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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)




The remarkable skill displayed by the Maoris in the construction of their stockaded entrenchments is particularly well illustrated in a description and plans of a field fortification at Manutahi, in North Taranaki, furnished by Mr. George F. Robinson, of Leinster Road, Christchurch, who was for many years Government Road Engineer in Taranaki. This Manutahi should not be confused with a place of the same name in South Taranaki, where a redoubt (see plan, page 181) was built during the Hauhau wars. Writing under date 21st May, 1923, Mr. Robinson gave the following account of a venturesome expedition by a small party of unarmed settler volunteers which resulted in the discovery of the pa described, built during the first Taranaki War:—

“When the Waitara War began I was a young settler on the Bell Block, about four miles from New Plymouth, and the farmers of our settlement built a blockhouse (see pages 165–166, Vol I) on a hill overlooking the open part of the district. Within the boundaries of the block was a native village, Paraiti, and we settlers knew every Maori there. Beyond the block to the northward was another native village, Ninia, and inland from this and near the edge of the bush was the Kaipakopako kainga. We knew most of the native inhabitants well. Then came the war. By February, 1861, the Maoris, the Imperial troops, and the settlers were all heartily sick of the fighting. Peace was finally arranged in March of that year. On the Sunday following the making of peace (which was settled on a Thursday or Friday) seven of us young settlers stole away from the Bell Block post—discipline being somewhat relaxed—without arms. Our objective was a peach-orchard which we knew existed at Kaipakopako; the peaches there were especially delicious. We left the blockhouse at about 9 a.m., arrived at the orchard (about three miles away) before 10.30, satisfied our craving, and then decided to make our way to Sentry Hill, about a mile and a half northward. We followed the native track, crossed the Mangaoraka Stream, and climbed the hill; the whole distance was through heavy fern and scrub (excepting at the stream, page 524
The Manutahi Pa, 1861

The Manutahi Pa, 1861

From sketch-plans by Mr. G. F. Robinson] Cross-section of Manutahi Pa

From sketch-plans by Mr. G. F. Robinson]
Cross-section of Manutahi Pa

where it was bush). The top of the hill (an old pa) was also in fern. This we trod down, and then lay in the sun. About noon one of the party stood up, but at once dropped down again, saying, ‘There's a Maori coming along the track from Manutahi.’ Peering through the fern we saw a Maori lad walking towards us. When about 200 yards away he saw one of our heads and stopped, but on our showing ourselves and calling to him, telling him who we were, he came on and up the hill. He was a Paraiti Maori, and knew most of us. He told us the Paraiti, Ninia, and Kaipakopako Maoris all lived on the slopes of Mataitawa ridge, three or four miles farther inland, and asked us to go with him and see them. We looked at each page 525 other and hesitated; a few days before they would have been glad of the opportunity to tomahawk us, and as we were unarmed we did not like putting too much temptation in their way. The boy, seeing our hesitation, said, ‘I was not afraid to come to you; why should you be afraid to go with me?’ Of course, it was insufferable to be looked upon by a boy as cowards, so with an air of 'Lead on, Macduff,’ we followed him inland.

“About Sentry Hill and for some distance inland the country was covered with fern and tutu, 6 to 8 feet high, excepting where the track had been beaten down; we soon, however, came to where the forest commenced. At first it was about 100 yards away on each side, then gradually narrowed like an inverted V, until after travelling about a mile from Sentry Hill we came to the dense bush. On our left was a gully in which ran a small stream, all in the bush, and on our right and front the heavy bush extended for many miles. Across the point of the V (near about where Lepperton Railway-station now stands) was a fighting pa, the strongest I have ever seen. The front palisading reached across from bush to bush, perhaps 100 to 120 feet in length, the ends being carried well into the bush and blocked and screened with branches and native briar (tataramoa). The supports of the front palisade (as also the others) were of tree-boles about 12 inches in diameter, sunk deeply and firmly into the ground about 10 feet apart and projecting above the ground to a height of 12 to 14 feet. To these were lashed horizontally, with supplejack and rata-vine, at heights of about 3 feet 6 inches and 10 feet from the ground, heavy split rails (the Maoris before the war possessed axes, saws, wedges, spades &c.), and to these, vertically and fairly close together, were lashed other split rails, the tops about the height of the posts, and the butts reaching to about 1 foot above the ground. Behind this palisading was a trench 8 feet deep by 10 feet wide at the top and 6 feet wide at the bottom; behind this again was a second palisade similar in design and strength to the front one. Behind this, firing galleries or passages had been dug parallel with the front. The galleries were about 5 feet deep by 3 feet wide—not dug in one straight line, but with blocks or traverses about every 20 feet to provide against the effect of a bursting shell. These galleries were roofed over with logs on which were placed saplings and fern, well trampled down. The whole was covered with the earth from the trenches and galleries; this covering was from 3 to 4 feet deep. The front galleries or firing-trenches extended the full length of the pa. Loopholes were left under the log covering (about on a level with the outer front) through which the Maoris could fire on the advancing foe without themselves being seen or being in danger. From the firing-galleries passages went back to a central passage in the pa (covered in the same manner as the others), which in turn led by a covered way to the gully and stream in the bush, by which passage the Maoris could escape in case of defeat, or could be reinforced during the fighting. The sides and rear of the pa had single palisading only, inside the trench, as the Maoris did not expect any assualt on those sides. In front of the pa for a distance of about 300 yards all fern had been broken down or removed; so for that distance no cover was afforded the advancing enemy and the defenders could see them, and fire at them from the loopholes. The twelve months' war experience had taught the Maoris two things: (1) That the military always made frontal attacks; (2) that no soldier would willingly enter the bush, or could make his way through it should he be taken there, being easily entangled amongst the dense scrub and the supplejacks and other vines. The heaviest field-gun used by the troops at that time was the 24 lb. howitzer, throwing solid shot or shell. Either of these striking the vertical palisading would simply cut the piece struck, and, as it was tied in three places, the ends would swing back again, leaving the palisade page 526 apparently as before. Should a shot strike a post it might smash it down, but rarely did so. [At Puke-ta-kauere in 1860 I saw the artillery, at 300 yards and under, fire at palisading for over an hour without doing any appreciable damage.] Artillery-fire usually commenced at about 800 yards from a pa, and was taken closer. Should a shot strike the palisading, the effect would be as I have described. Should the aim be low, and the ball strike the ground in front of the pa, it would ricochet over it. The chances were more than a hundred to one against a ball or shell entering a loophole through which the Maoris fired; they were screened by the two palisades, though the vertical rails, not coming within a foot of the ground, did not obstruct the Maoris' view of the enemy nor interfere with their firing. Assuming the outer palisade was broken down, the assaulting-party would have to face the trench and inner palisade, and were these overcome and the enemy get into the pa, they would see nothing but a bare earth surface. The Maoris could not be got at, but would escape by the covered way into the gully and bush, where they would not be followed. The only effective way of dealing with such forts was by the use of heavy Coehorn mortars, which threw a shell at a high angle, descending vertically after describing a parabolic curve. Up to the date of this pa, however, such guns were not available.

“The pa I have described was built towards the end of 1860. It was never fully occupied, and when we saw it in March, 1861, it had been abandoned and partly dismantled. About three years after the events I have decribed the district we travelled over was occupied by the Hauhaus, and all signs of the pa were obliterated. We were curious to know why the fort had been built at such an enormous cost of material and labour and then abandoned, and learned later that the three sections or hapus of Maoris I have mentioned (Paraiti, Ninia, and Kaipakopako), having been driven from their homes, had taken refuge near Mataitawa, where they made new whares and cultivations, and the pa was built across the then only known track leading to their new homes. The tide of war having drifted to other districts, they thought the pa was no longer needed, and it was therefore abandoned.

“Having well examined the fortification above and below, under the guidance of the Maori boy, we followed him by the escape track across the gully and stream, then along through the bush to the Waiongona Stream, which we forded, and so on to the foot of Mataitawa Hill (just beyond Manutahi), where we found the Paraiti people's settlement. The Maoris were startled at our appearance, not knowing our numbers or how we came there, but our guide calling out the explanation, they rushed forward to welcome us in the good old Maori way, shouting, laughing, crying, all but embracing us. We stayed with them about half an hour, and then moved on and up the hill to a plateau, where we found the Ninia natives. A messenger having warned them of our approach, we received from them the same riotous welcome. After staying awhile we moved on to the Kaipakopako settlement, accompanied by a bodyguard of excitable chatty friends, and were again cordially welcomed by hundreds of our old friends and recent foes, who anxiously inquired as to who were killed or wounded amongst those they knew at Bell Block, and told us of their own fatalities. They showed no signs of rancour or ill feeling. I was talking to a chief when suddenly he opened the blanket he had around him and showed me his right arm: it had been shot through the elbow, the bone broken, and, being badly set, the arm had withered and was useless. He told me he was shot at Puke-ta-kauere, and on my saying I was present at that engagement he explained how he received his wound. The troops having retired from the battlefield and returned to Waitara, the natives (who were left in possession) hunted about amongst the high fern page 527 for wounded soldiers, tomahawking all they found—for the Maoris took no prisoners. The chief was searching with the rest, and, hearing a shot near by, rushed forward to the spot, and saw a sergeant of the 40th Regiment lying wounded. The soldier was unable to get away, but he had his rifle and was shooting all who came near. The chief bounded forward to tomahawk him, but received a bullet through his arm, and shouted for help. A number of Maoris came, and, first disabling the sergeant with gun-fire, they tomahawked him. The chief said the sergeant shot seven of the Maori who attacked him before he was killed.

“As we had about eight miles to travel by the nearest route to get back to the Bell Block post, and as the sun was nearing the horizon, we had to say good-bye to our friends and hurry back, so as to get through the bush before dark. We reached the blockhouse before 9 p.m. in time to answer to our names at roll-call. Our party consisted of the following young men besides myself: Thomas Kelly (afterwards M.H.R. and M.L.C.), his brother John Kelly (afterwards Captain in the New Zealand Militia), William Rundle and his brother Richard Rundle, George Bertrand (afterwards in Von Tempsky's force), Harry Morrison (afterwards Captain in the Armed Constabulary). All of us but young Morrison (who had arrived from England in 1860) had lived and farmed on the Bell Block for several years. Two beside myself are still living—William Rundle (now over ninety-four years of age), of New Plymouth, and G. Bertrand (aged eighty-two), of Urenui.”

In September, 1864, Colonel Warre, with a force of Regulars and Militia, advanced on Mataitawa and captured a stockaded pa at Manutahi, which blocked the way. (See page 28.) It is uncertain whether this was the original Manutahi pa renovated and somewhat altered in design, or whether it was a new field-work constructed on a different site.