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With the Lost Legion in New Zealand

Chapter III — Ngatapa

page 286

Chapter III

I think I may now trek on with my own adventures.

We landed at Tauranga in December 1868, and Colonel Whitmore at once started off to make Te Kooti sit up, taking with him three hundred well-trained and seasoned men. Near a place called Patutahi we met Rapata and his men returning to Tauranga, and Colonel Whitmore did his best to persuade the angry chief to turn back, but this he refused to do, saying: "I never break my word. I have said I would go to Waiapu and I will, but I will return with more Ngatiporou and wipe out the Ngatikahungunu, the cowardly dogs who deserted me."

This would have meant wheels within wheels, or rather a civil war within a civil war, a regular Donnybrook, and it was only after much talk that the indignant warrior could be persuaded to forgo his vengeance against the other friendlies, though he sternly refused to fight again in their company or to alter his determination to proceed to Waiapu, so, a steamer having been placed at his disposal, he departed to his home, promising to recruit more of his own tribe and to return shortly. It was on this occasion I first met this redoubtable warrior and general, when, like all other men who love a man, I greatly admired him.

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Rapata Te Wahawaha had from the outbreak of the East Coast War played a very prominent part, and, one may truthfully say, had carved out in more ways than one his own path to rank and fame. He was a fine, handsome, athletic-looking man, evidently capable of enduring great hardships and fatigue, while you only had to look at his face to see that he had an iron will, the courage of a bulldog and the ability to command. When in repose he had all the good manners, the courteous bearing and the musical voice of a well-bred Maori, but in action the eyes blazed, the whole face hardened into a mask of granite, while his word of command was given in a voice that few who served under him cared or dared hesitate to obey.

Although of aristocratic birth, he was not a great chief by descent, nor had he up to the commencement of the war given any proof of possessing any first-rate administrative qualities, or possibly in his paternal sub-tribe he had no chance of displaying them, but from the first fight, Mangaone, in which his tribe took part, he displayed such indomitable courage and resource that by the time I met him he was not only the principal war chief, but was looked upon as quite the most prominent man in the great and powerful tribe of Ngatiporou to which his hereditary sept belonged. He had from the very first set his face sternly against the new faith.

The inhabitants of village after village, mission station after mission station, throwing away their Christianity, had joined the Hau Haus, but when the apostles came to Rapata's sub-tribe he sternly bade them be gone, or he would test their invul-page 288nerability with his tomahawk. Now several of the sub-tribes of the Ngatiporou had already perverted, and some of these sought to convert Rapata by force. Rapata, however, was taking none of that, so he waltzed out of his pah, and in the faction fight that ensued he fairly knocked the stuffing out of the Nonconformists, and as a proof of his determination not to stand any nonsense he shot, with his own hand, a near relation who had been taken prisoner, not, as he was careful to explain to the delinquent, because he had fought against himself, but because he had been such a fool as to join the Hau Haus against his, Rapata's, orders. He was the sealed pattern of the old-time Maori warrior, one who knew not fear or pity, and was just as ready to join in a hand-to-hand fight as to plan out a campaign or eat his dinner. Byron, singing about an old-time Dago pirate, described him as being the mildest-tempered man who ever cut a throat or scuttled ship.

Rapata was a polished Maori gentleman who with a polite and easy nonchalance could entertain the highest colonial dignitary, tomahawk a Hau Hau, or shoot a deserter with his own rifle. He was indeed a worthy ally, for had he not made the firm stand he did the whole of the powerful tribe of Ngatiporou would have been thrown in the balance against us, and the white man must for a time have been driven out of the North Island of New Zealand. And now let me break back and try to regain my spoor.

The following morning Rapata departed, still in high dudgeon, and the Colonel, selecting four scouts, sent them to find out whether or not Ngatapa page 289had been deserted, although why Te Kooti should have deserted it was beyond my wisdom. The men he selected for the work, although good enough fighting men, were not trained scouts, nor had they ever been employed at that fascinating though dangerous game before. However, off they went while we rested in camp.

That afternoon, while lolling on my mi-mi with Roach, I heard a voice hail Tim, who was making ready our supper: "Here, Tim, old shipmate, where's the skipper? Lay us alongside of him, me hearty." And in two skips of a jumping cat I found my hand enveloped and crushed in the enormous fist of old Jack Williams, while a moment afterwards Pierre de Feugeron and Kantuarius were salaaming in front of us, Pierre showing his white teeth, shrugging his shoulders and gesticulating as only a Southern Frenchman can, while the Greek expressed his satisfaction at meeting Roach and myself again by jabbering and grinning like a demented Cheshire cat. They had come to the east coast with McDonnell in 1867, and had remained there, Jack in charge of a boat, the other two doing odd jobs in scouting.

The foreigners at once attached themselves to us, but old Jack had to return that evening to Tauranga, so that after his oaths of gladness at meeting us had rolled away like summer thunder he drank a tot out of my flask, forced me to accept a big prick of naval tobacco, and drifted away, swearing softly, to join his party.

"Et maintenant, messieurs," quoth Pierre, "I will do myself ze honour of taking charge of messieurs' cuisine."

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"But, Pierre." I said, "where is the famous batterie?"

"Ah, monsieur, ze brave pot, ze poor pot; ah, monsieur, such misfortune, my magnificent pot lies mort sur le champ de battaille. Ah, monsieur, it was heart-rending. George and myself were retreating, and the sacred savages were coming fast behind us, but we cleared them, when les enfants d'enfer, seeing us escape, fired a volley, plom I fall on my face. George help me to rise. I am not killed nor much hurt, but my pot, my dear pot lies in pieces. I am distressed. I am enraged. Revenge. I yearn for revenge. I drop on ze knee and fire. Ah! Ah! I see one of ze canaille throw his arms on high and fall. I have my revenge. I say, 'Vive la France!' George say, 'Damn good shot. Come, let's cut and run,' and we cut and run. So, mon officier, ze grand pot est mort, mais Pierre remains at monsieur's service and has ze wherewithal to prepare ze dinner for his two officers. Let messieurs remain tranquil. We shall see."

Messieurs remained tranquil, and in good time, instead of supping off the putrid pork and mouldy biscuits Tim had been fumbling over, we enjoyed a delicious ragout of fowls, fresh pork, potatoes and the Lord only knows what else. It is well for you, oh, my son, when on active service two scallywag foreigners, past masters in the art of looting, and owning not one ghostly idea of meum and tuum, attach themselves to you and take upon themselves the onerous duty of catering for your table. Be not inquisitive, oh, my son; ask no questions, but accept the luck Providence sends you and you will fare sumptuously.

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In due course of time the scouts returned and reported that Te Kooti had abandoned Ngatapa. They had not approached the place closely, but said he had done so, because they had seen large volumes of smoke, and thought Te Kooti was burning his huts before leaving.

Now this was all tommy-rot, and I marvelled at a smart soldier listening to such twaddle. In the first place a Maori does not build a hut to burn it down. Again, we had heard from Rapata that the position of Ngatapa was one of extraordinary strength. Te Kooti had expended an immense amount of labour in fortifying it. He had successfully defended it against the first attack. Why, therefore, should he desert it? No, it seemed to me that it would be far more probable that the dense smoke the tenderfoot scouts had seen Was caused by the Hau Haus clearing ground in front of their works so as to destroy cover, especially as dry fern and raupo, commonly used by the natives for thatch, burns with but little vapour, while undergrowth and timber, full of sap, burns with a great deal, and was therefore far more likely to be the fuel causing the great clouds of smoke reported by the scouts.

Now I happened to be present at the time the scouts reported to the Colonel, and, when they had finished their yarn, ventured to state my opinions, at the same time offering to take Pierre and George, scout up to the place, and verify my theories.

It would have been better for me had I held my tongue, for I received in reply a most stinging rebuke, which was both unjust and unmerited. page 292It is true a colonel may not be desirous of receiving advice or suggestions from a subaltern, still I had been employed on many important occasions and had earned a reputation as a scout, and, as he well knew, had put in three years' hard bush training, so even if it were presumption on my part to make a suggestion, still that suggestion was worth while taking into consideration, if not acting upon, especially as I offered to run the risk, which was by no means a small one.

Anyhow, the Colonel chose to give me a most unmerciful slating for what he was pleased to term my impertinence, and also added some most caustic remarks on my general utility, and these in such a sarcastic and bitter tone that it was only my strict sense of discipline that prevented me using the whip I carried in my hand over his hide, and I was greatly delighted when I met him years afterwards, when we were both civilians, to be able to give him my plain and unvarnished opinion of his conduct both as an officer and a gentleman.

However, to return to our mutton; orders were immediately given for our return to Tauranga, which were promptly carried out, and Colonel Whitmore made arrangements to re-embark us forthwith to Wanganui; in fact No. 6 Division of the Armed Constabulary was already shipped on board the Sturt for the west coast, but by the merciful dispensation of Providence the skipper was absent, and the old tub, objecting to the officer temporarily in charge, sat down on a rock, which, knocking a hole in her bottom, necessitated the relanding of the men.

Now my theory re the smoke had been perfectly page 293correct. It had been caused by the Hau Haus burning the scrub so as to destroy cover, and Te Kooti, informed by his scouts of our retreat from Patutahi, seized the opportunity to make one of his lightning raids, in which he murdered several settlers, and did much damage.

On the receipt of this news the little Colonel went hopping mad, and without losing a moment we started off to intercept Te Kooti's retreat, but as it was impossible for the main body to move before morning he despatched Captain Newland and a party of sixteen troopers on ahead. Had he given us fifty troopers, which he very well could have done, we should have hived the artful dodger then and there, as we cut his line of retreat and did all men could do to hold him till the arrival of the Colonel, but eighteen mounted men, no matter how good they are, cannot hold two hundred Maoris, especially in rough country. We however did the best we could, and had the ground been anywhere suitable we should have charged; as it was we had to draw off through the long fern, and it was only the skill of our captain, the cool pluck of our men, and the rotten bad shooting of the Hau Haus that saved us from being cut to pieces.

We had, however, been driven off the ground when Colonel Whitmore came up with Te Kooti's rear-guard and attacked them, but as his men were worn out by their long forced march over very rough country, he failed to make any impression, so Te Kooti succeeded in gaining Ngatapa, having got nine to four the best of us.

The advance, however, had begun in earnest, and at the end of the third day, the 27th of December, page 294we took up our position on a high ridge about a mile distant from the Hau Haus' stronghold. Here the Colonel received news that Rapata, with three hundred and seventy men, had landed, but refused to join up. This was a lie, for the gallant chief was coming on as fast as he could. It was, however, too good a chance for the spiteful little devil to miss of insulting our most faithful ally, and he despatched message after message of such a nature that the high-spirited Maori would not tolerate them, the last one being that if Rapata did not hurry up he would take the place himself.

On receipt of this chit Rapata immediately halted his men and returned this reply: "It is well. I have tried to take it once and failed; it is your turn now. I will camp here and await your success."

This brought the Colonel to his bearings, and he saw he had gone too far, especially as some of the senior officers plainly pointed out to him that if he continued to try and bounce Rapata, that chief would return insolence for insolence, and that a quarrel with their great fighting chief would be looked upon by the Ngatiporou as a direct insult to the tribe.

Now Whitmore was a splendid soldier and no fool, notwithstanding his nasty manner and want of tact, he therefore, seeing he had gone too far, visited Rapata the next day.

"Have you taken the place?" queried the chief.

"No," replied the Colonel, "I want you to help me."

"I will be with you to-morrow morning," responded Rapata, and the interview terminated.

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The Ngatiporou at once broke camp and advanced, making a short halt at the Wharekopai River, where, to see that everything was all right, they danced a gaudy war dance, and as no one tumbled down during the ceremony the tribal tohunga and prophet declared that everything was all right and that the expedition would be successful. Thoroughly satisfied with this propitious announcement, and perhaps more so with themselves, they pushed on rapidly and joined up the same night.

The position of Ngatapa was by nature a very strong one, a high conical peak rising abruptly amidst heavily bushed hills, the face fronting our camp sloping gradually up to the summit, but the sides of the slope, although surmountable in some places, were not so in others, especially in one place, where it was so precipitous as to be quite unnegotiable, the side of the hill having slipped away, leaving a perpendicular precipice of rock quite seventy feet high, and this was the spot where the enemy eventually escaped. The ground in rear of the pah narrowed into a razor-backed indented ridge, the formation of which was gigantic steps, only to be descended by rope ladders, and down the ridge ran a path by which the Hau Haus hoped to escape, if driven to do so, but the path was at once blocked by our men, although for the time being we did not make use of it as a way to attack.

The front slope of the position, in fact the only one possible to march up, was defended by three lines of stoutly built earthworks with ditches in front of them and trenches in rear of them in which page 296the defenders could take cover. Their flanks resting on the precipitous sides of the slope prevented them from being turned, while every particle of cover in front of them had been scarped away. The two lower parapets were over seven feet high, but the upper one was at least fourteen feet, being pierced with sand-bagged loopholes, and was indeed a most formidable work.

All these lines were connected by covered ways, and altogether it was what it looked, a most imposing fortification with its parapets rising one above the other on the steep slope and growing narrower as the ridge contracted. Yes, imposing it looked, in fact impregnable, or only to be taken with an immense loss of life, but it had, like most Maori pahs, one sad defect, it contained no water. This would have been no drawback in old-time Maori warfare, as it had never been the custom of the chivalrous sportsmen-like savages to prevent the women from leaving a besieged pah for the purpose of obtaining food and water. "For," said the old-time cannibal warrior, "how can a man's heart be strong, and how can he fight well, should he be famished for want of sustenance?"

Civilised white men, however, use hunger and thirst as two of their most formidable weapons, and did so even during the most chivalrous epochs—to wit, the siege of Calais—by that mirror of chivalry, Edward III., or, coming to modern times—viz the siege of Paris—by the gospel-quoting, long-prayer-making German Emperor. How then could Te Kooti expect more consideration from that chip of the devil, Whitmore, and this was the weak joint in his armour.

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At daybreak on the last day of the year 1868 we broke camp, and the whole force, by this time considerably augmented, took up a position on a conical hill some seven hundred yards in front of the pah, which, although a part of the same ridge, was divided from it by a deep gully, and this hill we fortified, working under a heavy fire.

Next day the Ngatiporou and some other friendlies skirmished very cautiously up the hill so as to begin the game, and, on reaching the edge of the cleared ground, came across a party of the enemy carrying water. Our men opened fire and charged, driving the Hau Haus back to the pah and seizing the only watering-place they possessed. Rapata at once dug, under a heavy fire, a line of rifle pits, and sent back for reinforcements, which were quickly furnished him in the shape of No. 7 Division Armed Constabulary, who, on reaching the rifle pits, immediately started a flying sap, which they drove within a distance of one hundred yards from the outer parapet, and here they formed the second parallel of attack.

The artillery division of the Armed Constabulary, assisted by some natives, had for the last few days been working like beavers to get a mortar across some miles of the most awful country, consisting chiefly of deep, rocky and precipitous ravines, every shell having to be carried on men's backs across these natural obstacles, and just as No. 7 were completing their trench the gun was brought into action, the vertical fire from which having a great moral effect upon the defenders.

On the next day the place was thoroughly invested, with the exception of the one small length page 298of precipice I have before mentioned. This place was not overlooked, but as it was not more than seventy yards long, and perpendicular, it was deemed quite impossible that the enemy could escape down it, especially as a strong picket was placed at both ends of it, who could enfilade its face.

The attack was now pushed briskly forward, though for some days we were hampered by heavy rain that filled our trenches with mud, and added greatly to our discomfort, as we occupied them day and night. It moreover supplied the enemy with water to drink. Notwithstanding this drawback we all worked away with good hearts, though of course the risks officers and men ran, working in the flying sap, soon caused our gimcrack hospital to overflow.

I was at this time attached to Colonel Fraser's outfit that held the rear of the pah, and that gallant officer, not being content to look on, gave the order for us to mount the serrated ridge that led up the back of the hill. This we did; scaling ladders were quickly formed out of poles and vines. Rough constructions they were, but they served at a pinch for active, determined men, and we were all that, though perhaps not a highly moral community. We scrambled up one precipitous terrace after another under heavy fire, but covered by our sharpshooters, who, being infinitely better shots than the Hau Haus, afforded us sufficient protection, until we at last formed a rough shelter trench under the steep rock that formed the summit of the hill and the rear defence of the pah, so that the natives were hived in their works.

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This they bitterly resented, and made sally after sally to drive us out of our hardly gained position, but we clung to it like limpets to a rock, and, although we lost many good men in the savage hand-to-hand fighting, still we managed to hold on to the end.

Colonel Whitmore and Rapata now determined to storm the advance parapet, for, although we were well aware that the Hau Haus had no water, and we surmised they could have but little food, if any, still we were on less than half rations ourselves, as owing to the sinful country we were fighting in it was absolutely impossible for pack-horses, much less drays, to keep us supplied, so that many of the friendly natives, should they feel the pinch of hunger, might at any time take it into their heads they had business at home and clear out. This being so, Rapata, with fifty picked Ngatiporou, under cover of the best shots in the force, scaled the almost perpendicular sides of the slope, and, with picks and spades carried up with them, broke through the trench behind the parapet, and by doing so were able to enfilade it.

The defenders drew to that end to oppose him, and were doing their best, when with a cheer the Armed Constabulary, who were in the advanced trench of the attack, jumped out and rushed the parapet. The Hau Haus, taken in front and flank, fought bravely, but were either killed or driven pell-mell behind their second line of defences. A fresh sap was immediately commenced, the captured trench being used as a new base, and the men working like niggers, notwithstanding the heavy fire and a furious sally by the enemy had excavated by page 300midnight sufficient cover for two hundred stormers close up to the second line.

It was now Colonel Whitmore's intention to blow up this parapet, and with a rush take the main work at daylight. Our party were also ordered to hold themselves in readiness for a last effort, and we knew something serious must happen, as that evening the enemy had made a most determined attack on us, which we had had great difficulty in beating off, and we also knew that they must be now not only short of water but also very short of food, as the bodies of the dead Hau Haus plainly showed they were on the shortest rations, while as the rain had quite cleared off they must be famished with thirst.

All that night we sat with our weapons in our hands, silently awaiting the dawn, but about two a.m. a woman in the pah, having relations among the Ngatiporou, called out telling them that Te Kooti had escaped. This her people would not believe, as every man of the field force was at his post and on the qui vive, so, thinking it might be a trap, they called to her to come out. To this she demurred, refusing to budge until her safety was guaranteed by some chief of repute. Eventually this was done, when out she came, her story being that all the unwounded Maoris had escaped, leaving their disabled men, the women and children behind them.

As day dawned we advanced cautiously into the interior of the pah, and found her yarn to be true; but we also plainly saw that had we made an attempt to rush the place we should most probably have been beaten back with great loss. The Ngatiporou quickly finished off the wounded page 301men, and then, at Rapata's suggestion, started off in pursuit of the fugitives, who, as we ascertained, had been three days without water and four days without food of any sort, and were therefore not likely to be able to travel fast over such rough and broken country.

The way the bounders had escaped was truly marvellous, as they had descended the face of the precipice, and that so silently as not to have been heard by the pickets posted at either end of it, these pickets being not more than sixty yards apart.

It was not long before small parties of the Ngati-porou began to return, bringing batches of prisoners back with them, the latter being brought at once before Rapata, a stern judge, forsooth. Few and brief were the questions he asked them, and they received a short shrift and a long drop, as they were placed by squads at the edge of the highest precipice, when they were shot, their bodies toppling over and falling to the foot, and there their bones lie to the present day.

This was a frugal way of getting rid of them, as it saved rations, burial fees and all other expenses. True it may seem to you good people who live at home under the lee of the law and the police that our conduct was cruel and bloodthirsty in the extreme, but you must remember that every one of those one hundred and thirty Hau Haus who were disposed of in this summary manner had borne a hand in the massacre of women and children, and that in a way too awful to write about; moreover we were fighting without gloves; and that it was war to the knife.

By the end of the second day the last of Rapata's page 302men had returned, and the last prisoner had gone over the precipice; but the arch-devil, Te Kooti, and some of his principal satellites, having escaped, were still at large.

I will now relate a short yarn which illustrates a phase of Maori customs, and how the astute Rapata got to windward of a Maori law.

One of the prisoners brought in was a man named Renata, who was a Ngatiporou Hau Hau of high birth, being not only closely related to Rapata himself but also connected to the highest chiefs of the tribe. Now this man Renata had been one of the original convicts sent to the Chatham Islands, but owing to his high connections he had, after a short detention there, been released and allowed to return home. He however showed but little gratitude for this indulgence, as he immediately joined Te Kooti on his landing. When his capture was reported to Rapata that gallant chief was somewhat nonplussed. Spare him he would not, and yet to order his immediate death might arouse the anger and draw the revenge of the great tribal chiefs against himself. Anyhow Renata had to be killed, so Rapata sent word to his men that he did not want to see the prisoner. This was his death warrant, as no sooner had the captors received the message than they placed Renata with a batch of men who were philosophically waiting the volley and the long drop. Renata, however, was a rangatera, and would not submit to being put to death in such an offhand fashion, so that when he was formed up in the line of the unfortunates at the top of the precipice, and the firing party were capping their guns, he rushed at his captors, page 303knocked down one, broke through the rest and fled into some scrub, but his plucky attempt was a failure, as he was followed by two men, who ran him down and shot him.

It now behoved Rapata to square the other chiefs, who were as yet ignorant of the execution, so, taking the bull by the horns, he called a meeting of the tribal notabilities, the agenda being, What was to be done with the delinquent? At this meeting Rapata made a most eloquent and diplomatic speech, pointing out how wrong they would be to spare such a man simply because he was a relation of their own. Again, what would the white men say if a man of good blood was allowed to go scathless while men of lower rank were shot by the dozen? In fact he so cornered them that they knew not what to say, until at last old Wikiriwhi, a chief of the greatest rank, who very probably was getting bored and quite possibly wanted his dinner, became so moved as to say: "We leave him to you."

"Then," rejoined Rapata, "he is a dead man"; and so he was and had been for twenty-four hours.

Of course a large number of Hau Haus had escaped with Te Kooti, and many of them, weakening on the job, returned in small batches to their homes, some having the temerity to show themselves in the white settlements, and these the weak-minded Government left unmolested, notwithstanding it was well known they were all more or less implicated in the various massacres. True there was not much evidence against them, as all their victims were dead, but this did not assuage the sorrow of relations nor mitigate their wrath, and on several page 304occasions the white settlers very properly avenged themselves.

One case was as follows: A man named Benson, hearing the murderer of one of his relations had returned, bailed him up and shot him dead. On the following day Benson was warned by the town constable to attend as a juryman at the inquest of the defunct. This surprised him and he tried to point out to the representative of the law that for him to do so would be rather out of place as he himself was the shooter; but the sapient official refused to entertain the excuse and threatened him with all sorts of dreadful penalties should he not comply with the order. So Benson sat as juryman on his own trial, gave evidence against himself, and at the end of the inquiry was one of the twelve good men and true who brought in the following verdict:—"Shot by some person unknown, and serve him right."

One more case. The general killing was over when eight prisoners were brought in, and the Government representatives, who by that time were on the spot, thought they should receive a trial. This was equivalent to releasing them, as it is impossible to get a witness to bear evidence after he has been murdered. Anyhow these eight beauties Were confined in a hut with a trooper on guard over them. Now it chanced that among the troopers was a man named Hunt, whose wife and family had been butchered by the gang these ruffians belonged to. He was a quiet, methodical man who said nothing, but awaited his opportunity; and it came. One day he was detailed as prison guard, which he mounted, having previously borrowed a page 305second revolver from his mate. Hunt quietly took over the duty, entered the hut, made fast the door, drew his brace of revolvers and deliberately shot every one of the bounders, a plan so well conceived and carried out as to be worthy of the approval of both white men and Maoris.