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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)


page 543


Captain Gilbert Mair, writing from Tauranga, 8th June, 1923, gave the following account of the principal episodes in his running fight with Te Kooti near Rotorua on the 7th February, 1870; the narrative contains details supplementary to those given in Chapter 35:—

“After engaging Te Kooti's force at Rotorua (on the site of the present town) and driving him off south-eastward, our first close encounter was on the Waikorowhiti. Here the enemy, hidden in a small patch of manuka along a low ridge, held up my advance for several minutes. Then they retired, carrying a wounded man; we heard afterwards that his name was Hohepa, and that he died three days later up the Horomanga Gorge, and was buried at Tutaepukepuke, in the Urewera Mountains. The second stand was made by the Maoris at a spot where my brother Major Mair three days later found a man dead, a very tall fellow. Farther on another ambuscade was laid, and we were held up some time. A little later I saw a wounded man being carried off on horseback.

“The principal skirmish occurred on the fern ridge opposite Owhinau Mountain (six miles from Rotorua). About seventy Hauhaus lined the reserve slope of the ridge in almost a semicircle; this ridge sloped abruptly about 100 feet to the stream below (alongside the present Rotorua—Waiotapu Road). My men, with myself and a seventeen-year-old lad, Te Waaka, in the advance, blundered in a straggling manner right into the ambuscade. Suddenly a row of shaggy black heads rose above the fern, just showing from the chin upwards, on practically three sides of us. The nearest was less than 20 yards away. I had a beautiful Westley-Richards breech-loading carbine, a gift from Sir Cosmo Gordon, uncle of my friend Gordon, the first lieutenant of H.M.S. “Rosario.” I was the first to fire, killing a big fellow named Henare Rongowhakaata, who was shot in the month. The enemy fired a volley from end to end of the line, while I and my men lay flat. By practice I had learned to fire twenty-eight to thirty shots per minute, particularly if I stuffed my mouth full of cartridges. I kept firing madly from right to left, which made the Hauhaus keep low and never take proper aim, but fire from the hip. All at once a middle-aged man sprang up, shouting ‘Kokiri!’ (‘Charge!’) He fired both barrels of his double-barrel gun. I fired point-blank, and he fell face forward; his lower jaw was blown away. How long I could have held them I cannot say, when five of my men—Taekata, Tokoihi, Whakatau, Wehi-peihana, and Te Tupara—went round the shoulder of the hill and took the enemy in flank. The rear-guard, having gained 300 or 400 yards start for their main body, rapidly withdrew, dragging off five or six bodies. Some of these they hurled 50 feet or more down the hill into two small quaking morasses [see narrative in Chapter 35], where they lie to this day.

“I was at least 30 yards ahead of my small body of men when I found myself in that ambuscade. Then it was that my plucky lad Te Waaka, with great devotion, rushed up to my side, and was shot down. The bullet first broke the point of his chain, then entered the lower part of the throat, and passed out between the shoulders. It was a mortal wound. There were several others wounded: Hori Kirieke (shot through both thighs), Karanama, and Tame Wikitari, then Taekata, Whakatau, and two others slightly. When I look back and remember the loyalty of my Maori comrades and their generous self-sacrifice in trying to get between me and an page 544 enemy's bullet my heart thrills with pride and gratitude, and I regret the many acts of devotion I have left unrecorded.

“My brother found four bodies of Hauhaus on top of the hill where this fight took place. The man who fired his tupara at me was Timoti te Kaka; he was found some days later a little father on, dreadfully wounded.

“A long chase followed across the undulating country (Kapenga and the rear of Pakaraka) and it must have been close on 7 p.m. when I and three men—Rewi Rangiamio, Te Warihi, and Ngahere te Wiremu—ran right into Peka te Makarini and his rear-guard among some rocks at the foot of Tumunui. I was ahead, Te Warihi some 50 yards behind, then Rewi and Ngahere together. There were five or six others out of sight, not within 100 yards. I think Peka had nearly thirty men, but as they were among the rocks I only saw eight or ten. About 100 yards beyond Peka, Te Kooti's main force was bunched up, climbing with difficulty into the forest on Tumunui. A few on horseback (including Te Kooti, his wife, and their guide Ihaia te Waru, of Ngati-Whaoa, at Paeroa Mountain) got round on the plain on the east side of the hill. It was there that I shot Peka Makarini, and the rear-guard took to flight.

“We got back to the camp at Kaiteriria, dead-beat, at about 9 p.m. There I got some food, refilled my ammunition-pouches, and got some fresh men of Ngati-Rangitihi and others—Huta Tangihia, Hohepa, Rakorako, gallant old Te Araki te Pohu, and also my faithful Ngahere te Wiremu—some ten in all, and then took the trail again in the night. On reaching Waikorua (Earthquake Flat) and inspecting the track by match-light we found that Te Kooti, after debouching from the Tumunui forest, had headed for Okaro Lake, in the direction of the Kaingaroa Plain. We went on as fast as we could in the darkness, and found his camp half-way along the east side of Okaro. When we were some 50 yards or more off the camp a dog barked, giving the alarm. A hot fire was exchanged, without inflicting casualties, and the enemy retreated at a great pace, leaving some guns behind them, also some food (fat pork, &c.). Passing south of Rotomahana and Rerewhakaitu lakes, they struck the main old war-trail from Te Ariki, on Lake Tarawera, and followed down the Kaiwhatiwhati Valley (a famous old battlefield, where a hundred years previously Tuhoe had destroyed Ngati-Hinewai and Tuhourangi). Then they reached Te Taupaki crossing on the Rangitaiki River, whence they had a clear course up the Horomanga Gorge into the Tuhoe country. We returned to our camp after the surprise attack at Okaro.

“I am pretty confident my tally in the day's fighting was no fewer than eight men. Out of fifty-eight shots, I don't remember ever pulling trigger without aiming at something, though often they were disappearing targets. It is quite wonderful how a man, fired at point-blank at 40 yards, can avoid being hit by instantaneously dropping to the ground. I had practised what is called the unsportsmanlike but very necessary trick of ‘ducking,’ and I was an adept at it or I should not be alive now. It would not be much use nowadays with smokeless powder and bullet-velocity more than double, but with slow powder there was always a bright flash and a huge puff of smoke, particularly when Maori powder of inferior quality was being used against one.

“As for the slain desperado Peka Makarini, two or three days after the fight Paurini and Mohi Aterea went out, and, tying their horses' tails to the body, they dragged it a quarter of a mile or more down to my pack-track which ran from Pakaraka across to my Niho-o-te-Kiore camp on the Waikato River. Here on the plain they lashed the body in an erect position to a large whanake (cabbage-tree) and left it there. Two years afterwards the Ngati-Pahauwera Tribe, of Mohaka (Hawke's Bay), page 545
From a sketch by Captain Mair]Te Kooti's War-flag, “Te Wepu”

From a sketch by Captain Mair]
Te Kooti's War-flag, “Te Wepu”

sent an old tohunga to take away the bones of their ito, their detested enemy. From the bones were made fish-hooks, poria-kaka (leg-rings for pet parrots), charms, and even a flute from the bone of the right arm. [This is now in the Auckland Museum.] Such was the Mohaka tribe's mode of revenge on their arch-foe Peka Makarini, who had earned their hatred by his many murders and his share in the massacre of their people in the raid of 1869.

Peka Makarini, using the bugle he captured on Chatham Island, often deceived our troops in bush-fighting by blowing the contrary calls to those sounded by our buglers.

“I must make it clear why the Tuhourangi and Ngati-Rangitihi failed to join in the fight on the 7th. I had sent them an urgent mounted messenger telling them to hurry along the straight track from Parikarangi and lie across Te Kooti's line of retreat. Paora te Konui, who dominated them, persuaded them that such action would deflect Te Kooti's strong force to the left, and cause him to make a flying raid through my Kaiteriria camp, where there were some fourteen old men, under Te Araki te Pohu and Hohepa Tauhuroa, armed with Tower muskets and only about five rounds each. The enemy would then destroy the Wairoa village, where there were no men at all, in a few minutes, and then have a short, straight run past Lake Tarawera, wipe Te Ariki village out, and so get clean away. Had Paora with his compact body of a hundred well-armed men joined me we would have been strong enough to cover both Kaiteriria and Te Wairoa and force Te Kooti out into the great open Kaingaroa.

“I was in fear that when the enemy retreated after the main skirmish on the ridge that he would still dash down on Kaiteriria to the left, but he was deterred by seeing old Te Araki and Hohepa appearing right across the track to the village, with their ‘old guard’ of twelve men. This had the effect of deflecting Te Kooti's march to the right, to Tumunui.

“Some years after the war, when I met Te Kooti at Matata, I twitted him with his failure to wipe out my handful of tired, hungry men, and he replied: ‘I was told by the Arawa whom we had made prisoners that all the big force you brought from Tapapa had gone to Parikarangi, and I feared they would get across my line of retreat, hence my haste to get clear.’”

This remarkable flag was taken from Peka Makarini when Captain Gilbert Mair shot that half-caste warrior, the leader of Te Kooti's rearguard, in the action at Tumunui, near Rotorua, 7th February, 1870. (See Chapter 35, pages 393–396.) It was Te Kooti's custom to unfurl it in his camps before starting out on a fighting expedition. It was called “Te Wepu” (“The Whip”). When “Te Wepu” “to the masthead flew,” the rebel chief followers prepared for the war-trail.

page 546

Captain Mair gives a description and sketch of this flag. It was a long pennant or streamer of bright-red silk; the emblems were worked on this ground in white silk—the young moon, a cross, a star, a mountain (representing Aotearoa or New Zealand), and a bleeding heart, symbolizing the sufferings of the Maori nation. The flag was 52 feet in length, representing the number of weeks in the year, and was about 4 feet in the hoist, tapering to a fine point. It was made by the Roman Catholic nuns in the mission school at Meeanee, Hawke's Bay, for the friendly chiefs of the Ngati-Kahungunu Tribe, but fell into Te Kooti's hands in 1868. Captain Mair writes: “That celebrated Maori lady Airini Karauria Pupu, who became Mrs. G. P. Donnelly, told me that she used to visit the Catholic school at Meeanee, and was much interested in the beautiful work which the nuns were putting into the flag. She little thought that not long afterwards Te Kooti's force would hoist the flag in triumph when her father, Karauria Pupu, fell mortally wounded in the fighting at Makaretu, inland of Poverty Bay (November, 1868). When I shot Te Kooti's notorious bugler and butcher, Peka Makarini, he was carrying ‘Te Wepu’ in a leather case. I took great pride in presenting it to my old friend Mr. Hector (later Sir James Hector) for the Dominion Museum in Wellington, giving a full history of it. Judge of my amazement and disgust when on visiting the Museum a few years afterwards the custodian (Captain Beamish) informed me that the silken relic had been cut up into convenient lengths and given to the charwoman to use as floor-cloths and dusters!”