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


page 265

The cautious camp, the smother'd light,
The silent sentinel at night.

Joaquin Miller (“The Ship in the Desert”).

THE CROSSING OF the Manga-tawhiri River by Cameron's troops was immediately followed by Maori attacks upon some of the venturesome settlers who remained upon their farms on the frontier, and even after the army had advanced up the Waikato its rear was threatened by roving bands of Kingites. The broken forest country of the Hunua and Wairoa Ranges, bordering the left flank of the British advance, was the camping-place and war-ground of these natives, who from the cover of the bush could raid farmhouses and ambush military convoys with little loss to themselves. Neither the Regular soldiers nor the newly-enrolled city Militia were competent at the time to pursue the Maoris in their forests, and it soon became clear to the military heads that a special force was necessary to meet the natives on their own ground and levy guerilla war with the object of clearing the bush on the flanks and safeguarding the army's communications and the out-settlements. Taranaki had set an example in the formation of a corps of Bush Rangers, composed largely of country settlers and their sons. There was equally good material in the Auckland settlements, and there was also at hand a body of gold-diggers at Coromandel ready to turn to new adventures now that the excitement and the profits in the primitive mining of that period were dwindling. The Government, urged by the Press and the public, resolved to form a small corps of picked men, used to the bush and to rough travelling and camp life, to scout the forests and hunt out the parties of marauders.

In the first week of August, 1863, the following attractive invitation to arms appeared for several days in the Southern Cross newspaper, Auckland:—

page 266


ACTIVE YOUNG MEN, having some experience of New Zealand Forests, may now confer a benefit upon the Colony, and also ensure a comparatively free and exciting life for themselves, by JOINING a CORPS of FOREST VOLUNTEERS, now being enrolled in this province to act as the Taranaki Volunteers have acted in striking terror into the marauding natives, by operations not in the power of ordinary troops.

By joining the Corps the routine of Militia life may be got rid of and a body of active and pleasant comrades ensured.

Only men of good character wanted.

For further information apply to the office of the Daily Southern Cross, O'Connell Street, Auckland.

31st July, 1863.

This appeal soon filled the ranks of a company of Forest Rangers, sixty strong, under the command of Lieutenant William Jackson, a young settler of the Papakura district (afterwards Major Jackson and M.H.R. for Waipa). Towards the end of the year a second company was formed under the command of Captain Von Tempsky. The pay at first was 10s. a day, but it was later reduced to 4s. 6d. a day and rations, and a double ration of rum on account of the rough character of the work.

The Rangers' arms were a breech-loading Calisher and Terry carbine, a five-shot revolver, and, in Von Tempsky's company, a bowie-knife with a blade 10 inches or 12 inches long. Von Tempsky took intense interest in teaching the men the use of the bowie-knife, gripped in the left hand (the right was for the revolver), with the blade along the arm. There was a drill for it—a perfect method of guard and attack in hand-to-hand action. As King Agis answered the Athenians who laughed at the short swords of the Spartans, “We find them long enough to reach our enemies with,” so the Rangers could have said of their bush-knives that they were quite long enough for close quarters. They were more useful than bayonets or cutlasses in the tangled forest. Von Tempsky was a master of the weapon, the use of which he had learned in Spanish America in guerilla warfare. In instructing his men he challenged them to stab him, and demonstrated his perfect ability to defend himself. The knife could also be thrown with deadly effect, being so heavy. When slashing a way through the supplejacks and other undergrowth in the trackless bush it was a first-class tool. Captain Jackson affected to despise the knife as a war-weapon, but one or two of his men adopted it.

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Major William Jackson

Major William Jackson

In 1863–64 Major Jackson commanded No. 1 Company of Forest Rangers. In the “seventies” he was in command of Te Awamutu troop, Waikato Cavalry Volunteers, formed for the protection of the Upper Waikato frontier.

Colonel J. M. Roberts, N.Z.C., who began his military career in the Forest Rangers, and was a subaltern in No. 2 Company, 1863–64, was one of the young bushmen-soldiers who appreciated the bowie-knife. “It was rather awkward in the bush sometimes,” he says, “for it was nearly as long as a bayonet, but it certainly was very handy for cutting tracks. We were taught to hold the knife with the blade pointing inward and upward, laid along the inner arm. With the arm held out, knife-defended thus, a blow could be warded off, and then out would flash the blade in a stab. When we were in camp at Paterangi in 1864 my fellow-subaltern Westrupp and I frequently went out in the manuka together and practised the fighting drill. At Orakau we found the knife very useful—not for fighting, but for digging in. Our position was on the east side of the pa, a cultivation-ground bordered with low fern—a place very much exposed to the Maoris' fire. We lay down on the edge of this cultivation and went to work as hard as we could with our long knives, each man digging page 268 a shallow shelter for himself and throwing up the earth in front; the bullets were coming over thick that day.”

The men who were provided with these arms were as efficient as the weapons they carried. They were a varied set of adventurers. The bush-trained settlers of Papakura, Hunua, and the Wairoa were the dependable nucleus of the corps, and to their ranks were added sailors, gold-diggers, and others who had seen much of the rough end of life. Von Tempsky, describing (in an unpublished manuscript journal) his company of fifty men at the end of 1863, wrote: “Like Jackson, I had two black men, former men-o'- war's-men; one had also been a prize-fighter. I had men of spendid education, and men as ignorant as the soil on which they trod.” All nationalities were in the ranks—English, Welsh, Scotch, Irish, Germans, and Italians. Some of Von Tempsky's best volunteers had been members of the 1st Waikato Regiment of Militia.

The Rangers' field equipment was simple. On the war-path in the Wairoa and Hunua bush their bed was a bundle of fern, and the forest was their tent. “In our campaigning in the Waikato,” says a survivor of the corps, “we used blue-blanket tents. These were army blankets, with fastenings for use as bivouac shelters; there were two blankets to every four men. Two of the four would carry the blankets when on the march, and the other two would pick up and carry along sticks for tent-poles (unless, of course, they were in the bush). The two blankets joined over a ridge-pole sheltered the four men; at any rate, they kept off the dew.”

An important item of Ranger equipment was the rum-bottle, cased in leather to prevent breakage. Two good tots a day was the allowance. “It was the rum that kept us alive,” says one of Jackson's veterans, ex-Corporal William Johns; “we had so much wet, hard work, swimming and fording rivers and creeks, and camping out without fires. When we camped in the bush on the enemy's trail it was often unsafe to light a fire for cooking and warmth, because we never knew when we might have a volley poured into us. So we just lay down as we were, wet and cold, and we'd have been dead but for the rum.”

In the early expeditions the work of the Rangers was carried out in the forest hills of Wairoa, above Papakura and Hunua, and the ranges trending to the Thames Gulf and the Manga-tawhiri headwaters. The Wairoa frequently had to be crossed, and when in flood it was a dangerous river. Most of the Rangers could swim, but there were always several men who had to be helped over by their comrades, in this fashion: Large bundles of dry fern were cut and placed under the non-swimmer's chin and breast as he took the water, and he was hauled across with hastily page 269
Major Von Tempsky

Major Von Tempsky

In 1863–64 Von Tempsky was Captain of No. 2 Company of Forest Rangers. He afterwards served in the West Coast campaigns, and was killed at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu in 1868.

made flax ropes by his mates, the fern making a temporary float. Always in crossing a river in the enemy country the best swimmers went over first, holding their carbines over their heads. These men would be ready at once to act as advance guard on the farther bank and cover their comrades' crossings. The marching was very severe—far more so than that of any other corps—as the men were at work continuously covering large areas of rugged country, and it was necessary to take special care of the feet. Many a man knocked up, and comparatively few went through the campaign from beginning to end in the Rangers.

Of the Rangers' two commanders, Gustavus Von Tempsky, Captain of No. 2 Company, was by far the more experienced bush fighter. Of aristocratic Polish blood, he began his military life in the Prussian Army in the early “forties,” but quickly sought a career more to his taste. In Central America he commanded at one time an irregular force of Mosquito Coast Indians page 270 against the Spanish, and he guided British naval parties against Spanish stockades in one of the little wars in those parts. Later, we find him trying his fortune in California in “the days of Forty-nine,” and travelling adventurously through Mexico. The news of the gold find at Coromandel brought him to New Zealand from Australia, and when the Waikato War began he was working No. 8 claim on the diggings. The first shots of the Waikato War excited the old war-fever, and after trying unsuccessfully to form a diggers' corps at Coromandel captained by himself—there was some prejudice against him on the score of his nationality—he joined the Southern Cross newspaper in Auckland as a temporary war correspondent, hoping presently to have an opportunity of getting into action. Lieutenant Jackson he frequently met at the first Forest Rangers' headquarters, the “Travellers' Rest” inn, on the Papakura—Wairoa Road. He accompanied Jackson as correspondent on one of the early expeditions into the Wairoa Ranges; and it was on this excursion, lasting three days, that the young Rangers' officer discovered that the lean, swarthy ex-digger with the very pronounced foreign accent was far better fitted than himself to command a fighting corps. So Von Tempsky soon found himself invited to join the Rangers as subaltern and military adviser, and the Government gave him a commission as ensign. The early prejudice against the roving soldier soon disappeared when his comrades realized his soldierly talent, and when he was commissioned to enlist a company of his own he was able to pick a little body of first-class men from the many recruits offering. The first body of Rangers was disbanded after three months' service, and toward the end of the year 1863 two companies were formed, each of fifty men.