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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)



Mr. James Robson, of Wellington (late of “Whitiora,” Stratford), who is a pioneer of sawmilling in the Upper Hutt Valley and in Taranaki, thus describes the later critical period on the Taranaki frontier and the building of the redoubt at Normanby settlement:—

“I started the first sawmill at Ketemarae soon after the close of Titokowaru's war. We built the mill about a mile and a half from the present site of Normanby Township, or Matariki, as it was known by the natives; the large Maori kainga of Ketemarae was about a mile from the page 516 present township. We supplied the timber for many places about Ketemarae and on the Waimate Plains, and amongst them was the Manaia Redoubt. At one time we had seventy bullocks in the teams carting sawn timber around the district. We had some anxious days when the great Maori gatherings at Parihaka in 1879–81 and the increasing feeling of hostility between pakeha and Maori created a crisis that threatened to end in a renewal of the war. A redoubt was built at Normanby in 1879 by the men of the district. We were supplied with Enfield rifles by the Government, and Mr. Frank Brett, formerly a sergeant in the Armed Constabulary, a tall athletic frontiersman, was elected captain of the settler volunteers. There were then, I suppose, about fifty men in and around the Ketemarae district. An old Maori friend, Katene Tu-whakaruru, warned Mrs. Robson and me, about the beginning of 1881, that there would be serious trouble, and told me we should go into the redoubt every night. We spent two or three days in the redoubt at the height of the alarms. Captain Brett sent out patrols at night along the road, and we did regular sentry duty. However, at the mill we had six men with rifles, and we could have put up a fight there if attacked. I had a valuable engine at the mill, and, fearing that the place might be burned down by the Maoris if fighting began, we hauled it with bullocks very nearly a mile and a half, to within close range of the redoubt.”

The Normanby Redoubt, long since demolished, stood on the spot where the monument to the soldiers in the Maori wars stands to-day in the Domain, close to the railway-station. It was a rectangular work with trench and high parapet, flanked for an enfilading fire along the ditch. At intervals there were regular gaps or embrasures in the top of the sod wall for two or three men who could stand and deliver fire if attacked. The defenders could just see over the parapet at these intervals. The ditch, not very deep, was crossed by a plank; later by a drawbridge. Inside, near the entrance, a timber watch-tower for the sentry by day was built when the Armed Constabulary came to garrison the post. In the middle of the redoubt was a building, a rough shed-like place, of sawn timber, for the shelter of the men and their families at night. The redoubt earthwork was built by volunteer labour, but carpenters were paid for putting up the large shed and the other timber-work. Happily the redoubt was never needed for actual defence, and before the middle “eighties” Taranaki had settled down to permanent peace.

The redoubt at Manaia, on the Waimate Plains, was the best-designed of the later Armed Constabulary posts constructed in Taranaki. It was built on a gentle elevation above the Waiokura Stream; the spot is now the Manaia town park. The earthworks are still standing, with the flanking blockhouses. The redoubt measures, on the outer edge of the trench, 35 paces by 30 paces; the parapet is 6 feet thick and 5 feet above the inside level of the work. On the west side, where the ground falls steeply to the stream, the scarp of the parapet is from 15 to 20 feet in height; on the other side 10 to 12 feet above the bottom of the ditch. At two of the diagonally opposite angles there are flanking bastions, timber blockhouses 12 feet square, iron-roofed, with double walls, originally filled in with gravel to make them bullet-proof. These blockhouses are loopholed and enfilade the ditch. There are four loopholes on each side of the blockhouses, arranged in two tiers, 2 feet and 4 feet 6 inches above the ground. These loopholes were very carefully made by the Armed Constabulary carpenters; they measure on the inside 7 inches by 5 inches, narrowing to about 3 inches by 2½ inches on the outside; the depth (thickness of the double wall) is about 8 inches. The loopholes are closed by sliding wooden shutters. At the seaward flank of the redoubt, surmounting the trench-bridge and entrance, there was a timber watch-tower 35 feet high, ascended by a page 517 stair inside the tower. The original structure has disappeared and has been replaced by a concrete tower in the middle of the redoubt.

The small blockhouses, the last remaining in Taranaki, deserve better care; they are in danger of decay and fire, because of the thick fern and other vegetation growing around them and in the trench. The interior of the work has been converted into lawns and flower-plots by the Manaia town authorities, but the earthwork and the well-constructed bastion blockhouses are neglected. Manaia is fortunate in possessing so interesting a specimen of the frontier forts, long since razed in most other parts, and the works are worthy of some pains to preserve them as an historical monument.