With the Lost Legion in New Zealand
Chapter IV — Back To The West Coast
Back To The West Coast
Directly after the fall of Ngatapa, Colonel Whitmore returned to Wanganui, taking us with him, so as to play a return match against our old opponent, Titokowaru, and by the end of the month we were again on the bank of the Kai-iwi River, where Colonel Lyon had built a strong redoubt, and constructed a bridge of sorts. The little Colonel was not a man to waste time, so decided to advance the following day by the track that ran inland. Although close to the camp this road passed through a very deep and densely bushed gorge, which, if held by an enemy, would cost a lot of lives to force. The Colonel knew all about this, so during the evening he despatched Kepa with his Wanganuis to make a detour through the bush and occupy the other end, while shortly afterwards he sent me with four scouts to thoroughly examine the gorge itself, for which purpose he sent with us a white settler, who, owning the land there, of course knew that part of the country well.
Taking Pierre, George, Tim and a man named M'Kenzie with me, I left camp at dark, and worked quietly along one side of the ravine as far as I could get without running foul of Kepa's scouts; then I crossed it, and worked down the other side, but could neither see nor hear anything. I page 307was, however, far from being satisfied, as the queer instinct a highly trained scout acquires warned me I was in the vicinity of great danger; moreover George, whom I had detached for a time to watch the greatest point of danger, told me, when he joined up, he fancied he had heard the sound of metal striking stone. I therefore determined to make a further examination.
We again proceeded up the side of the ravine, entered it high up and descended, guiding ourselves through the pitch darkness by feeling our way cautiously along the side of the track. This of course was running an awful risk, but I saw no other way of solving the problem. My men were all game; if we were cut off some firing must occur, the camp would be alarmed, and, if none of us reported, still the Colonel would know the enemy were in occupation of the gorge.
Moving as quietly as death, and just as the dawn was lightening the sky, we reach the most dangerous point of the ravine, when M'Kenzie tripped in a rut and fell. Immediately a shot rang out, then two, and before you could say knife, both sides of the gully blazed with musketry. Hastily pulling Mac to his feet we all bolted, as, with the crashing of bush and yelling like fiends incarnate, a swarm of Hau Haus started in pursuit.
Lord, how we did run, M'Kenzie and the settler being in front, while myself and Tim, who would not leave me, brought up the rear. Fortunately we were close to the end of the defile, and as we came out into the open we somehow got separated, as each man took what he considered to be the best line for camp, which he knew must be alarmed page 308by the firing. It was much lighter when we got into the open and tore through the stunted fern and manuka scrub, but, although you have no time for debate or argument when some two hundred howling savages, armed with tomahawks are close up to you, still I glanced to my right and left and as there was no cover to hide a running man I saw M'Kenzie and the settler some fifty yards away to my right, while Pierre and George were running somewhat closer on my left. It was a case of, "Go it, shirt tails, bowie knives is a-gaining on you," and you can bet your bottom dollar we did our level best. Nor was I hopeless, as I knew, with the little Colonel in command, all the troopers would be saddled up, and the camp on the qui vive at least an hour before the glimmer of dawn.
The Hau Hau volley must have been heard, and the Maori did not exist who could catch the little Colonel on the hop. I had no fear of being hit, as, although an occasional Maori would squib off his gun at us, still they could not stop to take aim or load, so we only had to keep ahead to win through and each of us sprinted for what he was worth. Tim and myself had kept to the road, and had still plenty of run left in us, when I heard the hoof-thuds of galloping horses and saw the troopers come charging through the fern. But, alas! at the same moment I heard from my right the triumphant yell a Maori warrior lets go (which being interpreted means, "I have caught the first man").
In a moment Tim and myself halted and faced about; the party who had been actually in pursuit of us had also halted, taking cover; and, looking page 309in the direction from which the yell had come, I saw the settler staggering through the fern, closely pursued by a Maori, who just overhauled him, and was in the act of tomahawking him, as I fired; which took effect first, lead or steel, I knew not, but they both went down together.
In the first glance I had seen, a few yards in rear of this pair, another warrior, who, waving in the air a blood-stained tomahawk, yelled again the same triumphant cry, "I have caught the first man," and at the same moment I heard Tim's vengeful cuss: "Have ye, ye blaggard? Thin go to hell wid him." The two carbines rang out nearly simultaneously, and through the smoke I caught a momentary glimpse of the triumphant figure let fall his weapon and collapse.
Before either of us could speak a word a small party of horsemen reached us, while, in rear of them, advancing at the double, came two divisions of the Armed Constabulary, who, passing us with a cheer, swept forward and quickly drove the retreating Hau Haus back to the bush.
We now went up to where the settler and M'Kenzie were lying; the former we found alive, though badly wounded, but the latter, poor fellow, had lost the number of his mess; as for the two Maoris, they were past conversion.
It had been indeed a stroke of luck our flushing the Hau Haus as we did, although I could not take any credit to myself for the way I had engineered the contract, as we quickly discovered they had planned a most artful ambuscade in such a manner that, had the column entered the gorge in the ordinary way, it must have been cut to page 310pieces. Poor M'Kenzie's tumble, however, had been too much for the nerves of some of the younger warriors, so they let rip, and thereby gave away the whole show.
The Colonel, without losing a single moment, took advantage of the retreat of the Hau Haus, for troth! the little fiend, with all his faults, was a splendid soldier, always ready for a fight, so, without giving the enemy a single minute to gather together, he immediately rushed four divisions through the gorge, and took up a strong position some two miles on the other side of it. Here he remained for a couple of days, gathering together all his available forces, and then, on the 2nd of February, advanced to attack Titokowaru in his new stronghold of Tauranga-a-Hika, in which, he well knew, the main body of the rebel Hau Haus were massed.
It was late in the afternoon when we reached the place and saw we had a stiff job before us, for, although the natural difficulties were not nearly so hard to overcome as had been the case at Ngatapa, still it was a very strongly built pah, heavily palisaded, and extremely difficult to surround. It, however, had one defect, as in front of the pah and quite close up to it ran a long bank and ditch, which for some inscrutable reason the enemy had not cleared away, but which the Colonel spotted at a glance, and ordered three divisions of the Armed Constabulary to immediately advance in skirmishing order and seize them. My division was one of those told off for this duty, so, without a pause, we extended from our centre and advanced. There was not much cover, but what there was page 311we made use of, and although the Maoris kept up a tremendous fire, which we never paused to return, we doubled straight to our front and were soon inside the ditch and behind the bank without a man being hit.
Here we quickly opened fire so as to cover the advance of the other two divisions, who were equally fortunate, and on their arrival we poured a combined volley into the place, just to let the Hau Haus know the sort of music we expected them to dance to. I do not think we did much damage, as their works were so beautifully constructed that during the whole of the evening we never saw so much as a head to aim at. Still we kept on sending them an occasional volley, which they answered vigorously, and between these we collogued one another; as we were so mighty adjacent it was quite easy to carry on a conversation, and a conversation was kept up.
Chiefly, I regret to say, the dialogue was of a personal nature more pungent than polite, although now and again some old cannibal would call both sides to order and preach a homily on the etiquette that should be observed between hostile warriors when engaged in the serious pastime of war.
At last night fell, and we received orders to remain where we were, as it was the Colonel's intention to surround the pah the following day, he quite rightly judging it to be far too dangerous a job to tackle during the dark. We had food in our haversacks, though water was scarce, and of course we could not sleep, especially as the Hau Haus every now and again fired a volley, so as to warn us they were awake.page 312
One old buster was good enough to preach us an eloquent sermon, and tried hard to convert us to the Pai Marire faith. He had, previous to joining the Hau Haus, been a high-toned native Bible reader belonging to one of the Nonconformist fancy religions, and was loaded up to the muzzle with Bible texts, which he employed in the most laughable manner, interpreting them so as to suit his own arguments. Alas, poor old scallywag, not only was he wasting his breath in sowing his seed on barren land, but he also ran up against one of Kepa's men who was likewise an ex-Bible reader, and who proclaimed himself to be a devout Roman Catholic. This sinner had the advantage, being not only better posted in controversy, but knowing more English, and through having been employed with the pack-mules had acquired a far greater number of Anglo-Saxon cuss words, therefore the elderly sinner was utterly routed and driven off the field, the Christian champion's peroration being as follows:—"You ruddy Hau Hau, you dance round pole all same as monkey monkey; you say prayers to Pai Marire, you make ruddy fool incantations, you say angel Gabriel stop bullets from kill you, you ruddy liar, you come out here, you —, me show you damn quick you ———, angel Gabriel no have truck with such a —— as you, you black Debil's man, you go hell quick time, and burn for eber, you kiss my foot, you ——."
This is only a fraction of what our Christian hero said, and the apostle of Hau Hauism, handicapped as he was by the non-existence of cuss words in the Maori language, and having not yet page 313acquired the promised gift of tongues, was reduced to silence and subsided.
After midnight the Hau Hau fire gradually died away, as did the religious arguments, till just before dawn not even the choicest abuse from our side could draw any response. Naturally this reticence on their part put us doubly on the qui vive, as we thought most likely the enemy were up to some devilry or another, a sudden sally or a flank attack, but neither of these we feared, as all our preparations were in order and we were ready for anything. Nor were we nervous about the main body, as we knew the impish little Colonel, who could go a month without sleep himself, would not only be on the alert, but would jolly well have all his men awake and lively.
The dawn came at last, but brought no attack with it, complete silence resting on the pah, so one of our men, named Black, very pluckily jumped over the bank and walked quietly up to the place. As he heard nothing he climbed the fence and shouted out the pah was deserted.
We were soon inside it, and were astonished at its strength, all hands plainly seeing we should never have taken it without expending enormous labour in mining, or by reducing the defenders through starvation. It was evidently the latter Titokowaru feared, as it contained but little food or water, and he was fully aware of the fate of Ngatapa.
Without a moment's delay the pursuit began, the Colonel with the main body making for Weraroa, while Kepa with a party of his own men followed up the spoor of the retreating Hau Haus.page 314
In a very short time he came up with their rearguard, who turned, and in overpowering numbers attacked him, but he succeeded after a brisk hand-to-hand fight in getting clear of them, and turned the tables by hanging on their skirts until the firing brought up one of our divisions, when the Hau Haus were so roughly handled that they broke and fled and the pursuit went on.
Bivouacking that night on their line of retreat we advanced next day to Moturoa, where we had been defeated the previous year, and where we fully expected the enemy would make a determined stand. Strong as the place was, however, Titokowaru had not seen fit to hold it, but had passed on, so we took the opportunity of gathering together the remains of the poor fellows we had had to abandon on that unfortunate day, and cremated them.
Without going into nauseous particulars I may state there was ample evidence of how they had been desecrated by the enemy, which did not improve the temper of their comrades. Some sharp skirmishing ensued, in which we always got the best of it, but after a few days we had to fall back owing to the lack of food, it being impossible to furnish us, in the rough and broken country, even with the scantiest supply of rations.
As we retired the enemy followed us, and soon let us know they had done so, as a sergeant and nine men who had crossed the Waitotara River in a canoe, for the purpose of gathering peaches, were attacked by seventy Hau Haus. These sportsmen fired a volley at our men while they were picking the fruit, but hit no one.page 315
The white men seized their rifles and made a bolt for the river, which they reached in safety, and where, had they made a stand under cover of the bank, they might have stood their pursuers off, as the already alarmed camp was in sight and quite close to, but instead of doing so they tried to escape in the canoe, and the Hau Haus lining the bank shot them down in a heap, killing seven and wounding one. The natives were immediately driven back, but not before they had dreadfully mutilated the dead men.
Just as we had recuperated and were about to again take the field we received the news of an outbreak at White Cliffs, north of Taranaki, which began by the cold-blooded murder of Lieutenant Gascoigne, his wife and three children, together with the Rev. Mr Whiteley. The latter was a man much respected by all classes of white men, for he was one of the very few missionaries who could deeply sympathise with the natives, and yet forbear to throw mud at his own countrymen.
This rising necessitated the Colonel sending one hundred of his men to the White Cliffs, although he delayed not a moment, taking the field with the rest of us. News had filtered through that Titokowaru was at Putahi, and away we started, the enemy trying to cut off our food convoy by laying an ambuscade for us at the mouth of the Whenuakura River. It was a well-designed plan, but when it came to the scratch the Hau Haus fought half-heartedly and were easily beaten off by the ration escort.
I had been sent forward to scout, taking with me my usual companions, and after three days' page 316arduous duty discovered that the Hau Haus were actually in great force at Otauto, a kainga on the left bank of the Patea River. Colonel Whitmore, on receipt of my report, immediately despatched Colonel St John up the right bank of the river to hold the drifts and cut off the enemy's retreat, while he moved up the left bank to rout them out. It was a splendidly devised scheme and well carried out, but alas, it failed, for two reasons: first of all the enemy, growing nervous, had that night left the shelter of their kainga and camped outside it, taking up a position at least half-a-mile nearer than where we expected to find them. Again, just as we had deployed for the attack a dense fog came on and we of the advance-guard blundered right into the middle of the Hau Hau bivouac. We certainly completely surprised them, but owing to the dense mist, that without a moment's notice became as thick as one of London's very best, we were quite unable to do anything, in fact we could not see a foot beyond our noses, so there was nothing to do but lie down and wait. The surprised Hau Haus, who were in almost as great a fix as ourselves, opened a tremendous fire, which, as they could no more see us than we could see them, did but little harm. Heavy firing was nevertheless kept up by both sides for nearly an hour, when, the fog suddenly rising, their camp was discovered close to, which we at once charged, the enemy rapidly retreating, followed by Kepa and his Wanganuis.
On the 16th of March Kepa, who was out bushwhacking, sent in word that he had located Titokowaru at Whakamura, and off we went, joining up page 317to him on the evening of the 17th, when after another smart march our whole force lay in ambush within two hundred yards of the place.
During this interlude Colonel Lyon, who on that occasion was in command, ordered me to take the best scouts, creep up to the pah, and look for a weak spot. On doing so we scouts had a treat, as crawling right up to the place we could distinctly hear the speeches of old Titokowaru and his chiefs, who were holding a rather rowdy council meeting. They were evidently not a happy family, and their opinions greatly differed.
One old Johnny began his harangue by deploring their late losses, asserting that his special tribe had borne more than their share of the fighting, demanded that the retreat should be continued at once, asserted that either the angel Gabriel or a certain prophet was a humbug, that reiterating the word, "Hau Hau," and holding out the palms of their hands had, as far as his knowledge carried him up to date, saved no one from the bullet of the white man, that dancing round the Pai Marire pole had not as yet brought them the gift of tongues, otherwise their apostle would not have received such a defeat as he had done at Taurangaa-Hika from the hands of a mere slave of a Roman Catholic.
Another then took the floor, and asserted that the late honourable member, who had wasted his breath, was quite wrong; that they had not abandoned Tauranga-a-Hika on account of their losses, but because they had no food or water, that the angel Gabriel only delayed helping them so that those weak in faith should be cut off; this page 318being done he would come to their assistance with a legion of angels, and those white men who were not turned into stone would be driven into the sea.
The next speaker, I think, must have been Titokowaru himself or his representative, as he asserted that they would fight on that spot, that the white men could not reach them for three days, and wound up by assuring them he had received a revelation that they would gain a decisive victory.
The council then separated, and it required no great skill in the art of prophecy to foretell that should the coalition of the Hau Hau tribes get another good shake up they would fall asunder like a bundle of sticks when the cord binding it together is severed.
Creeping back I reported to the Colonel, and rejoined the storming party to which I had been told off. The weary waiting was almost over, in another quarter of an hour the dawn of day would have given us the signal to charge, when a mounted native came out of the pah and rode towards us. Greatly surprised as we were, we lay as still as death, and he cantered right through our party without spotting one of us, only to come full butt against the main body. In a breath he slewed his horse round and galloped back, yelling as if he had the stomach-ache, and firing off a revolver. All our fine plans were knocked galley west; out rang the order to charge. We charged; crash went the fence, and head first, feet first, or landing in a sitting position, in we went, but it was too dark to see, much less to aim, and all we could hear was the page 319yells of the astonished Hau Haus, who bolted hell for leather, without firing a single shot.
As soon as it was light enough to see, Kepa, with his Wanganuis, accompanied by a party of us white men, started in pursuit, but we found before we had proceeded far the Hau Haus had broken up and dispersed. We, however, succeeded in killing a few men, who had taken refuge up trees, and also captured three women, who, on being brought into camp, declared that Titokowaru had fled to Te Ngaihere, a historical stronghold that in ancient days had been looked upon as the last refuge of his tribe. By doing so he had lost the last remnant of his prestige, so that the haughty savage who had proclaimed only two months previously he was going to drive the white men into the sea was now a fugitive, abandoned by his allies, laughed at by his enemies, and with but few followers on whom he could rely.
But now the question arose: Where was this fabled Te Ngaihere? No one seemed to know its locality or what it was like. Everyone seemed to have heard traditions about it, but no one had ever set eyes on it. It was a place tapu, not to be talked about, much less to be visited, and whether it were a mountain, a bush, a lake or a cave, no one could give us a single pointer. However, if a place be worth finding it is worth prospecting for, so away went Kepa to scour the country one way, while myself with my usual followers took another direction. It was a big order, as I think you will allow, my gentle readers, to plunge into a trackless country and look for something not knowing what the deuce it was you were hunting for. Troth, page 320for my own part, I consider that prospecting for the Holy Grail was a dry billet alongside the one I had shipped for.
Kepa was the lucky man to solve the problem, Te Ngaihere turning out to be a big island situated in the centre of a quaking swamp. In olden days this swamp had evidently been much deeper, but it still looked quite impassable for anything but a snipe, and both Kepa and Whitmore deemed it to be so, the distance from the mainland to the island being quite four hundred yards.
The whole force, moved up by a night's march, camped close to the swamp and quite out of sight of the stronghold, and although in dense bush, not a fire was allowed to be lit during the whole time we were making our preparations for attack, though our scouts kept the island under observation day and night. It was now a case for all hands to off shirt, out tomahawk and work like beavers, constructing out of supple jacks, hurdles, fifteen feet long and four feet wide, in sufficient quantity to cross the quagmire. So well did we work and so well were we handled that in four days every preparation had been made, and at dark on the 24th we began to lay our frail bridge across the bog, this being finished at four a.m., when without a second's delay the column began to cross. The first lot of us got over dry shod, but then the bridge began to sink, so that the rear of the column had to struggle through slime and water, which took the rear-guard up to their middle.
Notwithstanding this drawback we were all safely across, then, leaving Colonel Lyon with a strong party to protect the bridge head, the little page 321Colonel moved on to the kainga, the inhabitants of which were in blissful ignorance of our proximity. With the scouts I crept right into the place and heard one old man lamenting to his wife that he feared the big evil man (Titokowaru) would soon bring the white men down on them.
It was now an extraordinary accident was about to happen that again saved Titokowaru and the remnant of his bloodthirsty tribe from our just resentment. The day broke clear, when the natives immediately discovered us. Their astonishment was most ludicrous, as they all thought we had dropped from the sky. Some ran away from us; some ran towards us, shouting out words of welcome; others, too overcome to move, could do nothing else but stand with goggle eyes and with palms stretched out, hoarsely muttering the mystic words "Hau Hau," none making the slightest attempt to resist us.
The long-waited-for execution was just about to commence when the Wanganuis, usually so ready to begin killing, shouted out to us to be careful how we fired as two of their chiefs were mixed up with the now flying crowd. The Colonel, not understanding the Maori tongue, fancied that because the Wanganuis had not fired we had in some miraculous manner fallen across an unknown friendly tribe, so ordered us not to fire. None of us did fire, and because we did not fire the Wanganuis did not do so, so we simply stood and watched long lines of men, women and children wading through the swamp within a few yards of us, and it was only when the hindermost fugitives made very many indecent gestures at us, previous page 322to disappearing into the bush, that the Colonel ascertained that the simple, frightened friendlies he had permitted to escape were Titokowaru and his own personal tribe, the most blood-stained fanatics in the whole of New Zealand.
Well, we sat down and looked at one another; and as each man thought over the forced labour of the past few days, of the long, dreary night marches, of the short rations, of the blistered hands and the torn feet which he had suffered and which, through that morning's miserable misunderstanding, he would have to suffer again, he forbore to swear, being unable to find in his repertoire any cuss words suitable to express his sentiments.
Notwithstanding his escape Titokowaru was beaten; he had lost his mana (luck); all the allies who had flocked to him in his prosperity deserted him like rats running from an unseaworthy ship, and after the retirement of the field force he was for a time hunted by small parties of local levies, together with a few of the Armed Constabulary belonging to the district, until he disappeared into the interior, where the Government let him rip.
The subjugation and disarmament of the tribes who had joined him being left to junior officers, Colonel Whitmore immediately started again for the east coast, taking all the available men of the West Coast Field Force with him.
We were therefore shipped on the steamers Sturt and St Kilda, on the 10th of April, reaching Onehunga on the eve of the following day. It was dark when we landed and got our baggage ashore, and we then started to march across the isthmus page 323to Auckland, where fresh shipping awaited to take us down the east coast to Tauranga.
Auckland at that time was in its heyday of prosperity. The great Thames gold-digging was in full swing, and as our column of war-worn, bush-stained men marched through the brilliantly lighted and bustling Queen's Street the temptation for a spree was too much for some of our boys, many of whom had not been into a town or seen a white woman for three years, so they began to break ranks and slip away, determined to have one night's fling, no matter what it cost them. Consequently when we reached the wharf only about half of our men were present. There confusion became confounded, diggers, sailors, civilians and women of a certain class crowding in upon us, tendering the men bottles of liquor or tempting them from their duty. Waggons and drays loaded with camp equipage, ammunition, baggage and stores arrived, which all had to be transferred to the ship, and this was done chiefly by the officers, who then, as the ship was to sail at daylight, had to form themselves into a picket to collect their scattered and more than half - drunk men.
After a night of ceaseless work we managed to get all but sixty on board, the Colonel remaining behind to gather together the stragglers; nor did he let slip the opportunity of venting his unjust spleen, as he reported to the Government that his men were all mutinous and his officers discontented.
This was not true, and caused intense bitterness right through the field force, as the men were not page 324mutinous, but only fancied they were entitled to a short spree after their past hardships; and as for the officers, they had slaved all night without a pause for food or rest until the ship sailed, which she did at the time ordered.