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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 Waiari

The Engagement at Waiari

As the expected assault on Paterangi was never delivered, the fighting was mostly long-range sniping, varied by occasional shelling from the British guns; but the period of waiting for action was relieved on the 11th February, 1864, by a sharp skirmish at Waiari, on the Mangapiko River, a mile south of the fortifications. In this encounter five soldiers and forty-one Maoris were killed. The central scene of the engagement is an ancient earthwork fortification of the Ngati-Apakura Tribe, built in a loop of the Mangapiko. The river doubles back on itself here, and across the narrow neck of land on the left bank of the stream are three lines of very high and broad parapet and deep ditches. Covered with thick manuka and fern in 1864, the place is in very much the same jungly condition to-day. Just above the pa the river is very narrow, at one place not more than 15 feet in width, and across this deep run at the time of the fight there lay a precarious Maori bridge, a single tree-trunk, smoothed on the upper surface. A short distance from the old fortress was a large pool which the soldiers in Colonel Waddy's advanced camp used as a bathing-place.

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From a water-colour drawing by Major Von Tempsky, 1864] The Forest Rangers at Waiari (11th February, 1864)

From a water-colour drawing by Major Von Tempsky, 1864]
The Forest Rangers at Waiari (11th February, 1864)

Colonel Waddy's camp, the most advanced British post, was situated on a hill with an abrupt front towards Paterangi, and a gentle slope at the back where the tents of the 40th and 50th were pitched, sheltered from Maori bullets. The native scouts reported that if they worked round to the rear of the hill they would be able to surprise the camp by night from that side. The Paterangi leaders therefore planned an attack to be delivered by about a hundred warriors, who could conceal themselves during the day at the Mangapiko Creek, below the camp. After their first volleys on the camp in the night they were to be supported by large bodies from Paterangi. However, Colonel Waddy had sent that day a large bathing-party of the 40th Regiment to the creek. The Maoris were hidden in the bushes on the south side, close to the water and a short distance from Waiari pa. They could not resist firing on the bathing-party and the small covering detachment of soldiers. The soldiers were soon reinforced by two hundred men of the 40th and 50th from the advanced camp, under Lieut.-Colonel Havelock. With the reinforcements came Captain William Jackson, of No. 1 Company page 348
Photo by J. Cowan, 1920] The Mangapiko River and Waiari (From the north bank)

Photo by J. Cowan, 1920]
The Mangapiko River and Waiari (From the north bank)

Forest Rangers, and Captain C. Heaphy, of the Auckland Rifle Volunteers. In the skirmishing that followed Jackson shot a Maori in the river, and secured his double-barrel gun.

Some of the troops crossed the stream and closely engaged the Maoris in the manuka and fern; others fired across the narrow gully of the river. The natives were driven down-stream and took cover in the overgrown ditches of Waiari.

Reinforcements were hurrying down from Paterangi and threatening the British rear and flanks. Von Tempsky and half of the Forest Rangers were in their camp at Te Rore, two miles away, when the firing began, but with their usual eagerness they rushed off at their utmost speed when the news of the fight reached them. Colonel Havelock, carbine in hand, was directing the attack when Von Tempsky and his panting Rangers reached the southern side of the Mangapiko. He requested Von Tempsky to clear out some Maoris who had taken cover in the thicket that filled an olden trench in the rear of the British party, page 349 and away the Rangers went. “A ditch of the breastwork of an ancient pa sloped down into the river,” Von Tempsky wrote. “It was densely covered with scrub, as well as the bank of the river. My men bounded down into it like tigers. On our hands and knees we had to creep, revolver in hand, looking for our invisible foes. The thumping of double-barrel guns around us announced soon that we were in the midst of the nest. I had in all about thirty men. Some were stationed on the top of the bank, others in the very river, and the rest crawling through the scrub. There were some strange meetings in that scrub. Muzzle to muzzle, the shot of despair, the repeating cracks of revolvers and carbine thuds, and the brown bodies of Maoris made their appearance gradually, either rolling down the hill or being dragged out of the scrub.”

It was nearly dark by the time the old pa was finally cleared of the Maoris, and the troops returned to camp, skirmishing with large bodies of Maoris under cover of low bush and manuka on the right flank of the route. The Rangers covered the return of the force and remained in action until darkness fell.

Soon after the battle opened at Waiari Captain Charles Heaphy, of the Auckland Rifle Volunteers, performed a deed for which he was promoted to Major and received the only Victoria Cross awarded to a colonial soldier in the Maori wars. Heaphy was attached to the force as staff surveyor. He had arrived in the colony in 1839 as one of the New Zealand Company's survey staff, and had distinguished himself as an explorer in the South Island. While trying to rescue a wounded soldier he raised the man's head in his arms, and in doing so received a volley from thick cover, at close range, five bullets grazing and contusing him. A soldier of the 40th came to his assistance, and Heaphy directed others to where the natives were; five of the Maoris were shot.

The Maoris who fell in this skirmish numbered forty-one. Twenty-eight bodies were counted; others fell in the river. Two wounded prisoners were taken. Many of those engaged were Kawhia men who had only recently arrived at Paterangi. One of their principal chiefs killed was Te Munu Waitai, of Ngati-Hikairo; others were Taati, Ta Keriri, Taare, Te Kariri, and Hone Ropiha (Ngati-Maniapoto). Some of the dead were buried on the north side of the river, and close to their graves the troops, soon after this fight, built a reduobt to guard the crossing at Waiari. The parapets and trench of this redoubt (on Mr. H. Rhodes's farm) are still well preserved, and are marked by a grove of acacia.

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Scene of Operations at Rangiaowhia and Hairini Showing positions captured by the British on the 21st and 22nd February, 1864.

Scene of Operations at Rangiaowhia and Hairini
Showing positions captured by the British on the 21st and 22nd February, 1864.