The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)
Paparata and a Scouting Adventure
Paparata and a Scouting Adventure
From the hills near the Queen's Redoubt the fortified position of Paparata, on the open country to the east, was plainly visible, a long line of freshly turned yellow clay showing against a prominent fern ridge. This was a Kingite half-way post between the Waikato River and the shores of the Hauraki; from its shelter war-parties could raid in either direction, or could enter the Wairoa Ranges at will. Below was a valley covered with fields of wheat, potatoes, and maize, and with many groves of peach-trees; the Manga-tawhiri, here a clear gravelly stream, flowed through the cultivations. Here and there along the rim of the valley were patches of native forest. The distance from the Queen's Redoubt was about ten miles, but the most convenient approach was from the Koheroa ridge, on the south of the Manga-tawhiri.
General Cameron was anxious, after a futile reconnaissance page 271 towards Paparata, 1st-2nd August, to obtain accurate information regarding the route and the character of the fortifications, and Von Tempsky and Thomas McDonnell volunteered to scout the position. McDonnell (afterwards colonel in command of the Armed Constabulary Field Force) was, like Von Tempsky, well qualified for the enterprise. He was a young officer in Nixon's Colonial Defence Force Cavalry, was eager for any dashing and perilous mission, and had a perfect knowledge of the Maori tongue. The two scouts set out from the Whanga-marino Redoubt at night, after reconnoitring their route with field-glasses from the Koheroa hills. The track lay in a general north-east direction from the ridge, along an open belt of fern land with swamps on each side. Each scout was armed with two revolvers, and McDonnell carried a tomahawk and Von Tempsky his bowie-knife.
The two scouts crossed the open ground in the darkness, and just before daylight found themselves almost within the first line of the Maori entrenchments. They had intended to take cover in a neighbouring belt of bush, but it was fortunate for them that they were unable to do so, for soon after daylight the bush was swarming with Maoris pigeon-shooting. Hidden in high flax-bushes on the edge of the swamp and alongside the track from Paparata to Meremere, they watched their enemies all day through the loopholes of leaves. Once they were all but discovered by a pig-hunting dog. When it began to rain in the afternoon and the Maoris retired to their whares the scouts felt themselves secure; they knew also that the rain would obliterate their footmarks near the hiding-place. It was dark before they ventured to leave their flax-clump, after light-heartedly laying a train of broken biscuits from their nest in the flax to the track, by way of puzzling the Maoris next morning. They returned safely from their perilous mission, and for the information they were able to give the General they were highly complimented. Both soon afterwards received commissions as captain. Von Tempsky fell at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu in 1868. McDonnell lived to receive the decoration of the New Zealand Cross for his scouting-work at Paparata.
The remains of biscuit and some empty meat-tins which the officers left at their hiding-place had a curiously important effect upon the Maoris and the campaign. It came to be known some time afterwards that the natives were so disturbed by this evidence of pakeha scouts in their midst that they concluded their stronghold would soon be untenable, and it was not long before they evacuated it. In December, after the troops under Lieut.-Colonel Carey had built a chain of redoubts across the ridges from the Miranda, Von Tempsky, with his subaltern, Mr. Roberts, and a dozen men, made a reconnaissance of the scene of his scouting exploit. The page 272 Surrey Redoubt had been built on the south-eastern rim of the Paparata Valley, and the Ranger officers, accompanied from the redoubt by McDonnell, explored the works before which they had crouched in the flax-clump. “From what we saw,” wrote Von Tempsky in his journal, “it appears that we had been encircled within two hundred yards of a zigzagging line of rifle-pits traversing nearly the whole valley. A sharp elbow of the river (the Manga-tawhiri), with its convex angle towards Koheroa, had been taken advantage of in the following way: The inner side of the bank had been dug out in proper traversed shape in their usual fashion of rifle-pits, but the earth had been thrown into the river, so that an enemy could never have expected the existence of these rifle-pits till within a dangerous distance of a volley from pieces resting on the very ground on which you trod. Moreover, a few withered bushes had been allowed to remain immediately in front to mask still more the formidable line. Whares with bullet-proof flax mats for roofs were built all along inside the rifle-pits.” On the ridge above was the stockaded and rifle-pitted pa. The whares in the various entrenchments were capable of accommodating nearly a thousand men.