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

Chapter 25: The Second Taranaki Campaign

Chapter 25: The Second Taranaki Campaign

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BEFORE THE WINTER of 1861 most of the troops in Taranaki were withdrawn to Auckland, Colonel Warre remaining in New Plymouth with his regiment, the 57th. Major-General Pratt left for Melbourne after the arrival of a new Commander-in-Chief, Lieut.-General Sir Duncan Cameron, who had led the 40th Regiment at the Battle of the Alma, and the Highland Brigade at Balaclava and the siege of Sebastopol. Many of the troops sent to Auckland were employed on the Great South Road, which was being cut through the forest from Drury to the Waikato River. In Taranaki the Atiawa were amicable, but the Ngati-Ruanui and their kin remained unfriendly.

An incident of 1862 (1st September) was the wreck at Te Namu, near Cape Egmont, of the steamer “Lord Worsley,” 600 tons, carrying passengers, mails, and gold from Nelson to New Plymouth and Auckland. Wiremu Kingi te Matakaatea and Eruera te Whiti (afterwards the celebrated prophet of Parihaka) befriended the shipwrecked people, numbering sixty, who were permitted to go overland to New Plymouth with their baggage, after this had been examined by the Kingite customs officers; each person had to pay 5s. on passing the Maori toll-gate established as the result of a large Maori conference at Kapoaiaia. Mr. Robert Graham, Auckland, who was a passenger, pluckily saved the gold that was on board, and twice traversed the hostile territory, carrying his loads safely into New Plymouth. A young half-caste named Hori Teira (George Taylor), who was one of the keepers of the toll-gate, obtained a horse for Mr. Graham and otherwise assisted him, and this act of friendship brought its unexpected reward in the following year, when Hori lay in prison in Auckland.

Soon after Sir George Grey had succeeded Colonel Gore Browne as Governor of New Zealand, arriving at Auckland on the 26th September, 1862, in H.M.S. “Cossack,” from Cape Town, a new native policy was promulgated. A Commission had investigated the proprietary interests in the Waitara lands, and page 222 as the outcome of its inquiries the Governor issued, on the 11th May, 1863, a Proclamation announcing the abandonment of the purchase of Teira's block and the renunciation by the Government of all claims to that area of land. This tardy vindication of Wiremu Kingi's cause had unfortunately been preceded by the armed occupation of the Tataraimaka Block, which had temporarily been abandoned in 1860, and which the Maoris now claimed by right of conquest. Three hundred officers and men of the 57th, under Colonel Warre, marched out along the south road, and on the 4th April encamped on Tataraimaka, and built a redoubt on Bayley's Farm, near the Katikara River. The Taranaki Tribe had previously informed the Governor and General Cameron that Tataraimaka would not be given up unless the British first gave up the Waitara. The march upon Tataraimaka was naturally accepted as an act of war, and Taranaki promptly sent out appeals for assistance to Ngati-Ruanui and Nga-Rauru, and to Ngati-Maniapoto and Waikato; a letter was sent to Wiremu Kingi at Kihikihi. Five weeks elapsed before the Government made amends for the error of Gore Browne and his advisers, and in the meantime hostilities had commenced.

The Ambush at Wairau

The first shot in the second Taranaki campaign was fired on the 4th May, 1863. The Taranaki and Ngati-Ruanui planned ambuscades to cut off communications between Tataraimaka and New Plymouth, and warnings of these intended ambush tactics had been sent to the authorities in New Plymouth by friendly natives, but were lightly regarded. Sir George Grey was in the habit of riding out to the military post at Tataraimaka (fifteen miles from New Plymouth), and on the morning of the 4th May a party of thirty or forty young warriors lay in ambush waiting for the Governor and his party, who were expected to pass along the beach road that day. Among the ambush-party was the young half-caste Hori Teira, already mentioned as one of the keepers of the Maori toll-gate. His father was a ship's carpenter, and his birthplace Kororareka, Bay of Islands. Hori was a lad of eighteen. He had been educated at the mission school, and had been brought down to Taranaki by his mother's people just before the war began.

The ambuscade was laid on the coast just beyond the Oakura, at a place where two small streams, the Waimouku and the Wairau, flow down to the shingly beach. (The spot is on the farm of Captain Frank Mace.) Low but thick bush and brushwood grew close to the beach here, and in its cover between the mouths of the two streams, which are not more than 100 yards apart, the page 223 Maoris awaited their unsuspecting enemy. The Governor did not pass that day, but a small military party did. This was an escort of the 57th taking a prisoner of the regiment into New Plymouth from Tataraimaka. There were six soldiers, under Colour-Sergeant Ellers and Sergeant S. Hill. With them also were travelling two officers, Lieutenant Tragett and Assistant - Surgeon Hope, who were mounted. The officers were riding along the beach a little ahead of the soldiers. Young Hori and his companions lying in ambush let the mounted men pass by, and then fired a volley into the detachment of soldiers at a range of a few yards. Hori, relating the story, said that to his astonishment the British officers, instead of making their escape as they could easily have done, turned their horses and joined the soldiers, and so they, too, were shot down. Nine were killed, and the only man who escaped was Private Florence Kelly. A Maori named Tukino fired at one of the officers, Dr. Hope, and shot him in the face. Tukino immediately raised a yell of “Mate rawa!” (“He is killed!”) but the officer rose and confronted his enemies again. Thereupon Hori Teira and some of his comrades fired and shot him dead. The young half-caste rushed out to plunder the dead officer—his first blood, or mataika. It was the first man he had helped to slay. He took a watch and chain and a ring from Dr. Hope's body, and two rifles from the dead soldiers.

It was a war custom among the Taranaki Maoris that any plunder or trophies taken from a foe whom a warrior had killed in his first battle—the “first fish”—should not be retained by the slayer, but should be given away to some other person in order to avert ill luck. It was inviting an aitua (a serious misfortune, even death) to keep the first spoils of war. So, on returning to the Maori headquarters, Hori was advised by the chiefs and elders to give away his war-trophies, and so placate the war-god. Hori insisted on wearing the watch and ring, declaring that they were too valuable and fine to be given away because of an old-fashioned superstition.

The ill-gotten ring brought its aitua. Three weeks after the ambuscade at the Wairau a small party of young warriors, of whom Hori Teira was one, laid another ambuscade near the Poutoko Redoubt, about eight miles from New Plymouth. They attacked a mounted officer, Lieutenant Waller, of the 57th. His horse was hit, and both fell. Hori, imagining that the officer was mortally wounded, and yelling “Ki au te tupapaku!” (“Mine is the dead man!”) rushed out, dropping his rifle, and snatched out his short-handled tomahawk to deliver the finishing blow. But the officer was by no means a dead man. Jumping to his feet, he drew his revolver and fired several shots at Hori. One struck the young half-caste in the side. He was not seriously page 224 wounded, but he could not retreat, as his comrades did when a force sallied out from the redoubt. Hori was captured and identified as one of the Maoris who had ambushed Dr. Hope and his party. The fatal ring was on his finger, the watch was in his pocket, and one of the rifles was identified as Dr. Hope's. He was charged with murder—although in Maori eyes this ambush was thoroughly in accordance with the rules of war—was tried and found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. He was taken to Auckland for execution, but his sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life. In prison a white man came to see him. This was Mr. Robert Graham, Superintendent of the Province of Auckland, the “Lord Worsley” passenger whom Hori had befriended on the Taranaki coast the previous year. Hori had cast his bread upon the waters. Mr. Graham rejoiced in the opportunity of repaying the kindness. He persuaded the Governor to reduce the sentence. Hori was released after serving four years, and he went no more upon the war-path.*

The war renewed, troops were again moved to Taranaki. The Militia and the Volunteers were once more required for guard and patrol duty around New Plymouth.

At the beginning of June more effective methods of frontier warfare were introduced by the formation of settler and Volunteer corps for the special purpose of following the Maoris into the bush and clearing the country surrounding the town of hostile bands. page 225
The Battlefield of Katikara (1863)

The Battlefield of Katikara (1863)

The soul of these free-roving tactics was Captain Harry Atkinson. His party of fifty men of No. 2 Company, Taranaki Rifles, was the first corps of forest rangers to take the field in New Zealand. The force, as the war went on, was increased to two companies, and was styled the Taranaki Bush Rangers. Day after day Atkinson led out his war-party of practised bushmen-settlers and scoured the forest and the native tracks, and soon had the country free from hostiles for a radius of many a mile from New Plymouth. The Bush Rangers were armed with Terry breech-loading carbines and revolvers. Atkinson's principal fellow-officers in this highly useful commission were Captain F. Webster and Lieutenants Brown, Jones, McKellar, and Messenger.

The Storming of Katikara

Early in June General Cameron moved out against the southern tribes who were resisting the Government's title to the Tataraimaka Block. At St. George's Redoubt, the post which he had established at Tataraimaka, he concentrated a considerable force, having previously arranged that H.M.S. “Eclipse” should co-operate by shelling the Maoris. The Taranaki, Ngati-Ruanui, Nga-Rauru, and Whanganui men had entrenched themselves in a position above a mile beyond St. George's Redoubt and near the mouth of page 226 the Katikara River. Falling in at daybreak on the 4th June the 57th (under Colonel Warre) and the 70th crossed the Katikara River and advanced upon the native entrenchments, while a preparatory bombardment was carried out by the “Eclipse”— which had anchored off the mouth of the river more than a mile from the pa—and by an Armstrong battery posted on the edge of the cliff above the river near the redoubt. After the shelling the 57th carried the position at the point of the bayonet, cleared the rifle-pits and trenches, and pursued the beaten foe inland. Sergeant-Major E. Bezar, one of the few surviving veterans of the 57th, took part in the charge; he thus described to the writer the storming of the trenches:—

“The Taranaki natives' position had not been completed when we attacked it. The place was about fifteen miles from New Plymouth, on the southern side of Tataraimaka and more inland. St. George's Redoubt at Tataraimaka was about a mile away. After leaving the redoubt our force had to cross a river and then advance in single file up a rough ferny ridge; at the top we halted so as to give the men time to come up, and it was a considerable time before we had enough men there to enable us to rush the pa. The distance we had to charge across the open was about 150 yards. In the meantime Ensign Duncan with fifty men of our regiment had been sent on to cut off the Maoris' retreat in the rear. Duncan marched up from the redoubt to within a short distance of the pa, but instead of taking post in the rear, as he should have done, he simply came up along the right flank of the Maoris and rushed in at the front of it as we did. Had he done his duty properly the Maoris would have been surrounded, and probably the war would have ended there.

“The place, properly speaking, was not a pa, as there was no parapet or palisade. It consisted simply of trench-work and rifle-pits. The main trenches, about 4 feet wide or so, roughly formed three sides of a parallelogram, with the longer side on the front which we rushed. Inside the trenches was a series of rifle-pits—three or four of them—and within again were two or three large wharepunis, sunk in the ground after the usual native fashion, with low roofs; they were thatched with raupo.

“We charged in across the trench with the bayonet, and the Maoris were soon bolting out at the rear. The glacis across which we rushed was a potato cultivation; on the south there was a maize-field. I saw one man running down across this field, and I took a shot at him and dropped him. By the time I had loaded again and caught up to my men we were in the pa. The whares were set fire to, or caught fire from the shooting close to the thatch, and as they burned the raupo fell in. There were several men's bodies under the burning debris when the fight was over.

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“When the action was over we collected the dead and wounded. Three of our men were killed. The Maoris lost about forty killed. We carried twenty-eight bodies out across the trenches and laid them in a long row in front of the works they had defended. Then General Cameron came up with Sir George Grey, and complimented our captain, Russell, on the day's work. The dead Maoris were loaded into carts and taken down to the Tataraimaka, and all were buried in one large square pit close to our redoubt.

“A picture in the Illustrated London News, 1864, is a very inaccurate drawing of the fight. There was no large earthwork as shown in the sketch—only trenches and rifle-pits.

“Ensign Duncan, so far as I know, was never taken to task for his blunder; but there is no doubt that his fifty men could have disposed of the Maoris had they been in their proper position in the rear.

“The surviving Maoris, we heard afterwards, held a meeting at night in the bush, and they all decided to wage war to the uttermost in revenge for their losses that day.”

A number of Upper Wanganui natives were killed in this attack, and these losses accounted in part for the readiness with which the river tribes embraced the Hauhau fanaticism in 1864.

The principal trophy captured on this successful expedition was the large board on which the list of Maori tolls was painted, set up originally by the Kingites near Te Ika-roa-a-Maui, the large assembly-house at Kapoaiaia, near Warea, and afterwards brought to Puke-tehe, in the vicinity of Tataraimaka. The tolls demanded ranged from £500 for a pakeha policeman to 6d. for a Maori pig carried in a cart. The board was put on board H.M.S. “Eclipse” for Auckland.

As the Waikato War had now begun, the Ngati-Maniapoto and other northern fighters who had gone to Taranaki in response to the appeal from the runanga at Mataitawa, when the troops occupied Tataraimaka, returned to defend their own territory, and left the west-coast tribes to continue the hostilities. There was intermittent skirmishing for some months; in these events the Taranaki Rifles Volunteers and the Militia played a conspicuous part. The principal engagement during the latter part of 1863 was an encounter on the 2nd October at Allen's Hill, or Hurford Road, five miles and a half from New Plymouth along the south road. Colonel Warre took out a strong force of the 57th and the settler-soldiers, and there was some brisk fighting on the hill and in the fields around the homestead to the west of it. Captains Atkinson, Webster, and W. B. Messenger were in charge of the Volunteers and Militia, numbering between ninety and a hundred. Captain Frank Mace and some of his mounted men were also engaged. Two V.C.s were won at Allan's Hill, by Ensign J. T. Down and Drummer D. Stagpoole, of the 57th, who went to the page 228 rescue of a mortally wounded comrade under fire near the bush.

Now and again the Regular troops, in emulation of Atkinson's active Bush Rangers, essayed to lay ambuscades for the Maoris. An incident of this kind was the ambushing of a small party of natives at the foot of the Patua Range, on which the Kaitake pa was built, by a detachment of the 57th, under Captain H. R. Russell, from the Poutoko Redoubt. Seven natives were killed in this morning surprise.

The Tataraimaka Block was once more temporarily abandoned to the Maoris, and the available forces were concentrated on the defences of New Plymouth and its outposts as far as Omata and Poutoko on one hand and the Bell Block on the other. The bush-scouring parties of the Volunteers were now most useful in patrolling the broken forest country in rear of the town, and in blocking communication between the southern tribes and the Atiawa.

An example of the numerous bush skirmishes in which the settlers' corps were engaged in 1863–64 is described by Captain J. R. Rushton, now living at Kutarere, Ohiwa Harbour. Captain Rushton says,—

“Upon my arrival in New Plymouth, a few days after the ambuscade of Lieutenant Tragett and Dr. Hope at the Wairau, I joined the Bush Rangers, a scouting corps, under Captains Atkinson and Webster. Our duties were to patrol on the outskirts of the town, which was now isolated from other parts of the colony, the Maoris having burned down many houses and murdered some settlers. This is how we foiled a Maori ambuscade, through the smoke from the pipes: We had been out all night some distance past the Bell Block, and, not meeting with the enemy, started to return by the edge of the bush, through Street's Clearing, swinging along at ease in single file on the bullock-cart road. I was near the front with Bill Smart and others. The fern was high, but looking over we saw distinctly, at about 250 yards, at the edge of the bush, a small curl of smoke ahead, and upon looking again saw a group of Maoris in their mats leaning upon their guns. Captain Atkinson now got up to us and saw the Maoris, and about fifteen or eighteen of us actually formed up in line, and at the word ‘Fire,’ gave them a volley. We expected to get their killed and wounded, but before we got across the swamp they had dragged those hit or killed into the bush. So we did not venture in after them, being not far from Mataitawa pa. We got many mats with holes through them, and I think, some guns. We now continued our way in the direction of Bell Block, and at a small rise we got a volley from behind logs. Following up the Maori party, we killed two. We now started again for home, in the direction of the Bell Block, and had not gone far when we saw coming towards us two bullock-carts. There was a strong wind blowing page 229 from them, and they told us that they never heard the firing. It was a most wonderful escape. The two ambuscades were ready for the firewood-carts from Bell Block, and it was evident that the second ambuscade never heard our first volley. We now started for town, having done a good morning's work.

“Just a word for my old comrades, the Taranaki boys. The Maoris had no chance with them, man for man, in the bush. Skirmishing with them under Captain (afterwards Major) Sir Harry Atkinson taught me much about taking cover in bush fighting that served me well in other campaigns during nearly eight years active service in the Maori wars. It is always pleasing to an old soldier to be able to remember with affection his old officer. When spoken to by Sir Harry Atkinson one knew that he was a kind friend as well as a commanding officer.”

Kaitake Pa

South of New Plymouth towards the end of 1863 the chief activity of the Taranaki was the construction of a strongly entrenched position at Kaitake, on a north-western spur of the Patua Range; the pa was on the bold skyline of this ridge as seen from the main road at Oakura. The distance from the Oakura River mouth to the pa was about three miles. The local chief and engineer of this fortification was Patara Raukatauri, of the Taranaki Tribe; he afterwards gained celebrity as one of the emissaries or prophets sent out to Te Ua to preach the fanatic gospel of the Pai-marire among the East Coast tribes. (Patara, however, was a man of far milder character than his fellow-prophets, and did not enter into the deeds of savagery of which Kereopa was guilty.) Kaitake was a well-planned stronghold, situated in an excellent position for defence, on a steep, high ridge, with a frontal stockade covering the terminal of the spur, and two parapeted redoubts, one in rear of the other, on the heights. There were also skilfully arranged rifle-pits flanking the direct approach to the pas. In December, 1863, Colonel Warre shelled the place with the Armstrong field-guns, but the final operations were deferred until the following year. The Government was now bringing in military settlers, many of them from Victoria, and the force in the province amounted to about two thousand men, including a thousand Regular troops.

Kaitake was stormed and captured by the troops on the 25th March, 1864. A force of 420 of the 57th, 70th, and Volunteers and Militia, with four guns, under Colonel Warre, moved out from New Plymouth to the base of the range. The guns were placed in position about 1,500 yards from the right of the Maori rifle-pits, and made such accurate practice that most of the defenders were page 230
Plan of the Attack on Kaitake (1864)

Plan of the Attack on Kaitake (1864)

driven out of those portions of the works. In the meantime a party of eighty Military Settlers, under Captain Corbett, who had left their redoubt at Oakura about 1 a.m., with great labour worked their way to the base of the spur on which the rifle-pits had been made, and took the positions in reverse. They were nine hours advancing two miles and a half through the bush. At 10.30 a.m. the guns ceased firing. The main body of the troops advanced to within 800 yards of the works, while the Volunteers and Military Settlers ascended the spur and carried in succession the rifle-pits and the pas, pouring a reverse fire into the trenches behind the line of palisading. The Maoris held these trenches until a portion of the main body had ascended a ridge on their extreme left. Both flanks having been turned, the Maoris retired through the bush in their rear. A redoubt for a hundred men was immediately constructed on the site of the uppermost pa. The enemy's works were gradually destroyed, the bush in the vicinity was cut down, and a practicable road was made to the position. A party of rejoicing settlers, including a lady, drank champagne in the captured stronghold the day after its capture. However, four days after the storming of the position the Maoris laid an ambuscade within 150 yards of the redoubt, and killed one soldier and wounded another.

It is now necessary to break the narrative of events in Taranaki, where the fighting assumed a new phase with the rise of the Pai-marire religion, and turn to the outbreak and progress of the Waikato War, 1863–64.

* Hori Teira, who is now a farmer near Parihaka, Taranaki, narrated this adventure of his youth to the writer.

Sergeant-Major Bezar, who, with a party of men, captured Hori Teira, says,—

Hori Teira was the first prisoner taken in the war of 1863. We were in St. Patrick's Redoubt at Poutoko, and I was looking out over the parapet when I saw a man hurrying up the hill towards us on foot, and as he came closer I saw he was an officer. Seeing an officer dismounted, I immediately concluded something was wrong, and I called to some of the men, ‘Get your rifles, men, quick, quick!’ so that by the time the officer, Lieutenant Waller, came up we were ready. He told me what had happened, and I took my party over a short-cut to the place where he had been fired at. It was only 500 yards below our redoubt, and about four miles from where the ambush had occurred three weeks previously. We skirmished up quickly to the belt of bush where Waller had been fired at, and did it so quickly that I think we were there scarcely more than five minutes after he reached the redoubt and told me what had happened. All the Maoris but one had bolted into the bush. This one was Hori Teira. I found him crouching in the scrub. A soldier made for him with his bayonet, but I stopped him from killing him, saying that I wanted to get the young fellow to tell us where they had buried Ryan, one of the nine men killed in the previous ambuscade, whose body was still missing. This Teira did, and we found the body. I marched him to the redoubt and handed him over. Teira told me also that the Maoris had intended the ambush for Sir George Grey and General Cameron, whom they had planned to kill.”