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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 270

IMMEDIATELY ON HEARING of the Poverty Bay massacre and the retreat of some of the settlers towards the Mahia Peninsula, Colonel Lambert, commanding at Wairoa, sent Lieutenant Preece up to Whangawehi, on the north side of Mahia, with instructions to give what assistance he could and to report himself to Captain Westrup. Preece found two steamers at Whangawehi, one going to Napier and one to Poverty Bay. Captain Westrup instructed him to go to Turanganui with Ihaka Whanga's men, numbering about sixty. On arrival at the bay Preece found that Lieutenant Gascoyne had escaped the massacre, having been out scouting at the time, and had taken command. The whole country was smoking with the fires of burning homesteads. Captain Westrup returned next day with Captain Tuke and some Armed Constabulary men and Captain Tanner and a number of his Hawke's Bay Cavalry Volunteers. Lieutenant Preece remained at Turanganui a day and returned to Whangawehi by steamer, thence overland to Wairoa, where he reported to Colonel Lambert. Captain Westrup said he would await the arrival of a large force of Hawke's Bay Maoris, which he expected in a day or two, before taking the offensive. At Wairoa measures were taken to get a force ready to start from that point, and provisions and ammunition were collected. About the 25th November 200 Ngati-Porou men under Ropata Wahawaha and Hotene Porourangi, and 170 Wairoa natives under Lieutenant Preece, started in pursuit of Te Kooti via Te Reinga. The force had to move slowly as it was taking a good supply of ammunition and provisions. Information had reached Lieutenant Preece that the Hawke's Bay natives under their own chiefs and Lieutenant Gascoyne had engaged the enemy at Makaretu and held them there. On the third day of the march the Wairoa force reached the last crossing of the Hangaroa River. Here a consultation was held on the question of moving direct for Makaretu across country or taking the track to Patutahi, which was the base of operations for the troops. The latter course was decided on. From Patutahi a page 271 forced march was made, the column reaching the Wharekopae Stream, four miles from Makaretu, the same night. Next morning Ropata and Preece communicated with Gascoyne and planned the attack. The Wairoa natives were to move to the right, and at a given time attack the enemy on its flank. On the 3rd December the Hauhau position was assaulted in a most determined manner. Preece and his Wairoa men charged up one of the rifle-pitted hills on Te Kooti's flank and carried it, driving the Hauhaus out and killing three of them. Then Ngati-Porou and Preece's men, with Gascoyne and a few European volunteers and Ngati-Kahungunu, made a combined attack on the pa. “It was a beautiful sight,” wrote Gascoyne, “a line of fire and smoke half a mile long, with both flanks thrown forward, rapidly descending the hill.” The men closed on the centre as they approached the Hauhau entrenchments, and a deadly fire was concentrated on the camp. The Hauhaus fought well until the final rush, when they dashed out of their entrenchments and across the river into the forest, leaving about two score dead and dying in the captured position. A number were shot in the river immediately in rear. Among those who fell was the notorious Nama, who had been concerned in the murder of Karaitiana and his three comrades at Whataroa; he was mortally wounded by Henare Kakapango, one of Gascoyne's scouts.

Among the Hauhaus who fought at Makaretu was Peita Kotuku, some of whose war experiences have been related in the preceding pages. Describing his escape from Ngati-Porou, he said:—

“When the final assault on our pa was delivered I hastily filled all my pockets with cartridges, in a tent, and ran out with a rifle slung over my shoulder and another in my hands. I ran to the edge of the cliff above the river. The bank was perpendicular and about 50 feet high. It was no use staying to fight then; the enemy were in our lines. I jumped from the brink of the cliff into a deep pool of the river. As I dashed for the cliff I was fired at. Nama, who was near me, was shot. I got across the river and escaped into the bush, but many of my comrades were shot in the water or on the banks. There was high manuka growing on the other side of the river (the Wharekopae), and I crept into this. There I was seen by Huhana (Susan), one of Te Kooti's wives, who had escaped with him. She called to me from the bush, and I joined her and Te Kooti. Our leader was suffering from a wounded foot, which had been injured in the rocky bed of the river, and Huhana and I took turns in carrying him off on our backs in the direction of Ngatapa, where we made our next stand against the Government.”

In the fighting at Makaretu the total Hauhau loss was about page 272
From a drawing by the Hon. J. C. Richmond, 1869] Ngatapa Fortress from the East

From a drawing by the Hon. J. C. Richmond, 1869]
Ngatapa Fortress from the East

Te Kooti's strongly fortified pa is shown on the summit of the mountain. (See plan.)

page 273 sixty killed. On the Government side two Europeans were wounded and one Ngati-Porou was killed in the final engagement.

During the operations at Makaretu Te Kooti was prudently preparing another and stronger position six miles in his rear, the mountain fortress Ngatapa. While he held up the Ngati-Kahungunu on his front, working-parties were busy renovating the defences of this stronghold, an ancient trenched pa long deserted, on the crest of a narrow and precipitous range more than 2,000 feet above sea-level. The scarped fort towered high above all the surrounding country, the most picturesque and most formidable position occupied by the Hauhaus in the war. On being driven from Makaretu Te Kooti and his fugitives, numbering about three hundred fighting-men, besides many women and some children, took up their quarters in Ngatapa and hastily strengthened the lines of entrenchment.

The weak feature of this pa, as in most Maori forts, was the lack of a water-supply within the lines. The front of the position, the face of the ridge, was defended by three parapets and trenches; the ditches were connected with each other by covered ways. The lowest and outermost line was about 250 yards long, with very high scarped walls terminating on the cliff at either flank of the fort. The second line of parapets was about 10 feet in height, and the third, protecting the huts built on the summit, was 16 feet high, surmounted with flax baskets filled with earth, a substitute for the European plan of sand-bags. The place was very difficult of approach; it was compassed about with gorges and dense forest, and the rear of the position was a sharp ridge like a knife-back, falling away precipitously for several hundreds of feet on each side.

The first attack on Ngatapa was delivered on the 5th December by Ngati-Porou and the Wairoa natives, two companies of about one hundred and fifty men each. The right column was commanded by Ropata and Preece, the left by Hotene and others. Ropata and Preece, with a few men, leaving their main body in the valley, clambered up the steep face of the cliff and gained the end of the trench on the left front of the pa immediately in rear of the front wall. There was no flanking bastion here, and Ropata was able to enfilade the trench for some distance, firing along it as fast as he could discharge the loaded rifles which Preece passed on to him. There the gallant Maori officer and his white comrade remained for some time in a most precarious position, keeping up a hot fire, supported by their best men. In the afternoon 2 portion of the outer works was captured, with a loss to the Hauhaus of three killed, but ammunition now ran short, and it was impossible to do anything more in the absence of support from the main body of Ngati-Porou. Those who stuck to Ropata page 274
Plan of Ngatapa Hill Fortress (Captured 1869)

Plan of Ngatapa Hill Fortress (Captured 1869)

page 275 were chiefly his near kinsmen of the Aowera clan; conspicuous among them was Ruka Aratapu, a fearless fellow who kept up an accurate fire on the Hauhaus from the branches of a tree which he had climbed. Preece went down several times and endeavoured to get Ngati-Porou to come to his assistance, but without much success. The small party under Ropata accordingly was compelled to withdraw for want of support, after holding the perilous position all night; and next day the force retired on Turanganui, meeting Colonel Whitmore and three hundred Armed Constabulary at Patutahi.

On the recommendation of Colonel Whitmore both Ropata and Preece were awarded the decoration of the New Zealand Cross for their exceptionally brave attack at Ngatapa.

Ropata was disgusted at the defection of the main body of Ngati-Porou; and he wished to recruit fresh men. Whitmore was anxious to attack Ngatapa at once, but on the advice of Ropata and Gascoyne further operations were deferred until an adequate force was gathered to deal with Te Kooti. The European forces therefore remained in camp at Makaraka for nearly a month, while Ropata returned to Waiapu and strengthened his contingent for the new operations.

Further details of the operations in the first attack on Ngatapa show that on the 4th December, the day following the final fight at Makaretu, the combined Ngati-Kahungunu and Poverty Bay force, Ngati-Porou under Ropata and Hotene, and the Wairoa men, moved out by the ridge overlooking the Wharekopae Stream. The enemy's position on the crest of Ngatapa was seen in the distance, and, having located it, it was decided that the force should return to camp and march against Te Kooti next day. That night, therefore, was spent in the Makaretu camp, and next morning the leaders moved out with Ngati-Porou (200 men who had come from Wairoa), also the Wairoa natives and some of the Mahia men. It is said there had been a quarrel between Ropata and the Hawke's Bay Maoris under Tareha over a prisoner, and the latter party refused to march. Lieutenant Preece was with the advance-guard. There was a long narrow ridge to climb from a conical hill about two-thirds of the way up to Ngatapa fortress, and the men in the advance had to expose themselves to the enemy's fire. This hill was afterwards called the “Crow's Nest” it was some 700 to 1,000 yards from the pa. Just below there was a stream. There was a lot of felled manuka in front of the pa, and when the force reached the edge of this Mr. Preece halted and sent some men round the edge of the clearing with instructions to observe the position from that point, but not to show themselves, and on no account to fire on the enemy if they saw them, unless they were fired on. These men disobeyed the instructions. One of them fired when he saw some of Te Kooti's men, and this brought a murderous fire from the enemy. The men sent to the right came rushing down the hill, and numbers of Preece's men followed their example. Just then Ropata came up, and he and Preece stood across page 276 the track and threatened to shoot the next man who ran. This stopped the panic. Then the two leaders moved up to the left with only a few men, and held the advanced position at the end of the trench on the left immediately in rear of the front wall of the pa. Mr. Preece went down several times to try and bring up men who had been crouching round a fire during the day about 500 yards below his position. He and Ropata and a few others had taken the enemy's outer works, and were firing from there into the inner part of the pa. The only men who were killed in this attack were four of their party. One man was wounded, and, with assistance, Preece took him down to where the men were at the fire. He left him there with instructions that he was to be carried to camp. [It was ascertained afterwards that this order was disobeyed, and that the man was abandoned by his people, and was killed by the enemy after the withdrawal.] No attack was made on the right side of the pa that day. In Ropata and Preece's bold attack the killed men's guns were loaded as well as their own, and were used to keep up a constant fire. Very late in the afternoon Ropata said to Preece: “We can take the pa if we are supported. Go down to the main body and ask Gascoyne to get assistance.” The young officer went down with two men. When they got to the foot of the hill it was dark. They decided to follow the Wharekopae, and reached Lieutenant Gascoyne's camp at Makaretu at 8.30 or 9 o'clock that night after a very rough march down the stream, a slippery papa-rock river with gravel in places. Preece reported to Gascoyne that Ropata wanted immediate assistance. Gascoyne could not induce the natives to move that night; they said they would start at daylight in the morning. Tareha and his men had moved off on their return march. At daylight Gascoyne's Maoris were just ready to start when Ropata, who had held his position all night, came in, and he was so disgusted at not getting the much-needed help that he decided to return to Waiapu and recruit a new force. Lieutenant Gascoyne had done his utmost before Ngatapa to induce the retreating natives to return to the attack, but without avail.

Captain Preece narrates this incident to show how Maoris are affected by superstition: “Hemi Tapeka was a man whom I had seen distinguish himself at the attack on Pukemaire (Waiapu) in September, 1865; there he went right up to the flanking angle, killed one of the enemy, and held his position until others got up to him. He had been a good fighter, too, in the Upper Wairoa in 1866. When I went to get men to go up to the attack at Ngatapa I found him crouching by the fire (500 yards below the pa). I said: ‘Well, why are you here? You are not a coward.’ He replied: ‘No; but if I go up to-day I shall be killed. I had a dream last night. My thigh twitched; that is a tohu aitua’ [evil omen].”