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

The Engagement at Titi Hill, Mauku

The Engagement at Titi Hill, Mauku

Less than a mile south of the Mauku church and village is a gently rounded hill of red volcanic tufa, crowned by a farm-homestead and crossed by a road. In 1863 this hill, known as the Titi, was a partly cleared farm belonging to Mr. Wheeler. Beyond, on the southern side, the land slopes deeply to a valley, on the farther side of which, nearly a mile distant, are the heights known as the Bald Hills. The distance of the Titi from the nearest part of the Waikato River is about six miles; the intervening country in the war-days was mostly dense forest, threaded by one or two narrow tracks—old Maori fighting-trails.

Early on the morning of the 23rd October, 1863, the sound of heavy firing in the direction of the Bald Hills was heard by the little garrison of Forest Rifles and Militia at the Mauku church stockade and the lower stockade near the landing. page 301
The Mauku Church, Present Day

The Mauku Church, Present Day

Lieutenant Lusk, commanding the Forest Rifles, was at the lower stockade at the time, and, thinking that possibly the church was being attacked, he advanced quickly with twenty-five men to St. Bride's to reinforce the force there. Then it was thought that the volleys in the distance might be the Waiuku Volunteers out practising, and Mr. John Wheeler and a comrade scouted up through the bush and the clearing to reconnoitre. They discovered Maoris shooting cattle on Wheeler's Farm, between the Titi summit and the Bald Hills. When Lieutenant Lusk received this report he despatched a man to the lower stockade, instructing Lieutenant J. S. Perceval, who had been left in charge of the Militia (1st Waikato Regiment), to join him at once at the church with half his force. At the same time one of the settler Volunteers, Mr. Heywood Crispe, was sent off to Drury for reinforcements. Lieutenant Perceval set out as ordered, at the head of twelve men, but instead of following instructions to join the others at the church he struck off to the right for the crown of the Titi Hill, with the object of taking the Maoris in the rear. These rash tactics quickly involved Perceval and his small party in a perilous position from which it was necessary for Lusk to extricate them. Perceval entered the bush, but the natives, having ended their cattle-shooting, came skirmishing over the hill and almost surrounded the Militia. The fight was now visible from the church stockade, where Lusk had been waiting for Perceval to join him, and in a few moments the Forest Rifles were dashing up the rise towards Wheeler's Clearing. page 302 Perceval when joined by the church-stockade party was retiring in good order, hotly pressed, but without casualties so far. At this time Lieutenant Norman, a Militia officer who was in charge of the church garrison, and who had ridden into Drury for the men's pay, returned and, armed with a rifle, caught up to the fighters on the hill.

Lieutenant Lusk, considering his force of about fifty was strong enough to drive back the Maoris and enable him to return, now boldly attacked, and before the steady advance with fixed bayonets the raiders fell back through a strip of Wheeler's felled but unburned bush to the open ground. The Maoris, however, skirmished rapidly through the standing puriri and rata forest on Lusk's left flank, and as they greatly outnumbered the riflemen it was necessary to retire in order to avoid being outflanked and surrounded. The Kingites were endeavouring to cut the little force off from the church stockade, and Lusk had need of all his bush-fighting skill to counter their tactics. When recrossing this ragged strip of felled timber, taking advantage of every bit of cover and fighting from behind logs and stumps as they fell back, the Volunteers and Militiamen were charged fiercely by the warriors in their full strength, about a hundred and fifty.

Now came a desperate close-quarters battle, lasting ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. At very short range—Lieutenant Lusk afterwards stated it at 20 yards—the opposing forces poured bullets into each other as fast as they could load and fire. Every log and every stump and pile of branches was contested. In the centre, facing the Maoris' front, the gallant Perceval recklessly exposed himself, and it was with difficulty that the Mellsop brothers, three young settlers, prevented him from charging at the enemy. Twice they saved his life by pulling him under cover. At last, after shooting several of his nearest opponents, he was shot himself, and fell dead in front of his men. Lieutenant Norman was also shot dead, and several other men fell. Some of the Maoris, throwing down their guns, charged upon the bayonets with their long-handled tomahawks. Lusk, finding himself outflanked on both sides, ordered his men to take cover in the bush on the right. In this movement the troops had to run the gauntlet of a heavy cross-fire, and man after man was hit. One of the Forest Rifles, Private Worthington, was tomahawked as he was reloading his rifle; another man was killed with the tomahawk while he was in the act of recovering his bayonet which he had driven through a Maori's body. One of the wounded, Johnstone, was assisted by two comrades into the bush, and as he could not walk he was concealed in a hollow rata tree, where he huddled until the relief force rescued him on the following day.

page 303
Major D. H. Lusk (Died 1921)

Major D. H. Lusk (Died 1921)

After his active service in command of the Forest Rifles, Major Lusk joined General Cameron's army in the Upper Waikato as an officer attached to the Transport Corps. When the steamer “Avon” sank in the Waipa River with her cargo of supplies (February, 1864) he succeeded in getting commissariat through to the troops at Te Rore with a Militia force, by rapidly cutting a pack-track from Raglan Harbour over the ranges to the Waipa, and kept the army supplied in this way till the “Avon” was replaced.

Under cover of the bush Lusk's force had a short breathing-space, and their accurate shooting soon cleared the smoky clearing of the Maoris, but it was impossible to venture into the open space to carry off the eight dead who lay there. The officer in command re-formed his men and retired in good order upon the church stockade, keeping carefully to the timber cover most of the way. This rearguard action, firing by sections as the page 304 retirement was made, was carried out with excellent judgment, and the little force behaved with the steadiness and coolness of veterans. The headquarters at the stockade and the post at the church were reached without further casualty. The force lost two officers and six men killed; but grief at the fall of good comrades and at the necessity of leaving their bodies to the tomahawk was tempered with the satisfaction of having killed or wounded several times that number of the enemy.

Lusk and his comrades during the fight had cast many an anxious glance towards the village in the direction of the church stockade, hoping for the reinforcements from Drury. But when the long-awaited troops at last arrived all was over, and the battle-grimed Volunteers and Militia were back in their quarters. Heywood Crispe, who had galloped the twelve miles to Drury in three-quarters of an hour, had an exasperating interview with the Imperial officers at the camp. “Colonel Chapman was in charge there,” narrated Mr. Crispe, “and with him was young Colonel Havelock (Sir Henry Havelock, son of the Indian Mutiny hero), who was on General Cameron's staff. I told them that I had seen the Maoris shooting cattle, and they almost laughed me to scorn, and said it was impossible for natives to be there. I most earnestly solicited them to send for Major Rutherford's ‘Flying Column,’ which I knew was in camp at the Bluff near Pokeno, and get the force to go through Tuakau and on to Purapura, on the Waikato, where they would be sure to intercept the Maoris returning from Mauku, as it was their only way of retreat to cross the Waikato.” Crispe also begged for mounted men, some of the Defence Force Cavalry, to be hurried off to the Mauku, but all that was done was to send two companies of infantry—the Waikato Militia—who arrived there in the evening, too late to be of any use.

Early next morning firing was heard in the direction of the Bald Hills, and some natives were seen there, but when a force of about two hundred men advanced to the Titi Farm the Kingites had disappeared. It was learned afterwards that these Maoris were some who had met the returning war-party on the Waikato River, and, on hearing that they had not fired a volley over the battle-ground after the battle by way of claiming the victory, had marched in themselves and fired off their guns near the spot. The troops found the bodies of the slain men all tomahawked and stripped of arms and equipment and part of their clothes, laid out side by side on the grass in the clearing. A pole on which a white haversack had been tied indicated the place. The bodies, with the exception of Worthington's, which was buried at Mauku, were sent in to Drury for burial. A force was sent through the bush to Purapura, following the trail of the page 305 Maoris, and numbers of kauhoa or rough bush-stretchers for carrying the dead and wounded were found. It was estimated that the natives had lost between twenty and thirty killed, besides many wounded. The “Flying Column” had in the meantime marched across country via Tuakau to intercept some of the raiders, but they only reached Rangipokia, near Purapura, in time to open fire on the last of the canoes crossing the river. The Maoris returned to Pukekawa, the field headquarters of Ngati-Maniapoto.

This curious story with reference to Lieutenant Norman was related to me by Major D. H. Lusk:—

Lieutenant Norman, who had just returned from Drury with the pay for the Mauku Forest Rifles and Militia garrison, had about £200 in his possession, mostly in bank-notes. He was shot through the chest and killed; the fatal shot was fired at such close range that his clothes were forced into the wound. When the body was searched next day the money could not be found. Its disappearance remained a mystery to Lusk for nearly fifty years. Then a half-caste member of the Ngati-Maniapoto Tribe told him that some years after the war a Maori brought him one day a bundle which proved to be a large roll of bank-notes stuck together with earth and blood. With much care the notes were separated and dried, and in the end the Maoris succeeded in passing them at the banks. This bundle, the natives said, formed part of the loot brought by Ngati-Maniapoto from the Titi fight in 1863. Without a doubt it was the missing pay for the Mauku men, and the blood which caked the notes together was Norman's life-blood.

The Maoris took a prisoner, a Portuguese named Antonio Arouge, in the employ of the Crispe family. He was captured by the cattle-shooting party and tied to a tree. After the fight he was taken into the Waikato, and remained a prisoner for some months, when he was allowed to return to the Europeans. It was, no doubt, his swarthy skin that saved him.

Many stories were told of the brave conduct and accurate shooting of the Volunteers and Militia. There were also a few good shots among the natives. Just before Lusk advanced from the church stockade to Perceval's relief he saw, through his field-glasses, a Maori marksman in a conspicuous dress taking deliberate sniping shots from the cover of a log. Although the sniper was quite 1,000 yards away he put a bullet through the soft-felt hat of Tom Harden, a Volunteer a few feet away from Lusk, and sent two or three other bullets remarkably close to him. The Maori was evidently using a captured British rifle. Lusk was a good rifle-shot, and, sighting for 1,000 yards, his first shot made the Maori sniper leap back hurriedly for cover. In the skirmish which followed as the force advanced Tom Harden had the satisfaction of taking compensation for his damaged hat by killing the native marksman.

Lusk in his report gave praise to Sergeant Harry W. Hill and Private John Wheeler, of the Forest Rifles, who distinguished themselves by their determined gallantry. Another settler who behaved with special courage was Felix McGuire, afterwards a member of the House of Representatives.

Major Lusk narrated this incident which immediately preceded the outbreak of the war:—

The Ngati-Pou and Ngati-Tamaoho Tribes, of Waikato and Patumahoe, had, it is believed, fixed a day for a general attack on the settlers. page 306 By a curious coincidence it happened to be the date on which the pakeha residents were loyally celebrating the marriage of the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward VII) and the Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The frontier settlers kindled bonfires at dark that night on prominent hills, and those of the Mauku, including Lusk and some neighbours, lit theirs on the Bald Hill, where it was visible for many miles around and as far as the Waikato River. The Maoris, it was said, were about to start out on their raid, anticipating the British declaration of war, but the unexpected glare of the bonfires alarmed them into the belief that their plans had been discovered, and that the fire was a signal for a general attack on the Kingites. Lusk and several fellow-settlers were returning from the bonfire hill late at night, when they met a party of about fifteen Maoris, some of them armed, who had evidently been to Lusk's house. He demanded their business there. They replied that they had been alarmed by the bonfires and inquired if they were a signal for an attack upon the natives. Shortly after this incident Major Speedy (a retired Imperial officer), who was Resident Magistrate and Native Agent for the Mauku, Waiuku, and Pukekohe districts, was directed to read the Governor's Proclamation to the natives requiring them either to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen and to deliver up their arms or to retire into the Kingite country, so that the Government might be able to discover who were their friends. As it was evident that the Maoris would not willingly give up their arms and leave their land, Major Speedy instructed Lieutenant Lusk to organize all the able-bodied settlers of the districts into three rifle volunteer companies, which came to be known as the Forest Rifles.

Mrs. Jerram (Remuera, Auckland), a daughter of the late Major Speedy, of Mauku, says that the family's home at “The Grange,” near the Mauku landing, was loopholed and garrisoned by the settlers for defence against the natives in 1863. This was before the stockade was built at the landing-place. Mrs. Jerram and Mrs. B. A. Crispe describe the scene in “The Grange” in the time of alarms, when for three nights the women and children of the settlement took shelter there, waiting for the cutter which was to take them to Onehunga. The armed settlers kept guard in twos; those off guard lay down on the floor in their blankets, their loaded rifles on the table. There were numerous false alarms, especially just before the dawn, the Maoris' favourite time of attack. “The Grange” was not the best of places as a defensive shelter, for there was a thick growth of trees and creepers close up to the house, affording perfect cover for an enemy.

Tohikuri, of the Ngati-Tamaoho Tribe, Pukekohe, gives the following explanation of the place-name Patumahoe, that of the gently rounded hill near the battlefield of Hill's Clearing:—

The chief Huritini, of the Ngaiwi or Waiohua Tribe, of the Tamaki district, came to these parts to make war upon Hiku-rere-roa and Te Ranga-rua, the leaders of the Ngati-Tamaoho Tribe, six generations ago. The pa of Ngati-Tamaoho was on the Titi Hill. The battle began on the western side of the present Mauku Railway-station, near the church. Huritini was killed with a blow delivered with a mahoe stake or part of a sapling snatched up hurriedly from the ground by a Ngati-Tamaoho chief who had dropped his weapon; and the Ngaiwi men were defeated and driven from the district. Hence the name: Patu, to strike or kill; mahoe, the whitewood tree (Melicytus ramiflorus).

Tohikuri is a direct descendant of Ranga-rua.

page 307
The South Auckland District Showing military posts and scenes of engagements, 1863.

The South Auckland District
Showing military posts and scenes of engagements, 1863.