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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 21

THE MOST DESPERATE encounter in the first Hauhau campaign in Taranaki was the recklessly daring attempt of a band of two hundred picked warriors to assault a British fort, the redoubt on Sentry Hill, in broad daylight. Only the extraordinary faith which the newly converted disciples of Te Ua reposed in the mana and magical incantations of the fighting religion can explain this hopeless charge against a strong earthwork under the fire of scores of rifles at point-blank range. It was the first fight after Te Ahuahu, where the Hauhaus had scored so easy a success that their confidence in the virtue of Te Ua's system of charms and prayers was confirmed, and they advanced upon Sentry Hill fortified by an implicit belief that the karakia which they chanted and the cry of “Hapa, Pai-marire!” to avert the bullets of their foes, accompanied by a gesture, the right hand uplifted, palm to the front, as if warding off the balls, would secure them immunity from death or wounds.

The redoubt attacked stood on the crown of a round hill called Te Morere by the Maoris and Sentry Hill by the Europeans, near the right bank of the Waiongona River; the site is close to the present railway-station of Sentry Hill, on the Lepperton Junction-Waitara line. The hill Te Morere, one of the numerous rocky mounds of volcanic origin dotted about this part of Taranaki, was a Maori pa in ancient times; it derived its name, meaning “The Swing,” from a tall swing-tree or “giant's stride” which stood there, with long ropes attached by which the youth of the pa were accustomed to go flying out over a swimming-pool in the river—a favourite sport of the olden Maori. In the early days of the war in Taranaki the ruined hill fort was often used as a lookout place by the Manutahi Maoris, and from this circumstance it obtained its English name.

About the end of 1863 Captain W. B. Messenger and 120 men of the Military Settlers built a redoubt on the top of the mound; this earthwork, with a very high scarp of parapet, was presently garrisoned by a detachment of the 57th Regiment under Captain page 22
Sketch by Mr. S. Percy Smith, 1865 Sentry Hill Redoubt, Te Morere

Sketch by Mr. S. Percy Smith, 1865
Sentry Hill Redoubt, Te Morere

Shortt. A wooden barracks with accommodation for over a hundred men was built within the work. Shortt's force was seventy-five strong, with two Coehorn mortars.

The construction of this outpost, so near the Maori position in the bush at Manutahi, was regarded by the Atiawa Tribe as a challenge; it stood on their land. When the Pai-marire religion ran through the land like a fire through felled bush the Atiawa took advantage of this new patriotic impulse to propose the sweeping-away of the obnoxious Pakeha garrison on Morere Hill. Their allies eagerly approved this test of battle, and a war-party was formed composed of the best fighting-men on the West Coast from the tribes lately inoculated with the maddening germs of Pai-marire. Two hundred warriors were banded together under the prophet Hepanaia Kapewhiti, one of Te Ua's apostles. They were members of the Taranaki, Atiawa, and Ngati-Ruanui Tribes, with some Nga-Rauru from Waitotara and a number of Wanganui men. Among them were some young lads already used to the scenes of war. The Maori took to the war-path early; a well-grown boy of twelve was considered fit to take his place in a fighting expedition.

From Te Kahu-pukoro,* of Otakeho, probably the last of the Maori warriors who attacked the garrison of Sentry Hill, a dramatic narrative of the battle was obtained (30th August, 1920). This veteran chief was a tall, powerfully formed man, though his frame was bowed with rheumatism. His eyes glittered with something page 23 of the old warrior light as he told the story of his fighting youth. Te Kahu-pukoro was very young—in fact, he was only twelve—when he carried a gun in the ranks of the ope which marched against Sentry Hill on the 30th April 1864. Afterwards he was one of the picked fighters of Titokowaru, the “Tekau-ma-rua,” in 1868–69, and shared in nearly every engagement of the last campaign in Taranaki. He belonged to the Nga-Ruahine section of Ngati-Ruanui, of which his grandfather Tamati Hone was the leading chief. His father and uncle fell at Sentry Hill, and he himself received two bullet-wounds there.

“Before I was old enough to bear arms,” said Te Kahu-pukoro, “I witnessed several of the fights between the Maoris and the British troops; the principal one was the engagement at Kaitake. I also saw the British warships shelling our people at Tukitukipapa on the coast near Katikara. It was at Te Morere (Sentry Hill) that I first carried a gun into battle. I was very young, but a big strong lad, quite able to march and fight. The ope which assembled at the Manutahi pa [the northern Manutahi, not far from Mataitawa] for the attack on the British redoubt at Te Morere was composed of the best warriors on the West Coast. The Pai-marire religion was then new, and we were all completely under its influence and firmly believed in the teaching of Te Ua and his apostles. Hepanaia Kapewhiti was at the head of the war-party. He was our prophet. He taught us the Pai-marire karakia, and told us that if we repeated it as we went into battle the pakeha bullets would not strike us. This we all believed.

“Very early in the morning of the day fixed for the attack on Te Morere we all assembled at the flagstaff in the pa at Manutahi. Hepanaia led the sacred ceremonies round the niu. All the principal chiefs of the Taranaki country were there. Wirimu Kingi te Rangitaake was there; Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi (afterwards the prophets of Parihaka) were both there. These three chiefs did not use guns; each carried a tokotoko (staff), and led his men. Another high chief was Kingi Parengarenga, of Oakura; he was the leading chief of the Taranaki Tribe Kingi had a big head of reddish hair. He wore it twisted up in a high topknot which was adorned with feathers. He was a tall, splendid-looking man.

“At Hepanaia's call, ‘Porini, hoia! Teihana!’ (‘Fall in, soldiers! Attention!’) we all formed a ring round the niu, Hepanaia standing by its foot, and we marched round and round the mast, chanting the incantations which the prophet had taught us, the Karakia beginning, ‘Piki rewa, rongo rewa, piki hira, ronga hira.’ When the service ended we formed up in order of battle, with our weapons in hand and our cartridge-belts buckled about us, and marched for the British redoubt on Te page 24 Morere Hill, which was not far from our gathering-place at Manutahi. We were armed with guns of various kinds; some had ngutu-parera, or flint-lock muskets; some double-and single-barrel shot-guns. The warriors also had tomahawks and stone patu in their belts; some who did not carry guns bore taiaha, and some koikoi (short spears of manuka). For myself, I was armed with a percussion-cap gun, and had two hamanu (cartridge-belts), one buckled round my middle and one over my left shoulder. I wore a shirt and a rapaki (waist-garment).

“Now, had we followed the advice of our prophet Hepanaia we might had succeeded in our assault on the soldiers' fort. Hepanaia proposed that the ope should make a sudden attack on the rear of the fort, but Hare te Hokai, a chief of Te Atiawa, insisted that the force should boldly attack the place in front, and this met with the support of most of the other chiefs. Another unfortunate thing was that, as we were marching from Manutahi, one of our men discharged his gun in order to give warning to any Atiawa people who might chance to be in or near the redoubt, for some of that tribe were serving on the pakeha side. This gave the soldiers warning of our approach.

“It was perhaps about 8 o'clock in the morning when we attacked the redoubt. Hepanaia led us on. He was a fine man, with a great love for his country and his people. In appearance he was tall and lean; he was stripped except for a short piupiu of flax around his waist, and was armed with a gun. We went into battle loudly chanting our Pai-marire service. Fern, about waist-high, and bushes of tutu clothed the plain and the lower slopes of Morere Hill, and through this we marched after coming out of the forest. We passed near the spot where the railway-station now stands, and then began the ascent of the gentle slope which led to the mound on which the soldiers' redoubt was built. It was a high, strong earthwork surrounded by a trench; within were the barracks of the soldiers. We did not stoop or crawl as we advanced upon the redoubt; we marched on upright (haere tu tonu), and as we neared the fort we chanted steadily our Pai-marire hymn.

“The soldiers who were all hidden behind their high parapet, did not open fire on us until we were within close range. Then the bullets came thickly among us, and close as the fingers on my hand. The soldiers had their rifles pointed through the loopholes in the parapet and between the spaces on top (between bags filled with sand and earth), and thus could deliver a terrible fire upon us with perfect safety to themselves. There were two tiers of rifles blazing at us. We continued our advance, shooting and shouting our war-cries. Now we cried out the ‘Hapa’ (‘Pass over’) incantation which Hepanaia had taught us, to cause the bullets to fly harmlessly over us: ‘Hapa, hapa, hapa! Hau, hau, hau! page 25 Pai-marire, rire, rire—hau!’ As we did so we held our right hands uplifted, palms frontward, on a level with our heads—the sign of the ringa-tu. This, we believed, would ward off the enemy's bullets; it was the faith with which we all had been inspired by Te Ua and his apostles. I marched along there, calling out in quick, sharp tones, ‘Hapa, hapa, hapa!’ with my right hand uplifted—but it did not save me from the pakeha's bullets. Our chiefs encouraged us with loud cries of ‘Riria, riria!’ (‘Fight on, fight on!’) ‘Kia mau, kia mau, kia mau!’ (‘Be firm, be firm, be firm!’)

“The bullets came ripping through our ranks. ‘Hapa, hapa!’ our men shouted after delivering a shot, but down they fell. ‘Hapa!’ a warrior would cry, with his right hand raised to avert the enemy's bullets, and with a gasp—like that—he would fall dead. The tuakana [elder brother] in a family would fall with ‘Hapa!’ on his lips, then the teina [younger brother] would fall; then the old father would fall dead beside them. The bullets actually scorched my face—this cheek, then that cheek, was scorched by the balls, so thick and close did they come. But not until I felt and saw the blood running down my body did I know that I had received my first wound. A bullet struck me in the left shoulder, at a range of about as far as from where we are sitting to that hedge yonder [about 60 yards]. I was just at the foot of the hill on the flat where the road now goes between Sentry Hill and the railway-station. But I was so excited and so possessed by the fury of the battle that I did not feel it at first. I went on, and then I felt my shirt wet with blood streaming down from my shoulder, and in a few minutes another bullet hit me, and passed through my left hip, missing the bone. Then I had to fall back, and I went down to a little stream near-by where I bathed and staunched my wounds, and by this time the attack was repulsed and our people were flying back, and I joined them and managed to get into the safety of the bush.

“Our people fell in heaps. The prophet Hepanaia fell, shot dead, near the redoubt. Another man, Te Wiwini, a very brave young fellow, walked boldly and fearlessly up, firing as he went, until he actually reached the trench below the parapet before he was killed. My father Tiopira was shot dead, and so also was his brother Hapeta. It was for them that my grandfather Tamati Hone composed his great song of lamentation, which you already know. Hare te Kokai was killed; he was the man who had foolishly advocated the frontal attack on the redoubt. Kingi Parengarenga was killed. Mohi Tarakihi, of Kingi's tribe, was killed. He was an old warrior who had been taken captive by the Ngapuhi long ago, and had since then been a Christian kai-karakia or teacher.

page 26

“About fifty of our ope were killed there, besides many wounded. Families fell there. It was a one-sided fight, a miserable fight (he mate rihariha), for, in spite of the desperate courage of our warriors, we could not get at the soldiers; they were safe behind their strong walls.”

Titokowaru was one of my relatives wounded in this attack. A glancing blow from a bullet just above one of his eyes destroyed its sight. Tauke, of Hokorima, was wounded in the hand. Te Ua was not present at the fight.”

“We survivors all retreated to Manutahi, and there my wounds were bathed with flax-juice, and in about a month I was able to travel again, and I returned to my home at Okaiawa, in the Ngati-Ruanui country. Boiled flax-root water poured on the wounds, and also dock-root (runa), well scraped and boiled, were our favourite remedies for gunshot and bayonet wounds.”

Such was Te Kahu-pukoro's stirring story of his first battle. The terrible slaughter of Hepanaia's deluded followers temporarily weakened the new confidence in Pai-marire, but Te Ua had a satisfying explanation—namely, that those who fell were to blame because they did not repose absolute faith in the karakia. The fanatic religion soon took strong hold upon every West Coast tribe, and was carried by apostles to the east and north, and presently in scores of villages niu masts of worship were erected, and daily the wildly excited people marched in procession round and round the pole where the brightly coloured war-flags flew.

The memory of Te Morere is kept ever before the minds of Te Kahu-pukoro's people in a beautiful poem of mourning for the dead, composed by Tamati Hone, of the Nga-Ruahine, for his sons Tiopira (Te Kahu's father) and Hapeta, killed in the charge on the British redoubt. This lament was chanted, too, over Te Kahu himself when the old warrior of the Tekau-ma-rua was laid to rest. I translate from the Maori original, which ends with a comparison of the dead who strewed the glacis of Morere Hill to a wrecked and shattered fleet of war-canoes:—

The lightning's spear flashed redly down
On Turamoe peak,
Omen of warriors' death and women's woe,
Portent that boded forth thy fall,
O Tiopira!
Thou who didst stand in brave array
In the bows of the canoe,
And thou, Hapeta! cold thou liest;
Death spread his lure for thee!

Ah me, my sons!
My flock of happy forest-birds
That flew from tree to tree in brighter days—
Now fast in woodsman's snare.

page 27

My beautiful, my slender totara,
Shattered by wintry gale.
My tall red-painted warrior band,
How grand ye dashed upon the foe,
And I—I saw ye go,
I, too, rushed naked to the fight,
O sons, at Morere!

O heroes of my house,
How grand that charge,
Beyond Whakaahurangi's woods that day!
Lonely I lie within my home
Beside Kapuni's river-mouth,
And cherish bitter thoughts, and ever weep—
My sons!

Lofty and lone stands Taranaki
In the West;
So tall and splendid thou, O Kingi—
And now thou'rt gone!
Still o'er the forests, still above the clouds
Towers Taranaki;
But Kingi's gone. Foremost in council,
Foremost in the fight.
I searched the reddened field; I found him dead
At Morere!

O restless sea,
Beating for ever on the sounding sands
Below the cliffs of Wharau,
Like thee, ever I'll lament.
Oh, sons, arise! Return! Return!
Cannot your prophets make you live again—
Restore your breath, and bind your wounds?
Ah me—my hopes!

The billows from the west roll in
And thundering crash on Tataraimaka's shore—
There, too, my children fought,
And red-eyed, furious, leaped in battle-dance.
On lone Morere's hill they fell;
There shattered lay my tribe, ah me!
O simple ones and brave!
Entrapped in Whiro's snare—
The snare of Fate!

Ye charged along the path of Death!
Ye were deceived—
Beguiled by that false path,
The path of Hau!

How vain your valour, vain your charge
Against Morere's walls!
Lost on that rocky coast of death
Are all my crews—
Tainui, Tokomaru, Kurahaupo, Aotea—
Ah me! my brave canoes
Lie broken on the shore!

page 28
After the sketch by Mr.S.Percy Smith, 1865] Mataitawa Stockade and Barracks, North Taranaki

After the sketch by Mr.S.Percy Smith, 1865]
Mataitawa Stockade and Barracks, North Taranaki


Some months after the attack on Sentry Hill the neighbouring Hauhau pa Manutahi was captured by the British in this way. On the 8th September, 1864, Colonel Warre, with a force of 500 Regulars and Militia and some friendly Maoris, advanced upon Mataitawa, and found the direct approach blocked by a stockaded fort at Manutahi. The Bush Rangers, under Major Atkinson, skirmished up and were received by a fire from the palisades. Major Ryan, with a company of the 70th, and Captain Martin, R.A., with two guns, came on in support, and on the flank of the position being turned the natives abandoned the stockade. The fortification was of a rather unusual figure. It was nearly 150 yards in length, and the shape was somewhat that of a double concave lens, 20 yards wide in the middle but expanding towards the flanks, which rested on the bush on either side. The place was built across an open fern patch; the track to Mataitawa went through the bush in rear. The pa had parapets 8 feet to 10 feet thick in rear of the palisading and casemated covered ways. The troops pushed on without further opposition and secured Mataitawa. The niu flagstaff at Manutahi was cut down, and the palisading and whares were destroyed. One Maori was killed and one mortally wounded in the encounter.

On the 11th September Colonel Warre, with three companies of the 70th Regiment under Major Rutherford, 150 men under Major Saltmarshe, and an advance-guard of fifty friendly Maoris, page 29 marched towards Te Arei pa, the fortress which had so long baffled Major-General Pratt in 1860–61. The force got within a few hundred yards of the pa under cover of thick fog. When discovered the troops were fired on by the Maoris on the hill, but the place was soon abandoned. The works were found to be very formidable. There were trenches 15 feet wide, and—a novelty in Maori fortification—a parapet about 16 feet thick, covered by a line of rifle-pits or a covered way, about 40 feet in front of the line of the stockade. Thus, had artillery been used, the Maori defenders, being in front of instead of in rear of the stockade, would have been entirely under cover. The shot and shell thrown into the stockade would have been quite ineffectual, and the garrison would have been able to receive any attacking column after the palisades had apparently been breached. Lieutenant Ferguson, R.E., had the construction of a redoubt on this very beautiful and commanding position overlooking the Waitara.

The original of the lament for the dead at Te Morere, as recited to me by Te Kahu-pukoro and Whareaitu, begins:—

E hiko te uira ki tai ra,
Kapo taratahi ana
Te tara ki Turamoe,
He tohu o te mate, na—i.

The poem is chanted to-day on the death of people of the Nga-Ruahine and other clans of Ngati-Ruanui.

Sentry Hill as it is to-day is an example of the unfortunate destruction of a famous national monument. All that remains of the fort-hill is a mere shell, like a hollow tooth. The crest of the mound has disappeared, and Morere has been gutted—cut away by the Railway and local bodies, and spread over the rail-lines as ballast and the roads as metal. When I last visited the place I found only a portion of one of the flanking earthworks as yet undestroyed. If the work of demolition were stayed now it would be possible to save part of the hill as a war memorial, but the celebrated Morere has been disfigured hopelessly.

A famous place in American history which suffered a similar fate to that which had befallen Sentry Hill is Pawnee Rock well described by Colonel Inman in “The Old Santa Fé Trail.” This great rock, the scene of many fights between United States troops and frontiersmen and the Indian warriors, has been torn away by the railroad and the settlers, Colonel Inman records, and little now remains of the famous landmark. Recently, however, the Government erected a monument to mark the spot.

* Te Kahu-pukoro died at Otakeho toward the end of 1920. He was the ariki, or hereditary high chief, of Ngati-Ruanui, and was closely related to Titokowaru.