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

Chapter 11: The Fight at Boulcott's Farm

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Chapter 11: The Fight at Boulcott's Farm

TWO MILES ABOVE the stockade at the Hutt Bridge a pioneer settler, Mr. Boulcott, had hewn a home out of the forest. His clearing bordered the left bank of the river; most of it was in grass; the rough edges of the farm were cumbered with half-burned logs and stumps, and on three sides was heavy timber; the fourth side faced the river and the fringing thickets on the other bank; beyond were the wooded steep hills that hemmed in the Hutt Valley on the west. A rough and narrow bush road, “corduroyed” with fern-tree trunks in the marshy portions, wound through the forest from the bridge at the fort; it was little more than a track, and in many places the branches of the rimu and rata met overhead and kept the road in dampness and shadow. Here and there were settlers' clearings, with houses of sawn timber and shingled roofs, or of slabs and nikau palm or raupo reed thatch; crops of wheat, oats, and potatoes were grown in these oases in the desert of bush. Where rows of shops, cottages, and bungalows, with beautiful orchards and gardens, cover the floor of the Hutt Valley to-day, there were but these roughly trimmed forest homes.

The most advanced post of the Regular troops in May, 1846, was on Boulcott's Farm, where fifty men of the 58th Regiment were stationed under Lieutenant G. H. Page. Some little distance higher up the valley, at the Taita, an outpost was established near Mr. Mason's section, where a small detachment of the Hutt Militia was stationed. Half the force of soldiers at Boulcott's were quartered in a large barn, around which a stockade of slabs and small logs had been erected and loopholed for musket-fire. The rest of the troops were accommodated in small slab outhouses near the barn and in tents. Lieutenant Page and his soldier servant occupied Mr. Boulcott's cottage; the owner of the place and his two men servants used a small house adjoining. It was upon this post that the Maoris, under Rangihaeata's orders, and led by Topine te Mamaku (otherwise Te Karamu), of the Ngati-Haua-te-Rangi, Upper Wanganui, made a desperate assault at daybreak on the morning of the 16th May, 1846.

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During the week preceding this attack a general opinion was entertained at the Hutt that some sudden movement was contemplated by Rangihaeata. A naval reconnoitring-party had been fired upon by the hostiles at Paua-taha-nui, and the failure of the authorities to retaliate had, as it proved, emboldened Rangihaeata and his fellow-warriors to launch one of those lightning blows in which the Maori bush fighter delighted. Te Puni's warning and offers of help were disregarded, and even a word of caution from Rauparaha did not seem to stir the Superintendent from his indifference. The Governor was now absent at Auckland (the troublesome Taringa-Kuri had gone with him in the “Driver”). Rauparaha, in a letter received in Wellington some days before the attack, stated that when Major Richmond and Major Last were at Porirua during the previous week he said to them, in bidding them to be on their guard against a sudden attack, “Kei Heretaunga te huaki ai; kia mohio; huihuia atu nga pakeha” (“At Heretaunga the assault will be made. Be wary; concentrate the white men”). As if that were not enough, a chief of the Pipitea pa, Wellington, called on Major Richmond on Friday, the 15th May (the day before the attack), to warn him of the danger and to offer the assistance of his people. But no extra precautions were taken. Maori and settler alike knew that Rangihaeata would strike; the civil and military heads alone seemed blind or indifferent. For economy's sake Major Richmond disbanded the Militia in Wellington, and reduced the company at the Hutt to twenty-five men; this was a few days before the blow fell.*

The fog of early morning enveloped bush and clearing that dawn of Saturday, 16th May; a white band of denser vapour coiling down the valley above the tree-tops showed the course of the silent river. The sentry near the river-bank, in front of the inlying picket's tent, shivered with the chilly touch of the hour that precedes daybreak. As he turned to pace his beat, with musket and fixed bayonet at the slope, his glance feel upon some low bushes seen obscurely through the curling mist a few yards to his front. They seemed nearer, he thought, than they had been page 106 a few moments before. Next instant he caught a glimpse of a shaggy head and a gun-barrel above one of those bushes. The Maoris were creeping up on the camp, with bushes and branches of scrub held before them as screens. “Maoris!” he yelled as he levelled his “Brown Bess” and fired, then snatched another cartridge from his pouch and ran to the picket tent, trying to reload as he ran, but was overtaken and tomahawked.

A volley was delivered from fifty Maori guns. The Maoris fired low, to rake the floor of the tents. A second volley; another from a different flank; then on came the enemy with the tomahawk. Not a soldier of the picket escaped. Those who were not killed by the volley fell to the short-handled patiti. In and about the picket tent four soldiers lay dead. One of these was William Allen, whose name will be remembered so long as the story of Boulcott's Farm is told. Allen was a tall, young soldier; he was bugler to his company. When the sentry's shot was heard he leaped up, seized his bugle, and, running outside the tent, he put the bugle to his lips to blow the alarm. In the act of sounding the call he was attacked by a Maori, who tomahawked him in the right shoulder, nearly severing his arm, and felled him to the ground. Struggling to rise, the brave lad seized the bugle with his left hand and again attempted to warn his comrades, but a second blow with the tomahawk, this time in the head, killed him. The bugler's call was not needed, however, for the whole camp had been awakened by the sentry's shot and the answering volleys.

The garrison of Boulcott's, now reduced to forty-four or forty-five men, was confronted by quite two hundred warriors—Rangihaeata's band and Te Mamaku's musketeers from the Upper Wanganui. Lieutenant Page's house was surrounded by the Maoris in a very few moments after the destruction of the picket. Page, on the first alarm, had snatched up his sword and loaded pistol, and rushed out with two men, but was confronted by scores of the natives. Driven back into the cottage, the three sallied out again, and joined by several soldiers from one of the sheds, they fought their way to the barn, firing at close quarters at their foes, who attempted to charge in upon them with the tomahawk. The party of men in the barn, three sections, each under a sergeant, fought their post well and successfully, taking turns in firing through the light stockade and in returning to the shelter of the building to reload.

The Maoris evidently had calculated on completely surprising the troops; but what they did not accurately estimate was the steadiness of disciplined Regular troops. Lieutenant Page, having hacked and shot his way to the stockade, assembled his men, and, leaving a small party to hold the fort, came out into the open page 107
From a water-colour drawing by Lieutenant G. H. Page (58th Regt.) 1846] Boulcott's Farm Stockade, on the Hutt

From a water-colour drawing by Lieutenant G. H. Page (58th Regt.) 1846]
Boulcott's Farm Stockade, on the Hutt

The graves of the soldiers killed here are shown in the foreground. The stockade was enlarged and the buildings grouped as shown here after the fight.

page 108 again and boldly attacked his antagonists. Extending the men in skirmishing order, with fixed bayonets, he advanced. In the height of the engagement a party of seven of the Hutt Militia, who had been disbanded on the previous Monday, but who fortunately retained their arms, came gallantly to the assistance of the hard-pressed troops, and fought side by side with the redcoats. Their arrival was the turning-point in the fight. The rebels, seeing these Militia men dash into the battle, began to retire, and at last were driven across the Hutt, after an engagement lasting about an hour and a half. The Maoris formed up on the west side and danced a war-dance. Page estimated their numbers at about two hundred.

A little later that morning John Cudby, then a youth of seventeen, who was engaged in carting commissariat from Wellington to the troops at Boulcott's Farm (for Mr. W. B. Rhodes, the contractor for supplying rations), harnessed up in the yard of the “Aglionby Arms,” Burcham's Hotel, near the bridge stockade, and drove out into the bush for the front, unaware of the fight which had just been waged a short two miles away. In this duty it was the practice of Cudby and the other carters to bring out their loads along the beach road as far as Burcham's in the afternoon, stay there that night, and go on to Boulcott's Farm on the Taita in the morning. Cudby had previously had the protection of an escort of fifteen men under a non-commissioned officer, but, to use his own words, “the poor fellows at the stockade were worked to death, and so I said I'd do without them in the future.” His sole companion henceforth was a clerk, the military issuer. A double-barrel gun loaded with slugs was carried in the cart, but it never became necessary to use it. (This gun was the means of depriving Cudby of his left arm a few months later in Wellington; one of the barrels accidentally exploded, the charge shattering the lad's hand and necessitating amputation of the arm at the elbow.) The carter and his companion were in the middle of the bush, jolting over the boggy “corduroy” patches of road, when they were met by two men in a cart driving furiously from the camp. One of them shouted: “Go back boy, go back! The Maoris have attacked the camp!”

But Cudby did not turn his team. “I dursen't go back,” he cried in his broad English dialect, “I dursen't go back; I've got the rations to deliver.”

The two carters whipped up their horse and hurried on toward Fort Richmond, while Cudby, in fear every moment of receiving a volley from ambush in the dark timber that almost overhung him, but resolved to fulfil his duty, drove on to Boulcott's. When he arrived at the camp he saw laid out in the barn six dead bodies, the soldiers who had fallen; one of them was Bugler Allen, whom page 109 he knew. It was Cudby who, later in the day, took the bodies in his cart to a spot on the river-bank where they were temporarily buried—a place since washed away by floods.

Meanwhile bodies of troops despatched by Major Last—who had been informed of the attack by messenger from the front—were on the march out from Thorndon barracks and the Hutt stockade to reinforce the camp. These troops reinforcing Page drove the Maoris into the bush and silenced them.

Six whites lay dead, and four were severely wounded. Two of the wounded, Sergeant E. Ingram and a civilian named Thomas Hoseman, an employee of Mr Boulcott, died some days later. The losses of the Maoris were not accurately known, for all who fell were carried off, but two were seen shot dead, and ten or more were wounded, some of them severely.

Now the authorities, civil and military, were compelled by the pressure of public opinion to accept Te Puni's generous offer to arm his Ngati-Awa men for the campaign. A hundred stand of arms were supplied to the hapus at Pito-one, and the men at the town pas were also given muskets. Mr. David Scott, a colonist who understood the Maoris and their ways, was appointed to act as the European staff officer of the native contingent, co-operating with the chiefs Te Puni, Wi Tako Ngatata, and other tribal heads. The quality of the arms supplied the natives for their guerilla work was poor—so poor that many of the guns were unfit for use, and the ammunition had become wet and unserviceable. These friendly Maoris, however, made no delay in taking the field. Their total numbers were about two hundred and fifty; most of these assembled at Pito-one two or three days after the fight, and then marched out to a position between Fort Richmond and Boulcott's, where they built a temporary kainga.

The olden battle-ground is now the golfers' links. Boulcott's homestead of 1846 (Section 46/111) was close to the spot where the Lower Hutt Golf Club's house now stands. The frequent floods and the repeated changes of the river's course have considerably altered the original contour of the place, and the actual site of the stockade has been transformed to a gorse-covered waste of gravel.

The citizens appealed for arms. Muskets, accoutrements, and ammunition were served out to a large number of men, who were sworn in as Volunteers. The residents of Te Aro formed a Volunteer Corps a hundred and fifty strong, under Mr. Edward Daniell as captain, Mr. Kenneth Bethune as lieutenant, and Mr. G. D. Monteith as ensign. Nightly patrols were established to guard against an expected attack on the town, and strong lines of pickets of the Regulars, Volunteers, and Militia encircled the page 110 town and patrolled the outskirts. Captain Stanley landed seventy “Calliope” sailors to assist in the event of a hostile visit.

On the 15th June the Maoris killed with the tomahawk another settler, Richard Rush, near the present Lower Hutt Railway-station.

On the 16th June a composite force marched out from Boulcott's Farm on a reconnaissance towards the Taita district and the stretch of the Hutt River near that post. The object of Captain Reed, in command, was to acquaint himself with the tracks in the neighbourhood of the Taita and the fords across the river, and also to ascertain the position of the Maoris, who were believed to be in the vicinity. The force consisted of about fifty Regular troops, nine of the Hutt Militia, and fifteen Ngati-Awa Maoris. The main body of the Ngati-Awa, under Te Puni, meanwhile remained in their camp near the stockade. The track to the Taita was narrow and wet; the high jungle bush was on both flanks. When within about half a mile of the outpost at the Taita (which was two miles from Boulcott's Farm) the advance-guard emerged upon a new clearing, most of it a mass of fallen trees, forming perfect cover for an ambush. As the clearing was entered one of the Ngati-Awa men in the advance mounted a log to obtain a view of the surrounding felled timber and the track ahead. Just below him he saw some armed natives crouching. Firing his musket and shouting an alarm, he leaped down from the log and threw himself flat on his face on the ground. A volley followed instantly, delivered at about fifteen paces from behind the logs on the left flank of the road. The Ngati-Awa scouts and advance-guard, from cover on the same side of the track as the enemy, returned the fire; and the white troops, extending in skirmishing order, held the cover on the right flank of the road. Presently it was discovered that they were being outflanked, and a retirement was found necessary. The column fell back in good order on Boulcott's, carrying several wounded men.

Lieutenant Herbert was wounded. Half-way to the stockade the force was met by a relieving body headed by the subaltern in charge of the post and by Te Puni with a hundred men. The senior officer directed the subaltern to form an advance-guard in the direction of Boulcott's, and the stockade was reached at dark. The combined Ngati-Awa force, after seeing their white comrades into camp in safety, doubled back towards the scene of the action. Some of the enemy had gone; the others were busying themselves in digging up potatoes from one end of the clearing—it was partly for this purpose that they had crossed the river that day. Te Puni and his active fellows engaged those still on the ground, and the skirmish resulted in the withdrawal page 111 of the rebels, who recrossed the river near the Taita and took to the safety of the bush on the western hills.

In the meantime the Hutt Militiamen stationed at the Taita post—a small blockhouse surrounded by a stockade—had heard the sound of the battle in the bush, and had engaged in a brisk little skirmish of their own. Ensign White left the stockade with a sergeant and twelve men; and advanced in the direction of the firing. The little party of Militia came under fire very soon after they had entered the bush. They replied to the Maoris with coolness and skill, taking cover behind trees and fallen timber, and continued the engagement for more than an hour. At last, realizing that his detachment was in danger of being outflanked and surrounded by a superior force of the enemy—many of whom were armed with double-barrel guns—Mr. White withdrew to the stockade.

Mr. Peter Speedy, of Belmont, Lower Hutt, who was born in Wellington in 1842, informs me that the Belmont Creek, which runs out through his property, was an old war-track of the Maoris between the Heretaunga and the Porirua districts. The trail led up the rocky bed of the creek for about half a mile to a place where the stream forked; thence there was an ascent up a steep and narrow forested spur. The natives had cleared a part of this ridge, which was only a few yards wide, and when Speedy was bushfelling there many years after the war he found the remains of huts which had been roofed with totara bark, also stones used in the earth-ovens, a rusted bayonet, a musket-barrel, and other relics of 1846. The lofty ridge was an excellent position for defence, and it had evidently been used as a temporary pa in the war-days. The ground falls precipitously away for several hundreds of feet on either side into the canyon-like valleys. It was no doubt by this route that the war-party descended on Boulcott's Farm in May, 1846; and it was this track also that the Militia and friendly natives took in the march to Paua-taha-nui. The track entered the gorge very close to the spot where the Belmont Railway-station now stands. The Maori name of the range in rear of Belmont is Te Raho-o-te-Kapowai.

Another Porirua war-track ascended the hills on the west side of the Hutt about a mile lower down the valley, not far from the present railway-station of Melling; it trended across the hills on the northern side of the peak called Pokai-mangumangu. When the Hon. Dr. Maui Pomare was clearing the site for his present home overlooking the Hutt he discovered the remains of an old Maori camp on a wooded terrace commanding a wide view over the valley. The track was up the adjacent spur near Mr. B. M. Wilson's house.

* The Hon. Dr. Pomare, M.P., narrates an incident illustrative of the insurgents' strategy. His informant was old Tungia, of Ngati-Toa. A day or two before the attack on Boulcott's Farm either Rangihaeata or Te Mamaku sent a scout up to the Tinakori Range, near the present wireless station. Here the man lit a large fire, and he employed the earlier part of the night in walking round and round this fire with the idea of giving any watchers below the impression that a large force of warriors was gathered there to descend on Wellington, and so diverting attention from the Hutt. A considerable part of the British force at the Hutt was presently ordered into the town, and was in Thorndon barracks when Te Mamaku descended on the post at Boulcott's.