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

Chapter 5: The First British March Inland

page 34

Chapter 5: The First British March Inland

FEARS OF INVASION by Ngapuhi seized many of the inhabitants of the young capital when, two days after the sailing of the fleet from the Bay, the five shiploads of refugees landed at Auckland and the distressed people of Kororareka spread their story. A Militia was enrolled, and the Auckland citizen soldiery were drilled daily by instructors from the Regulars. The defences of the town were hastily set in order. Major Bunbury and his company of the 80th had already (1840–41) partly fortified Britomart Point by constructing stone barracks. These barracks formed two sides of a square; one side was loopholed; the buildings were capable of accommodating two hundred men, besides stores. Fort Britomart, as it was now called, had been an ancient pa of the Maoris, a tonguelike promontory, protected on the land side by a broad, deep ditch and parapet. The military utilized part of these defences; a portion of the parapet was thrown down to fill up the ditch at the entrance. On one side of the interior, where of old the warriors had built their low-eaved whares and kept lookout for enemy canoe flotillas, an octagonal loopholed guard-room was erected. A hospital was also built. The 96th and, later, the 58th completed the fortification, and several guns were mounted. The windows of St. Paul's Church, a brick building near by, were planked and loopholed for musketry.

H.M.S. “North Star” (Captain Sir Everard Home), a twenty-six-gun frigate, arrived at Auckland on the 22nd March. She brought from Sydney 162 officers and men of the 58th Regiment. Two days afterwards the schooner “Velocity” arrived from Sydney with fifty-five officers and men of the same regiment, and ordnance stores. In April the barque “Slains Castle” sailed in from Sydney, bringing the remainder of the 58th—more than two hundred rank and file—under Major Cyprian Bridge. On the 27th April an expedition totalling 470 officers and men under Lieut.-Colonel Hulme, of the 96th Regiment, and Major Bridge sailed from Auckland in the “Slains Castle,” the “Velocity,” and the schooner “Aurora,” with the object of re-establishing the page 35
The Destruction of Pomare's Pa, Otuihu

The Destruction of Pomare's Pa, Otuihu

H.M.S. “North Star” in the foreground. Pomare was detained as a prisoner on board this ship. The destruction of the fortified village was carried out by détachments of the 58th and 96th Regiments.

Queen's sovereignty at Kororareka and carrying the war into the enemy's country. Besides the 58th and 96th, there were on board about fifty volunteers, most of them late inhabitants of Kororareka, under the courageous civilian Mr. Hector. A small force was left in Auckland, which was not now considered in danger, as Te Wherowhero, the great chief of Waikato, had offered to protect the capital from attack by Ngapuhi—his hereditary enemies—or any other foe. Old Apihai te Kawau, of Orakei, and his people of Ngati-Whatua, who had sold the site of Auckland to Governor Hobson in 1840, could also be relied upon as friends of the whites.

After hoisting the British flag on Kororareka Beach, Hulme's force destroyed Pomare's pa at Otuihu, overlooking the channel to Opua and the Waikare. The “North Star” was anchored off Otuihu, and Pomare himself was secured as a prisoner by stratagem. It was then arranged that an expedition should be directed against Heke's stronghold lately built near the shore of Lake Omapere.

The chiefs who with their tribes and hapus definitely ranged themselves upon the side of the Government were Tamati Waka Nene (Ngati-Hao Tribe); Mohi Tawhai (Mahurehure Tribe), of page 36 Waima, Hokianga; Makoare Tainui (Te Popoto); Wiremu Repa (Ngati-Hao); Paratene Kekeao (Ngapuhi); Tamati Pukututu (Uri-o-Ngonga), of the Kawakawa; Arama Karaka (Mahurehure); Rangatira (Ngati-Korokoro); Moehau (Hikutu); Nopera Panakareao (Te Rarawa). Some of the celebrated chiefs, such as the gigantic cannibal Tareha, Waikato (who had visited England in 1820 with Hongi Hika), and the Hokianga leader Papahia, remained neutral; and Pomare, although his pa was destroyed and he himself taken prisoner by Lieut.-Colonel Hulme, did not take any active share in Heke's work. Several chiefs of the Kapotai, Ngati-Wai, Ngati-Hau, Uri-Kapana, and Uri-o-Hau brought their hapus to Heke's assistance.

Tamati Waka Nene was allied by blood with the Hongi and Heke families. He had been Hongi's comrade on the war-path, and he had carried his musket and tomahawk as far south as Cook Strait in a great cannibal campaign twenty years before the coming of the British flag. Wise in knowledge of men and of military science as the Maori had developed it, endowed with a keen intellect and well-balanced reasoning-powers, he was the most able of all the Ngapuhi chiefs, and the best qualified, by natural gifts and by his tribal standing, to offer resistance to the disaffected sections of Ngapuhi. His brother, Patuone, a man of high character and a warrior of fame, also took up the British cause, steadfastly declining to have any part in rebellion against the Queen whose right of eminent domain he had accepted in the Treaty of Waitangi.

One of the chiefs at first friendly to the British Government but ultimately found fighting in the cause of Maori independence was Pene Taui, of Waimate and Ohaeawai. A curious story is told of Pene's defection, illustrative of the serious consequences often entailed by trivial incidents among the Maoris. In 1844, when the war feeling was developing throughout the north, Pene Taui was authorized to convene a meeting of Ngapuhi to consider the political situation. The assembled chiefs resolved to plant large quantities of food (potatoes, kumara, taro, and maize) in order to provide for a general gathering of the northern tribes in the Taiamai district, the heart of the Ngapuhi country, embracing the beautiful lands from Waimate to Ohaeawai. The meeting having concluded, Pene Taui sent a messenger to Tamati Waka Nene, at Hokianga, with the somewhat peremptory words, “Koia he kai” (“Plant food”). When the herald delivered this message in public, as was the Maori way, Tamati Waka, resentful of its wording, immediately said, sotto voce but not so low that the messenger could not hear, “Ko ia he kai.” It was a quick play upon Pene's message; the point lay in the accenting of “ia” (“him”) instead of “ko” (“plant”). Waka's utterance meant “Let him page 37 be food,” or “He shall be the food.” The messenger heard; he returned to Taiamai, and reported Waka's words to Pene Taui. That chief was so enraged at Waka's punning kanga, or curse, likening a high chief to food—cannibal fashion—that he at once made common cause with Hone Heke, taking with him all his tribe. It was Pene who built the stockade at Ohaeawai which Despard a few months later found impregnable.*

H.M.S. “Hazard” having arrived from Auckland, the fleet hove up and sailed across the Bay to Kent's Passage, where the ships anchored under shelter of the island of Moturoa. On the following morning a force of four hundred men, including about a hundred seamen and marines from the frigates, was disembarked on the beach of Onewhero. On that day (3rd May, 1845) was begun the first march inland of British troops in New Zealand.

Imperfectly informed as to the route of march, without transport arrangements, without artillery, inefficiently rationed, and without tents or camp equipage, Hulme set out into an unknown country against an enemy of unknown strength, sustained apparently by the hope of somehow worrying through, or fortified by the popular belief that one British soldier was equal to any half-dozen savages. Neither Hulme nor his officers knew anything of the real strength of Maori fortifications skilfully defended. The report on native strongholds prepared by Lieutenant Bennett of the Royal Engineers in 1843, after a visit to Tauranga, was unknown to them. Fortunate it was for them and their men that the chivalrous enemy laid no ambuscades on the track; the Maori was not so considerate in the wars twenty years later. Doubly fortunate for them was the fact that Tamati Waka Nene was their ally and helper. He was the salvation of Hulme on that May expedition, as he was of the Maori-despising Despard a few weeks later.

The opening blunder was the awkward route taken. Instead of transporting the force by boat up a good tidal river, the Kerikeri, to the mission station at the landing, only fifteen miles from Kororareka, whence a cart-road led to the Waimate, fourteen miles, the commander marched his force along a rough native track south of the river for nine miles, bivouacked in the fern, and broke off to the right next morning, marching through torrents of rain to the Kerikeri mission station. The result was that the five days' biscuit ration and two-thirds of the reserve ammunition were spoiled by the rain.

From Kerikeri the combined naval and military column moved out on the inland trail on the morning of the 6th May. The clay page 38 road, reduced to a glue-like mire by the rain, made difficult marching. Waka's and Rewa's barefooted warriors watched with pity and some amusement the efforts of the troops to march in fours and keep their dressing on this unkindly highway; they wondered how men so heavily beswagged, so tightly fastened with belts and straps and leather stocks, could march and fight. The bluejackets, more handily equipped and comfortably clothed, made easier work of it; they carried with them a war-rocket tube from the “North Star” and a dozen rockets, which it was imagined would help to demolish any Maori stockade encountered. Acting-Commander George Johnson, of the “North Star,” was in command of this naval brigade. The cart-road to Waimate was followed for some miles, then the column struck in a direct line across country for Waka's armed camp between Lake Omapere and Okaihau, twenty miles from Kerikeri. The march could have been simplified had the force passed through Waimate, but the members of the Church Mission there, the Revs. R. Burrows and R. Davis, had made strong efforts to keep the mission station tapu from armed men and to preserve an attitude of strict neutrality. After passing the Waimate at a distance, the force entered a tract of forest, chiefly puriri; now the troops had their first taste of New Zealand bush work. A detachment of Pioneers of the 50th had been thrown ahead with Waka's natives. With their axes they improved the difficult Maori pad-track, only a few inches wide, for the passage of the main body. Unbridged creeks in flood were waded, small swamps were crossed, hills were breasted, and at last, at sundown, the bugles called a halt, and the weary soldiers and sailors loosened their packs under the stockade of Tamati Waka's fortified camp, a mile from the Omapere Lake.

Heke's pa, named Puketutu, was two miles from Nene's fort, and quite close to Lake Omapere. The fort is usually but erroneously referred to as “Okaihau” by writers on the northern war. Okaihau is about three miles to the west. Half-way between the two pas was the small hill Taumata-Karamu, the scene of many skirmishes between Heke and Nene in April. Now and again a man was killed. By mutual arrangement no ambuscades were laid, and the fighting was only in daylight.

* This incident is narrated in a note sent to me by Captain Gilbert Mair, who adds, “Puns are of rare occurrence among the Maoris.”