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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)



The well-preserved remains of the Rauporoa pa, the Ngati-Pukeko redoubt besieged by Te Kooti's force in March, 1869, stand three miles south of Whakatane Town, on an alluvial plain thickly dotted with ti trees of great size. The place is surrounded by Maori and pakeha cultivations; the native villages Poroporo and Te Rewatu are near by, and the Whakatane flows past the rear of the work beneath masses of weeping-willows. Within rifle-shot on the opposite (eastern) side of the page 320 river are the grass-grown ruins of the Poronu Redoubt and the earthworks of the water-mill made memorable by Jean Guerren's defence. The Rauporoa pa is a rectangular field-work consisting of an earth parapet and a surrounding trench; the height of the scarp above the bottom of the ditch is still 7 to 8 feet, and inside the work is 4 or 5 feet high; the ditch is 4 feet wide and about the same depth. Its dimensions are about 120 yards in length (parallel with the course of the Whakatane River, immediately under its rear wall) and 55 yards in width. There are two large salients, which form flanking bastions against enfilading fire, one on the western flank, to the south of a gateway; the other is an angle near the river. Another flanking work, a bastion 8 yards on its longest alignment, projects from the opposite (south) end of the eastern face, and there is a small salient near one of the gateways facing the river. The pekerangi and kiri-tangata, the outer and inner palisades, consisting of totara posts, manuka stakes, and ti or whanake (cabbage-tree) trunks, have long since disappeared. The parapets, however, remain in an almost perfect condition. In the opening which was once the gateway facing west an enormous and many-branched whanake is growing—a cabbage-tree of great girth. This tree says Te More Takuira, the head man of Rauporoa, was originally one of the stakes of the fence—a young tree cut down, sharpened at the butt, and driven into the ground; it took root and grew. Another gateway, that facing the south, is blinded inside the entrance by a short parapet with a rifle-pit in the rear. It was this entrance that Te Kooti's force attempted to rush in their first attack. The ground on the west face of the work is thickly covered with the depressions indicating kumara or potato pits, the food stores of the garrison. On the south side, about 30 yards from the gateway, there is a shallow uneven trench running across the face of the pa and nearing it as it approaches the river. This was where the Hauhaus dug themselves in after the failure of their first effort against the fort. In the rear wall there are two openings, gateways, which gave access to the river. As a memorial of the Maori wars Rauporoa (“The High Reeds”) is of exceptional interest because of its excellent condition at a day when most of the forts of the 1860–71 period have been demolished.

Against this tribal stronghold of the loyal Ngati-Pukeko Te Kooti launched about four hundred warriors, East Coast men of various tribes—many of them escapees from Chatham Islands—reinforced by Urewera and Taupo Hauhaus. They came forward in a solid column, treading the ground with a heavy resounding tramp, their rifles, carbines, and guns held page 321 at the “ready.” Their threatening march gave the obvious lie to the white flag borne by one of their front-rank men. The flag of truce was Te Kooti's favourite stratagem for lulling the suspicions of Government Maoris. Some of the people in the pa, however, were so credulous, or so anxious to avoid fighting, that they were ready to open the gates and admit the enemy. One of these who reposed faith in Te Kooti's flag was an old church lay-reader, Ihaia te Ahu. He cried out, “It is peace, peace; there is the white flag.” Another Ngati-Pukeko deceived by the long streamer of white was Hori Tunui, one of the chiefs of the pa. He was in the act of pushing open the heavy sliding-door, fastened by wooden pegs, which formed the gate of the south side, and the advance files of the enemy were almost within the defences, when another chief, Tamihana Tahawera, who was not deceived by the flag of peace, ran to close the door. He was struggling with the foolish old man when a young Urewera warrior named Mehaka Toko-pounamu fired at him at a range of a few paces. The bullet missed Tahawera and struck the unfortunate pacifist Hori, who fell dead just inside the gateway. The door was made fast, and the baffled Hauhaus retired under fire to dig themselves in. Mehaka's shot was returned by Hirini Manuao in the pa trench; his bullet broke the staff from which the white flag was floating.

Now the Hauhaus found themselves under a heavy fire from the whole south face of the pa and the flanking bastion on the west side. The terrain was level and devoid of cover; the plain was covered to the river-bank with the Ngati-Pukeko cultivations of corn, potatoes, kumara, and taro. The only likely shelter that presented itself was a large raupo-thatch house twenty paces in front of the pa. Behind it the attackers took cover, but it was soon riddled with bullets. The rebels scooped out rifle-pits behind this whare, and secured a little head-cover. They then extended the trench eastward towards the river-bank, beginning at a point 30 yards from the palisades, and working nearer the pa as they drove it toward the Whakatane.

The attack now steadied down into a regular siege, but the Hauhaus, curiously, did not push their attack on any but the south face of the pa. Sheltered in their trench and shallow rifle-pits, they maintained a heavy fire on the Ngati-Pukeko defenders. There were a number of women in the pa, but it was not strongly garrisoned, since most of the men had gone to the coast with Hori Kawakura, a capable leader, to attend the burial of an old warrior, Te Pierieri, when the attack was delivered. On the alarm being raised in Whakatane by refugees from Rauporoa, Hori hurried up to the besieged pa, and entered it page 322 under the enemy's fire with his party of about twenty men. As ammunition was running short, he came out again at great risk, with a few men, and took back a supply of powder and bullets. This fine deed was performed under heavy fire.

Te Kooti's force possessed superiority not only in numbers but in arms. The Hauhaus had many good rifles and carbines besides their shot-guns. The defenders of the pa had nothing but muzzle-loading single- and double-barrel guns, some of them old-fashioned flint-locks. They endeavoured to burn out the attackers who were posted behind the large whare on the south by tying burning rags to stones and throwing them on to the thatched roof, but the Hauhaus extinguished the fire. Several dead bodies of Hauhaus lay between the stockade and this house. The second Ngati Pukeko man killed was Heremaia Tautari. He was shot while standing on the parapet of the south-east angle, calling out across the river to his children, who were at that moment defending the redoubt at the Poronu flour-mill against the final rush of the Hauhaus, bidding them retreat to the pa.

Hori Kawakura's little band of fighting men, Ngati-Maumoana, formed the backbone of the defence; but, stoutly as they and their fellow tribesmen fought, their plight was hopeless, for their ammunition was failing. For two days and two nights the garrison had resisted the well-armed rebels. It was now the early morning of the third day (11th March), and although urgent messages had been sent for help there was no appearance of reinforcements.

Major Mair, R.M., at Opotiki, immediately on hearing of the invasion, despatched Captain Henry Mair with the Opotiki Rangers and Captain Travers with some Armed Constabulary—in all about eighty men. At the same time Lieutenant Gilbert Mair was hurrying to the rescue with a column of Ngati-Rangatihi from Matata. Fears that the pa had been stormed and Ngati-Pukeko left to the savagery of Te Kooti and his Chatham Islands band spurred him to the utmost exertions. He had spent a day of annoyance and suspense at Tauranga. A native messenger, Sergeant Mikaere te Kati, had arrived with news of the raid on the Whakatane Valley, and all day (the second of the siege of Rauporoa) Mair was anxiously awaiting permission from the Acting Civil Commissioner in charge of the district to leave for the relief of the friendlies. The civil officer was in a state of indecision, but at last he yielded to Mair's urgent persuasion and authorized him to raise a force of natives at Matata. Mair was ferried across the Tauranga Harbour to Matapihi, where he hired a Maori horse for his night ride along the beach. An accident delayed him for some hours. Near Wairake he was caught in page 323
Captain H. A. Mair (Opotiki Volunteer Rangers)

Captain H. A. Mair
(Opotiki Volunteer Rangers)

Captain Henry Abbott Mair was the third son of Mr. Gilbert Mair, who settled at the Bay of Islands a century ago, and brother of Major W. G. Mair and Captain Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C. In 1868 he raised the Opotiki Volunteer Forest Rangers, and served in a number of skirmishes in the Opotiki, Waimana, and Whakatane districts. He afterwards went to the South Sea Islands trading, and with Mr. Handley Bathurst Sterndale established a pearling-station on Suwarrow Island. Later he was engaged in labour-recruiting in the Western Pacific for the Fiji Government. He was treacherously killed, with several of his boat's crew from the recruiting schooner, by the natives of one of the islands of the New Hebrides on the 12th November, 1881.

a quicksand, and in scrambling out his horse threw him, and the stock of his carbine struck him on the head, stunning him. When he came to his senses the tide was lapping the sand near his feet. Feeling very sick, he tramped along the beach in search of his horse, which he at last caught in a swamp among the sandhills. Mounted again, he rode at a gallop along the beach in the night, fording or swimming the rivers, until just after daylight he reached Matata. He rode through the large village two or three times shouting to the natives, “E ara, e ara! Maranga, maranga! Tatua, tatua!” (“Rise, rise! Up, up with you! Gird yourselves!”) In a few minutes a force of page 324 Ngati-Rangitihi natives—a “scratch lot” as Mair described them, however, for most of the best fighters were inland—assembled in the marae, and in an hour 130 men had crossed the Awa-a-te-Atua. At the Orini Stream, without waiting to strip, they plunged in and swam across, holding their belts and rifles above their heads with one hand. They used drift-wood from the beach to make rafts for some of their heavier equipment.

Moving rapidly across the flax swamps and the manuka flat, and pushing over the marshy plain of Otahua, near the Whakatane River, Mair now met the first of the fugitives from Rauporoa. The pa had fallen, but whether there had been a terrible massacre or not was as yet uncertain. The first Ngati-Pukeko refugee met was an old fellow named Te Noho-waka; he was running hard, in great distress. He cried out to Mair, “Kua tahuri te motu nei, kua tahuri te motu nei!” (“The island has been overturned!”) Mair's men opened their ranks to let the fugitives through. Near a raupo swamp south of Te Poroporo settlement the first of Te Kooti's men came in sight. The pursuing force consisted of about seventy men, all mounted, many of them armed with breech-loading carbines.

Mair extended his men, tired after their heavy forced march, and kept Te Kooti's horsemen in check, while the Ngati-Pukeko non-combatants retreated; the Rauporoa fighters turned and assisted the relief force. There was good cover along the edge of the flax and raupo swamp and among the manuka. Mair advanced skirmishing up the valley until Rauporoa pa was reached. There it was discovered that there had been no heavy losses except on the part of the Hauhaus. The pa had been captured, but not until nearly all the defenders had made their escape on the north side. Only four friendlies had been killed in the attack; two of these were an old man and an old woman outside the pa.

Te Kooti's main body crossed the Whakatane River and advanced rapidly on the Ngati-Awa and European settlement at the mouth of the river, under the cliffs. Mair, having a rather weak and exhausted body of men, returned to the sandhills at the coast to await reinforcements and to protect the fugitives. Meanwhile a Hauhau party, chiefly Urewera, raided Whakatane* and looted the pa, and many of the warriors got page 325 drunk on the grog they discovered in Mr. George Simpkins's store. The raiders burned the store and most of the other places in Whakatane.

Next day a Colonial Government steamer came into Whakatane and landed some European reinforcements, and Major William Mair with the forces from Opotiki attacked Te Kooti's men on the plain. There was some skirmishing also on the hills immediately in rear of the Whakatane settlement, and the raiders were forced to draw off.

Crossing over into the valley of the Rangitaiki, Te Kooti now occupied Tauaroa, on the Kuhawaea Plain close under the towering peak of Tawhiuau, on the western wall of the Urewera Mountains, and near the entrance to the Horomanga Gorge. The spot is conspicuously marked to-day by a line of tall pines growing along the olden earthworks and trenches. Tauaroa was a strongly palisaded pa with three lines of timber stockading. The bush on the right—looking from the Rangitaiki—grew to within about 60 yards of the fort. When Te Kooti retreated from Whakatane and took post in Tauaroa Major Mair and his brothers Henry and Gilbert Mair, with a force of Maoris and one hundred and fifty of the 1st Waikato Militia and other corps, followed him up and attempted to surround him. Some of the force worked round between the pa and the bush, but Te Kooti had placed about half his men (who numbered four hundred to five hundred in all) in the bush, and so the Government men were between two fires. They had not sufficient to surround the place completely, and no entrenching-tools with which to dig in. Te Kooti spent one night in the pa, and then made his escape into the mountains to Ahikereru. In one of the angles of the pa the Hauhaus killed a fine young Arawa scout, Te Tohea, whom they had captured. Gilbert Mair had crept up close to the palisade and heard Te Tohea's cries as his face was being battered with a shingling-hammer by one of the enemy, but was unable to help him. The Ngati-Manawa Tribe, of Tauaroa, on Te Kooti's approach, had fled to Motumako, on the Kaingaroa side of the Rangitaiki River, and would have been followed and attacked but for the Government force's arrival, which compelled the Hauhaus to retreat into the Urewera mountains.

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Plan of Mohaka (Hawke's Bay), 1869

Plan of Mohaka (Hawke's Bay), 1869

* When the Urewera attacked and looted Simpkins's store at Whakatane, amongst the spoil obtained were a number of red Garibaldi jumpers. These blouse-like garments were eagerly seized on by the Hauhaus, who uniformed themselves in them, and when on horseback resembled a body of red-coated cavalry. From the hills above Whakatane Major Mair's men were astonished to see these red-tunick'd horsemen galloping about the plain, some of them armed with swords, the bright scabbards flashing in the sun.