The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)
Chapter 13: Paua-Taha-Nui and Horokiri
Chapter 13: Paua-Taha-Nui and Horokiri
This old churchyard on the hill
That keeps the green graves of the dead.
Ground-plan of Rangihaeata's Pa
At the head of Paua-taha-nui Inlet, 1846.
Rangihaeata's stronghold, on the spot where the church now stands, was in the form of a parallelogram, with two rows of palisades, a ditch within the second row, 6 feet wide and 5 feet deep, and whares with underground communication. The outer stockade was a weak curtain, but the inner palisades were heavy timbers up to 10 inches or a foot in thickness and about 15 feet high. The fort was about eighty paces in length and half that in width; there were flanking defences, and there were intricate interior passage-ways, some on the surface fenced with manuka stakes, so narrow that only one man could pass at a time, and some underground. Shell-proof shelters covered with slabs and tree-trunks and earth were connected with the main trench by covered ways, and the main trench itself was cut with traverses protective against an enfilading fire down the ditch. The rear, as usual in Maori pas, was the weakest in defence; but the problem would have been to reach this part, naturally guarded as it was by water, swamp, and bush.
Captain Grey decided to approach the pa from the rear. He ordered a body of Militia, police, and Ngati-Awa friendlies to march across the hills from the Hutt and endeavour to carry page 125 the place by surprise. The Regular soldiers were excluded from the expedition, not being suitable troops for bush-work. On the afternoon of the 31st July this force, consisting of fifty men of the Hutt Militia, thirteen of the armed police, and 150 Ngati-Awa Maoris, left the Hutt Valley on their march over the hills. The Militia were under the command of Captain McDonogh and Lieutenant White, and the police under Mr. Chetham Strode. One Imperial officer, Ensign Middleton, of the 58th Regiment, accompanied the expedition, and Mr. Ludlam and Mr. Stilling joined as volunteers. The native friendlies were under the charge of Mr. D. Scott. The column ascended the hills on the western side of the Hutt River nearly opposite Boulcott's Farm stockade, and followed a native track over the ranges to the upper valley of the Pauataha-nui; this track was the route used by the enemy in their raids from the Porirua district upon the Hutt. Next morning (1st August) the two foremost guides encountered a scout of the enemy, a minor Upper Wanganui chief named Whare-aitu, otherwise known grotesquely as “Martin Luther.” He was captured. (In September he was court-martialled for rebellion and hanged at Paremata.) The capture was made within half a mile of the pa, and the incident was seen by some women from the hill stockade, which was now visible. Screaming out an alarm, they ran off to the pa. The main body and the Militia and police now came doubling up, and the whole force moved quickly forward. The pa had just been evacuated when the force rushed it.
The next stage in the history of Paua-taha-nui pa was its conversion into an Imperial military post. It was garrisoned by detachments of Regular regiments, and for a considerable period after hostilities had ceased it was occupied as an advanced post covering the construction of the main road northward to Paekakariki and Waikanae by a company of the 65th, who had arrived in Wellington on the 22nd July, 1846, by the barque “Levant” from Sydney—the first of that regiment to reach New Zealand. The force landed by the “Levant” consisted of Captain O'Connell, Captain Newenham, Lieutenant McCoy, Lieutenant Turner, and Assistant-Surgeon White (65th); Ensign Barker (58th); eight sergeants, seven corporals, and 162 rank and file of the 58th and 65th Regiments.
Our illustration showing the Paua-taha-nui post as it was at this period, with the main Maori stockading retained, is from a water-colour drawing by Lieut.-Colonel W. A. McCleverty, who was sent to Wellington from Sydney at the end of 1846 as Land Claims Commissioner, and was afterwards given command of the military operations at Wanganui.
The Maori party in the advance continued the march early next day (4th August), leaving the rest of the expedition to await their report. The natives wore blue-serge blouses, with “V.R.” in large white letters front and back, a precaution necessary in bush warfare, where it was otherwise difficult to distinguish between friendly and hostile Maoris. The Maori scouts followed the trail until they found that the enemy's position was on the summit of the high steep range to the right (east) of the narrow gorge, where the flooded Horokiri came pouring down into the valley.
The English Church at Paua-taha-nui
On the site of Rangihaeata's fortification.
Early on the 6th August Major Last gave orders for the advance up this range to the east of the gorge. The white force was in two divisions. The first consisted of seven officers and 127 rank and file of the seamen from the “Calliope,” the Regular soldiers, the Militia, and the armed police, under Major Arney (58th). The second division, of five officers and 117 men of similar detail, was under the command of Captain Armstrong (99th). The Maori allies under their white officers and tribal chiefs led the way, feeling for the enemy; then came a detachment of Pioneers with axes and other tools to cut a way through the bush. These Pioneers were troops who had been employed on the Porirua roadworks; they were under the command of Lieutenant Elliott (99th). The troops began to advance at 9 a.m., and struggled up through the wet bush that choked the mountain-side. The steep lower slopes surmounted, the column worked up along a narrow ridge, which proved to be that selected by Rangihaeata for his temporary fortification. The crest of the range was toilsomely approached; the axes of the Pioneers made the forest ring. It was a curious method of advancing to attack, for every tree felled ahead of the troops made their position more vulnerable. An old colonial officer, describing to the writer his bush-fighting experiences in the “sixties,” expressed the basic principle of forest warfare exactly when he said, “We very soon learned to look on a tree as a friend.” The Imperial soldier had not gripped that useful lesson in the “forties.” Major Last's idea of skilful tactics was to “cut away the wood,” as he expressed it in his despatch, in his advance upon the bush entrenched foe.page 128
The friendly natives now reported that Te Rangihaeata's position was right ahead on the crown of the ridge. At a point where it narrowed to a few yards, above a very steep slope, they had dug a trench and constructed a parepare, or breastwork of tree-trunks and earth; in front of this a fairly clear glacis had been made by felling the bush for a short distance, so that no sheltered frontal attack could be made. Major Last, after reconnoitring the place, came to the conclusion that the fortification was “very strong,” composed, as he believed, of logs of timber placed horizontally one over another, with loopholes for musketry fire. In reality the breastwork was not a formidable affair, but the enemy held a naturally very strong position, only assailable with success by turning the flanks, an operation for which the Regular troops could not be used in such country.
A party of about twenty, consisting of soldiers, bluejackets, and Militia, under Lieutenant G. H. Page (58th), Ensign H. M. Blackburn (99th), Mr. McKillop, and Lieutenant McDonogh, advanced to within about 50 yards of the enemy's position. The main body of the troops was halted in close formation about 100 yards below the crest of the ridge. The customary method of the frontal rush so much favoured by British officers of that day was suggested, but now Major Last, warned by the experience of his fellow-soldiers in Heke's War, declined to expose his force to so great a risk. As it was, the charge thus far proved fatal to three of the British. Ensign Blackburn, who was acting-brigade-major, was killed by a Maori concealed in a tree. The troops fell back a few yards, and most of them took cover behind a large tree which had been felled across the ridge some 80 yards below the pa, and under a breastwork thrown up at this spot by the Pioneers.
For several hours an irregular but heavy fire was maintained by the troops and their native allies, and some thousands of rounds were expended for very little result. Firing lasted until about dark, when Major Last, fearing that the enemy would attack the troops in this position, very unfavourable for defence against a night raid, marched the greater number of the soldiers down the hill to the camp on the flat. The bluejackets meanwhile were despatched back through the bush to their boats at Paua-taha-nui, with orders to go to the Paremata fort and bring up two mortars.
Major Last by this time had come to the conclusion that it was not desirable either to advance his Regulars farther or to remain in his present camp. On the 10th August the troops were marched page 130 back to Paua-taha-nui, whence the majority were boated down the harbour to the main camp. The natives remained on the range for a week longer, working at their palisades and occasionally skirmishing with the foe. On the 13th it was discovered that Te Rangihaeata and his whole force had quietly abandoned the place under cover of darkness and rain. The weather was now exceedingly wet and stormy, and the friendlies were unable to take up the chase until the 17th. The enemy had retired north-ward along the narrow forested ridges east of Horokiri and Pae-kakariki. The Ngati-Awa Maoris took the lead, under their chiefs Te Puni and Wi Tako Ngatata; the white officers with them were Mr Servantes, of the 99th Regiment, interpreter to the forces, and Mr. D. Scott.
Summit of the Ridge, Horokiri, held by Rangihaeata, 1846
Photos by F. G. Layton, 1920]
The Rear of Rangihaeata's Position, Horokiri, 1846
The Regular troops and the Militia having been withdrawn from the field, the operations in the forest chase were left entirely to the Ngati-Awa allies, with their white officers, and the Ngati-Toa, under Rawiri Puaha. The scene of the pursuit was the roughest imaginable terrain for campaigning. Te Rangihaeata's range was the broken country a few miles east of the coast between Pae-kakariki and Waikanae. Here the forested ranges slant steeply to the narrow belt of coastal flats; inland the landscape is a confusion of sharp and lofty ridges and narrow canyon-like valleys each discharging a rocky-bedded rapid stream. Into this wild bit of New Zealand range and wood Te Rangihaeata and his band were driven, more than half-starved, short of ammunition, but determined to make no submission. They could move but slowly because of the number of women and children, and this consideration impelled them to construct temporary fortifications at suitable places, similar to that at Horokiri, where they could make a stand and give the non-combatants time to move ahead. It would have been a simple matter to have descended to the level country on the sea-coast north of Pae-kakariki, but here retreat would have been barred by Wiremu Kingi and his branch of Ngati-Awa, who had promised Governor Grey to block the progress of rebel war-parties either north or south along the beach.
The Site of Rangihaeata's Entrenchment, Horokiri Ridge
Te Rangihaeata died at Otaki in 1856, from measles aggravated by a cold bath in a river. He was buried at his pa in Poroutawhao. So passed a type of the old pagan order, a true irreconcilable, averse to anything of the white man's but his weapons of war. He was seldom seen in any dress but the picturesque native garments of flax; and a commanding figure he was, tomahawk in hand, standing 2 inches over 6 feet, draped in a finely woven and beautifully patterned parawai or kaitaka cloak.