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

Chapter 12: Operations at Porirua

page 112

Chapter 12: Operations at Porirua

TO THE RELIEF alike of Wellington townsmen, outlying settlers, and Ngati-Awa friendlies, Governor Grey returned to Port Nicholson from Auckland on the 1st July in H.M.S. “Driver,” and immediately infused energy into the lagging campaign against Te Rangihaeata. He revisited the military posts, made arrangements for the more speedy construction of the Wellington—Porirua Road and the road up the Hutt towards the Wairarapa, and had mutually satisfactory interviews with Te Puni and his leading chiefs. On the 12th July the “Calliope” landed at Paremata Point Major Last and a small reinforcement of twenty men of the 58th and forty-two of the 99th, under Lieutenants Page and De Winton and Ensign Blackburn. The frigate also took to Porirua a boat intended to be used as a gunboat in patrolling the inner shallow waters of Porirua and the Paua-taha-nui arm. The little craft was the longboat of the barque “Tyne,” which had been wrecked on the Rimurapa rocks at Sinclair Head. An energetic midshipman of the “Calliope,” Mr. H. F. McKillop, soon afterwards promoted to a lieutenancy, was given charge of the gunboat, which proved highly useful in the task of reconnoitring the upper waters and in occasional skirmishes with Rangihaeata's men. Mr. McKillop had already made a reconnaissance of Rangihaeata's position in a light four-oared boat, and had discovered that the rebel pa, although apparently not formidable in construction, was strategically strong in situation, being at the extreme head of Paua-taha-nui Inlet, partly surrounded by water, swamp, and bush, and difficult of approach either by land or by sea. This expedition (10th May) was a lively morning's adventure, in which McKillop and his comrades narrowly escaped being cut off.

McKillop's patrol would have been outmatched in a contest with the war-canoes which made a barbaric parade on the lake-like waters of Paua-taha-nui. A naval boat several times ventured up near the head of the arm, and on two occasions was compelled to retreat before these craft packed with Maoris. Two or three of the largest canoes were each manned by about fifty page 113 warriors, most of them armed with double-barrel guns. When, however, the longboat of the barque “Tyne” was procured and converted into a gunboat (oars and sail) with a 12-pounder carronade mounted in the bows, besides a small brass gun lent by Captain Stanley of the “Calliope” frigate, the scales were more evenly balanced. McKillop felt, with these two pieces of artillery and the addition of six bluejackets to his crew, that his little man-of-war was fit match for the whole of Rangihaeata's canoe flotilla.

On the morning of the 17th July the young naval officer, scanning the wooded coasts and the placid waters of the sea-lake, observed a large number of dark figures on the cleared part of a long point of hilly land which formed the largest promontory on the southern side of the Paua-taha-nui, and distant a little over a mile from Paremata camp. Through the narrow sea-passage where the railway-bridge now crosses the water near the Paremata fishing village McKillop followed the main channel of the tidal basin north-eastward until he was abreast of the promontory (to-day known as Long Point). Nothing was stirring on shore; every figure had vanished; but the officer ordered his crew to pull close in to the shore, and when within a few yards of the rocks fired a charge of canister into the manuka and small ngaio trees. Yells of mingled pain, fright, and rage arose, and from the bushes leaped a horde of shaggy-headed figures with flashing gun-barrels. It was only for a few seconds that their dusky faces were seen; they quickly took cover and opened a hot fire on the bluejackets. The gunners again raked the foliage with canister, and this fire brought out the Maoris. Firing as they came, they rushed into the open, and, seeing that the boat was within a few yards of the shore, many of them dashed into the shallow water on the edge of the main creek, attempting to board the boat. The men's beds and blankets had been lashed up in their hammocks and fastened round the top-sides and gun-wale of the boat, forming a bullet-proof inner breastwork. The encounter was at such close quarters that it was almost impossible for the warriors to miss. Nearly every bullet struck the boat, and although she was coppered almost up to the gunwale many balls passed through, to be stopped by the sailors' bedding parapet.

The Maoris, it was now seen, were led by Te Rangihaeata himself. For the first time in the campaign he personally headed his men in a charge against the whites. The warriors made an attempt to board the boat, imagining that she was aground, so close was she to the point. One party made an attack upon the quarter, and, as the carronade in the bows did not bear upon these men, McKillop slewed his brass gun, which was on a swivel, and fired at them. The gun burst; the midshipman was knocked page 114
Porirua and Paua-taha-nui (1846)

Porirua and Paua-taha-nui (1846)

down, his eyebrows were singed off, and for some moments he was blinded by the explosion, and the flying lock cut his head. Fortunately, no other harm was done, and when McKillop had recovered from the shock and had washed the powder out of his eyes he was relieved to find that the Maoris had been beaten back from the boat's side, and that a charge of canister had checked the main party of assailants. Again the warriors came on, led by Rangihaeata, dashing out through the shallow water, some firing one barrel as they came and reserving the other for the boarding rush. The continued fire of canister from the carronade and McKillop's accurate use of his double-barrel gun finally beat back the assailants.

The crew completed their victory by firing several 12 lb. solid shot into the bushes where the Maoris had taken cover, and returned to Paremata.

By Proclamation dated 18th June, signed by Captain George Grey, Lieutenant-Governor, the operation of martial law in the “Island of New Ulster,” as the North Island was officially page 115
Photo, J. C., 1918] Ruins of Fort Paremata, Porirua

Photo, J. C., 1918]
Ruins of Fort Paremata, Porirua

styled, was extended from Wainui to Wanganui. The district under martial law was now the whole of that part of the Island to the southward of a line drawn from Wanganui on the west to Castle Point on the east coast; the Town of Wellington itself was excluded. Reinforcements were hurried round the coast to Porirua. This was the result of alarming news received from the north. A large war-party of Upper Wanganui natives was on the march down the coast to reinforce Te Rangihaeata and Te Mamaku; the main body had by this time reached Rangitikei, while an advance-party was at Waikawa, near Otaki. The expedition was headed by the fighting chiefs Ngapara (who was a near relative of Te Rangihaeata) and Maketu, two of the most turbulent warriors of the Wanganui country. This news was brought by a young Wanganui settler, Richard Deighton, who had chanced to obtain sight of a letter bearing Te Rauparaha's signature, addressed to the inland and up-river natives of the Wanganui tribes, urgently inviting them to join their chief Te Mamaku and his ally Te Rangihaeata in the campaign against the European settlements. Mr. Deighton went to Mr. Samuel King, the Police Magistrate in Wanganui, and told him the substance of the letter, informing him also that he believed a war-party was being organized up the river with the object of joining the rebels in the Wellington district. In confirmation of this, the residents of Wanganui a few days later were startled by the appearance page 116 in the town of a body of over two hundred Maori warriors. Deighton, knowing this to be a subterfuge, induced the Magistrate to write a despatch to the Governor at Wellington, undertaking to deliver it into Captain Grey's hands in time to prevent the Wanganui war-party's coalition with the rebels at Porirua and the Hutt. The letter was written on very thin paper in Indian ink, and one of Deighton's sisters sewed it in the collar of his coat. On the following day the war-party left the Wanganui bank and set out on the march, accompanied, as was the Maori way, by a number of women, who carried food and cooked for their lords on the journey. Some of these women had their young children with them. The pakeha despatch-bearer joined them and marched with them, telling the leader Maketu that he was anxious to reach Wellington as soon as possible, as there was a box of goods awaiting him there from his father in England. After a series of adventures Deighton reached Wellington just in time to catch Governor Grey as he was about to leave for Auckland, and delivered to him not only the Wanganui despatch but also a letter to Rauparaha which Maketu had confidingly entrusted to him. He had left the Maoris at Rangitikei.

Grey acted quickly after assuring himself of Rauparaha's duplicity. He ordered a force of troops and armed police aboard the warship “Driver,” with some bluejackets from the “Calliope.” The “Driver” next morning anchored off Waikanae, in the strait between Kapiti Island and the long beach where the Waikanae River issues from its sand dunes. Here Captain Grey went ashore and visited the Ngati-Awa Tribe; they were gathered in their pa, under Wiremu Kingi te Rangitaake, who afterwards fought the British troops in the Taranaki War. To Wiremu Kingi and his chief men the Governor explained the danger which existed of a coalition between the Wanganui war-party and Rangihaeata's force, and requested the assistance of the Waikanae people in preventing a junction. Kingi promised that if Maketu brought his taua along the beach through Ngati-Awa territory they would intercept and attack him, but told Grey that they could not take the tribe into the bush if the expedition left the coast route and travelled through the ranges to the head of Paua-taha-nui or the Hutt. With this attitude the Governor was satisfied; he satisfied himself also, from what he heard at Waikanae, that Rauparaha was playing the Government false. This fully decided him in his decision to strike swiftly. Rowing off again to the “Driver,” Grey requested the commander to get under way and steam down past Porirua, as if going to Wellington, and then return after dark and anchor off the entrance to the harbour. This stratagem lulled any suspicions the Ngati-Toa and their wary chief might have entertained when they observed the warship on the coast.

page 117

The Ngati-Toa village of Taupo, where Te Rauparaha dwelt in fancied security with his wives, tribesmen, and slaves, stood on the northern side of the entrance to Porirua Harbour; the thatched, low-eaved huts, fenced in with palisading, occupied the sandy foreshore exactly where the seaside Township of Plimmerton stands to-day. A small stream flowed into the bay on the Paremata side of the settlement; the other or seaward side was bounded by a little knoll of a cape, the wahi-tapu, or holy place of the pa; it remains the only bit of Taupo held inviolate by the modern remnant of Ngati-Toa. The British military encampment on the Paremata sandy flat in the inner bay was about three-quarters of a mile distant from the pa.

In spite of the naval patrol on the waters of the inner harbour the hostile Maoris maintained their communication with Rauparaha and his people at Taupo, either by canoe at night or by the bush tracks on the northern side of the Paua-taha-nui arm. Gunpowder and other supplies for Rangihaeata's men were carried through the bush by these tracks from Pae-kakariki and Taupo. Unknown to the British, Rangihaeata himself was in Taupo pa about a week before the “Driver” made her surprise visit. He spent a night in Rauparaha's house. In the morning his mind was filled with forebodings. He said to his kinsman, “O Rau, last night I dreamed a dream, a dream of evil to come. It will be well if you come away with me. Leave this place; it is full of danger.”

He strongly counselled Rauparaha to leave the sea-coast and go with him to Paua-taha-nui, where he would be safe. But Rauparaha, although uneasy, declined to leave Taupo. His wife Te Akau was ill and unable to travel. Te Akau was his chief wife; she had come down the west coast with him from Kawhia in the great migration of Ngati-Toa a quarter of a century previously, and he was not willing to leave her now, when she was unable to move. Despite his nephew's premonition and warning, therefore, he decided to remain at Taupo for the present. Rangihaeata himself returned at once by the bush track to his pa at the head of the harbour.

It was towards midnight on the 22nd July that the “Driver” with her force of special-service men anchored off the bay. The Governor and Captain Stanley sent for Mr. McKillop, the midshipman of the “Calliope” who had distinguished himself on the Paua-taha-nui patrol. To the young officer the Governor unfolded his scheme. Te Rauparaha was to be arrested on a charge of treason; the chief Te Kanae and several other Maoris of Taupo were also to be captured. It was necessary to take the wily old man by surprise, and McKillop was chosen for the task, as he was acquainted with the Maoris and their village. Major Durie, the page 118
From a drawing by Charles Heaphy, about 1840]Te Rangihaeata (“The Dawn of Day.”)

From a drawing by Charles Heaphy, about 1840]
Te Rangihaeata
(“The Dawn of Day.”)

officer in charge of the Wellington armed police, was requested to capture Te Kanae and the other men. Mr. Deighton was instructed to go ashore with the party and interpret the charge of treason to Rauparaha and assist in making him a prisoner.

With the first glimmering of day McKillop and his boat's crew landed on the rocks about a quarter of a mile eastward of the pa. The other boats were busily employed landing the two hundred redcoats and bluejackets and the police.

“If the natives come out of their pa take no notice of them, but follow me silently,” said the interpreter to McKillop; “I know where the old man's house is.” Wading the small stream near the pa, the little party ran as quietly as they could up to the middle of the village, and Deighton pointed out Rauparaha's page 119 whare. It was now fully daylight. The arresting-party hastened on to the chief's house, and there they came upon Rauparaha; the suspicious old warrior had just crawled out through the low doorway into the thatched porch. His wife Te Akau was by his side; she called the customary greeting, “Haere mai, haere mai!” Deighton informed Rauparaha that the force had come by the Governor's order to take him on board the man-of-war to be tried for having given the arms, ammunition, and provisions with which he had been supplied by the Government to Te Rangihaeata, then in open rebellion against the Government.

The interpreter had scarcely spoken the words before the old savage, who was seated immediately in front of the low doorway, threw himself back with an extraordinarily active movement for a man of his age, and in an instant seized a taiaha, with which he made a blow at his wife's head, realizing that she had been the indirect cause of his arrest. McKillop, who had been standing on the alert within arm's reach of Rauparaha, jumped forward and warded off the blow with his pistol. At the top of his voice the chief shouted, “Ngati-Toa e! Ngati-Toa e!” It was a call to his tribe for rescue. Out from the whares rushed the Maoris, but their chieftain was already in the grip of the sailormen. McKillop had him by the throat, while his four men secured him by the legs and arms, and held him in spite of his desperate struggles and the fact that his naked body was as slippery as an eel's, coated with a mixture of kokowai, or red ochre and shark-oil. The coxswain of McKillop's boat, an old sailor named Bob Brenchley, was the first of the men to grip an arm of the prisoner. Rauparaha savagely fixed his teeth in Brenchley's bare arm. The bluejacket laughingly shook his arm free, and with his open hand lightly smacked Rauparaha's face, explaining, “Why, ye damned old cannibal, d'ye want to eat a fellow up alive?” Rauparaha, in spite of his struggles, was carried down to McKillop's pinnace, which had been rowed along to the beach in front of the pa. The village was by this time surrounded by the force from the “Driver,” and any attempts at rescue were useless. Captain Stanley, of the “Calliope,” who had just come ashore from the “Driver,” called out, “Here, you, Mr. Deighton, it was you who discovered the old devil's treachery; you shall, if you like, have the honour of taking him off.”

The interpreter thanked the naval captain, and jumped into the boat. Mr. McKillop remained ashore to complete his work, and the captive was quickly rowed off to the war-steamer. As the crew pulled out they passed Motuhara, a small beach settlement where some of the Ngati-Toa lived. Rauparaha again lifted up his voice in a cry to his tribe for rescue: “Ngati-Toa e! Ngati-Toa e!” The interpreter told the chief that if a canoe page 120
From a drawing by JohnWilliam Bambridge, at St. John's College, Tamaki, Auckland, 16th June 1847]Te Rauparaha

From a drawing by John [sic: William] Bambridge, at St. John's College, Tamaki, Auckland, 16th June 1847]
Te Rauparaha

did put off to the rescue it would only take back a dead man, for he (Deighton) would certainly shoot him first. The old man, looking the interpreter directly in the eyes, said bitterly, “Shoot now; it would be better I were dead among my own tribe than alive as a prisoner and slave in the hands of an enemy.”

Major Durie and his police had little trouble in arresting the minor chiefs Wiremu te Kanae, Hohepa Tamaihengia, and two or page 121 three others. Every whare in Taupo and in the villages out west-ward of the point, Motuhara and Hongoeka, was searched for guns and ammunition. Over thirty muskets, many tomahawks, a quantity of ball cartridge, eight casks and kegs of gunpowder, cartouche-boxes, and a small 4-pounder cannon were seized.

While the sailors and police were transferring the captured arms to the boats the word came that a large party of Rangihaeata's men was putting off in canoes to assist Rauparaha, the alarm of an attack on Taupo pa having reached the stronghold at Paua-taha-nui. McKillop and his bluejackets were quickly aboard their gunboat and pulling up towards Paua-taha-nui to meet the Maoris. There were fifty men in a war-canoe paddling down the arm, but they put about and retreated at their utmost speed. The naval boat rowed up in pursuit until the shallows at the harbour-head were reached, opening fire with the bow carronade. The Maoris were chased back into their pa with McKillop's round shot flying about them; then five or six shots were fired into the stockade on the hill where the midshipman had enjoyed his morning's reconnaissance some weeks previously.

A few hours later Wellington was astonished by the news of the Governor's well-planned coup. The chiefs were transferred to the “Calliope,” and in that frigate they were detained as prisoners of war. No charge was formulated against them, but it was undesirable that they should be at large, and the cause of peace was certainly advanced by their capture. Te Rauparaha was well treated; he was a guest rather than a prisoner. He was taken to Auckland in the frigate, and was permitted to visit his son, Tamehana te Rauparaha, at St. John's College, Selwyn's establishment at the Tamaki; he was given numerous presents, and entertained with the consideration to which his rank in the Maori nation entitled him. It was his delight to appear in a naval captain's epauletted uniform; our sketch—the best drawing of Te Rauparaha in existence—shows him attired in this costume on his visit to St. John's College in 1847. He was not permitted to return to his tribe until January, 1848, when he was landed at Otaki by H.M.S. “Inflexible.” By that time his power for strife had passed. Possibly he was a more dignified figure as a captive than in his olden home at Otaki, shorn of its ancient savage glory. In Tamehana te Rauparaha's manuscript narrative of his father's life (Grey Collection, Auckland Public Library) there is a poetic speech delivered by the old man to his son when in detention aboard the “Calliope” in Port Nicholson after Tamehana's return from the North: “Kei mea mai te tangata tenei au te noho pouri nei ia au e noho taurekareka atu nei i runga i taku kaipuke manuao nei i a ‘Karaipi’; kaore rawa aku pouri, kaore au e mohio ana e noho taurekareka ana au. Ki taku whakaaro e noho rangatira page 122 ana au, he whare rangatira i a aku korero e korero atu.” (“Let not men think that I abide in grief as I now remain in slavery aboard my warship the ‘Calliope’; no, it is not so. I know not any grief, though I so remain a prisoner. In my mind I am abiding here as a chief, and my abode is an abode of a chief.”)

The son in his manuscript likens these words to those of the Apostle Paul, who declared that his prison-house was a royal dwelling. A pakeha poet had expressed very much the same sentiment when he wrote, long before Rauparaha's day—

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.

The incident of Rangihaeata's dream (moemoea) and his warning to Rauparaha, and the old chief's attack upon his wife, was related to me by the nearest surviving relative of Rangihaeata, Heni te Whiwhi (died 1921), of Otaki. She said the reason Rauparaha made a blow at Te Akau when he was informed that he was under arrest was that he instantly remembered that had it not been for her illness he would have been in a safe retreat inland. McKillop and the other Europeans imagined erroneously that Rauparaha struck at his wife because he believed she had betrayed him.

After the war a block of land on the coast at Hongoeka, near Plimmerton, was made over by Rangihaeata to some members of the Ngati-Mutunga Tribe in return for their services in carrying gunpowder from the coast to his pa at Paua-taha-nui. These Ngati-Mutunga, some of them old men, made up small casks of powder in flax-basket pikaus or back-loads, and transported them through the forests and ranges of Pukerua and along the northern shore of the bay.