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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

Operations on the Wairoa

Operations on the Wairoa

Lieut.-Colonel Arthur Morrow, V.D. (Staff, retired), supplies the following narrative of the expedition of the Auckland Rifle Volunteers to Wairoa South in 1863:—

“It was on a raw, dreary morning in the early spring of 1863 that the detachments of the Auckland Rifle Volunteers intended to relieve the Militia garrison doing duty in the Galloway Redoubt in the Wairoa district embarked on the Government steamer ‘Sandfly,’ then commanded by Captain Marks. We landed at the farm owned by the late Captain Salmon, and made all possible speed by a bush track to the redoubt. The site on which the camp was situated commanded the bridge and approaches to the river some 300 or 400 yards distant to the east; farther on in that direction, on the other side of the river, was the stockade, a heavily timbered loopholed structure. Near-by was the store and district post-office. The ground on the north and west faces of the redoubt—an earthwork of rectangular shape, with salient angles, and later enclosed with a strong palisade—was covered with dense bush. The parish church stood a quarter of a mile to the north. The ground to the east and south had been cleared of bush and was under grass, whilst that to the south-eastward of the stockade still contained a good deal of standing timber faced by a thorn hedge. We took up the quarters allotted to us within the quadrangle in company with a detachment of the 65th Regiment, under Lieutenant Chevalier, later relieved by a detachment of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment, under Lieutenant Russell.

“On the afternoon of the 12th September we received the welcome intelligence through a friendly chief (Hori te Whetuki), called by the settlers ‘Long George,’ that the rebels had decided on attacking the camp in three days. On the morning of the 15th, when some of the men were playing cricket across the river, in the temporary company of a fatigue-party—told off to procure some slab timber for use in the redoubt—two shots were fired at them in quick succession from the hedge adjoining the bush, about 150 yards from the stockade. The cricketers and fatigue-party (who were unarmed) ran to the redoubt and stockade, from which the fire was quickly returned. The natives, however, not deeming it prudent to endeavour to carry the works by assault in the face of such a well-sustained rifle-fire, finally retired. The only casualty reported on our side was a slight arm-wound occasioned to Ensign Johnson by a spent ball. A young lad of Mr. Niccol's had a narrow escape, a ball having passed through his cap.

“On the afternoon of the 17th we were again thrown into a state of excitement by the appearance of two travel-stained men of the mounted page 456 patrol, who galloped into camp with the news that a large party of natives was plundering the settlers' houses about three miles distant, and had exchanged some shots with the patrol. A detachment of twenty men from the stockade, under Lieutenant Steele, with thirty men from the redoubt, the whole under the command of Major W. C. Lyon, made a forced march to intercept the natives on their way to their settlement at Otau, a few miles up the river. Coming up with them in about an hour, our party opened fire, and, although the range was at first a long one, it had the effect of causing them to drop a considerable number of their packs containing loot. As they possessed an advantage over us in the direct route they were taking, we made a detour through a belt of bush and fallen timber, and came up with them at a closer range, when we commenced firing, killing three of their number. A deep stream, swollen by the recent rains, impeded us, and some of the men who wore greatcoats disappeared one after the other in the swollen torrent, and only managed to cross by great exertion. We succeeded at last in crossing, but our advance was finally checked by the Wairoa River, and we were obliged to content ourselves by extending in skirmishing order across the face of a hill commanding their village, and kept up a well-sustained fire on them, to which they replied vigorously by independent firing, as well as in volleys from numbers of men formed into large squares. There was very heavy firing, but we sustained no casualties. As it was now approaching dusk we retired, maintaining six paces intervals, as they had commenced an outflanking movement to cut us off.

“Our firing having been heard at the camp, we soon heard the bugle sounding the ‘Advance’ as a party of men of the 18th Regiment, under Lieutenant Russell, came to our relief. We now gave the natives a parting volley, and returned to camp. On the following morning a party of fifty men from our camp, with twenty Wairoa Rifles from the stockade, under Lieutenant Steele, left at 4 o'clock, arriving within 300 yards of the native village (Otau) shortly before daylight. We fired heavily into the whares, but as the river was still in flood we were unable to approach their position to a close range, and drew off without sustaining any casualties. On our way back to camp we buried the men killed on the previous evening. Later on in the day another expedition was organized, and twenty men of the 18th were despatched to occupy the position in front of the village, whilst Major Lyon, with seventy-five of all ranks, marched by a track on the other side of the river to take the settlement in the rear. We found, however, that the natives had gone. It was unfortunate that this course was not decided upon in the morning attack, when it would have assured success. We made a search through the village and secured much of the goods taken from the settlers (which we were enabled to return). The whares were riddled with bullets, and the profusion of blood-stains, both inside and out, testified to the native losses. We got several guns and tomahawks, and returned to camp.

“Matters now remained quiescent for a little time; then we ascertained that a large native force had assembled in the settlement of Urungaheuheu, some four miles distant across the river from our camp. An expedition was again organized, consisting of the 18th men with as many of the Rifle Volunteers as could be spared—having regard to the efficient protection of the redoubt. We arrived in the settlement early in the forenoon, only to find that the natives had made a hurried departure, leaving an old woman as the sole occupant. After a brief halt we pushed on again in the direction taken by the natives, and discovered that they were erecting a pa some miles distant in the ranges. Not being possessed of artillery or even sufficient supplies for such an expedition, we were obliged to return, picking up some fresh supplies for the camp in the way of pigs and poultry, in addition to which we recovered some watches and other valuables belonging to the settlers, together with guns and tomahawks. page 457 Our campaign was now brought to a close for the present, as we received orders to return to Auckland by the ‘Sandfly,’ under the command of Lieutenant Hunt (H.M.S. ‘Harrier’). A relief detachment of Militia took our place in the redoubt.”