The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 25: FIRST ENGAGEMENTS WITH TE KOOTI
Chapter 25: FIRST ENGAGEMENTS WITH TE KOOTI
THE EUROPEAN INHABITANTS of Poverty Bay did not learn of Te Kooti's landing until two days later. Captain R. Biggs, Resident Magistrate at Matawhero, on the Turanganui Flat, immediately called out the only available force, the Mounted Rifles, under Captain Westrup, formerly of the Forest Rangers, and sent a chief of the Rongowhakaata Tribe, Paora Kati, to Whareongaonga to demand that the escapes from Wharekauri should give up their arms and remain peaceably at Whareongaonga until the Government sent instructions regarding them. Te Kooti made reply refusing to surrender his arms. He declared that he only desired an open road to the interior of the Island; he intended to go to Waikato and set up a new king of the Maoris. Biggs's messenger returned and reported the failure of his mission. On the morning of the 15th July Te Kooti and his people began their march inland through the bush. They had been joined by a number of armed Maoris from the adjacent settlements. The Captain, with a force of about eighty whites and Maoris, arrived at the landing-place too late to intercept them. He then decided to hurry inland across the more open country and cut them off at Paparatu, commanding the spot where the Hauhaus must emerge from the bush and cross the Arai Stream on their way into the shelter of the Urewera Mountains. Messages had been sent to Wairoa and Napier for assistance, and Biggs marched for Paparatu with about forty of his European volunteers and thirty friendly Maoris under Henare Kakapango. Lieutenant (afterwards Major) F. J. W. Gascoyne, lately of the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry and the Military Settlers, had offered his services to Biggs, and he very gallantly took a despatch to Wairoa, delivering it after a perilous ride and walk of forty hours through hostile country. Soon after he rode off he heard firing at Paparatu. This was on the morning of the 20th July, 1868.
Captain Biggs meanwhile had started back to Gisborne to hurry up supplies, as his force had been five days out and were now without rations. As for ammunition, they had only thirty rounds page 236 per rifle. Colonel Whitmore had just arrived at Turanganui with a few volunteers. Te Kooti delivered his attack while Biggs was absent, and with his strong body of men, well supplied with ammunition, he surrounded a hill which Westrup was holding. This was a height at the head of the long spur along which Te Kooti advanced his force. The European force lost two killed and several wounded in the hot fighting, and was cut off from the baggage and equipment, which had been left in the camp in the valley below, together with reserve ammunition and rations which had just arrived. Most of the friendly Maoris had quickly retreated when Te Kooti made his vigorous attack, and it was left for Westrup and Wilson with about forty men, carrying seven wounded, to make their retreat by night across the hills and ravines to the open country. It was fortunate for them that Te Kooti did not pursue them, but remained contented with the capture of the valuable camp supplies, besides the horses of the expedition. This easy victory, in which the Hauhaus suffered no casualties, was the first of a long series of military successes which Te Kooti attributed to Divine assistance. Coming so quickly after the seizure of the “Rifleman,” it confirmed the prophet's followers in their belief in his supernatural powers. Whitmore, writing of the Paparatu engagement, said: “Undoubtedly the extraordinary prestige this remarkable man afterwards acquired sprang from this brilliant, and to the Maori mind inexplicable success.”
On the day following the fight Te Kooti moved on towards Whakapunake Mountain. Whitmore marched from Turanganui the same day to reinforce Westrup, but only to meet the defeated and dispirited force returning along the Arai Valley. Whitmore urged the Poverty Bay men to return with him and attack Te Kooti, but most of them had had enough of it, and were exhausted by the rough marching and the want of food. He therefore halted to await reinforcements, consisting chiefly of No. 1 Division Armed Constabulary, under Major Fraser, and a new body of volunteers to be organized by Biggs and Westrup.
The operations of a hastily organized body of volunteers, pakeha and Maori, from Wairoa will now be described. Soon after Te Kooti's landing, Captain Deighton, R.M., was holding a Court at Wairoa, accompanied by Mr. (now Captain) G. A. Preece, his interpreter, who had seen service as a volunteer in the East Cape and Upper Wairoa fighting in 1865. The first news of the Chatham Island rising was brought by a messenger, who came in with a brief note to Mr. Deighton from Captain Briggs, stating that he was at Whareongaonga and asking for assistance. The old chief Ihaka Whanga had arrived in Wairoa, and he offered to gather his men from various settlements and wait at Te Mahanga until ammunition could be brought from Wairoa. Some months page 237 previously Major Fraser with No. 1 Division Armed Constabulary had been sent from Wairoa to Opotiki to assist Major St. John in that district against Eru Tamaikowha and the Ngai-Tama and Urewera, and Wairoa was left defenceless; only one man had been left in charge of stores and arms and ammunition.
Captain Deighton and Mr. Preece at once went to get ammunition, sending the Maori messenger back to Captain Biggs to inform him of what they were doing and of Ihaka Whanga's plans. Mr. Preece was sent with a small party taking packhorses laden with ammunition for the friendly Maoris. Travelling all night, they reached Te Mahanga early next morning. The party was just about to start when a messenger arrived with a letter from Captain Biggs to Captain Deighton, reporting that the enemy had escaped through his lines during the night and were moving across country towards the head of Te Arai Valley, and asking the Magistrate to get a force together at Wairoa to intercept the Maoris at Te Reinga or Waihau lakes. After consulting with Ihaka Whanga, Mr. Preece decided to return to Wairoa at once to assist Captain Deighton in organizing a party. At Wairoa the chiefs were called together, and it was arranged that Paora Apatu with a hundred men should start next day. Meanwhile some twenty old Military Settlers from Lieut.-Colonel Fraser's disbanded force were got together under Mr. Clement Saunders, a former member of the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry, who had just joined a Volunteer corps as lieutenant, and twenty picked Maoris under Mr. Preece. The little force set out late that afternoon and reached Opoiti the same night, then pushing on to Whenuakura, where Ngati-Kowhatu (former rebels), under their chief Te Rakiroa, had been allowed to settle. When these people were informed of the escape of the Chatham Island prisoners they pretended that they had heard nothing of it; afterwards it was concluded that Te Kooti had communicated with them.
It was decided to scout towards Hangaroa next day and await the arrival of the Wairoa natives. That night Lieutenant F. J. Gascoyne arrived with despatches for Captain Deighton, and getting a fresh horse rode on to Wairoa. He said he had heard firing in the direction of Paparatu. Captain Richardson soon arrived with Paora Apatu and the promised hundred Maoris and four European volunteers. Lieutenant Gascoyne returned and went on to Poverty Bay.
The advance-party under Richardson and Preece moved on, in wild wintry weather, and at the second crossing of the Hangaroa met Lieutenant Wilson, of Poverty Bay, and a Maori named Netana. Wilson had been out scouting the tracks, and he brought instructions to Richardson from Biggs to return to Whenuakura.page 238
Accordingly the force marched on the back trail. Towards evening of this day (24th July) Te Kooti's force, many of the men mounted, was observed advancing along the Ahimanu Range, above Waihau lakes. Richardson's small force—he had only thirty or forty men with him at this time—was soon hotly engaged in the position on Te Koneke ridge. Among those in the advance-party were Mr. Saunders, Mr. John Carroll (elder brother of Sir James Carroll), Dr. M. Scott (of Wairoa), and Tom Marsh. The few Maoris present—good picked men—were commanded by Karaitiana Roto-a-Tara and Ahitana. (Both these fine young chiefs of Ngati-Kahungunu were afterwards treacherously murdered at Whataroa.)
The main body of the friendly natives from Wairoa had not appeared, and an expected force of Mahia Maoris, under the staunch old Ihaka Whanga, did not arrive in time for the fight. Richardson and Preece and their gallant few engaged their foe spiritedly, but it was soon realized that the position was hopeless. The range, however, was held until nearly dark. The Hauhaus now worked up along the gullies on either side, and as there were not sufficient men to oppose this flanking movement a retreat was ordered. Ammunition was failing, and the small force was without rations. A rearguard action was fought, and Richardson skilfully extricated his force by sending the less active and experienced men on first to cross the gully in rear while the commander and Preece, Carroll, Karaitiana, and a few other good shots kept up an accurate fire on the Hauhaus. The first party, on reaching the next hill, now halted and opened fire, enabling the brave little rearguard to cross the valley under cover of their rifles. In this way an orderly retreat was carried out, with the loss of only one man, one of Karaitiana's Maoris, who fell early in the fight with a broken thigh and had to be left on the field; another native had his hand blown off by the accidental explosion of his rifle. The force reached Mangapoike that night and camped there, and next day marched back to Wairoa. It was afterwards ascertained that the Hauhaus had suffered eight casualties. One of their mounted scouts was captured at the beginning of the action. It was only the good work of the few sharpshooters and the approach of darkness that saved the little band from destruction. The locality of this engagement, Te Kooti's second success, was on the proper left (east) side of the Wairoa River, a short distance eastward of the Reinga Falls, at the junction of the Ruakituri and Hangaroa Rivers. The present Township of Tiniroto is about two miles to the north.
At this time Lieutenant Gascoyne, accompanied by Dr. Scott, made another gallant ride with despatches, taking a message from Mr. Deighton, the Magistrate at Wairoa, to Colonel Whitmore page 239 at Te Arai, and also a report as to Captain Richardson's whereabouts. On the track Gascoyne and Scott met Paku Brown, a half-caste, carrying a despatch from Whitmore to Richardson. Half an hour after they met him Brown was intercepted by Te Kooti's men, and was shot and tomahawked; his little dog was also shot. The despatch-carrier's remains were found near the track at Pukewhenua a few days later by Colonel Whitmore's force on the march to Ruakituri.
The next engagement with Te Kooti, one still more unfortunate for the Government forces, was fought on the 8th August on the Ruakituri River, a short distance above the present crossing on the mountain-road from Waikare-moana to Poverty Bay. The two preliminary successes had brought the rebel leader many recruits, among them Te Rakiroa, the chief of the Ngati-Kowhatu, at Whenuakura, who had recently been armed by the Government, with some of his people. He deserted to the rebels during the fight on Te Koneke ridge, saying he was going for a drink of water. Te Kooti's line of march was across the high forested range between the Hangaroa and Ruakituri branches of the Wairoa River, and thence up the Ruakituri Valley in the direction of Te Papuni. There was an ancient hill fort called Puketapu (“Holy Hill”) overlooking the dry shingle bed of the olden Lake Papuni, and there the leader designed to establish himself. His march was slow, with several halts at small settlements, and Whitmore therefore was able to overtake him while he was making his way up the rocky Ruakituri. Whitmore's force consisted of about two hundred men, of whom half were the Napier Division of Armed Constabulary, and some volunteers and Maoris; the other half were Poverty Bay volunteers and Maoris. The weather was bitterly cold, with rain and snow, and the rivers were flooded, and the march to the Hangaroa was toilsome in the extreme. At the Hangaroa the European volunteers from Poverty Bay declined to go farther, informing the Colonel that they had reached the boundary of the district in which they were liable for military service. Whitmore therefore left these men to take charge of the horses and camp gear near the Waihau lakes, while he pushed on in pursuit of Te Kooti. On the morning of the 6th August he crossed the force over the Hangaroa in canoes, and followed hard on the Hauhaus' trail through the fern. The force now totalled 118, of whom 76 were Europeans, most of them Hawke's Bay men.
On the 8th the force was well up the gorge-like valley of the Ruakituri, and the advance-guard led by Mr. Davis Canning, a gallant settler from Hawke's Bay, was hot on the trail of the Hauhaus, who were heard shooting pigeons in the distance. Early in the afternoon Captain Carr (Hawke's Bay), who had page 240 been an officer in the Royal Artillery, reconnoitred through the bush along the river-bank, and reported that the Hauhaus were halted a short distance up the river. The swift and ice-cold river was forded several times and the European and Maori force advanced to the attack. Captain (afterwards Colonel) Herrick with part of the force moved on to take the Hauhaus in flank and reverse, and when his men were in position Whitmore directed the advance-guard to push forward. It was soon driven back, leaving both Canning and Carr dead on the field. The former was shot dead while gallantly leading the men. Whitmore moved quickly forward and recovered the ground; but the Hauhaus were now retiring through the thick forest, and night was coming on. There were several wounded, and it took sixteen men, eight on each side, to steady each bearer of a wounded man in crossing the rapid river. Whitmore lamented the approach of night, which prevented further pursuit; but the hardships of the winter marching had told severely on the men, and they were not in fit condition for the bush chase; moreover, they were quite without food. The return march to the camp occupied all night. Lieutenant Gascoyne came to the rescue near the Hangaroa with four packhorses loaded with provisions from Turanganui, and the force encamped at Whenuakura. Major Fraser, who had been on the Hangaroa with his No. 1 Division Armed Constabulary, was sent to Wairoa with the Wairoa men, and the Gisborne volunteers marched home. The wounded, including Captain A. Tuke, who was shot through the shoulder, were sent to the Wairoa. Whitmore himself, after soundly scolding the Poverty Bay men, rode in to Turanganui, and left for Wellington in the steamer “Sturt” he was presently engaged in reorganizing the defences on the West Coast.
In the meantime Captain Richardson and Mr. Preece, with a party of picked Europeans and natives, and a few Mohaka volunteers under Ensign Lavin (afterwards killed in the Mohaka massacre, 1869), marched to Opoiti and scouted thence to Te Reinga and Whenuakura. The latter place was found deserted. It was afterwards discovered that Te Kooti's party and Rakiroa's men were then at Pukewhenua, some four miles away. The weather being terribly bad and all the river flooded, and no news having been received from Poverty Bay, Captain Richardson decided to fall back on Wairoa. On the night of the 5th or 6th August a mounted man named Munu arrived with a despatch from Colonel Whitmore, at Pukewhenua, to Captain Richardson, stating that he was pushing on in Te Kooti's trail, and instructing Richardson to move up to Whenuakura with as many men as he could get, bringing packhorses with provisions and ammunition, and to follow his (Whitmore's) route. Lieutenant Preece, who page 241 knew the country well, advised Captain Richardson not to go via Whenuakura, but to move up the Mangaaruhe Valley by way of Te Tuhi, striking the Ruakituri higher up, and thus cutting off an angle and saving more than a day's march. Richardson, however, said he must carry out the orders as given. Accordingly a picked force of whites and Maoris, about seventy men, moved up on the 7th August to Opoiti, reaching Whenuakura next day. Constable Solomon Black (who afterwards won the New Zealand Cross at Ngatapa) had been sent on, following up Whitmore's track, with a depatch for the Colonel informing him that the reinforcements with provisions and ammunition were moving up.
On the morning of the 9th a very early start was made from Whenuakura, and at about 3 p.m., as the force was descending towards the Ruakituri, it was met by about thirty of the Ngati-Porou, under the chief Hotene Porourangi, who reported the engagement at Ruakituri, and stated that Lieut.-Colonel Fraser with the Armed Constabulary Force, and the Hawke's Bay natives under Mr. F. E. Hamlin and Urupene, were moving back on Wairoa via Te Tuhi with the wounded men, and that Colonel Whitmore would return to Poverty Bay via Whenuakura next day. Captain Richardson then fell back on Whenuakura, having rationed Hotene's men and left further provisions for Colonel Whitmore. Had the advice of Mr. Preece and the natives been acted on by Captain Richardson, and had the force marched via Te Tuhi, so saving a day, Colonel Whitmore would have had a reinforcement of seventy men before engaging with Te Kooti, and would have had a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition. Richardson's force could have caught up to him at Erepeti, where he camped on the night on the 7th August.
The European losses at the Ruakituri were six killed and five wounded. Among the Hauhau casualties were Te Kooti himself; he was wounded in the foot. He made good his retreat to Puketapu, where he rested and recruited his strength in a fortified camp, and gathered in many warriors from the surrounding tribes, including the brothers Te Waru from the Upper Wairoa, some of the Rongo-whakaata people, and many Urewera from the mountain villages of the interior. Now well supplied with food, arms, and ammunition, and with between three and four hundred fighting-men at his command, he laid his plains for a surprise descent upon the plains and a raid of vengeance on his foes in the Poverty Bay settlements.
Early in October Karaitiana Roto-a-Tara, the young chief already mentioned as having distinguished himself in the fight at Te Koneke, was sent up the Wairoa with his comrade Ahitana and two other men to visit Whataroa (or Erepeti), Te Waru's village, and gather what news they could about Te Kooti's page 242 movements. The older Te Waru was absent, with his son Tipene (the one who had lost an arm at Orakau)—they had joined Te Kooti—but Reihana te Waru entertained the four scouts, and gave them food and a sleeping-hut. In the middle of the night Reihana, his sister, and others stole into the whare and killed the sleeping men with tomahawks. Karaitiana's heart was cut out and was taken by Reihana to Waikare-moana, where it was offered to the war-god Tu with the ancient Maori ceremonials, and was deposited at the tuahu or sacred altar of Whakaari pa, on the northern shore of the lake. When Te Kooti visited the pa some time later he ordered the heart and tuahu on which it was placed to be destroyed.* Te Waru and Reihana afterwards (1870) surrendered to Captain Preece at Horomanga, on the Rangitaiki side of the Urewera Country, and were exiled to Waiotahe. Neither of them dared return to Whataroa, where they would have been attacked by Karaitiana's people in revenge for the murder.
Mr. Donald McLean, Government Agent at Napier, had arranged for two hundred Ngati-Porou, under Ropata and Hotene Porourangi, to come down from Waiapu to Wairoa, and for a large contingent of Hawke's Bay Maoris, under Tareha, Henare Tomoana, and other chiefs, to move on from Wairoa to Te Kooti's stronghold at Puketapu. The combined force was under Captain Tuke, who was accompanied by Captain Bower (in charge of stores and ammunition) and Lieutenants Ferguson and Preece, with about forty Armed Constabulary. The column left Wairoa on the 27th October via the Waiau River instead of the usual track by way of Mangaaruhe, the idea being to attack the rebels in flank if the settlement was fortified. The force was well up the Waiau Valley towards Whataroa when, to the surprise of all, Colonel Lambert (who had been sent to Wairoa to take charge of the district) overtook them and assumed command. Marching all night, the force reached Whataroa next morning and captured one old man and a woman. They stated that Te Waru and all his people had joined Te Kooti, that Puketapu had been abandoned, and that Te Kooti was moving on Poverty Bay. The bodies of the murdered scouts were exhumed. It was seen that all had been tomahawked, and that Karaitiana's heart had been cut out. A scouting-party went to Orewha, overlooking Erepeti and the nearest point towards Puketapu, but could see no fires in that direction.
Ropata and Hotene strongly urged Colonel Lambert to move on, but he said the country they had to go through gave the page 243 enemy every advantage for laying ambuscades, and that severe loss might result. Ropata's retort was: “We do not expect to return with the same number of men with which we started.” Lambert then held a consultation with the European officers, who all favoured the advance. The Colonel, however, ordered otherwise; and, after remaining a day, the column returned to the Wairoa via Orewha and Mangaaruhe, reaching Wairoa about the 3rd November. A despatch was sent by the mailman on the coast road to Major Biggs at Poverty Bay. Had the force gone on from Whataroa to Puketapu it would have found Te Kooti's pa abandoned, and could have followed his welldefined cut trail towards Poverty Bay. Thus he would have been attacked unexpectedly from his rear, and the terrible massacre at Matawhero would have been averted.
* A grandson of this brave chief Karaitiana Roto-a-Tara was a sergeant in the Great War, and was awarded the Military Medal for services in France.