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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

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Chapter 13: Paua-Taha-Nui and Horokiri

A TRAVELLER TAKING the main road north from Wellington City and driving round the head of the Paua-taha-nui Inlet will pass within a few yards of the spot where Te Rangihaeata and his men built their palisaded and rifle-pitted stronghold in 1846. The exact site of the pa can readily be identified. The spot is occupied to-day by a steepled church of old-fashioned design, crowning as in a picture the green hill above the one-street village of Paua-taha-nui—now misspelled Pahautanui. The salt water once flowed at high tide nearly to the foot of that rounded hill; the land was raised several feet by the earthquake in 1855, and now the one-time flats of sand and mud are covered with grass, and the beach where Maori war-canoes and pakeha boats lay long ago has become a sheep-paddock. A little stream comes down from the hills around the eastern and southern foot of the mound, and joins the sea 200 yards below the place where our main road crosses on a wooden bridge. The hill is small-wooded like a park; white grave-stones gleam among the shrubs and trees on its seaward face. It is a slumberous pretty spot—

This old churchyard on the hill
That keeps the green graves of the dead.

Transformed as the place is by the lapse of nearly three-quarters of a century, one still may reconstruct in imagination the hilltop as it was in Rangihaeata's year of war. It was a cleverly chosen retreat, convenient to the canoe-stream and the harbour, yet sufficiently removed from deep water to be unapproachable by heavily gunned war-vessels, and beyond effective musket-range from any but the smallest boats. It was protected on three sides by water and marshes. On the south and south-east there was a cliff, at its highest about 30 feet, now thickly covered with trees dropping to a backwater of the little river. On the scarped front—the west—were the curving stream, with its swampy borders, and the salt water; on the north and north-west were page 124
Ground-plan of Rangihaeata's Pa At the head of Paua-taha-nui Inlet, 1846.

Ground-plan of Rangihaeata's Pa
At the head of Paua-taha-nui Inlet, 1846.

swamps and small streams. The stream on the south was navigable for good-sized boats and canoes, which could be brought close up under the walls of the pa. The grass- and shrub-grown scarps in the English churchyard appear to mark the line of olden ditch-work on the south and south-west faces of the pa. In the paddock in rear of the church there are shallow trench and potato-pit excavations and levelled spaces indicating the sites of houses.

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 scene of hostilities now shifted northward. Te Rangihaeata, it was discovered, had taken post in the wooded ranges page 126
From a drawing by Colonel W. A. McCleverty, 1849] Paua-taha-nui Stockade

From a drawing by Colonel W. A. McCleverty, 1849]
Paua-taha-nui Stockade

high up above the Horokiri (now usually known as Horokiwi), a small river which has its source in the broken country immediately east of Pae-kakariki. The Government forces were strengthened—in numbers, at any rate—by the addition of over a hundred Ngati-Toa men from the Porirua villages, under their chief Rawiri Puaha. On the 23rd August, 1846, a forward movement was commenced. The forces assembled at Rangihaeata's lately abandoned quarters totalled 250 bayonets—Regulars of the 58th, 65th, and 99th, the Hutt Militia, and the Wellington armed police—and the highly useful Ngati-Awa friendlies, numbering 150. On Monday, 3rd August, the force began the march up the thickly wooded valley of the Horokiri, the natives in the advance. Puaha led his tribe; Mr. D. Scott and Mr. Swainson were in command of the Ngati-Awa. The troops were commanded by Major Last, with Major Arney second in command. Captain Stanley, of the “Calliope,” accompanied the expedition. A number of bluejackets from the frigate came up on the following day, under Mr. McKillop. A recent camp of Rangihaeata, in the unroaded woods three miles from the harbour, was occupied for the night. Suspended from the roof of one of the whares the Militia page 127 found the bugle which had been taken from the gallant bugler William Allen, killed in the fight at Boulcott's Farm.

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.

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.

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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.

McKillop and his sailors, with a number of Royal Artillery men, returned on the following day (7th August), bringing two small mortars and ammunition. It was a wearisome march from the Paua-taha-nui to the camp at the foot of the range, for everything had to be carried on the back over the narrow and slippery bush trail. The pieces were mounted on a terrace close to the page 129
Drawn by A. H. Messenger, from a water-colour sketch by Lieutenant G. H. Page (58th Regt.), 1846] The Attack on Rangihaeata's Position, Horokiri

Drawn by A. H. Messenger, from a water-colour sketch by Lieutenant G. H. Page (58th Regt.), 1846]
The Attack on Rangihaeata's Position, Horokiri

right bank of the Horokiri Stream, and served by a detachment of a dozen Royal Artillery men under Captain Henderson. The shelling occupied most of the day on the 8th August, at a range of about three-quarters of a mile; about eighty shells were fired. At the same time the Militia, armed police, and friendly natives, joined by a number of the more energetic Regular officers, skirmished with the enemy in the bush near the pa. The artillerymen soon found the range, and many shells fell in and around the rebel position.

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.

The scene of the engagement of the 6th August, 1846, is the summit of a steep and lofty range on Mr. N. Abbott's sheep-run at Horokiri. Mr. Abbott's homestead, near the foot of the range and just at the entrance of the Horokiri Gorge (through which the main north road runs to Pae-kakariki), is on or very close to the site of the main camp of the troops, under Major Last, on their expedition to Rangihaeata's mountain stronghold. The summit of the steep and narrow ridge on which the rebels made their stand is about three-quarters of a mile north of the homestead, and probably between 700 and 800 feet above sea-level. Far below it on the west runs the main road, winding through a deep and narrow wooded gorge; the bottom of the ravine is occupied by the Horokiri Stream. We take a leading spur which leads to the main ridge, and we find that we are following the same route as that taken by the troops when all this region was blanketed with unroaded bush. A little distance up the spur there is a trench or long rifle-pit, now more than half filled in and softly grassed; it does not run across the spur but almost parallel with it. Several hundred feet higher up we climb on to the knife-back which leads to the knoll on the sky-line where the Maoris lay behind their parepare, or breastworks of earth and logs. Fire-charred logs lie about the hillside, and the slopes are black-pencilled with the stumps of the wheki, a fern-tree whose butt is as hard as ironbark and almost indestructible. It was this fern-tree that the Maoris largely used in building up their parepare of horizontal timbers. In a slight dip in the ridge a line of depression in the turf running partly across the narrow saddle is readily recognized as the trench cut by the Government forces on the 6th August, after the encounter in which Lieutenant Blackburn was killed. The spot is about 100 yards below the fortified summit of the ridge. A few yards onward the ridge rises into a small knoll; passing over this there is a rather steep ascent to the crest of Battle Hill, as the site of page 131
Summit of the Ridge, Horokiri, held by Rangihaeata, 1846

Summit of the Ridge, Horokiri, held by Rangihaeata, 1846

Photos by F. G. Layton, 1920] The Rear of Rangihaeata's Position, Horokiri, 1846

Photos by F. G. Layton, 1920]
The Rear of Rangihaeata's Position, Horokiri, 1846

page 132 the pa is locally called. The advance is not in a direct line; the sharp main spur, running roughly north and south, now twists to the north-east, until the narrow crest of the range is reached, when it again trends due northward. From east to west the top of the hill is only ten paces in width, and forty paces on its greater axis north and south. The face of the Maori breastwork was immediately on the south end of the crest, completely commanding the troops' line of approach from the south and south-west. All traces of logwork have long since disappeared, but the trench and the shelter-pit dug immediately in rear of the parepare are readily traced. The ruined trench, after the lapse of three-quarters of a century, is still about 3 feet deep, and its ditch-like terminal on the verge of the precipitous slope on the south-east side is well marked. The trench extends across the ridge a distance of 26 paces; it is roughly zigzag in outline, and about its centre there is an advanced rifle-pit; the breastwork in front of this would have formed a bastion for enfilading the front of the work on right and left. Four paces in rear of the line of trench, at the north end, there is a grassy rua, a pit 9 feet long and 3 feet deep, occupying half the width of the ridge-crown. It was originally roofed over with earth and timber as a shell-proof shelter.

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.

There was one sharp skirmish in the pursuit; this was on the page 133
The Site of Rangihaeata's Entrenchment, Horokiri Ridge

The Site of Rangihaeata's Entrenchment, Horokiri Ridge

seaward side of the Pouawha Range, inland of Wainui. A volley killed three of the Ngati-Awa friendlies; in the fight which followed their antagonists lost four shot dead, including Te Pau, a chief of Ngati-Rangatahi, who had led the party that killed the Gillespies at the Hutt. The fugitives made good their retreat along the ranges inland of Waikanae and into the Manawatu country. Te Mamaku and his men returned to Wanganui. The second Wanganui war-party, whose intentions had been frustrated by Mr. Deighton's march with a despatch to the Governor, had abandoned the expedition on hearing of the arrest of Te Rauparaha. Te Rangihaeata entrenched himself with about a hundred men on a mound called Paeroa, which rose like an island from the swamps between Horowhenua and the Manawatu. Here he declared the soldiers would never get him. The pa was named Poroutawhao; the site is now a native farm, between Levin and Foxton. The low hill upon which the palisaded stronghold was built was all but surrounded by miles of deep flax-swamps, threaded with slow-running watercourses, and dotted with lagoons swarming with wild ducks. Here, like Hereward the Wake on the mound that was his last stand amidst the fens of Ely, Te Rangihaeata and his company of fight-loving patriots lived in barbaric independence, and feasted on the eels that teemed in the swamps and the wild-fowl they snared on the lagoons and rushy runways.
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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.