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


page 414

THE MAORI KING movement had gained strong support among many of the tribes of the East Coast, along the shore of the Bay of Plenty from Matata to Opotiki, and thence round the East Cape as far as Turanganui (Gisborne) and the Wairoa. By the end of 1863 a formidable crusade in aid of hard-pressed Waikato and their kin was set on foot on the coast, and half a score of tribes joined in a strong contingent of reinforcements. The design was to gather at a point in the Bay of Plenty, and thence march through the Arawa country to the Upper Waikato plains, passing Rotorua on the way. By January of 1864 the plan of campaign was matured, and a war-party which swelled to the proportions of a small army was soon assembled at Matata, the headquarters of the Ngai-te-Rangihouhiri, for the advance upon Waikato, where General Cameron was temporarily blocked by the heavy entrenchments on the Paterangi ridge. It was now that the Arawa people definitely ranged themselves on the side of the Queen as defenders of their territory against the Kingites.

From 1856 to 1863 the majority of the Arawa Tribe were scattered over the North Auckland country digging kauri-gum. By their industry they had acquired a fleet of small cutters and schooners, which were engaged largely in the carrying trade between Auckland and the East Coast ports. In 1863 they had spread up north beyond the Bay of Islands. Then rumours began to reach them of the intention of the East Coast tribes to send a large force through to support the Waikato Kingites. These reports became so alarming and urgent that the Arawa exhumed the bones of their numerous dead in various parts of the gumfields of the north, and setting sail in their small craft early in January, 1864, they arrived at Maketu to defend their ancestral soil. In their eagerness to get into action some of them drove their vessels ashore; others dropped anchor out in the stream at Maketu and hastened ashore without taking time to stow their sails. During the six or seven years' fighting that followed, all the vessels sank at their anchors or rotted on page 415 the beach. Another result was that sandbanks formed round the sunken vessels and quite ruined the little harbour of Maketu.

Now it became known that about seven or eight hundred hostile natives of the Bay of Plenty and the East Cape were on the way to the Rotorua district. By this time the contingent of Ngati-Porou and other Tai-Rawhiti tribes had been swelled by the addition of the Whanau-a-Te Ehutu, Ngai-Tawarere, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, the Whakatohea, Ngati-Awa, Ngati-Pukeko, and other clans, and finally the Ngati-te-Rangihouhiri at Matata. Te Puehu visited the Arawa country as a herald, asking the lakes tribes to permit them to pass through to help Waikato against the whites, but permission was peremptorily refused. Had the Tai-Rawhiti tribes been allowed to pass through to join the King party the addition of several hundreds of well-equipped warriors would obviously have exercised a powerful influence on the fortunes of the campaign, and would at least have prolonged the war. The Arawa found themselves in this position: that, never having expected any war, they had neglected to provide themselves with arms and ammunition and the necessary equipment for a campaign. They had not followed the example of the other tribes, who all eagerly set to work purchasing guns and ammunition on the relaxation of the arms restrictions by Gore Browne in 1857.

When the plight of the Arawa was realized, with the invaders only a few days' march away, several delegates of the tribe were despatched from Rotorua to Maketu, where they interviewed the Civil Commissioner and asked him to supply them with arms to defend their land against the Queen's enemies. The request was declined. Fortunately, Mr. William Mair (the interpreter at Orakau), who had lately been appointed Magistrate at Taupo, arrived at Maketu at this juncture, and, seeing how necessary it was that these people should receive help, he returned to Tauranga and begged the Imperial military officers there to give him the whole of their sporting ammunition for the loyal Maoris. He succeeded in obtaining about three hundredweight of powder, several hundredweight of shot, and a large quantity of percussion caps. He went to the local storekeepers, and they even emptied their chests of tea and gave Mair the lead. At Maketu the timely munitions-supply was given to the Arawa, who took their warlike stores inland to Mourea, the village on the Ohau Stream, which connects Lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti; there all set to work making cartridges.

Meanwhile some Taupo men had arrived under Rawiri Kahia and Hohepa Tamamutu, and this contingent joined Ngati-Whakaue at Ohinemutu. The allied force crossed the lake in a flotilla of large canoes—“Te Arawa,” the largest, could carry page 416
The Battlefields at Lake Rotoiti, Maketu, and Kaokaoroa

The Battlefields at Lake Rotoiti, Maketu, and Kaokaoroa

nearly a hundred men—and combining with the others at Mourea the whole force, some four hundred strong, swept down Lake Rotoiti in true ancient warlike state to meet the advancing Tai-Rawhiti army, who were marching up from Otamarakau by way of Rotoehu and Hongi's Track through the bush to the east end of Rotoiti.

The fighting which followed occurred on the 7th, 8th, and 9th April, 1864. The great war-party of the East Coast tribes emerged from the forest and encamped at Tapuae-haruru (“The Beach of the Resounding Footsteps”), with the forest in their rear and the beautiful wooded range of Matawhaura lifting above them like a wall on their right. The Arawa made the Komuhumuhu page 417 pa, a palisaded village on the south side of the lake, their headquarters, and from there advanced along the shore now traversed by the main road from Rotorua to the eastern lakes and Whakatane. The three days' skirmishing ended in the complete repulse of the invaders. The fighting began at Ngauhu, near Wai-iti. On the second day a hot battle was fought on the Taurua ridge and the lake-edge between Komuhumuhu and Wai-iti. About twenty of the invaders were killed, including the chief Apanui, who fell at Te Tu-arai, the wooded headland near Emery's house at Taurua. The Arawa lost three of their men. The enemy retreated to the sea-coast, announcing that they would next invade Maketu; to which the Arawa chief Te Mapu te Amotu replied, “That is well; we shall finish our battle there.”