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War to the Knife, or, Tangata Maori

Chapter XI

page 238

Chapter XI.

The natives alleged that they had taken up arms against manifest wrong and injustice; but underlying all other motives and actions was the land question. The more sagacious chiefs entertained fears of the alienation of their territories. The growing superiority of the white settlers troubled them. Outnumbered, fighting against superior weapons, the day seemed near when, as in their songs and recitations, they began to lament, "The Maori people would be like a flock of birds upon a rock, with the sea rising fast around them." The time seemed propitious to unite the tribes against the common foe. The natives were estimated at sixty thousand, a large number being available fighting men. One determined assault upon the whites, who were not, as was supposed, more than eighty thousand, might settle the question.

Mr. (afterwards Sir) William Fitzherbert said in the House in 1861 that "the remark that we were living at the mercy of the natives was true, and reflected the greatest credit upon them. They had that knowledge, and yet forbore to use their power." Now, however, war was declared between the two races; the untarnished honour of the British flag must be maintained.

page 239

At that time in the distracted colony there lived, strange to say, a body of men whose interests were primarily concerned neither with the acquisition of land, the profits of trade, nor the so-called prestige of the British crown. Voyaging to New Zealand long years ago, they announced themselves to be the bearers of a Divine message, the significance of which was nearly two thousand years old. With the weapons of peace and good will they confronted the savage conquerors of the day. They lived among them unharmed, though not always able to prevent the torture of captives, the execution of enemies taken in fight, or to stay the hand of the fierce tribes thirsting for conquest or revenge. But they had done much. They had laboured zealously and unselfishly. They had risked their lives, and those of the devoted wives who had accompanied them into the habitations of the heathen. Following the example of their pioneer pastor, the saintly Samuel Marsden, they had introduced the arts of peace. They had ploughed and sowed, reaped and garnered. Favoured by the rich soil and moist climate, the cereals, the plants, the edible roots of older lands had flourished abundantly.

The heathen, though slow to perceive the benefit of such labours, had come to comprehend and to imitate. They shared in the fruits of the earth so abundantly provided. Trade had sprung up with adjoining colonies; and, with the white man's tools, his grain, his horses, his cattle, and sheep, in all of which the Maori was allowed to participate, came the revelation of the white man's God, the white man's faith, the white man's schools; the missionary's example did the rest. Gradually these agencies commenced to sway page 240the rude and turbulent tribes. A highly intelligent race, they deduced rules of conduct from the mikonaree, who was so different from any species of white man they had previously known. He was brave, for did he not from time to time risk his life, for peace' sake alone, between excited bands of enemies? He made war on none; he was slow to defend himself; he trusted for protection in that Great Being who had preserved him, his wife and little ones, in the midst of dangers by land and sea. From time to time he took dangerous journeys, he crossed swollen rivers, he traversed pathless forests, he risked his life in frail barks on stormy seas, to prevent war, to release captives.

After years of toil and trial the reward of these devoted servants of the Lord appeared to be assured. Many of the older chiefs, men of weight and authority, were baptized as earnest converts. Others protected the missionaries, though they refused to quit the faith of their ancestors. The schools flourished, and, unprecedented among other races, aged men learned to read and write. The Bible was translated into the simple yet sonorous Maori tongue. Saw-mills and flour-mills, owned by natives, arose; vessels even were built for them, in which their produce was taken to other ports. As far back as the bloodthirsty raids of Te Waharoa, the ruthless massacres of Hongi and Rauperaha, the missionary lived amidst the people for whose spiritual welfare he had dared danger and death, exile and privation.

The members of the different Christian Churches had shared emulously in the good work. Wesleyans and Presbyterians, the Church of England and the page 241Roman Catholic hierarchy, all had their representatives; all supported ministers vowed to the service of the heathen. Not always went they scathless. These soldiers of the Cross had seen their cottage homes burned, their families driven forth to seek shelter and protection at a distance. But, even when the worst passions of contending parties were aroused, there never failed them a chief or a warrior who took upon himself the charge of the helpless fugitives.

The earlier missions were organized by remarkable men. Their descendants occupy high positions, and inherit the respect which to their fathers was always accorded. But the most commanding figure in the little army of Christian soldiers, the most striking personality, was Selwyn, the first bishop of New Zealand. No ordinary cleric was the dauntless athlete, the apostolic prelate, the daring herald of good tidings, reckless of personal danger whether in war or peace. When the Waikato warriors, three hundred strong, went down the river from Ngarua-wahia under the young Matutauere, the bishop, travelling on foot, carried a message to friendly chiefs, who undertook to bar the war-party from passing through their territory. The settler at whose house the bishop arrived soon after sunrise, dripping with water from the fording of a creek, told the story. Had his remonstrances, strengthened by those of the venerable Henry Williams, Chief Justice Martin, and Sir William Denison, received the consideration to which they were entitled, "the great war of 1860, with its resultant, the greater war of 1863," would never have been fought. England's taxpayers would have been richer by the interest paid on a sum of several millions, and page 242England's dead, whose bones are resting in distant cemeteries, or in unknown graves on many a ferny hillside, would have been saved to family and friends.

However, at this stage all developments lay shrouded in the veil of the future. On whosoever lay the blame, war had commenced in earnest, and, according to British traditions, must be fought out. It was arming and hurrying with all classes and all ages in Auckland, a.d. 1860. Volunteers, militia, regulars, marines, bluejackets, were all under marching orders; martial law was proclaimed around Taranaki; all the ingredients of the devil's cauldron were simmering and ready to burst forth.

If Massinger had desired the excitements of danger, of battle, murder, and sudden death, this was the place and the time, to the very hour.

He had found no difficulty in enrolling himself among the force known as Von Tempsky's Forest Rangers. It was composed of the most resolute, daring spirits of the colony, many of whom had either been born in New Zealand or been brought up there from infancy. As a rule, used to country life, they rode well, and were good marksmen. A large proportion of them were the sons of farmers, but there were also men who had held good positions in their day. Having lost their money, or otherwise drifted out of the ranks of the well-to-do, they cheerfully enlisted in this arm of the force, which, if irregular in discipline, had a prestige which the ordinary militia and volunteer regiments lacked.

In such a corps the personal character of the leader is everything; and in this respect they were exceptionally fortunate. Carl Von Tempsky, the son of a page 243Prussian officer high in service, was a soldier of fortune in the best sense of the word. He had served for several years with credit, if not distinction, until the temptation of a free adventurous life proved too strong for him. He quitted the ranks of the 3rd Fusiliers for a long ramble in Mexico, during which he held various military commands.

After this foreign service he travelled through Central America, and knew Bluefields Bay and the Mosquito Shore, finally reaching New Zealand a year before the troublous time which supplied the warlike excitement in which his nature revelled. Producing his credentials, he was at once appointed to the force which, under his leadership, became so celebrated. His career was assured. Daring to recklessness, he was yet a thorough disciplinarian. Suave in manner, but unyielding, he controlled the wilder spirits in his regiment, while his confident and successful generalship roused his men to a pitch of enthusiasm which rendered them well-nigh irresistible in the field. As scouts they were invaluable, often securing information of the movements of the enemy, which the superstitious natives believed to be derived from witchcraft or sorcery. Their sudden onslaught upon outlying camps and redoubts demoralized the foe. While, when-ever they had brought anything like an equal force to bay, they invariably routed them with loss, Von Tempsky, with his dark flashing eyes and cavalier curls, bearing himself as though gifted with a charmed life.

Such was the corps in which Massinger and Warwick found themselves; for the latter had made up his mind—on Mr. Slyde's principle, that in the present page 244state of affairs "one must join something"—to follow the same flag as his erstwhile employer, to whom he had become personally attached. Of the young Englishman's courage and liberality he had the highest opinion; of his prudence he felt doubtful. This was his chief reason, as he told Mr. Slyde, for enlisting.

"I shouldn't like to see him shot or tomahawked," he said. "He'll make a grand soldier if he gets time; but he's careless—deuced careless—and foolhardy. I'm afraid of some dog of a Waikato taking a pot-shot at him from behind a tree while he's thinking of something a thousand miles away."

The Forest Rangers were a distinguished corps in which to be enrolled. From the beginning of the campaign their name had been in every one's mouth. Their dress was picturesque, though toned down in regard to the special services on which they were generally detailed.

More was expected of them by the public than of any other volunteer force. And the public was not often disappointed. Von Tempsky was the beau ideal of a leader of irregular troops. Full of military ardour, brave to recklessness, and of singular aptitude for command, the men under him got into the habit of regarding themselves as enfants perdus, knew not what fear was, and carried out with success sorties, reconnoissances, and scout duty of the most daring and desperate nature. The work was entirely to Massinger's taste. He found himself among kindred spirits. His former volunteer experience stood him in good stead. He was promised speedy promotion. He came to believe that a military career in war-time was, after all, his vocation, page 245and, as affording a succession of exciting adventures and dramatic incidents, the most desirable of all professions.

The minor successes gained by the Waitara tribes before November, 1860, had much elated the Ngatiawa, so that they conceived the idea of taking possession of the Mahoetai hill, close to the main road and near the Bell Block stockade. More than a hundred Ngatihauas and Waikatos established themselves there on a knoll surrounded by flax plants and raupo swamp. A combined attack of the 40th and 65th Regiments, with the militia, stormed the position. The volunteers and a company of the 65th were told off to the assault, which they made in good style. The Maoris stood their ground well, killing and wounding some of the assailants, but eventually were driven out of their riflepits. They took refuge in a swamp, but, the raupo being fired, fled for their lives. They lost thirty-four killed and fifty wounded. Several chiefs lay dead, including Taupo-rutu of Ngatihaua. Two were killed and four wounded of the volunteers.

After this affair two companies of the Forest Rangers were detailed, under Captains Von Tempsky and Jackson, for the purpose of scouring the forest between the Waikato and Auckland. Life and property in the settled districts had become insecure. To the great joy and satisfaction of Messrs. Slyde and Massinger, they found themselves in the first-named company, and were soon in the thick of a smart skirmish, in which two officers of a militia company were killed and half a dozen rank and file wounded, the enemy acknowledging more than double.

They were now ceaselessly occupied in scouring page 246the bush and moving from place to place, for weeks together having no settled camp or abiding-place. On the Waiari stream, when sent to clear the enemy out of the river-scrub, they killed five and took several prisoners in a very short onset.

A more serious engagement followed, when at Waiheke they were camped with the Arawa, two hundred strong, and found the enemy, composed of Ngaiterangi, Whaha-tohea, and Ngatiporou, awaiting them near Te Matata. The position was well chosen: a deep stream in front, on their left flank a raised beach, their right on the sea. The Forest Rangers carried the creek with a rush, well supported by the Arawa, after which the enemy waited no longer, but, pursued by the Rangers, fled until the Awa-te-Atua river was reached. The British loss was light, but included Toi, the brave old chief of the Arawa. The enemy lost seventy men.

Here Massinger had an opportunity of witnessing a characteristic incident of Maori warfare. A celebrated chief of the Whaha-tohea, being taken prisoner, fully expected to be put to death. Captain Macdonnell took him under his protection, telling him that he had nothing to fear. From the men probably not, but Macdonnell had not calculated on the feelings of a bereaved wife. Toi's widow, "wroth in wild despair," persuaded some one to load a rifle for her, and walking up to the chief, blew his brains out. The tribe, after much argument, came to a decision much resembling that of Bret Harte's jury at White Pine, viz, "Justifiable insanity."

"Must be in luck now," said Mr. Slyde one morning, after an orderly had been seen riding into page 247camp. "Shouldn't wonder if the general had got some special work cut out for us."

"I hope so," replied Massinger. "We'll know soon, as Warwick is talking to Captain St. George, whom Von is sure to give the first order to. Now both are called up. Something on by the look of Warwick. Here he comes."

"Well, where are we to go, most noble earl and king-maker? Route to the Uriwera or the Reinga?"

"There's an off chance of the last place for some of us," said Warwick, who didn't care for Maori jokes, detached, as by education and travel he had become, from his maternal relatives. "The route is to the Patea River near the edge of a forest, where the whole of the tribes of the North Island might hide. The villages there are not exactly in trees, but nearly as hard to climb up to."

"All the better—give us new ideas," said Slyde. "Tired of this fiat country work.

'My heart's in the Highlands,
  My heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands,
  A-chasing the deer.'

What a country this would be for red deer! By the way, I wonder if I shall ever have the luck to pot a stag of ten? No saying; come some day. When do we start, and how many men?"

"Two companies, fifty each. Daylight in the morning. Camp at Kaka-ramea."

Stationed at this inviting locality, where, as Mr. Slyde remarked, the country consisted of hills without valleys, rivers without bridges, and inconvenient cliffs page 248thrown in, the hawk eyes of Warwick discovered a track leading up the face of an almost perpendicular cliff.

"This track goes up the cliff, but how are we to go up?" asked Massinger. "A goat couldn't do it."

"Do you see those climbers carelessly thrown along the track?"

"I do see some supple-jack here and there."

"Those," said Warwick, "are Maori ladders, which you will find strong enough when it is your turn to try them. Of the two, I would rather trust to them than ordinary rope."

"When do we start?" asked Massinger.

"Not to-day, or perhaps to-morrow. They have scouts on the watch. The major won't move until they get careless. Then a midnight affair."

"Regular 'Der Freischutz' business," said Slyde. "Hour midnight. Circle. Skulls neatly arranged. 'Zamiel, come forth!' etc. Owls in forest, please attend. Come to think, we are rather in the Freischutz line. If we get back to Auckland one of these fine days (or years), good idea for private theatricals."

"We shall have them in private and public," said Warwick, "before the season's over. Likely to end up with a tragedy, too."

"Tragedy or comedy, we shall be in the front row," said Massinger; "but, the overture not having commenced, we can't criticize the performance. Our jeun premier, Von Tempsky, however, would do honour to any opera in Europe. What a romantic-looking fellow he is in his undress uniform! Calm, yet determined-looking, an expression which would never alter in the face of death. Hair worn longer than we Englishmen page 249affect, but it becomes some people. As a fashion it's certain to come in again. Cavalry sabre, forage cap, blue tunic, boots to the knee,—there you have him. He would have been a Feld some day if he had remained in the Imperial service."

"Better that he is with us to-night," said Warwick. "Besides being a first-class leader, he is one of the smartest scouts that ever picked up a track. Did you ever hear what he did at Papa-rata? Many a man wears the Victoria Cross for less."

"No—that is, heard generally. Tell us about it." said Slyde. "Afraid I shouldn't do much in that line."

"Nor I either," said Massinger. "I am all ears."

"You'll never be all eyes, captain," said Warwick, with a grim smile. "And by Maori custom a captured scout is doomed to tortures that can't be told. I always keep one shot in my revolver."

"For whom?" asked Massinger.

"For myself, if ever I'm 'jumped,'" answered Warwick, who had acquired, among his other experiences, a few miner's idioms. "But here is the story. The general wanted a sketch of the enemy's works at Papa-rata, which they had occupied in force. Our Von undertook the service—sort of forlorn hope business—and, like everything he ever began, carried it out thoroughly. He managed to hide himself in the scrub and flax in the very midst of the natives, and, far worse for discovery, their prowling dogs, popularly supposed to wind a white man a mile off. There he calmly sketched the position, and got safe back into camp. They gave him his commission for it."

"And well he deserved it," said Massinger.

"So say I," chimed in Slyde. "Good thing page 250about a war, attracts best fellows of all nationalities—Johnnies that prefer discomfort and revel in danger; used to light marching order, too. Sort of war correspondent business; murder and sudden death thrown in. Deuced exhilarating when you come to think of it."

"Do you know, I find it so," answered Massinger, entering into the joke. "And our light marching order is a triumph of economy of space. Nothing approaches it but a middy's wardrobe, and he has a ship to carry it. I must have myself photographed when we—may I say if—we return to camp. Let me see—Forest Ranger, 'in his habit as he lived;' applicable to either case, you see. Item—Swag. Did I think I should ever carry one? One blanket, one great coat, twenty rounds of ammunition, all put up in a waterproof; three days' rations of meat and biscuit; half a bottle of rum. Revolver, carbine, cartridge-box, tomahawk—all most useful, not to say ornamental, when sliding down precipices in the dark, as we did on entering camp last night."

"Camp accommodation; don't forget that," added Slyde.

"Fire strictly forbidden. Sleeping apartment of the wild boar of the forest. I'll swear that where you and I, Warwick and Hay, slept last night—for we did sleep—under the hollow rimu tree, had belonged to one. 'Feeds the boar in the old frank,' as the wild prince says. Also, over and above all these pleasures and palaces, our lives hang on a chance from day to day—that of being surrounded in the heart of a forest, and cut off to a man."

"Conversation most improvin'," said Mr. Slyde. "Seems to lack the comic element, though! 'Want a page 251piano,' as the Johnnie said to Thackeray after lecture. As we've an early engagement—ha, ha!—in the morning, suppose we turn in? Now 'I lay me down to sleep.' Rain recommencing. 'Drought broken up,' as they say in Australia."

It was not very late—nine o'clock, indeed, no more. Camp evenings were apt to be long without late dinners or books. However, it not being their watch, the friends lay down in their "lair," and in five minutes, despite the rain, from which, indeed, the o'erarching tree in great part saved them, fell fast asleep.

At midnight on the third day the march was recommenced and the cliff path reached. Von Tempsky, with seventy men, made a start punctually, as was his wont. Massinger felt doubtfully entertained at the idea of swinging in mid-air, clinging to a rude arrangement of trailers, with, perhaps, expectant Maoris at the top. However, he forbore remark, and after he had seen Von Tempsky shin up the swaying half-seen line like a man-of-war Jack, he felt reassured.

"What a leader he is!" thought he.

"'Alike to him the sea, the shore,
The branch, the bridle, and the oar.'

We are all in hard condition, luckily."

Between the precarious foothold on the cliff and the ladder of withes—Warwick, by the way, was immediately behind him—he reached the top safely.

"Here we are!" he said, as Warwick sprang up and stood by his side. "I shouldn't care, though, to go down the same way, especially if they had crossed our track and decided to wait there for our return."

page 252

"They would find an officer and thirty men there," said Warwick. "Our Von always takes care to leave a place open for retreat. Catch him napping!"

Dawn found them in a deserted village, recently occupied, however, as the fires were still alight. Pushing on across a gorge, smoke was seen rising, and on the summit of the ridge a large clearing was sighted, with a number of whares at the other end.

"There they are!" said Massinger.

"Those whares are only temporary," explained Warwick—"used by the natives to put in a crop or take it up. I can see Maoris; they don't see us, however."

The order came at that moment to extend in line along the forest edge, behind a barricade of dead timber, thrown aside from the clearing. This they climbed, but were immediately seen by the natives, who fired a volley, mortally wounding a young officer and one of the Rangers. The senior officer, next to Von Tempsky, was also hit. The attempt to dislodge the enemy from some fallen timber, under cover of which they were able to hold the attacking force in check, failed, owing to their right resting on a cliff, not previously noticed. A smart skirmish took place, however, in which the enemy was routed, leaving three dead on the ground.

"Had the best of it," said Mr. Slyde after supper. "Not a glorious victory, though, by any means. Two to one—bad exchange against natives. Poor young Stansfield, too! Took me and Warwick all we knew to get him down that beastly ladder,"

"Poor chap!" said Massinger. "What spirits he was in when we started! Stark and cold now. Fortune of war, I suppose."

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"Bush-fighting not all beer and skittles," remarked his companion. "Better luck next time."

One of the really "stunning engagements" (as Mr. Slyde phrased it) in which Massinger and his two comrades took active part, was the fight before Paterangi. The enemy's works were about three miles distant from the headquarters' camp at Te Rore.

The sailors, under Lieutenant Hill, H.M.S. Curaçoa, had their camp close to the landing-place, to which the Avon, with stores, made daily trips.

The tars, to relieve the monotony of camp life, had got hold of cricketing materials, and on fine afternoons the stumps were set up and play carried on, secundum artem, as unconcernedly as if there was no such thing as a Maori foe within a few hundred yards of them.

"Look at Von Tempsky!" said Slyde (the Rangers being at headquarters in case any specially dangerous scouting was on hand.) "Cool as if he was listening to a military band in Berlin. Trifle better music there, I dare say. Picturesque-looking beggar, isn't he? Cigar in mouth, forage cap always on the side of his head. Curls à ravir. Not our form, but they become him. Wouldn't think he was the man that spoilt an ambush at Mount Egmont, when the general made his point to point march through the bush there."

"Just the man, I should think. But how was it?"

"Rangers, you see, marched with the column. Passing through thickest spot, Von left track with his men and vanished. Troops thought took wrong path. Sharp firing heard. Von reappears front of the column, forcing his way through the supple-jacks, page 254sword in one hand, revolver in the other, knife between his teeth, dripping with blood. Ambush laid for troops—destroyed it."

"No wonder everybody swears by him. I suppose these fellows would have had a steady volley at the column?"

"Regular pot-shot. Sure to kill officers, besides twenty or thirty Tommies. Might even have bagged the general. Great hand at the bowie-knife, Von. Learned that in Mexico. Throws it to an inch. Great weapon at close quarters."

"I dare say," replied Massinger. "I don't seem to take to it myself. All's fair in war, of course."

"Suppose we have a bathe in the Mango-Piko? It feels warmer this afternoon."

This motion being carried, our triumvirate proceeded to the river-bank with a party of the 40th, men who bathed there every day.

"The water's all right," said Warwick, "but I don't like this manuka scrub. The river's not too wide, and there's good cover on the other side."

"Surely there's no chance of there being natives so close to the camp?" said Massinger, who thought Warwick a trifle over-cautious this time, often as he had reason to admit his astonishing accuracy in all that concerned woodcraft.

This occasion was not destined to be an exception, for no sooner had they undressed than a volley from across the river showed that natives had been concealed on the opposite bank.

Fortunately, a covering party of twenty men under a lieutenant had been sent with them, who immediately returned fire, and a sharp exchange began.

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The sounds of the firing brought up a reinforcement from the 40th and 50th Regiments, under Colonel Havelock, who got to the rear of the concealed natives, the same ti-tree which had screened them serving to hide the troops. At an old earthwork they came suddenly upon them. Captain Jackson of the Forest Rangers and Captain Headley of the Auckland Rifles marched with the supports, eventually driving the Maoris from their position in the earthwork. A hot rally while it lasted, but a Victoria Cross was gained in it by Captain Headley, who, under heavy fire and with his clothes riddled with bullets, carried out a wounded soldier.

"D——d nuisance!" said Mr. Slyde, resuming his garments. "Left arms at camp, or we might have had a throw in. Other chaps got all the fun. Oh, here comes Warwick, heavily armed, and no mistake."

It was even so. That resourceful henchman had bolted back to camp and returned with his arms full of their carbines and revolvers.

"And, by Jove! here comes Von Tempsky and part of our company," exclaimed Massinger, unusually excited. "Was there ever such luck?"

No time was lost in joining the Rangers, who had just been ordered to cross the river and clear the scrub.

Without a moment's hesitation, headed by Von Tempsky, they plunged into the stream, and emerging like modern river-gods dripping with the Mangopiko, rushed on the enemy. A desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued. The natives retreated, leaving eight dead, side by side, amid the trampled fern. The Rangers only had three men wounded, including page 256Mr. Massinger, in the arm—his first title to distinction, as having bled in the cause of his Queen and country.

Like many other small wars and skirmishes, it led to complications. A body of natives came out from the pah at Paterangi to help their people. The skirmishers of the 40th were thrown forward to check them. Five men killed and six wounded of the 40th, while the natives from Paterangi lost over forty killed and thirty wounded.

Mr. Massinger's arm was sore enough that night, though he was loth to admit it.

"'Quite enough to get,' as the soldier remarked in 'Pickwick.' Deuced hot work while it lasted. New style of bathing-party. Have to look up a tree before you sit under it next. Maoris everywhere."

"'All's well that ends well,'" rejoined Massinger, with his arm in a sling. "Lucky that Warwick brought the carbines. I wouldn't have missed that dash across the river for worlds. We also covered the rear effectually, Von Tempsky marching as if he was on parade."

"He wasn't the only one who was cool," said Warwick. "The adjutant-surgeon stopped the bleeding in your arm as steady as if he was in the hospital tent. Bullets pretty thick, too."

The colonel commanding did justice to the merits of all concerned, and when Lieutenant Roland Massinger's name occurred in the list of wounded among the Forest Rangers; under Major Von Tempsky, that gentleman felt himself more than recompensed for any trifling inconvenience he might have undergone.