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

Chapter 38: The Siege of Orakau

page 365

Chapter 38: The Siege of Orakau

THREE MILES TO the east of General Cameron's advanced post at Kihikihi the village of Orakau (“the Place of Trees”) lay among its fruit-groves and its cultivated fields, gently tilted to the quarter of greatest sunshine. This easy northward-looking slant of the country is a topographical feature particularly marked in these parts of the Waipa basin. The contour of Rangiaowhia, Orakau, and the neighbouring terrain of Otautahanga and Parawera is distinguished by a gradual upward slope to the south, and then a sudden break in a descent of a hundred or two hundred feet to the swamps and wooded levels. The Orakau settlement, a collection of thatched hamlets, was spread over half a square mile of the slopes and plain extending from the ridge called Karaponia, on the south, to the edge of the swamps and kahikatea forest through which the Manga-o-Hoi coiled in its sluggish course to join the Mangapiko at Te Awamutu on the west. These swamps and the creek separated the Orakau country from the higher land of Rangiaowhia. To the east the range of Maunga-tautari made a rugged skyline; to the south the blue mountains of Rangitoto marked the source of the Waipa River in the heart of the Ngati-Maniapoto country. The crest of the Orakau ridge broke off abruptly to a manuka swamp; from the northern part of this swamp watercourses drained into the Manga-o-Hoi, and from the southern side of the imperceptible watershed the eel-waters flowed toward the Puniu, a clear stream running over a gravelly bed in a westerly course two miles away.

Orakau was an idyllic home for the Maori. Like Rangiaowhia, it was a garden of fruit and root crops. On its slopes were groves of peaches, almonds, apples, quinces, and cherries; grape-vines climbed the trees and the thatched raupo houses. Potatoes, kumara, maize, melons, pumpkins, and vegetable-marrows were grown plentifully. Good crops of wheat were grown in the “fifties” and early “sixties” on the northward- page 366 sloping ground between Karaponia* Hill crest and the groves of Orakau and Te Kawakawa. The Maoris at one time were paid 12s. a bushel for the wheat from Rangiaowhia and Orakau. “Ah,” said old Tu Takerei, of Parawera, who was born in Orakau, “it was indeed a beautiful and fruitful place before the war. The food we grew was good and abundant, and the people were strong and healthy—there was no disease among them; those were the days of peace, when men and women died only of extreme old age.”

The people of Orakau were the Ngati-Koura hapu of Waikato, with a section of Ngati-Raukawa. The focus of the settlement was the Maori church, which stood on the crown of a knoll on the west side above a deep but narrow swamp, through which a small watercourse, the Tautoro, flowed toward the Manga-o-Hoi. (On this elevation Mr. W. A. Cowan, father of the present writer, built his homestead a few years after the battle.) Near the church the chief Te Ao-Katoa, of Ngati-Raukawa, lived before the war. He was a tohunga of the ancient Maori school; later he became a war-priest of the Hauhau fanaticism. To the north a short distance along the slopes were the whares and peach-groves of Te Kawakawa; beyond was Te Ngarahu, where under the acacias on the swamp-edge Dr. R. Hooper lived (1848–63); he had a half-caste wife, and received a small salary from the Government for dispensing medicines to the natives.

Such, before the war, was Orakau, soon to become a place of sadness and glory, the spot where the Kingites made their last hopeless stand for independence, holding heroically to nationalism and a broken cause.

There was a military expedition to Orakau a month before the construction of the pa to which the British troops laid siege. This was on the 29th February, 1864, when Colonel Waddy, of the 50th, led a column out from Te Awamutu, six miles away, with the object of dispersing some Maoris who it was reported were digging rifle-pits. The Forest Rangers were in the advance. A little more than half-way between Kihikihi and Orakau (at a

* The name Karaponia (“California”), bestowed upon the hill of the wheat-fields at Orakau, has a curious history. One or two natives of the district who had gone to Auckland in the early “fifties” shipped in a New Zealand vessel bound for San Francisco, where the gold-diggings of the Sacramento had created a demand for wheat, flour, and potatoes from the South Pacific colonies. After trying their luck at the diggings they found their way back to New Zealand, and when they reached their homes narrated their travels to California (Maorified into “Karaponia”). The word appealed to the native ear as a pleasant-sounding name—“He ingoa rekareka, ingoa ngawari,” says the Maori. So “Karaponia” presently came to be given to the wheat-farm terminating in the ridge on which the British guns were emplaced in 1864.

page 367 spot where the present main road ascends a small hill above a narrow swamp) the Rangers encountered a newly built stake fence; a high bank rose behind it, and the crown of this bank looked suspicious to Von Tempsky. He ordered his men to throw down the fence, making a gap; they then rushed the bank. As expected, there was a line of rifle-pits there; the trenches were masked with branches of manuka stuck into the earth. The position was deserted, but a few shots were fired at long range by some Maoris, who fell back on Orakau. The village was abandoned, and the Rangers went through it in skirmishing order. The natives made no stand, but drew off eastward in the direction of Otautahanga, and the troops, after burning some of the whares, returned to Te Awamutu.

After the defeats at Rangiaowhia and Hairini, and the British occupation of Kihikihi, Ngati-Maniapoto with some of the other tribes gathered at Tokanui, below the group of terraced hills now called the “Three Sisters.” Thence they travelled southward to Otewa, on the Waipa, and from there they were called to a conference at Wharepapa, a large village about three miles south of the Puniu. The gathering discussed two questions: (1) Whether or not the war should be renewed; (2) whether a fortified position should be taken up on the northern side of the Puniu River or on the southern side. The decision to continue the war was unanimous. As to the site of the new fighting pa, it was resolved to confine the war, if possible, to the northern side of the Puniu. Rewi made a proposal to consult Wiremu Tamehana at the stronghold Te Tiki o te Ihingarangi, on the upper Waikato, on the question of the future conduct of the campaign. It was decided to send to the kingmaker and ask his advice, and Rewi and a small party of his men set out for Te Tiki. They marched by way of Ara-titaha, on the southern spur of Maunga-tautari. There they met an Urewera (Tuhoe) war-party, 140 strong, under the chiefs Piripi te Heuheu, Hapurona Kohi, Te Whenuanui (Ngakorau), the old warrior Paerau te Rangi-kai-tupu-ake, Te Reweti (of the Patu-heuheu), Ngahoro (of Ngati-Whare), and Hoani (Tuhoe and Patu-heuheu). Tuhoe proper numbered fifty; the Ngati-Whare and Patu-heuheu party was also fifty strong. The prophet Penewhio sent two tohungas, Hakopa and Tapiki, with the contingent. In the contingent were twenty men of the Ngati-Kahungunu Tribe, from the Wairoa, Hawke's Bay, under Te Waru Tamatea. The main body of this force, numbering a hundred, led by Piripi te Heuheu, had fought in some of the engagements of the war, including Hairini, and had helped to garrison Manga-pukatea and Paterangi. The Ngati-Kahungunu party did not arrive until after Hairini had been fought. About the end of 1863 Rewi had made a recruiting page 368 journey to the Rangitaiki country and to the Ngati-Whare and Tuhoe headquarters; there were old ties of friendship between his section of Ngati-Maniapoto and the Warahoe people and some of their Urewera kinsmen. Rewi visited Tauaroa, Ahikereru, and Ruatahuna, accompanied by Te Winitana Tupotahi and Hapi te Hikonga-uira, and aroused the fighting blood of the mountain tribes by his appeal for assistance and his chanting of two thrilling war-songs. The first was the Taranaki patriotic chant beginning “Kohea tera maunga e tu mai rara?” (“What is that mountain standing yonder?”) referring to Mount Egmont. The second was the song that began “Puhi kura, puhi kura, puhi kaka” (“Red plumes, red plumes, plumes of the kaka”), his favourite battle-chant. These impassioned war-calls intensely excited the young warriors of Tuhoe, and in spite of the advice of some of the old chiefs they raised a company for the assistance of the Maori King. Two casks of gunpowder were given to Rewi's party. One of these—presented by Harehare, Te Wiremu, and Timoti, of the Ngati-Manawa, at Tauaroa—had been sent from Ohinemuri by the old cannibal warrior Taraia Ngakuti, of Ngati-Tamatera. The tohungas had recited charms over the cask of powder to render the contents doubly efficacious against the pakeha; and it had been given a name, “Hine-ia-Taraua.” Takurua Koro-kai-toke joined Rewi; he was the elder brother of Harehare, the present chief of Ngati-Manawa at Murupara, on the Rangitaiki. He and his wife Rawinia (Lavinia) were both wounded at Orakau. Harehare himself, having no grievance against the Europeans, did not join, saying that he would fight the troops if they invaded the Rangitaiki country, but not otherwise. But Tuhoe and Ngati-Whare entertained no such punctilio; they were eager to make use of their weapons, and would travel far for the pure love of fighting. A small war-party of Tuhoe had already gone to the Waikato. This taua consisted of twenty men from Ruatahuna, led by Piripi te Heuheu. These warriors assisted Ngati-Maniapoto in the Lower Waikato in the latter part of 1863, but did not share in the defence of Rangiriri, and returned to Ruatahuna. It was then in response to Rewi's appeal for reinforcements that the larger expedition was formed. It numbered a hundred men (rau taki-tahi). After Hairini, the Urewera remained at Arohena with Ngati-Raukawa; and the Ngati-te-Kohera section of this tribe was assembled with them at Ara-titaha when Rewi reached that village.

The Urewera chiefs, strongly supported by Ngati-Raukawa, urged that a fort should be built at or near Orakau as a challenge to the troops; and Te Whenuanui chanted a song composed by the chief tohunga of the Urewera, prophesying the defeat of the Europeans and the reconquest of the land by the Maoris. Rewi page 369 replied that he had no faith in such a prophecy, and proposed that the chiefs should all consult Tamehana before renewing the war. He opposed the suggestion to fortify Orakau, but the Urewera were persistent. Their tohungas, Hakopa and Tapiki, said, “Let us go on; let us challenge the pakeha to battle. We are bearing heavy burdens [guns and ammunition]; let us use them.” Rewi angrily replied, “If you Tuhoe persist in your desire for battle I alone will be the survivor”; and he chanted this song of warning, foretelling defeat:—

Tokotokona na te hau tawaho,
Koi toko atu
E kite ai au
I Remu waho ra,
I kite ai au,
I Remutaka ra,
I kite ai au
Mate kuku ki W ai'mata ra e.
Tohungia mai e te kokoreke ra
Katahi nei hoki ka kite
Te karoro o tua wai,
Tu awaawa ra.
Na te kahore anake
E noho toku whenua kei tua.
Tera e whiti ana,
E noho ana,
Ko te koko koroki ata,

In this chant, a mata or prophecy, Rewi in figurative language endeavoured to dissuade. Tuhoe from again entering the campaign. He sang of the winds of war, of the enemy troops gathering at the seaports, in the south and on the Waitemata, to sweep over the lands of the people; and concluded with an allusion to the koko (tui) singing in the dawn. He was the bird of dawn; by this he meant that he would be the lone survivor of the battle. “But this,” says an Urewera survivor, “did not change our purpose, although Rewi repeated his warning and again declared, ‘If you persist I alone will be the survivor,’ for he had a strong presentiment that we would be defeated.”

Rewi, abandoning his visit to Tamehana, gloomily returned to Waikeria. He had dreamed, he told his people, that he was standing outside the church in Orakau and flying a kite, one of the large bird-shaped kites made of raupo and adorned with feathers. At first it soared strongly upwards to the clouds; then it broke loose and came to the ground in pieces. The shattering of the kite he interpreted as a portent of the utter defeat of the Maoris. But Rewi's recital of his matakite, or vision of omen, did not turn his tribe from their resolve to renew the war; they were burning to join the Urewera and page 370
The Battlefield of Orakau, Present Day

The Battlefield of Orakau, Present Day

The eucalyptus tree in the foreground was planted by the Armed Constabulary in the “seventies” to mark the position of the British Armstrong guns on Karaponia Hill.

strike another blow in defence of their land. Now, reluctantly and against his better judgment, he acceded to the general wish.

The war-parties united at Otautahanga, and marched to Orakau, two miles to the west, to select a site for the fort. Near Ara-titaha some of the people had begun to fortify a mound called Puke-kai-kahu, but the majority of the warriors demanded that a position be taken up nearer the British advanced post. One important reason for the selection of Orakau was that it was in a convenient position for the supply of food to the garrison.

Only a few of the Waikato people living at Orakau joined in the forlorn hope of the Kingites. The greater number of Ngati-Maniapoto had gone southward for safety, and did not return in time for Orakau, and the war-party of that tribe consisted chiefly of Rewi's immediate kinsmen, in number about fifty. The backbone of the defence was furnished by the war-loving Urewera and Ngati-te-Kohera.

The ground chosen for the fort was the gentle slope of page 371 Rangataua, in the midst of the Orakau peach-groves.* Rewi saw the folly of constructing the works in such an exposed position, and urged, now that he had consented to the building of a pa, that it should be placed more to the north, on the lower part of the Orakau slopes and close to the kahikatea forest of the Manga-o-Hoi; this bush would afford a way of retreat Others suggested that the site should be near the church at the edge of the hill above the Tautoro swamp on the west; the land here fell rather steeply on the Kihikihi face, and could be entrenched strongly. But these counsels were overruled; and on the crown of the slightly rising ground at Rangataua, about 400 yards from the native church and 250 yards from the southern crest of the Karaponia ridge, the lines of the Orakau entrenchments were drawn.

The main work thrown up by the natives, working in relays because there were not sufficient spades, was oblong in figure, about 80 feet in length by 40 feet in width, with its greatest axis north and south. The design was an earthwork redoubt with external trench and a broad parapet, inside which was another ditch, well traversed against an enfilading fire, and converted into a series of ruas, or burrows, partly covered over for protection from shell-fire. The main parapet was about 6 feet thick; the height from the bottom of the ditch was 6 to 8 feet. In constructing the rampart the builders used alternate layers of earth and armfuls of newly pulled fern; the fern helped to bind the friable soil, and gave the wall an elastic quality which greatly reinforced its resistance to shot and shell. The interior scheme, divided into a number of ruas, also neutralized to some extent the shell-fire; a shell dropped into one of these burrow-like compartments would have a very circumscribed radius of damage. In portions of the earthwork the builders made long horizontal rifle loopholes or embrasures, with sections of board for the upper part and short pieces of timber at the sides.

* Pou-patate, of Te Kopua, who was sent as one of the messengers to assemble the people at Wharepuhunga and other places for the defence of Orakau, states that a proposal was made by some of Ngati-Maniapoto, when the refugees were gathering near the Puniu, to build a fort at Kiharoa. This is on the crown of the high ground just to the north of the three round hills at Tokanui, two miles south of the Puniu River, on the road from Kihikihi to Otorohanga. But by this time the chiefs had decided upon Orakau.

Another Maori survivor says that when the warriors gathered at Orakau to select the site of the pa it was seen that the crest of the hill at Karaponia was the most suitable spot, but upon consideration it was disapproved because there was no water there, and Rangataua was chosen because it was close to a water-spring and also was in the middle of the food cultivations.

page 372
Plan of the Battlefield of Orakau Showing disposition of the British troops, 31st March and 1st and 2nd April, 1864.

Plan of the Battlefield of Orakau
Showing disposition of the British troops, 31st March and 1st and 2nd April, 1864.

page 373 There was no palisading, but surrounding the redoubt was a post and three-rail fence. This fence, harmless-looking enough, was in reality a serious obstacle to any rush; it was partly masked by flax-bushes, high fern, and peach-trees. The pa was built in a scattered grove of peach-trees, and the defences were only a few feet above the general level of the ground. Orakau pa, flimsy as it was, proved an unexpectedly difficult problem for the assaulting forces.

In advance of the north-west angle of the redoubt, and connected with it by a short trench, a small outwork was built by the Ngati-te-Kohera and Ngati-Parekawa. This bastion was not completed when the attack began, and the outer trench was not more than 3 feet deep. There was a proposal to strengthen the fortifications by constructing another redoubt on the crest of the ridge at Karaponia—where the British headquarters presently were fixed and where a blockhouse was built during the Hauhau wars—and connecting the two works by a parapet and double trench. This would greatly have increased the defensible value of Orakau, but the swiftness of the British attack prevented any extension of the kind.

While the people were entrenching the position several men were sent, on the suggestion of a prophetess, to procure some otaota (fern, or leaves of shrubs) from the scene of the bloodshed at Rangiaowhia. The otaota was to be used in ceremonies to propitiate the deities and ensure the successful defence of the fort. But the scouts did not reach Rangiaowhia. One of them was shot in an encounter with some troops near the Manga-o-Hoi, and the others returned without the material for the luck-bringing rite.

The builders and defenders of the fort in the peach-groves numbered scarcely more than three hundred; among them were about twenty women and some children. The units were—Urewera, Ngati-Whare, and Ngati-Kahungunu, about 140; Ngati-Raukawa and Ngati-te-Kohera, with a few of Ngati-Tuwharetoa, about 100; Ngati-Maniapoto, 50; Waikato, 20: approximate total, 310. A number of the wives and sisters of Urewera and other warriors shared in the toil and peril of the enterprise, and several of the Orakau families joined the garrison and carried in food-supplies. Ngati-Maniapoto held the south-east angle and the east flank; the Urewera the south-west angle and part of the west flank, facing Kihikihi; the north-west angle and the outwork were defended by Ngati-Raukawa, Ngati-te-Kohera, and some men of Ngati-Tuwharetoa.

Rewi Maniapoto was by common consent the chief in supreme control, but he consulted his fellow-chiefs on important questions. The principal men of the various tribes under Rewi's generalship were: Ngati-Maniapoto—Te Winitana Tupotahi, page 374
From a sketch-plan by Captain W. N. Greaves, April, 1864] Plan of Orakau Pa

From a sketch-plan by Captain W. N. Greaves, April, 1864]
Plan of Orakau Pa

The shaded parts indicate the trenches and the dug-outs for shelter from shell-fire. Maori survivors of Orakau state that this is a more accurate plan of the redoubt than the one which follows. The flanking bastions at the north end are here shown of a rounded form, resembling the plan usually adopted in a British field-work. The defences at the north end (foot of the plan) had not been completed by Ngati-Parekawa and other hapus when the troops attacked the position.

Raureti Paiaka, Te Kohika; Waikato—Wi te Karamoa (Tumanako), Te Paewaka, Aporo, Te Huirama; Ngati-te-Kohera, Ngati-Parekawa, and allied sections of Ngati-Raukawa—Te Paerata, his sons Hone Teri and Hitiri te Paerata, Henare te Momo, Hauraki Tonganui; Ngati-Tuwharetoa—Rawiri te Rangi-hirawea, Nui, Rangi-toheriri; Urewera—Te Whenuanui, Piripi te Heuheu, Paerau, Hapurona Kohi; Ngati-Kahungunu—Te Waru Tamatea, Raharuhi.
One of Rewi's lieutenants, his cousin Te Winitana Tupotahi, was a man of enterprise and some adventures. He was one of several Maoris who had vovaged to Australia, attracted by the gold rushes of the “fifties” in Victoria. Tupotahi worked page 375
From drawings by Robert S. Anderson, draughtsman, 8th July, 1864] Another Plan of Orakau Pa

From drawings by Robert S. Anderson, draughtsman, 8th July, 1864]
Another Plan of Orakau Pa

Ngati-Maniapoto state that this plan is not quite accurate as regards the outer contour of the work and the position of the fence. The cross-sections, however, are useful as showing the construction of the interior.

page 376 on the diggings at Ballarat, and returned with a little hoard of gold, although he had suffered losses by robbery on the gold-fields. At the gold-diggings he learned a good deal about shaft-sinking, tunnelling, and boarding-up, and this knowledge he turned to account in military engineering when the Waikato War began. Tupotahi was severely wounded at Orakau. Another notable man was Te Waru Tamatea, the leader of the small Ngati-Kahungunu party; his home was at Te Marumaru, Wairoa (Hawke's Bay). He was a veteran of the olden Maori wars, a figure of the pre-European era in his attire of flax-mats, with his long hair twisted up in a knob on top of his head and adorned with feathers. His son Tipene te Waru, who was taken prisoner and had an arm amputated after Orakau, became a desperate Hauhau in the war of 1868–70. At last he and his father surrendered. Another warrior of the ancient type was Te Paerata, the leader of the Ngati-te-Kohera. When his party reached Orakau, the ancestral home of his people, he declared, “Me mate au ki konei” (“Let me die here”), and he and his son Hone Teri insisted on the pa being built where he halted on Rangataua Hill. They both fell on the last day of the battle. There were lay readers or minita of the Church of England in the garrison—Wi Karamona, of Waikato, was the principal minita—who led in the religious services, but the ancient Maori rites were not neglected. Most of the people, including Rewi himself, while adopting the faith of the missionaries, turned to the old religion in their extremity. When the ancient Celts and Norsemen began to amalgamate, the people are described as having been “Christians in time of peace, but always certain to invoke the aid of Thor when sailing on any dangerous expedition.” There was as curious a mixture of Christian and pagan beliefs in the hearts of the Orakau defenders. The principal tohunga Maori, or men skilled in ceremonies and incantations and arts of divination, were Apiata and Tiniwata te Kohika; and the latter's wife, Ahuriri, was gifted with the powers of matakite, or “second sight,” and of prophecy. There was also an old tohunga named Te Waro, who had fought in the Taranaki Wars. Pou-patate says that Te Waro was the priest of the god Tu-kai-te-uru, whose aria, or visible form, was a fiery glow on the horizon seen on certain occasions.

Not all the garrison were armed with guns. Peita Kotuku, a veteran of the first Taranaki War, says that he laboured in the building of the Orakau pa, but he had no firearm. Te Huia Raureti says: “Our weapons were mostly double-barrel guns, with some flint-muskets and a few rifles; some of us also carried greenstone and whalebone mere, taiaha, and tomahawks. We carried our ammunition, roughly made up in paper-cased page 377 cartridges, in wooden hamanu, or cartridge-holders, fastened on leather belts, which we wore either as cross-shoulder belts or buckled around the waist. These hamanu were made out of kahikatea, pukatea, or tawhero wood; they were curved in form so as to sit well to the body, and each was bored with auger-holes for eighteen or twenty cartridges. Many of us wore three hamanu buckled on for the battle. We were, however, short of ammunition; most of our powder and lead had been left in our deserted villages, and the troops were in occupation before we could obtain it.” Before the attack a man was sent to Kihikihi to recover a bag of bullets left there, but he found a sentry walking up and down on the very place where it had been buried. Pou-patate was armed with a Minie rifle; it was one of fifteen captured rifles which had been brought from Taranaki by the victors of Puke-ta-kauere in 1860.

As for food, there was little in the pa when the attack began, but under cover of night and the bushes some of the young men stole out during the siege and brought in kits of maize, potatoes, pumpkins, and kamokamo, or vegetable marrows. The water-supply on the east side was cut off early in the battle, and all the defenders then had to quench their thirst were raw potatoes and kamokamo. The women, who worked under fire like the men, ground flour from wheat in small steel hand-mills (such as were in general use in the country at that period), and baked bread at the beginning of the siege. Potatoes also were cooked in the excavations on the inner side of the main parapet, but the people were unable to swallow this food when the water-supply in calabashes (kiaka) was exhausted.

On the morning of Wednesday, the 30th March, two surveyors, Mr. Gundry and Mr. G. T. Wilkinson, from the eastern hill of Kihikihi observed through a theodolite telescope a large number of natives at Orakau working at entrenchments. Lieutenant Lusk, of the Mauku Forest Rifles, attached to the Transport Corps, also reported the presence of Maoris at Orakau. The news was sent to headquarters, and Brigadier-General Carey, who was then in command—General Cameron was at Pukerimu—at once organized an expedition. Three columns were despatched, with the object of surprising and surrounding the Maoris. No. 1 column, starting from Te Awamutu about midnight, was to take the natives in the rear; it consisted of about half of Von Tempsky's company of Forest Rangers as the advance guard, and detachments of the 40th and 65th Regiments, the whole numbering about three hundred men, and commanded by Major Blyth, of the 40th. This force marched to the west of Kihikihi, flanking the Whakatau-ringaringa swamp, fording the Puniu, and taking a track along the south side of the river as far as Waikeria, where page 378
From a photo by Pulman, Auckland, 1883]Rewi Maniapoto (Manga) (Died 1894)

From a photo by Pulman, Auckland, 1883]
Rewi Maniapoto (Manga) (Died 1894)

page 379 the Puniu was recrossed and a route followed that brought the column well in rear of Orakau. John Gage, half-caste, who had lived in Kihikihi before the war, was the guide. No. 2 column, the main body, consisting of six hundred men of the various regiments, with two 6-pounder Armstrongs, under Brigadier-General Carey, started from Te Awamutu shortly after daylight, and marched by the cart-road to Orakau, picking up at the Kihikihi redoubt a detachment of the 65th and a company of the 1st Waikato Militia (Colonel Haultain). Lieutenant Roberts and nineteen men of the Forest Rangers marched with this body, holding the usual post of honour as advance guard. (Jackson's company was camped at Ohaupo, and did not arrive till the next day). No. 3 column was a smaller force—detachments of the 65th and Waikato Militia from the redoubt under Captain Blewitt's command at Rangiaowhia; this force crossed the Manga-o-Hoi River and advanced through the bush and swamp, guided by Sergeant Southee, of the Forest Rangers.

Major Blyth's column, after a rough and wet march, came out on the Orakau-Aratitaha track soon after daylight, at a spot near the old pa Otautahanga, and close to where Mr. Andrew Kay's homestead now stands. Here Von Tempsky's leading men fired at five Maoris at the head of the swampy gully on the right (north) and killed one (Matene), hit by Sergeant Tovey. Then, quickly advancing westwards again in extended order, Major Blyth moved in the direction of heavy firing which was now heard, and came in sight of the Orakau ridge, veiled in gunpowder-smoke.

The first attack on the pa was delivered early in the morning of the 31st March by the Forest Rangers (the advanced guard of Carey's main body) and 120 men of the 18th Royal Irish, under Captain Ring, supported by a company of the 40th Regiment. The work of the garrison in relays of diggers had gone on continuously for two days and two nights, but the parapets and post-and-rail fence on the east side and the outwork at the north-west angle were still unfinished. Most of the Maoris were outside the fort, and were holding morning prayers when the troops were first seen. “Wi Karamoa, the lay reader, was praying to Jesus Christ to guard and uphold us, and protect us against the anger of the pakeha,” said Tupotahi, narrating his experiences in the battle, “and the people were bowed with their hands over their eyes, so. I was a little distance away, and happened to look toward the parapet, and saw a Ngati-Raukawa man beckoning to me and pointing. I looked towards Kihikihi, and there I saw in the distance the bayonets and rifles of the soldiers glinting in the morning sunshine. I waited until prayers were over, and then gave the alarm. Then, too, Aporo, who from his page 380 post on the parapet had seen the soldiers, raised the shout, He whakaariki! He whakaariki—e! (A war-party, a war-party!) and each man ran for his gun.”

Now Rewi gave his orders for defence, as the British column came marching in fours along the track past the groves of Te Kawakawa and into the fields of Orakau. The majority of the garrison he had instructed to take post in the outer ditch, leaving about forty, including the older warriors, inside the parapet. He bade the tupara men hold their fire until the soldiers were close up to the post-and-rail fence, and then fire one barrel in a volley, reserving the other barrel for a second volley.

The troops could see little of the defences as they approached through the fern and the fallow cultivations. All that were visible were low parapets of freshly turned soil in a grove of peach-trees, with a post-and-rail fence. The line advanced in skirmishing order on the west and north-west sides of the position, the Forest Rangers on the left of the line. The bugle sounded the “Charge,” and the Royal Irish, led by Captain Ring, and the Rangers, under Lieutenant Roberts, dashed at the apparently weak position. The Maoris held their fire until the attackers were within 50 yards. Then Rewi shouted to the defenders in the outer trench “Puhia!” (“Fire!”). Two hundred guns thundered as a line of flashes and smoke-puffs ran along the front of the works and back again. The tops of the flax-bushes and the fern were mowed off in swathes, and but for the usual Maori fault of too heavy a charge of powder and too high a fire the British losses would have been heavy; as it was the first rush was stopped. Captain Ring fell mortally wounded near the ditch, by Lieutenant Roberts's side, and several others of his regiment were hit. The “Retire” was sounded, and the assaulting column fell back to re-form, and was reinforced by another company of the 40th. But the second bayonet charge was no more successful than the first. Reserving their fire, the garrison waited until the leading files were close to the fence; then Rewi gave the orders, “Puhia, e waho! Puhia, e roto!” (“Fire, the outer line! Fire, the inner line!”) and the volleys swept the glacis. Several men of the 18th and 40th were killed, and Captain Fischer (40th) and some men were wounded. Captain Baker, of the 18th, who was Deputy Adjutant-General, galloped up on Captain Ring's fall, dismounted, and rallied the men of his regiment; but his gallant effort was also repulsed by the heavy fire from the trenches at point-blank range. Lieutenant Roberts and his Rangers advanced to within a few yards of the defenders, who had now all retired behind the parapet, and a few of the men got into the outer ditch, close enough to get a glimpse of the dense row of Maoris lining the earth-wall, with many a long-handled tomahawk gleaming for the page 381 expected combat at close quarters. The natives yelled defiance and derision as each storming-party fell back; some of them cried in English, “Come on, Jack, come on!”

A soldier had fallen just outside the fence. The old warrior-tohunga Te Waro, of Ngati-Paea, seeing the man lying there, pulled out his knife, and called to some of the young men to rush out of the fort and drag the body into the ditch, in order that he might cut out the heart for the rite of the whangai-hau. The heart of the first man killed (the mata-ika) must be offered in burnt sacrifice to Uenuku, the god of battle. But Rewi and his fellow-chiefs and Wi Karamoa, the lay reader, forbade this return to the savage war-rites of old. Te Waro argued that if the heart of the mata-ika were not offered up to Uenuku the garrison would be deserted by the Maori gods. “I care not for your Atua Maori,” said Rewi, “we are fighting under the religion of Christ.”

Finding that the pa was a more formidable place than it appeared at first view, the Brigadier drew off his troops, and, as Major Blyth and Captain Blewitt were now at their appointed posts, he determined to invest the place closely and play upon it with artillery. The two 6-pounder Armstrongs were brought up and emplaced on the highest part of the Karaponia ridge. At a distance of 350 yards the guns began to throw shells into the redoubt, but the shells made very little impression on the earthworks, resilient with their packing of fern.

The Brigadier now decided, upon the suggestion of Lieutenant Hurst, of the 18th, acting engineer officer, to approach the redoubt by sap. A trench was opened on the western side of the pa, in a slight hollow covered by some peach-trees and flax, about 120 yards from the Maori position. The sap was first carried in a northerly direction, crossing the line of the present road, and then continued easterly towards the pa, with many turns and angles, and traversed every few yards. the necessary gabions for head-cover were first ordered up from Te Awamutu, where a supply had been prepared for an impending attack upon Wiremu Tamehana's pa at Te Tiki o te Ihingarangi, and a party of the 40th Regiment was sent down to the edge of the swamp on the south to cut manuka and make more gabions.

On the east side of the pa the cordon of troops was completed by Von Tempsky and his Forest Rangers, who were stationed under the fall of the ground near the swamp which trended toward the Manga-o-Hoi. Von Tempsky, observing that a large party of Maori reinforcements had appeared in the distance eastward, placed a picket of his men near a sawn-timber house (formerly occupied by a European named Perry) which stood on a hill on the east side of the swamp, commanding a view of the quarter from which the Maori relief was coming.

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The Maoris in the pa had early observed the approach of reinforcements, and raised loud shouts in chorus and fired volleys, which brought responsive calls, although the intervening distance was more than a mile. A warrior in the pa, pitching his voice in the high-keyed chant that carries over long distances, called route directions to the advance skirmishers of the relief who had made their way across the swamps. Then the British riflemen and the sap-workers heard the Orakau garrison burst into the stamp and chorus of a war-dance. One of the songs chanted, as Tupotahi narrated, was the Kingite haka composition likening the Government and its land-hunger to a bullock devouring the leaves of the raurekau shrub:—

He kau ra,
He kau ra!
He kau Kawana koe
Kai miti mai te raurekau
A he kau ra, he kau ra!


Oh, a beast,
A beast that bellows—
A beast art thou, O Governor,
That lickest in the leaves of the raurekau
A beast—oh, a beast!

The Maori reinforcements (Ngati-Haua, Ngati-Raukawa, and other tribes) who were gathered at Otihi, on the Maunga-tautari side of the Manga-o-Hoi swamp, responded to this bellowing chorus with volleys of musketry and the chanting of war-songs. The Orakau garrison saw them rush together in close column and leap in the action of a peruperu, or battle-dance, with their guns and long-handled tomahawks flashing in the sun as they thrust them above their heads at arm's length. The action and the rhythm told the watchers that the peruperu was the great Taupo war-song “Uhi mai te waero.” Skirmishers from the party of reinforcements soon appeared on the nearer edge of the bush and fired at long range at the Forest Rangers' line, but could not venture across the intervening open ground.

The Forest Rangers had a rather uncomfortable position in their hollow on the eastern flank of the pa, for the soldiers who covered the sap-workers with their rifle-fire dropped many of their bullets into the lines on the other side. Heavy firing continued all the afternoon, and all night long there was an intermittent fire from the Maoris and the troops. The soldiers' investing detachments, lying in the sap-trenches or in shallow page 383
Photo by J. Cowan, at Te Rewatu, 1920]Te Huia Raureti

Photo by J. Cowan, at Te Rewatu, 1920]
Te Huia Raureti

This veteran of Ngati-Paretekawa hapu, Ngati-Maniapoto Tribe, is a nephew of Rewi Maniapoto, and with his father, Raureti Paiaka, shared in the defence of Orakau pa, and helped to safeguard Rewi on the retreat to the Puniu. Te Huia was born about the year 1840. Much of the information embodied in these chapters was given by him.

holes scraped with bayonet and bowie-knife, heard bullets whistling over their heads, cutting off the fern or dropping in their midst, until the early hours of the morning. All night the Royal Artillery troopers, under Lieutenant Rait, patrolled the lines. The strength of the force investing the redoubt had now been increased to about fifteen hundred men by the arrival of two hundred more of the 18th Regiment, under Captain Inman, from Te Awamutu.

In the pa the sentinels, or kai-whakaaraara-pa, paraded the rampart, chanting their high songs and bidding the garrison be on the alert. The first of these inspiriting watchmen, Aporo, of Ngati-Koura, was shot dead before night. The second was Te Kupenga, of Ngati-Raukawa; but he made a whati, or break, in one of his chants, which was unlucky; and his place page 384 was taken by Raureti Paiaka, of Ngati-Paretekawa (Ngati-Maniapoto), who continued to chant sentinel songs and war-cries until the last day of the siege.

“The second morning of the battle dawned,” narrates Te Huia Raureti. “A thick fog enveloped the pa, and completely concealed the combatants from each other. By this time Tupotahi had discovered that the greater part of our ammunition had been fired away, and that there was no reserve of powder and bullets; also that there was no water, and that the people were eating raw kamokamo and kumara to relieve their thirst. Tupotahi therefore made request of the council of chiefs that the pa should be abandoned, in order to save the lives of the garrison, under cover of the fog. The runanga considered the question, but resolved not to abandon the pa. This was the announcement made by Rewi Maniapoto: ‘Listen to me, chiefs of the council and all the tribes! It was we who sought this battle, wherefore, then, should we retreat? This is my thought: Let us abide by the fortune of war; if we are to die, let us die in battle; if we are to live, let us survive on the field of battle.’* So we all remained to continue the fight. When the sun was high the fog lifted from the battlefield, and then again began the firing. When the sun was directly overhead we made a sally from the pa—a kokiri, or charge, against the troops on our eastern flank. Every tribe took part in this kokiri, which was directed against the troops who formed a cordon between us and the quarter from which we expected relief. Most of us rushed out on that flank, but on all four sides of the pa warriors leaped outside shooting at the soldiers. The Urewera, Ngati-Maniapoto, Waikato—all sallied out. My father, Raureti, was on top of the parapet, firing. Just before we rushed out many of us formed up on the east side of the works, and there we leaped in the movements of the war-dance and we chanted the war-song of the Ngati-Toa and Ngati-Maniapoto:—

“Awhea to ure ka riri?
Awhea to ure ka tora?
A ko te tai ka wiwi,
A ko te tai ka wawa——


Oh, when will your manhood rage?
Oh, when will your courage blaze?
When the ocean tide murmurs,
When the ocean tide roars—

* Rewi's words translated above were: “Whakarongo mai te runanga, me nga iwi: Ko te whawhai tenei i whaia mai e tatou, a i oma hoki hei aha? Ki toku mahara hoki, me mate tatou mate ki te pakanga, ora tatou ora ki te marae o te pakanga.

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“But we were too impatient to finish the chant. When we shouted the word. ‘wawa,” with one accord we all dashed out of the pa to meet the soldiers. Rewi Maniapoto directed the charge from the parapet, and as we rushed out to the east we heard his voice crying, ‘Whakaekea, whakaekea! (‘Dash upon them, charge upon them!’) Only one man was in high command, and that was Rewi. He carried a famous hardwood taiaha, called ‘Pakapaka-tai-oreore’; it had been taken in battle long ago in the Taupo country; in his belt glistened a whalebone club, a patu-paraoa. I lay down and reloaded after firing off my two barrels as the troops fell back before us, and fired again. In reloading my tupara I did not wait to use the ramrod, but dashed the butt of the gun on the ground to settle the bullets down; this was our way with the muzzle-loader when we were in the thick of a fight. Our charge down the slopes extended as far as from here to yonder fence [about 200 yards]. One of our chiefs, Te Huirama, was shot dead; he fell near the grove of elderberries below the pa, close to where a tall poplar-tree now stands on the right-hand side of the road as you descend the hill eastward. We fell back on the pa as quickly as we could, but some of us were cut off from the work by the lines of soldiers, and had to lie concealed in the fern and creep back under cover of night.

“We were in better spirits after our fight in the open; nevertheless we realized that our position was hopeless, short of food and water, short of lead, and surrounded by soldiers many times outnumbering our garrison, and with big guns throwing shells into our defences.”

Further reinforcements arrived on the second day (1st April), including Jackson's No. 1 Company, Forest Rangers, from Ohaupo. There were now a hundred Rangers with their carbines and five-shot revolvers guarding the east flank.

The sap was pushed on vigorously, in spite of two kokiri, or rushes, made by the warriors, who delivered their fire as they charged into the head of the trench. The Armstrongs threw some shells at the Maori reinforcements near the Manga-o-Hoi. On the hills to the east, in the direction of Owairaka, were some Ngati-Tuwharetoa, from West Taupo, under Te Heuheu Horonuku, but they were powerless to assist the garrison.

The day had been very hot, and the garrison, surrounded by that ring of fire and helpless to stay the steady approach of the sap, were quite without water. Wounded men were lying about the pa tortured with thirst. That night a young warrior, Hitiri te Paerata, crept out through the British lines to the spring in the gully on the east side and returned with a calabash of water for the wounded. Hitiri, narrating this, said, “I passed right page 386 through the line of soldiers. Perhaps they knew what I wanted the water for, because they did not fire at me.” A British sentry told his comrades next day that when on duty in the night on the east side of the pa he saw a woman creeping down through the fern to the spring to obtain water, and he allowed her to pass, pretending he did not see her.

That evening Tupotahi proposed to Rewi that the garrison should fight their way out of the pa under cover of darkness. Rewi agreed, and suggested that he should speak to the other chiefs in their trenches and obtain their opinions. After dark the chiefs assembled and discussed the question. Rewi declared in favour of evacuating the pa that night. Hone Teri te Paerata strongly opposed this. “If we do not break out through the soldiers to-night,” said Rewi, “we will all perish. If we retreat in the darkness we will be able to fight through with little loss. Do not wait for daylight, but go to-night, so that the soldiers will be confused and will not know our line of retreat.” Rewi pointed out the way of flight he suggested, in the direction of the Maori force on the north-eastern side of the Manga-o-Hoi.

But the Paerata family and the Urewera chiefs were stubborn in their decision not to retreat but to continue the battle. (“Kaore e pai kia haere, engari me whawhai tonu.”) “E pai ana” (“It is well—so be it”), said Rewi, submitting to the general voice of the council.

The supply of lead was now running very short, although there was some powder in reserve. Rewi instructed his people to reserve their bullets for daylight firing, and to use pieces of wood for the night fighting. The chiefs experimented with the wood of peach and apple trees and manuka, cut up into small pieces, about 2 inches in length. The sections of apple-branches proved the most solid and carried the farthest. That night Ngati-Maniapoto and their allies fired chiefly wooden bullets. Several of the men smashed off the legs of their iron cooking-pots for projectiles; others fired peach-stones. Some of the old smooth-bores began to give way from the heavy powder-charges and the jagged iron bullets, to the rage of their owners, who made shift heroically with their damaged guns. In spite of the poorness of the ammunition, the Maori shooting was accurate enough to make the troops keep close to cover.