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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)



Lieut.-Colonel McDonnell, in his despatch to the Minister of Defence (9th September, 1868), said that his intention on setting out from Waihi Camp was to reach Te Rua-ruru through the bush, attack the village, and return by way of Te Ngutu-o-te-manu. On reaching Mawhitiwhiti he struck inland on the main track to Te Ngutu and to seaward of the track that was supposed to exist and was marked on a map as leading to Te Rua-ruru. A very old trail was followed up for some time, then it ceased altogether, and the force headed in the supposed direction of Te Rua-ruru. The country was very rough, intersected with gullies and streams, and the bush was a tangled network of supplejack. About 1 p.m. a bush ridge was ascended, and then on the advice of Hone Papara, the Maori guide, McDonnell struck for the sea to try to hit a track. It was after another hour of this work that the first signs of Maoris were seen and heard, and a little later the track to the rear of Te Ngutu-o-te-manu was entered, and the force came under fire at the creek. The force was soon under fire from the front, right, and rear, but, except within a palisading in the clearing in front, no enemy could be seen. It was now that McDonnell, considering it impossible to page 215 rush the place, or even if successful to hold it—the Hauhaus were not only occupying it, but were on three sides of it—determined to collect the wounded and push out through the forest. After sending the wounded off under Hunter and Newland, with Kepa's men, he returned, wrote to Major Von Tempsky, and desired him to collect the rest of the men to form a rearguard and follow at once. Then he told Captain Cumming to come on with him. During the whole of this time the Maoris were firing on the troops from every quarter. The way had to be cut through supplejack and undergrowth, which, with the eight wounded men on stretchers, was a work of great toil. The creek which runs through Te Maru was reached, but there was still no track.

“Presently,” Colonel McDonnell's despatch continued, “news was brought to me that Major Von Tempsky, Captain Buck, Captain McDonnell, and Lieutenant Hunter were shot dead. But just then Captain McDonnell came up and stated that Major Von Tempsky, Captain Buck, and Lieutenant Hunter were killed, and that he had told Lieutenant Hastings that the only chance was to carry out the orders that had been given Major Von Tempsky; at once his reply was that Captain Buck was senior, and he would consult him. Captain McDonnell then went to see Captain Buck, but found that he was killed, and the enemy by this time in possession of the place where the bodies of Buck, Major Von Tempsky, and two men lay. He returned then, and pointed out to Mr. Hastings the necessity of retiring. The fire at this time was very heavy from the front, rear, and right, and from the tops of the rata trees. He then followed on my trail with eight natives and ten Europeans, and reported as above. I had now with me about eighty men, including natives—hardly sufficient to carry out the wounded, now increasing in number, and to keep down the fire from our right. Knowing that a large portion of the force was in rear, and several good officers, I moved on, feeling sure they were covering our retreat; but I presently found that the enemy had got between us, and it appears from what Sub-Inspector Roberts tells that soon after Captain McDonnell had left the Hauhaus succeeded in completely surrounding the rearguard, and it was only with the greatest difficulty they cut their way through them. The Hauhaus then left him (as he struck to the left farther into the bush) and came after us, overtaking us before we struck the main track leading into Te Ngutu-o-te-manu. Captain McDonnell mean-while had taken up a position at Te Maru to keep our front open. Our wounded had by this time increased to twelve, who had to be carried, beside several who had been hit but could walk. The men with our party worked hard, but were so done up as to require every persuasion and advice I and my officers could page 216 think of to keep the majority from abandoning the wounded. One man killed I had to leave, and Dr. Best was badly hit in going to ascertain his state. The doctor had to be carried off on rifles, having no more stretchers in my party. The natives now swarmed in our rear, and kept up a heavy fire, which I was obliged to return only occasionally, as my ammunition was very short, Captain Cumming and myself loading and firing now and then. I was afraid the enemy might have got round to the crossing of the Wai-ngongoro River before I could reach it. We attained the opening at Ahi-paipa just at dusk, and here received a parting volley from the enemy. They followed on yelling, and commenced a war-dance in the open ground out of the bush. I caused my men to cheer, and gave them a volley which I should think took effect, as their dance ended rather abruptly, and they did not molest us any more. I may state that for some time I had not heard any distant firing, and therefore concluded the remainder of the force had got in advance of me. I pushed on across the river and found a few friendly natives holding the crossing. We got the men and wounded safely across and reached camp about 10 p.m. A mixed party of natives and Europeans, the latter numbering about eighty, had arrived before me and reported that all the officers were killed or wounded and left behind myself included.”

McDonnell emphasized the great need of training and experience in forest fighting. The Wanganui and Ngati-Apa Maoris, who accompanied the force and who, it was known, killed fifteen Hauhaus, themselves suffered no loss; not even a man was wounded. This, he said, was proof that to fight Maoris successfully in a bush where every tree and every track were known to them required men who had been long and carefully trained to such work. Instead of his men dispersing and taking cover, they could not be prevented from huddling together in small lots, making a good target for their enemies. His efforts and those of his officers were in most cases without effect in convincing them of the mistake they were making.

As for the Hauhau losses, McDonnell reported that those known killed by the Europeans numbered thirteen, and by the Kupapas fifteen, making a total of twenty-eight; this was exclusive of losses the enemy must have suffered when the main body was fighting its way out. The Maoris, however, dispute this estimate.