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Frank Melton's Luck, Or, Off to New Zealand

Chapter XXIV. The Hauhaus—War at Patea—Death of Von Tempsky

Chapter XXIV. The Hauhaus—War at Patea—Death of Von Tempsky.

Shortly after my safe return to Wanganui with the cattle, war broke out again, this time at Patea, a township to the north of us. Nearly all the young men about were joining the volunteers, so, not to be behindhand, I begged uncle to spare me for a time, and as he agreed, I was lucky enough to get enlisted in the company of Forest Rangers to which Harry belonged. They were engaged in trying to quell the disturbance at Patea. I have previously mentioned the Hauhaus, but it might not be out of place to give a short account of them here. About the year 1865 a Maori named Te Ua taught this new religion, if it could be termed such. There is little doubt but that he was a lunatic. It is, however, well known that no religious teacher can be so mad that he will not find any quantity of followers, even amongst the most civilized races. How much more, then, amongst a race as excitable as the Maori. The principal ceremony indulged in by these followers of the false prophet was a dance round a pole, on which was fixed the preserved head of one of their enemies, who happened to have fallen into their cruel hands, singing some meaningless words over and over again, and making a hideous noise resembling as much as possible the word Hauhau, or the barking of a dog, from which originated the name of their sect. They were taught that their god required them to kill missionaries, and burn all the Bibles they could get hold of.

I must now return to the time of my joining the Rangers. My aunt and uncle appeared to be a model husband and wife. They had certainly both had previous experience, which must be a great advantage. Fanny had received a letter from Grosvenor, but to her astonishment, instead of having English stamps and postmarks on it, it had evidently been posted in New Zealand. The envelope had inscribed on it, ‘Per favour Mr Blake.’ The writer mentioned to explain this that he had been writing to Blake on business, and had enclosed Fanny's note to save postage. Blake had therefore posted it on. I could see at a glance, when someone alluded to this in my presence, that Fanny was awfully annoyed at it, although she only remarked that she was surprised that he thought of petty economies; it was not like him. He requested page 101 also that she would send her answers to Blake, who was always posted up in his different addresses, and would forward letters straight to him. He was, in fact, his confidential agent in New Zealand.

My two fair cousins did not at all appreciate my determination to join the forces. Fanny in particular was very urgent in her entreaties that I should not go. The tears were in her beautiful eyes as I rode away, and I did not soon forget the warmth of her handclasp, or her kind, sisterly salute—only sisterly, though. ‘God bless you, Frank, and send you back safe to us,’ she said, in feeling tones. I confess I was much touched, and almost altered my determination at the last moment. It is more than probable that, but for Grosvenor's assertion in his letter that he did not hope to be with her till the end of the year, I should never have done my little towards settling the Maori disturbances. He said that his father's illness had caused business entanglements which imperatively required his presence to unravel. I therefore thought it would be quite safe to leave her for a month or so, by which time I hoped the war might be over.

Major Von Tempsky had just arrived from Auckland, having been summoned to lead his men against the Hauhaus at Patea. Harry informed him of my desire to join the Rangers, and he replied that he would be only too happy to enrol any of Harry's friends, especially if they were lads of his spirit.

I was no sooner with them than we were off to Waihi, where several murders had recently been committed by the fanatics, who were acting under the order of their leader, Titokowaru. Just after our arrival, a redoubt, occupied by Captain Ross and twenty-five men, situated about three miles to the south of our camp, was attacked by the rebels at about four o'clock on a Sunday morning. We heard firing, and, mounting our horses, galloped to the redoubt at full speed. They had, however, seen us coming, and bolted into the bush. To pursue them in the dense underscrub, in the darkness of the early morning, would have been worse than useless, as they knew every hole and corner, and we did not. We therefore rode back to the redoubt.

The sight that met our eyes there was one which, at this distance of time, makes my heart sick as I write. Judge, then, the effect it would have on a raw recruit, who had never before witnessed a fellow creature in the power of our universal foe—Death—in any form. I felt a cold, creeping horror in all my limbs, and I could not for weeks afterwards efface from my aching eyelids the horrible scene. Just inside the gateway, covered with gore, and fearfully mutilated with the cruel tomahawk, his heart literally torn out, lay the body of Captain Ross, while strewed around, and all more or less disfigured—some, indeed, almost chopped to pieces—were the still reeking remains of nine or ten of his men. We could only find three of the enemy dead on the field, but doubtless they carried off all they could, fearful that we should follow their example by wreaking vengeance on the slain.

About a fortnight afterwards the escort of the commissariat cart was attacked by seventy or eighty Hauhaus, not far from one of our outposts. We were soon on the spot, and they again fled. We managed to give them a volley they reached the bush, which gave them additional burdens to carry in the way of corpses.

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Comparative inaction while our enemy were thus employed was little to our taste, and we were delighted when the word was passed that Colonel McDonnell would proceed with two hundred men to try and capture the stronghold in which these incarnate fiends were ensconced, and from which they, every now and again, emerged on the excursions described above. It rejoiced in the euphonious name of ‘Te Ngutu o te Manu,’ signifying in English the ‘Beak of the Bird.’ It was pouring with rain as we marched in the early morning, and the Waingongoro River, which we had to cross, was flooded. We passed some rifle pits and earth-works, constructed by the enemy with the idea of serving for a cover to harass us when we approached. Had we happened to use that road a day sooner, we should, undoubtedly, have received too warm a welcome, for there were recent footprints of gentlemen who did not generally wear boots, showing they had but lately left. The peaceful natives now rarely go barefoot, but these sable warriors found that they could glide about more swiftly and silently without these luxuries. We tramped on, wet and weary, till we came to the pa, which was surrounded by a strong palisading of stakes driven into the ground, and strongly bound together with vines and creepers. We halted while the colonel and a few men reconnoitred. The natives evidently had neither seen nor heard us. The order to advance was given, and with a mighty yell, rendered as diabolical as we knew how to make it, we rushed up to the pa. Finding a track in, we made use of it, and fired several volleys at the astonished natives. They returned our fire, but soon retreated to the bush which surrounded it. We found nine of them dead, and a goodly number of bullets, a few arms, and some cartridges of very primitive manufacture. Although the law was very stringent, forbidding the sale of firearms and ammunition to the native race, there were dishonest white men who made enough out of this trade to pay the fines had they been ten times as large, and secure a handsome profit besides. Our loss at this engagement was trifling.

These were not times for dallying, and orders were soon again passed round to be in readiness to leave our outpost at three o'clock the next morning, to the number of about three hundred, one hundred of whom were friendly Wanganui natives, to attack another pa, in which the famous Hauhau leader. Titokowaru, was known to be at the time. The division in which Harry and I served was, as usual, commanded by our brave and gallant Major Von Tempsky. Poor fellow, little he knew—yet none the less boldly would he have marched forth had he known—that that day would be his last on earth. Such was his utter disregard of—or I might more aptly say his ignorance of—the very sensation of fear, even were it the fear of the, Grim Destroyer, himself. Captain McDonnell commanded the native contingent, and few men better understood how to manage, to the greatest advantage, this most serviceable body of men. Major Hunter had charge of the third division, while Colonel McDonnell had command of the whole force. The march was again a most wearisome one. We crossed the Waingongoro River, as usual, and when at last we had to traverse the bush, the track, while we were able to follow it, was execrable—knee deep in mud, with slippery roots sticking up every here and there like mantraps. But bad as this was, the difficulties were as nothing compared to those when we were ordered to take page 103 a detour through the trackless bush, forcing our way through the tangled underscrub as best we could, with due regard to the imperative necessity of moving as quietly as we possibly were able. At last we approached the pa, and we had no sooner halted at some little distance from it than we received a heavy fire. The very heavens appeared to be raining bullets, for, cunningly concealed admist the gnarled and twisted branches of the mighty rata trees, were doubtless some of the best shots amongst the rebels, who picked off all too many of our men with unerring aim. We endeavoured in vain to dislodge them by returning their fire wherever we saw the deadly flash and smoke of a shot dart from the dense foliage. They attributed our failure in hitting them to the fact that their god had rendered them invulnerable while engaged in such a conflict. They did not perceive in their blind devotion that, in this case, they did not pay the old gentleman a very great compliment in according to him the power of guarding them from harm, when they were safely hidden from it by the impervious nature of their ambush. Our fearless Von Tempsky pleaded to be permitted to rush the pa with his boys, but I candidly own, I for one, was not grieved to hear that Colonel McDonnell had refused his sanction. I felt, as doubtless he did, that it would be too reckless a wasting of life. I was not a coward, but I was hardly cut out for a volunteer in a forlorn hope. Here in this mighty forest, usually a scene of sublime and peaceful grandeur, giving one a sensation of almost holy calm, the sight of men—nay, rather incarnate fiends (for are not men engaged in deadly strife better so described?) doing their utmost to destroy one another, and the consciousness that I was one of them, jarred on me, and made me wish that I was far away, and regret that I had ever become a soldier. Harry, on the contrary, was mad to be at them, and swore roundly when we were ordered to cover the retreat of the rest of the force. We were still exposed to a very heavy fire, and it was now that our dearly-loved Von Tempsky, in his strenuous efforts to keep his men, who were disorganized by this unexpected and disastrous repulse, as much as possible under cover, fell, struck by a bullet. Captain Buck and Lieutenant Hunter fell shortly after, the former while stooping down to try and remove poor Von Tempsky's body. Colonel McDonnell was now beating a retreat with as many of the wounded as his men could carry, and he managed to get back to camp by about ten o'clock that night; but having to bring up the rear and harass the pursuing enemy, we did well to get off at all ourselves. Our officers were almost all either shot dead, or badly wounded.

It was not the least of our troubles that we had to leave the bodies of some of our boldest comrades on the field to be abused by the fiendish foe. We were closely pursued, and the Hauhaus kept up a murderous fire. Sub-Inspector Roberts was now in charge, and his task of extricating us from the bush was no ordinary one. Lieutenant Hastings and seventeen men fell as we retreated. The screams of the wounded as the enemy reached them were heartrending. To try to assist them would mean simply going back into the jaws of a death of hellish torture ourselves. At dusk the foe ceased their pursuit, and we halted till the moon should rise, that we might see our way out of the murky bush. There were men among us whose tongues were far more apt at curses than at prayers, yet who prayed that night that God would mercifully grant speedy page 104 insensibility to the badly wounded who were in the power of the relentless Hauhaus. Not a few of them were hurled, screaming with agony from rough handling, on to slow fires. War is at all times cruel. It would be difficult, however, to imagine an attack fraught with more danger and destruction than one on an enemy, whose numbers were not even known, in a bush as dense as I have described, and where each tree near the pa might contain amid its matted branches, as in this case, warriors who are no mean proficients in the art of sharp-shooting, and whose natural home is the bush. All honour, then, to those brave spirits who, even at the last, wished to charge and drive the devils from their den.

I have admitted I was not of them, but I envy them. I will not here enter into the wisdom or otherwise of the attack. I am only writing a history of our lives, therefore I only mention it as it affected us. Many of Von Tempsky's men, feeling that they would never again have the chance of serving under such a leader, and thoroughly disgusted with their defeat, deserted. Titokowaru, emboldened by his success, advanced on Wanganui, burning houses and creating as much destruction as possible. However, he was at length driven off, and the war on the West Coast died out. The friendly natives deserved great praise. Knowing the country so well, and thoroughly understanding the mode of warfare, they rendered us great assistance. Indeed, if one-half the money expended in bringing out the Imperial troops, and sustaining them in New Zealand, had been expended in the better training and paying colonial volunteers, both English and Maori, the war would have been of much shorter duration.