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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)



It was late in December before Colonel Whitmore had perfected his arrangements for the reduction of Ngatapa. In the meantime the Hauhaus had been active, making several raids towards Poverty Bay. A party from Ngatapa came down one night and killed several people at Pipiwhakao, five miles from the Constabulary camp at Makaraka. The advance on Te Kooti's position was begun on the 24th December. Whitmore had four divisions of Armed Constabulary, totalling about four hundred men, and Ropata followed him up with three hundred and fifty Ngati-Porou who had been brought down from Waiapu by steamer. By the page 277 31st December the force had reached a hill on the same long ridge as the pa, but separated from Ngatapa summit by a deep gully; the distance between this post—which the Constabulary entrenched—and the pa was nearly half a mile. From this hill—which was a base of operations, named the “Crow's Nest”—as detachments were sent out to encircle the pa, shell-fire was opened on the Hauhau position with a Coehorn mortar, which had been brought up from Turanganui with great difficulty. It was seen that Ngatapa had been greatly strengthened since the first attack. A considerable area of ground in front had been cleared by felling and burning the bush so as to afford less cover to the attackers. A high wall, loopholed, had been built across the front, and another timber palisade had been built on the inner side. The flanks also had been stockaded. The pa was roughly in the form of a wedge, with the apex to the rear on the highest part of the mountain; the incline at which the ground lay enabled the gunners to shell the interior of the fort with accuracy. The first or outer line of entrenchment on the front covered the spring from which the garrison drew the water-supply. It was not possible to scale the steep flanks with a sufficient force to rush the place; in fact, the sides were scarcely scalable at all, although the bush and shrubs gave hand-hold for part of the way; and the attackers' attention was directed chiefly at the entrenched and stockaded front, with bodies of Constabulary and Maoris posted at various positions along the flanks and in rear. The first attempt to capture the Hauhau entrenchments was carried out by Captain W. Gundry and Captain T. W. Porter, the former leading a recently enlisted division of Arawa Maoris (Ngati-Whakaue, Ngati-Pikiao, and Tuhourangi), and the latter leading a picked party of Ngati-Porou. The force was detailed to surprise the Hauhaus' outer wall, and this was done with complete success, cutting the garrison off from the water-spring. The defenders withdrew to their inner lines, and the Constabulary and Ngati-Porou took possession of the outer line from cliff to cliff and commenced regular siege operations by opening flying saps directed towards the new wall. Shells were thrown into the fort by the Coehorn mortar, and many casualties, as was discovered afterwards, were inflicted by the bursting projectiles. On the Hauhaus' right flank the investing line consisted of No. 6 Division Armed Constabulary under Major J. M. Roberts, nearest the front; then a line of Ngati-Porou under Hotene; and in the rear Major Fraser and his No. 1 Division. On the Hauhaus' left front and part of the flank were some friendly Maoris under Mr. Edward Hamlin.

The siege continued for three days and nights. The very narrow ridge in rear, falling steeply from the pa, with several page 278
Major Ropata Wahawaha, N.Z.C.

Major Ropata Wahawaha, N.Z.C.

Ropata, leading the Ngati-Porou native contingent, and his comrade Lieutenant G. A. Preece were both awarded the New Zealand Cross for their distinguished bravery in the first attack on Ngatapa. Ropata was the most vigorous and successful of all Maori officers who served the Government. He fought the Hauhaus on the East Coast and in the Urewera Country from 1865 until the end of 1871.

scarps scarcely climbable, was pluckily held in the face of a very heavy fire by a few Constabulary men, including Benjamin Biddle and Solomon Black, who performed such gallant and determined work in holding their position that they were both awarded the New Zealand Cross. Casualties became numerous among the Government detachments. Captain Brown of No. 7 Division was killed, and Captain Capel of the same Division was shot through the shoulder. The weather became very wet soon after the siege began. Sapping was discontinued, and a heavy fire of shells and rifle-bullets was poured into the Hauhau citadel. Late on the last day of the siege Captain Gascoyne led a forlorn hope of thirty men of No. 7 Division against the pa, and in the teeth of a gale with rain and under a heavy fire he secured a position close under one of the outer parapets and remained there all night waiting for dawn to continue his assault with shovel, axe, and rifle. On the same afternoon (4th page 279 January, 1869) Colonel Whitmore, after consultation with Major Ropata, detailed a storming-party of fifty Ngati-Porou to surprise and seize the second line of defence by assault on the Hauhaus' left front at an angle above the cliff. Captain Porter and a chief of Te Aowera hapu were given command of this party. Descending into the ravine under cover of the thick bush, the stormers advanced unseen until immediately under the high cliff, which they scaled with great gallantry, securing climbing-hold with one hand, rifle in the other. The precipice was composed largely of loose rock and gravel, and a secure grip was difficult. When near the top of the ascent they came under the Hauhaus' rifles, but the accurate fire from the covering-party below enabled them to scramble up into the allotted position with some loss. One of the Ngati-Porou who was shot, a man named Rewai Tauranga, fell on Captain Porter, and both rolled to the foot of the cliff. Porter quickly rejoined his men. An enfilading fire was opened along the second trench, and the face of the parapet was quickly manned, causing the defenders to retreat within the innermost line. This position captured, the whole force moved forward, and arrangements were made for blowing up the inner parapet with gunpowder and storming the citadel of the pa next morning.

The night was wet and windy. Te Kooti, realizing that the position was hopeless, had given orders that the fort should be evacuated under cover of the darkness, and late that stormy night and very early in the morning hours the garrison escaped down the precipitous mountain-side on the right flank of the pa. A section of this side, between Hamlin's Maoris on the right of the attack and the lines of Fraser's No. 1 Division in the rear, had been left unguarded; the cliff here was perpendicular for some distance and then slanted very steeply down into the dense bush. Peita Kotuku, narrating his escape with the other Hauhaus, said:—

“The fall of Ngatapa was due chiefly to the fact that the Ngati-Porou cut us off from the spring which was our water-supply. The fort was taken because we were without food or water. (I mate ai tera pa na te kore-kai, na te kore-wai.) When our position became desperate and it was decided to retreat to the forest under cover of night, we let ourselves down the cliff on the flank of the pa by means of aka (bush vines, lianes) cut from the trees just outside the fort. The part of the cliff where I went down on an aka rope was about 60 feet high. I escaped into the deep forest, but many of our people were captured and shot.”

Shortly before dawn (5th January, 1869) it was discovered that the Hauhaus had abandoned their mountain-hold. The voice page 280
Cross-sections of the Ngatapa Fortress (See plan on page 274.)

Cross-sections of the Ngatapa Fortress
(See plan on page 274.)

page 281 of a woman was heard through the howling of the gale calling out that Te Kooti had escaped down the cliff. Mr. Hamlin, on the right of the attack, who was the first to discover the fact, went in just at daylight and found that all the able-bodied people had disappeared into the bush, leaving only women and some helplessly wounded men in the pa.

Immediately the abandoned fort was occupied by the Government force a pursuit was ordered, and Ngati-Porou and the Arawa Division went in chase of the fugitives. The Hauhaus had scattered into small parties, taking different trails in the effort to throw their foes off their track. Ropata adopted similar tactics, and ordered his men to break into small detachments each following up a trail.

Te Kooti and his immediate followers escaped, but a great many of the people, weakened by want of food, were captured before they had gone very far. Every male prisoner taken was shot—some on the spot, some near Ngatapa, where they were taken for execution. An Armed Constabulary scout who shared in the bush chase said: “All the men taken were despatched. We just stood them on the edge of a cliff and gave them a volley.”

Ropata's methods in ordering the summary execution of all the Hauhaus captured by Ngati-Porou may have been ruthless, but the memory of the massacre at Poverty Bay was still raw in every mind. The principal chief overtaken and killed was Nikora te Whakaunua, the head rangatira of the Ngati-Hineuru Tribe, of Te Haroto, on the Napier-Taupo track. He was one of the prisoners taken at Omarunui in 1866. In the siege of Ngatapa he had been severely wounded.

Te Kooti lost quite half his fighting force at Ngatapa and in the relentless forest chase. The estimates of the Hauhau casualties vary somewhat, but the most reliable reports give the total killed as 136, of whom 120 were summarily executed after capture, either singly or in batches. The wounded (excluding those killed in the captured pa by Ngati-Porou and the other Government Maoris) and the prisoners saved totalled about 150; most of the prisoners were women and children, many of whom had been carried off by Te Kooti from the coast. Adding to the Ngatapa losses those sustained at Makaretu, about sixty, the Hauhau leader's force was weakened by approximately two hundred men. Many of those who fell were recent recruits from the Poverty Bay district—some of them compulsorily converted to Te Kooti's tenets—and from the Urewera Country. Those who escaped from Ngatapa and found secure refuge in the forest of the interior could not have exceeded two hundred, including a number of women who survived the terrors and hardships of the bush fight.

page 282

The casualties of the Government force at Ngatapa in the second attack beginning on the 31st December and ending on the 5th January numbered eleven killed and the same number wounded. Of the killed, five were members of the Armed Constabulary force and the rest Ngati-Porou and other Maoris.

Te Kooti's power having been shattered for the time being, Colonel Whitmore transferred the Armed Constabulary, including the new division of Arawa, to the West Coast in order to carry out the long-pending operations against Titokowaru.

Te Kooti's refuge-place for nearly two months was a well-concealed camp in the great Te Wera forest, on the headwaters of the Waioeka River, in the exceedingly broken and mountainous country to the westward of the present road via Motu from Gisborne to Opotiki. The camp when discovered two years later by the Ngati-Porou under Captain Porter contained thirty thatched houses roofed with totara-bark. It was naturally defended on three sides by cliffs, forest, and water. Here the fugitives were gradually reinforced by recruits from the Urewera, Whakatohea, and other tribes, and supplies of ammunition were brought in chiefly from the Opotiki district and Ruatahuna. By the beginning of March Te Kooti was in a position to renew the campaign of foray, plunder, and revenge which he had begun in the previous November. His mana as a priest and prophet, the founder of the new religion, grew apace; his magnetic personality and his skilful use of Scriptural passages applicable to the condition of the Maoris drew to him men from many a tribe who saw in his leadership, favoured by the gods, hope of successful war against the pakeha. He never really recovered from the blows inflicted upon his force at Makaretu and Ngatapa, yet so shrewd a soldier and a strategist was he, with a perfect genius for delivering lightning assaults in unexpected places, that he was able again and again to take the field and to maintain his resistance to the Government for more than three years.

Captain J. R. Rushton, of Kutarere, Ohiwa, supplies the following note:—

“That good soldier Major Mair was in command at Opotiki at the date of the capture of Ngatapa. In addition to the Waioeka redoubt, a blockhouse had just been built to protect the Opotiki settlement, near the entrance to the Otara Gorge. I was ensign in charge of this Otara blockhouse with twenty-five men—about half Maoris—and have good reason to remember the fall of Ngatapa. About 10 o'clock on the morning of the 7th January, 1869 (two days after its capture), I was reading in my room when a Maori with a double-barrel gun walked in. I sprang page 283 upon him, grasping hold of his gun, and pressing him down upon the floor. I threw him a loaf of bread, and with carbine at full cock and my Tranter revolver slung on my wrist I ran out calling for the sergeant of the guard. He came running up from just below the blockhouse. I said, ‘Where the hell are your men, and where is our sentry?’ I then called out for all to stand to arms, and ‘be damn quick about it.’ The sergeant, when shown the Maori in my room, turned as white as a sheet. We found the European sentry at the end of the blockhouse standing like a log, with his carbine between his legs, but a kick with my boot upon his posterior brought him to his senses. I sent out two of my best Maoris to watch the narrows of the gorge until nightfall. As I thought, the Maori was an escapee from Ngatapa, having deserted Te Kooti when they retired from the pa, and being related to Wi Kingi's tribe, the Ngaitai, made his way out by the Otara Gorge. I took him in to my commanding officer, Major Mair, and he told me that the Maori's arrival was of great importance because of the information he gave. This incident put an end to the growling I had from two or three grumbling Europeans of the garrison regarding my care in not allowing the door to be opened in the morning without all standing to arms; they called it funk. The occurrence showed how easily a post might be taken through carelessness of the sentry and guard.”

Colonel T. W. Porter, when Captain in the Ngati-Porou contingent, obtained from a prisoner the following account of Te Kooti's camp discipline and habits in his Urewera and Tahora forest retreats:—

“It is Te Kooti's custom, when arising from sleep in camp, to call his followers to karakia (prayers), when the 32nd and 34th Psalms are sung, altered by Te Kooti to suit himself. After prayers, parties are ordered out to hunt food, &c. When pigs are to be found, the men are instructed to cut off the ears of the first pig caught and to offer up thanks to the Atua (God). In all cases where food is obtained thanks is given, and men going out are particularly instructed not to eat, drink, or smoke until they return to camp, lest the Atua should be offended. Should a party return unsuccessful, blame is attributed to one of them having disobeyed the orders given; for this sin the Atua has kept the food from them. The offender, if pointed out by his companions, is punished by Te Kooti, who in strong terms will sentence him to be deprived of the opportunity of hunting food by confining him to camp. Karakia (service) is held four times a day; the last is the prayer for sleep when retiring to rest, after which no one is allowed to move about, and silence is kept by all. No one dare approach Te Kooti's whare after that time. Te Kooti will often start out alone in the early morning bird-hunting with a decoy kaka parrot on his shoulder, or with a tomahawk to get honey from hollow trees. It is a practice of his to go out and reconnoitre the surrounding country, climbing to the tops of the highest ranges, not returning to the camp till evening. He professes that all his expeditions to murder or plunder are by the inspiration of his Atua, as when he was inspired at the Chathams to deliver his people from bondage. When so inspired he will often arise from his sleep and call his followers together to prayers, after which he informs them that the Atua has given something to him during his sleep, but whether food, man, or woman he cannot tell. A party is then despatched in a direction indicated by him. If a man or food is found, well and good; if a woman, she is to be brought to him. Should the party return unsuccessful the man to whom charge of the mission was given is tied up and confined in a whare for days without food or fire. Should a messenger or a man having been absent from camp some time return, no one dare hold conversation with him until he sees Te Kooti. He is led up to the chief's whare, and remains outside waiting the word page 284 to enter. It is a strict rule; no one approaches his house without permission.

“It is Te Kooti's practice to have intercourse with his followers' wives, by telling the men to send them to him—that his Atua has said they should become enceinte. Whatever men may think of this, they seldom dare refuse, or Te Kooti will at some future time profess that his Atua has revealed to him a traitor, and will request that man's death. He is never at a loss for a pretext to dispose of any one obnoxious to him.

“When thunder is heard, his men will inquire the words of the Atua; he will then reply to the effect that the Atua tells him that there are men among them desirous of escaping to the Government, and that they will be killed. A rainbow is another favourite sign of the Atua to him, denoting many things, as it suits him. He threatens future punishment for all men escaping to the Government; however long they may live in imagined security, judgment will come for deserting the Atua. He asserts that all the Government people will be delivered into his hands, and great power given him, when all seceders will be put to the sword. When a man is put to death, a Psalm is chanted over him, and then he is led to execution. When on the march or the war-path no one is allowed to smoke or eat till the word is given by Te Kooti. All fresh converts to his Atua are rechristened by him with Scriptural names.”