 81came on within three yards of the party; they then detected a foot-print, carelessly left by one of the soldiers, and calling out to alarm their main body attempted to escape. On this the men immediately fired, and three natives fell, one apparently a chief of some note, as he carried a very handsome taiaha or carved spear (now in the Royal United Service Institution). The wounded Maoris staggered into the bush, and Captain Russell then skirmished with the main body of the natives, whom he drove back to a swamp; other natives, to the number of two or three hundred, coming down from the high ground, attempted to cut off the party from the redoubt, but the camp was regained without loss. The officers creditably assisting in this affair, were Lieutenant Manners and Ensign Powys, 57th, and Staff Assistant-Surgeon Tomlinson.

Colonel Warre, commanding the troops in the Taranaki district, reported on the 26th of September that the military and civil forces under his command inflicted a severe loss on the enemy.

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On the 24th of September it was reported that Mr. Clare, a settler at Bell Block, engaged in his ordinary pursuits on his own land, had been fired upon by natives, who were said to be encamped at a place called Ninia, a short distance over the boundary. Colonel Warre, being aware that a number of natives had lately arrived from the south at Mataitawa, it was thought probable they might wish to try their strength against the troops on this comparatively open ground. He accordingly directed Major Butler, 57th, to march at 3 a.m. on the 25th, with a party of 180 officers and men, on the road toward Mataitawa. Major Butler placed two-thirds of his men in ambush and held the others in support in the rear. A party of natives came along the road, and fire was opened upon them, and they were followed by skirmishers as far as the Waiongona river; the chief Enoka, Wuremu Kingi's brother, fell on this occasion, and three or four other natives. Captain Shortt, commanding a portion of the troops was favourably noticed; he had some diffi-page 83culty in restraining the impetuosity and eagerness of his men to pursue. The troops returned after a fatiguing march of twenty miles in heavy rain.

Colonel Galloway of the 70th, a very zealous and excellent old officer, being now promoted to Major-General, was applied for by General Cameron to be detained in the colony in command of 3000 men, militia and volunteers, in the province of Auckland. He had had the honour of drilling the Duke of Cambridge when he was a young officer.

On the 20th of October a force under the direction of Colonel Warre, C.B., engaged a large body of natives, who had assembled near Poutoko Redoubt, with the intention of attacking it, and after more than an hour and a half's sharp fighting compelled them to retreat with considerable loss. The action was characterised by the gallantry invariably displayed by the troops, and which resulted in liberating the neighbourhood of New Plymouth from the main body of the enemy, who retreated to their pahs, about fifteen miles further south.

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The Maoris, six or eight hundred strong, had advanced to attack Poutoko where Captain Wright, 70th Regiment, commanded, and large fires in various directions were evidently intended to divert attention from the real point of attack.

Major Butler, 57th, was ordered out to Poutoko with eighteen officers and 300 men to reinforce it. He found the Maoris advancing on it from the right and rear of the redoubt, and as the ground was tolerably open he advanced to meet them with about 100 men of the 57th and 70th Regiments.

Colonel Warre coming up, directed Captain Shortt to proceed towards Allan's Hill, and Captains Atkinson and Webster, of the Taranaki Rifles (most useful officers of Bushrangers), to continue the march towards Waireka gully.

Major Butler became engaged with a very superior number of the enemy, who had possession of the bush flanking the fields over which he had advanced. Ensign Powys, who commanded the advance guard, and four men, page 85were wounded; the enemy's fire was returned, and the men were kept under cover as much as possible, but being greatly outnumbered, they were directed to return steadily to the redoubt.

Captain Shortt now coming up, and attacking on the enemy's right flank, enabled Major Butler to recover his ground, and obliged the enemy to take refuge in the densely-wooded gullies, and from the high trees on the opposite banks they kept up an incessant fire.

Captain Shortt found himself opposed by a very large number of Maoris, who for a time disputed his passage across a narrow neck of land between two gullies, but with determined gallantry his party forced their way across the broken, half-cleared ground, and the arrival of the Volunteer Rifles, under Captains Atkinson and Webster, enabled the troops to become the assailants, and the Maoris were driven into the bush-covered gullies.

During the action, which lasted upwards of an hour, word was brought to Colonel Warre that two or three hundred Maoris had crossed page 86the Tupae river, and were advancing towards the redoubt, and firing from Evangi's pah; a shell from the howitzer in the redoubt dislodged them, and a subdivision under Lieutenant Mills prevented the enemy getting round the flank between the redoubt and the sea.

The Maoris, finding they could make no impression, gave vent to their rage by repeated volleys and frightful yells, after which they retired. The troops bivouacked on the ground in the afternoon, and then returned to New Plymouth, leaving a reinforcement of fifty men in the redoubt.

Besides Major Butler, who perseveringly strove to keep back the enemy, Lieutenant C.M. Clarke, Deputy Assistant Quartermaster- General, and Lieutenant Brutton, Garrison Adjutant, ably assisted Colonel Warre, as did also Acting Adjutant Thompson, 57th Regiment, Surgeon McKinnon, Captains Shortt, 57th, and Wright, 70th, Captains Atkinson and Webster, and Ensign Douglass. Especial notice of the General was requested to be directed to page 87the noble conduct of Ensign Down, 57th Regiment, and Drummer Dudley Stackpoole, who, while under heavy fire from natives not forty yards from them, brought away wounded men at the risk of their own lives, their efforts being ably seconded by Private Antonio Rodrigues, a mounted orderly of the Taranaki Militia, who carried two men off the field on his horse, and galloped through a party of natives to take orders to Captain Shortt. Captain Mace and the mounted orderlies generally were of good service in helping the wounded and distributing the ammunition.

The casualties in the action at Poutoko were one man killed and an officer (Ensign Powys) and seven men severely wounded.

In all weather and at all hours Captain Atkinson (the senior officer in command of the volunteers organised to patrol the Taranaki settlement) sought the enemy with his companies, and assisted by Captain Webster and the officers and men under their command, by constantly patrolling New Plymouth and the outskirts of page 88the settlement, kept the enemy in check, laying ambuscades and surprises, co-operating with the regular forces, and cheerfully endured fatigue in the performance of their important duties.

On the 23rd of October an unfortunate occurrence took place not far from Drury. Lieutenant Lusk, in command of the Mauku stockade, hearing that a party of the enemy were shooting cattle at Wheeler's farm at Ti-ti, started from his post with three officers and sixty men, Waikato militia, and Mauku volunteers. The advance party, under Lieutenant Percival, got close up to the enemy under cover of the bush; when discovered, they were hotly pressed by the enemy, and retired skirmishing in good order on the main body without loss. Lieutenant Lusk then advanced with Lieutenant Norman and eight men, and drove the enemy through a strip of fallen timber on to open ground beyond; the enemy then wheeled round on the left flank of Lieutenant Lusk into the standing forest, and being strongly reinforced there, Lieutenant Lusk retired his men. While recrossing the fallen page 89timber the enemy charged from the bush on the left, and after ten minutes' heavy firing within short range, both parties suffering severely, Lieutenant Lusk's party being now outflanked on both sides, he retired his men into the forest on the right, the Maoris not venturing to follow them. The men were then re-formed, and retired leisurely on the stockade.

The casualties were Lieutenants Percival and Norman, and five men killed, one man severely wounded, and one man missing. The officers fell fighting in front of their men. Sergeant Hill and Private Wheeler particularly distinguished themselves by their gallantry. The Maoris' loss was supposed to be sixteen killed, and a great number wounded.

Upon hearing the above, General Cameron immediately ordered Colonel Chapman, commanding at Drury, to despatch reinforcements under Lieutenant-Colonel Nixon, commanding Colonial Defence Force, and Major Ryan, 70th, to intercept and attack the enemy, but he had decamped from the neighbourhood. Colonel page 90Chapman had previously despatched a party of one officer and eighty men to assist Lieutenant Lusk, but he had incautiously engaged the enemy previously.

From this it will be noted that "sharp practice" was going on in the district of the Great South Road, and that all required to have "their loins girt and shoes on their feet," besides arms in their hands.

The 43rd Light Infantry, and 50th Regiment, and 68th Light Infantry were now ordered to New Zealand from the East, as it was evident reinforcements were urgently necessary.

In November a force of 800 men, regulars and militia, and fifty colonial cavalry, embarked at Auckland under the command of Colonel Carey, 18th Royal Irish, on board H.M.SS. "Miranda" and "Esk," and the colonial steamer "Korio," with instructions to land at Hauraki, on the coast of the Firth of the Thames, and to march from thence to Pukorokororo, a native settlement on the same coast. General Cameron had received information that many of the page 91marauding parties in the bush came from the Thames district, and that Pukorokororo was the point where they landed, and from whence they obtained supplies and reinforcements. Colonel Carey was therefore directed to take possession of the place, and seize all the canoes and provisions he could find, and establish a post there.

It was also intended to establish a line of posts between the Thames and the Waikato to shut out the natives, if possible, from the Auckland district, and reduce the number of posts there, and free the troops in them for operations in advance.

The disembarkation of the troops and horses was very efficiently effected by the Royal Navy under Captains Jenkins and Hamilton without loss or accident. Blue and red jackets worked most zealously together. The natives cleared out, leaving the fires burning in the wharres, with all the furniture, cooking utensils, &c. The Thames has since become famous as a rich gold region.

The steamer "Pioneer" having arrived at page 92Whangamarino from Sydney, also gun-boats, the "Pioneer" was cleared of stores, and landed two 40-pounder Armstrong guns, which were placed in position to command the landing-place at Meri-meri. These guns were lent to the colony by the Sydney government.

The Greneral proceeded up the Waikato in the "Pioneer," under command of Commodore Sir William Wiseman, to reconnoitre the enemy's works; they occupied them strongly, and fired several shots at the "Pioneer" from the ship's guns they had in position: one shot, shaped like a weight, went through the side of the vessel and lodged in a beef barrel. The ground there being very strong, a further reconnaissance was made up the river, with a view of selecting some point at which a force could be landed to turn the enemy's position, while his attention was occupied in front by the steamer and gun-boats.

The enemy being reported to be escaping in canoes up the Whangamarino and its branch the Mara-marua, it was evident they were page 93abandoning their position at Meri-meri; and a party of 250 seamen, under Commander Mayne, R.N., and detachments of the 12th, 14th, 18th, and 70th Regiments, numbering in all 500 men, under Colonel Austen, 14th, occupied Meri-meri, capturing the enemy's batteries, and then threw up a redoubt.

The defensive works were directed by Colonel Mould, C.B., R.E., an officer well skilled in Maori warfare.