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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 153


IN THE EARLY part of 1867 the tribe called Piri-Rakau (“Cling to the Forest”), descended from ancient aboriginal clans, came into conflict with the Government forces in a series of sharp skirmishes along the northern edge of the bush-covered tableland in rear of Tauranga Harbour. These Piri-Rakau, assisted by parties of men from other districts, were all Hauhaus, and the Pai-marire pole of worship was a feature of each village. The edge of the Hautere plateau, much dissected by ravines, at a general altitude of 1,100 feet above the sea, was the scene of engagements in which a few Imperial troops co-operated with the Colonial Militia and a contingent of Arawa Maoris against numerous war-parties of the bush-dwellers. The conditions of campaigning were difficult because of the very broken character of the country, but the Arawa friendlies and a few skilful colonials made conditions so precarious for the Hauhaus by seeking them out in their bush villages and destroying their crops that the little campaign soon convinced the rebels of the futility of active resistance.

Towards the end of 1866 twelve survey-parties began the work of cutting up the confiscated lands for settlement. These lands were on the upper parts of the Wairoa and Waimapu Rivers and in rear of Te Puna. The Piri-Rakau and their kinsmen and allies of the Hauhau faction soon exhibited their hostility by sending warnings to some of the surveyors to remove from the district on pain of death. These threats were followed by armed raids on several camps, and the theodolites of Messrs Graham and Gundry, two of the surveyors, were carried off. About this time a settler named Campbell was murdered on his section near Waimapu.

Besides the resentment of the Hauhaus at the preparations for the settlement of the country taken from them, there was a strong desire to avenge the deaths of the scores of their people who fell in the battle at Te Ranga, 1864. Pene Taka, the Ngai-te-Rangi man who was chiefly accredited with the laying-out of page 154 the Gate Pa entrenchments, had joined the Piri-Rakau with a number of his people—the majority of Ngai-te-Rangi remained neutral—and he announced that he intended to obtain utu for the death of his relative Rawiri Puhirake at Te Ranga. Prominent among the Hauhaus was the old warrior priest, and prophet Hakaraia, from Kenana (Canaan), near Te Puke. A number of Ngati-Porou from the Moehau Peninsula had cast in their fighting fortunes with the Piri-Rakau under the chiefs Te Popata and Te Kewene, and many Ngati-Raukawa and some Waikato also joined them.

The opening action of the campaign occurred on the 18th January, 1867, at the village of Te Irihanga. On the previous day a force of the 1st Waikato Militia was moved out to the Omanawa Redoubt for the purpose of covering the arrest of Pene Taka and others of Ngai-te-Rangi, and Te Kewene and others of Ngati-Porou, on charges of interference with the surveyors by taking their instruments and threatening them with death. On the morning of the 18th the officer in charge of the force at Omanawa crossed over towards Te Irihanga with forty men. This movement, which was premature, quickly brought on a fight. A volley from the Hauhaus, as the small force began its ascent of Te Irihanga Hill, mortally wounded Sergeant-Major Emus of the Militia; he died four days later. On receiving this surprise volley the Militia quickly extended in skirmishing order, and hot firing lasted for about three-quarters of an hour. After an indecisive encounter the Militia force drew off and returned to the Omanawa post.

The next expedition (21st-22nd January) consisted of detachments of the 1st Waikato Regiment of Militia, under Colonel Harrington, and the 12th Regiment, commanded by Colonel Hamilton. The force crossed the Wairoa River at Poteriwhi in canoes and boats (just above the present bridge), and ascended the long fern-clad slopes of Minden Peak, where the 12th Regiment bivouacked for the night. Mr. Gilbert Mair, who was soon afterwards given a commission as ensign and received promotion to lieutenant, was attached to the Imperials as interpreter, but obtained Colonel Hamilton's permission to act in that capacity for Colonel Harrington's force which was in the advance, and which did all the fighting.

Passing through Te Irihanga the Militia skirmished through the belt of bush which separated it from the next settlement, Whakamarama. On entering the large fields of maize and potatoes at Whakamarama the Militia came under a heavy fire from the edge of the forest all round. The tall maize afforded good cover, and no casualties occurred just then. Gilbert Mair was one of the few who were on horseback and led the attack on the village. page 155 Seeing a party of seven Hauhaus making for a slab hut, he galloped up, trying to turn them to the right, where they would have run against Captain A. C. Turner's company of Militia. The enemy reached the shelter first, and fired a volley at short range through the doorway and two open windows. Mair's horse, a heavy one, fell dead, its spine smashed by a bullet, and other shots through its head and heart. In its fall it pinned Mair's left leg and spurred boot so that he could not move. In the meantime the natives rushed out, reloading as they ran toward him, while he kept snapping his revolver, which had been wet through when he swam the Judea estuary at high water that morning. Fortunately one cartridge exploded, wounding the foremost man, which checked the rush, and Captain Turner, hurrying up, extracted Mair from his perilous position. A bullet had cut the peak of his cap, another grazed his sleeve, and another cut the pommel of his saddle. Several 1st Waikato men now ran up, and the party gave chase to the natives. The Hauhaus retired into the bush, and the pursuers got in among some fallen timber. Here Private Henry Jeffs was mortally wounded at close range, and was brought out with great difficulty. While the advance-party was so engaged, the main body of the Militia reached the spot where Mair's dead horse was lying, and Private Burslem, by way of a joke, stood up on the animal and began soliciting bids, when a dozen shots rang out from the edge of the bush and a bullet deprived the self-constituted auctioneer of part of an ear.

At the request of the Government, Major William Mair, R.M. at Maketu, raised a force of two hundred armed Arawa, at a pay of 3s. a day, for the purpose of following up the Hauhaus to their forest villages and dispersing them and destroying their cultivations. Mair was instructed to begin at Te Puke, then the headquarters of Hakaraia's band (Waitaha and Tapuika clans), to destroy food crops there, and then to push on to Oropi. After burning the village and making havoc in the food-gardens the Arawa pushed on along the edge of the bush. The instruments belonging to Mr. Graham, the surveyor, were found at Te Puke. Oropi was found unoccupied and was destroyed. Here a large quantity of loot and some gunpowder was found, and Hakaraia's great flag and other Hauhau banners were discovered in the bush.

On the 4th February a combined attack was made on the Hauhaus assembled at Te Akeake, a short distance inland of the redoubt called Pye's Pa (after Captain Pye, V.C., of the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry) at Otupuraho. The column was made up of the 1st Waikato Militia under Colonel Harrington, Mair's Arawa, and some other Arawa under Captain Walker. The Hauhaus were collected in some strength in a wooded gorge. page 156 After some sharp skirmishing from tree to tree they were driven back into the dense forest. Akeake and Taumata Villages were taken, with five prisoners, from whom it was ascertained that Hakaraia had been there with forty-five men. Gilbert Mair led the attack on the rifle-pits at Taumata, and the Defence Minister, Colonel Haultain, who accompanied the expedition, gave him a commission as ensign of Militia. The work of cutting down and otherwise destroying the food crops in the captured settlements occupied the Militia for three days. From here the Arawa went on inland to Paengaroa, where the Hauhaus retired into the forest after firing a few heavy volleys. The settlement here, too, was burned down.

In the middle of February a strong expedition was organized at Tauranga to attack Te Irihanga and Whakamarama again. On this occasion the force was composed almost entirely of Arawa natives commanded by Major William Mair and his brother Gilbert. Captain H. L. Skeet's company of volunteer engineers, a fine body of young surveyors, all well accustomed to bushwork formed part of the column, and several companies of the 1st Waikato Militia acted as supports. The expedition followed the route taken by the first attacking column, up the right (proper) bank of the Wairoa, fording that river at the lower falls. The first night out was spent in bivouac at Awangarara, near the ford. On reaching the Irihanga village, on the eastern fringe of the forest, on the 15th February, the place was found strongly held by the enemy. The Hauhaus did not fire until the troops got into the open ground near the top of the hill on which the village stood. The summit was about 150 yards from the bush. The fern on each side of the narrow road was 8 feet or 10 feet high. The Hauhaus had cleared a space of about 10 yards wide between the hill and the bush by treading the fern down, and the heads of the fern were pressed over in the direction of the line of march of the troops. This was done in order to enable the defenders of the hill to fire destructive volleys while the attackers were passing over the ground between the summit and the bush—a task of difficulty and slowness on account of the artful manner in which the fern had been pressed over. As the troops approached the hilltop the Hauhaus opened fire. Major Mair's Arawa, who were leading, waited until the enemy had delivered a heavy volley, and then, before the Hauhaus could reload, charged and captured the settlement, and drove the Hauhaus into the bush. The force advanced and penetrated to Whakamarama, the headquarters settlement of the Piri-Rakau and their chief source of food-supplies. (The present sawmill at Whakamarama, fifteen miles inland from Tauranga by the Wairoa route, is close to this spot.) The village and page 157 cultivations occupied a beautiful tract of fertile country, with a thin belt of bush on the front and the dense forest and deep gorges of the hinterland in the rear—a perfect retreat and refuge in case of need. The Piri-Rakau had over 100 acres down in food crops, chiefly potatoes and maize; the cultivations occupied a shallow sunny saucer of country slightly inclined to the northeast, divided by a low ridge. In rear there was heavy timber—rimu, tawa, and even puriri, a tree not often seen on this part of the coast. Comfortable thatched whares, with some slab houses, were scattered all over this terrain, among the plots of maize and potatoes; the place had recently been cleared of forest, and burnt logs and stumps were dotted about the fields. A tall niu, the pole of worship, stood in the principal part of the settlement; its foot was encircled by a red-painted railing modelled on church altar-rails. There were similar niu masts at other villages along the edge of the forest—Irihanga, Oropi, and other kaingas. In some cases the mast was painted red as high as the crosstrees.

The retreating enemy were pursued through the belt of forest, about a quarter of a mile in length, separating Irihanga from the eastern end of the Whakamarama village and fields. The strip of heavy timber between the two settlements is still standing; then, as now, it was fairly clear of undergrowth. There was a sledge-track through it connecting the two villages, which were half a mile apart. Mair's Arawa contingent, dashing ahead, fell in with the Hauhaus in the middle of the bush. The enemy made a determined stand behind the cover of some very large trees and logs. Their resistance was broken by Harete te Whanarere, one of a famous fighting family of Ngati-Pikiao, from Rotoiti. On the side of the track, where the huge, densely foliaged trees make a twilight gloom, he pluckily grappled the foremost of the antagonists, a big Hauhau, whom he threw to the ground. The two warriors were engaged in a desperate struggle when another Hauhau dashed out from his cover, and, placing the muzzle of his Tower musket against Harete's body, fired and smashed both the hip-joints. (Though terribly wounded, Harete survived for some years.) Hemana then dashed up and killed the man who had shot Harete. Several of the Piri-Rakau were wounded in the tree-to-tree fighting here. It was typical bush warfare for a few minutes. Only the black heads of the combatants were to be seen now and again, and the muzzle of a gun showing for an instant, followed by a puff of smoke, then an instant dash for another tree. The Hauhaus presently broke and fell back on their main body at the Whakamarama village.

Just after the Piri-Rakau had retreated from the scene of this skirmish midway through the belt of bush Ensign Mair noticed a trail of blood leading down to a deep gorge on the left, or east, page 158 in the direction of Poripori. There was a faint track here through the forest to Poripori, which the Piri-Rakau had marked by breaking and doubling over the fronds of the fern called tu-taumata (Lomaria discolor), which are silvery-white underneath. When doubled over, the white under-surface of the fern showed conspicuously against the dark green of the ferns, moss, and tree-trunks around it. Mair observed that these white fronds were splashed with blood; and, diverging from the route followed by the others, he scouted down to the creek in the gorge. Hot on the trail, he followed the blood-marks to a cave, over the mouth of which a little waterfall came down. A shot rang out from the cave, narrowly missing him. Mair rushed in and encountered a wounded Maori kneeling behind the rocks in the gloom, and shot the man dead just as he was levelling his long single-barrel gun for another shot. Taking the dead warrior's gun and whakakai pendant of tangiwai greenstone as trophies, Mair hurried back to the scene of the fight. He found by inquiry afterwards that the man he had shot, a big tattooed warrior, was a Piri-Rakau named Rota, one of the leading men of the turbulent tribe.

Ensign Mair soon overtook his brother William, who, with his Arawa, was hotly engaged with the enemy at Whakamarama. The contingent skirmished through the maize-fields, where the corn was higher than a man's head, and forced the Hauhaus back to the western end of the clearing. Here, at their third position, Te Umu-o-Korongaehe, on the edge of the bush, the enemy made a further stand.

One of the Arawa, a man named Kitua, was severely wounded by a curious projectile, a large nail, which lacerated his leg badly; there were several slighter casualties. Gilbert Mair was joined here by several of the volunteer engineers, including Privates Eric Goldsmith, A. Crapp (afterwards Captain Crapp), and Tom Jordan. Lieutenant Horne, of the 1st Waikato Regiment, and others also came up. On ascending a low ridge a number of the Hauhaus were seen behind a large tawa tree which was lying across the track. These men fired at about 25 yards, mortally wounding young Tom Jordan in the abdomen. At the same moment Lieutenant Horne, who had taken cover behind a big rimu tree, killed the foremost assailant, a stalwart young fellow named Raumati, with a bullet through the eye. His fall so discouraged his companions that the small force were enabled to retire with Jordan's body and rejoin the main division. Raumati was a chief of the Piri-Rakau. He had fought in the Waikato War, receiving a wound at Otau, Wairoa South, in 1863, and he was one of the men who defended the Koheriki trenches, the left wing of the Gate Pa, in the battle of 1864.

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The work of carrying out the dying volunteer was difficult. He was a big, heavy man, and there were only four to bear him out to the main body, while two others acted as rearguard and kept the Hauhaus off with their carbine-fire. The Piri-Rakau, however, had had enough of it by this time, and their pursuit was not very spirited.

In this skirmishing, in which several hundred Hauhaus were engaged, most of the fighting was done by the Arawa; few of the Europeans got up in time. The crops were ordered to be destroyed, but the area was so large that the troops could only cut down or otherwise destroy a part of the maize and potatoes. The whares in the group of villages were destroyed, and the force marched back to Tauranga.

Major William Mair led his Arawa with his customary skill and judgment. A characteristic story is told by an eye-witness as an illustration of his coolness under fire. While he was waiting for his supports to come up under a hot fire at Irihanga some of the advance-party gathered in a grove of peach-trees loaded with fruit. Mair climbed to the top in full view of the Maoris, 40 yards away, to reach the ripest peaches, and the Hauhau bullets brought the fruit tumbling down; but the Major remained there enjoying the peaches and calling down to his brother and other comrades below, “Have you enough, boys?”

Of this Irihanga-Whakamarama battle (15th February) Mr. H. T. Clarke, Civil Commissioner, wrote in his report to the Native Minister, Mr. J. C. Richmond: “The enemy were not suffered to rest a moment. They were driven from tree to tree through the wood in an incredibly short time. They were then driven through their cultivations at Te Whakamarama to the wood on the other side. The dashing manner in which the Arawa accomplished the work under the direction of Mr. Mair is described by everyone who witnessed it as being very praiseworthy.

On the 19th February the Arawa moved on to Paengaroa and Kaimai; the latter village was found deserted. On the 2nd March Major Mair and his Maoris threw up breastworks at Paengaroa to cover the work of the survey-parties and to watch the Kaimai hostiles. On the 3rd March Gilbert Mair and four men, out foraging, followed up a trail near Te Kaki clearing, in very wild rough country, and suddenly were heavily fired on—“a terrific close fire.” A brave young Arawa, Mau-paraoa, fell severely wounded. Mair and the other three men kept up a smart fire until the rest of the small foraging-party came up. He then took the offensive and drove the Hauhaus off, killing two of them. Lieutenant C. Dean Pitt, of the 1st Waikato Militia, who was attached to the Arawa contingent, brought up fifty men in support. The Civil Commissioner in his report on the skirmish praised the activity page 160 and courage displayed by Mair and Pitt in this hot bit of work.

Several other hazardous scouting operations into the great forest of the ravine-seamed tableland trending up to the Hautere wilderness were undertaken by the Mairs and their pickel bodies of Arawa. Many Ngati-Raukawa from Patetere and Waotu had joined the Piri-Rakau, but these presently withdrew to share in a strong Kingite attack from the north upon the Rotorua district, left temporarily unprotected by the absence of so many Arawa in the Tauranga operations.

The remnant of the Piri-Rakau still own a large area of the high land on the fringe of the forest and inland to the Hautere plateau. Many of the Maoris employed at the Whakamarama sawmill, close to the principal battle-grounds, are descendants of the Hauhaus who fought the troops here and at Irihanga in 1867.