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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 column had now entered the lower part of the partly cleared valley known generally as Ruatahuna, a saucer of undulating and gully-seamed country rimmed by high wooded ranges of steep and broken contour. The advance was resumed on the morning of the 8th May, and by mid-day, after an easy march, St. John found himself close to the village Tatahoata, with its stockaded and entrenched pa Orangikawa. Mataatua Village, the present mountain headquarters of the Urewera, was passed on the right of the advance, with the Upper Whakatane a short distance away on the same flank.

The Orangikawa pa, an oblong work with trench, parapet, and stockade, stood on the lower part of a long slope below the high wooded range Arai-whenua and close to Tatahoata village and cultivations; its lower end was near the steep right bank of the Manga-o-rongo Stream. It was by no means a suitable site for a pa; the only feature to recommend it as a place of defence was the close proximity of the bush. When St. John's force was reported by the scouts a portion of the garrison took up a position in the bush on the north-east of the pa, where a small watercourse came down the valley. Captain Travers, with No. 4 Division of the Armed Constabulary, was sent in that direction to work round the higher side of the pa, while Major Mair, with some of his Maoris, was sent down to the south-west end to take up a position between the Hauhau fort and the Manga-o-rongo, and intercept the natives if they attempted to escape from the rear of the place. Mair got up within page 352 10 feet of the palisades near the river, and could have shot many of the people in the pa, who were packing up in readiness for the retreat, but he waited in vain for Travers to complete the investment of the pa. Maori outposts on the opposite side of the river saw Mair's force so disposed, and sounded a loud alarm on a pahu, or tree-drum, and on the conch-shell trumpets called pu-tatara. By these signals they conveyed a warning to their friends in the bush above and in the fort that a body of the Government men was lying in wait in rear of the pa. Captain Travers was killed while engaging the Hauhaus at the edge of the bush on his flanking advance. He fell under a volley fired at very close range, about 30 yards from the thick undergrowth. He was busy making his men take cover, but mistakenly declined to take similar care of himself, saying in answer to remonstrances, “A British officer never takes cover.” One of the principal Hauhau fighters at this point was Paraone, a Ngati-Awa and Ngaitai man. He was shot dead, some veterans say, by Captain Travers's batman.* Paraone had been a sailor. When his body was carried down for burial it was observed to be covered with beautiful tattooing in the designs of the Eastern Pacific. Curiously, it was a brother of this man (Mair's scout Maehe) who was mortally wounded in the fight on the river the previous day; the brothers were serving on different sides. St. John got within 10 yards of the pa, on the Mataatua side, with No. 8 Division and a subdivision of No. 2, and intended to start a sap, but before the tools could be brought up the Maoris evacuated the place. In the skirmishing the Government force lost five killed and six wounded. The Maori casualties were about the same number. The garrison of the pa, covered by the fire of their people outside in the bush, escaped along the small watercourse with wooded banks on the east side of the pa, and in the dense bush which extended down the hillslopes to within a few yards of the northern and eastern flanks. They retreated through the forest to the range of Arai-whenua above, and remained there shouting defiance to the troops and sounding their doleful war-trumpets.

Captain Travers and his fallen comrades were buried on the 9th May just outside the front gateway of the pa, on the east-north-east side, facing the hills.

After the force left the district the Urewera disinterred the

* Captain G. A. Preece writes: “A few days after this engagement I heard from W. A. Thom, who was one of Lieutenant White's scouts and afterwards one of Maling's, that Captain Travers and Paraone fired at each other at the same moment, Paraone being killed by Travers's bullet and Travers being mortally wounded by Paraone's shot.”

page 353
After Fifty Years

After Fifty Years

This photograph, taken by the author at Orangikawa pa, Tatahoata, Urewera Country, in 1921, shows Captain Gilbert Mair at the grave of his old comrade Captain Travers and the men of the colonial forces killed in the attack on the pa fifty-two years previously. When Captains Mair and Preece marched into the Ruatahuna Valley in 1871 in search of Te Kooti and Kereopa they had the remains (which had been exhumed and scattered by Te Kooti's orders) reinterred with military honours near the gateway of the pa, and the poplar tree shown in the photo is one of two which were afterwards planted to mark the spot.

bodies, and, after their savage custom, decapitated them and decorated their palisade posts with the heads. When Captain Gilbert Mair and Captain Preece entered Ruatahuna with their Arawa column in 1871 they found some of the skulls stuck on the posts. That of Captain Travers, his old comrade Mair recognized by the gold-filled teeth. The remains were collected and buried in a grave 10 feet deep, Mair reading the burial service and the Maoris firing three volleys over the grave. The spot is marked to-day by a tall poplar-tree which Captain Mair planted there in 1872. The stump of another poplar stands beside it.

(Near this pa and close to the Manga-o-rongo Stream, on the lower or Mataatua side, are the ruined earthworks of another fort: this is the Kohimarama pa, a redoubt built by Major Ropata and his Ngati-Porou in 1871.)

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The united force remained at Ruatahuna until the 14th May, 1869. Several skirmishes were fought during this time. Whitmore was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Colonel Herrick's column from Waikare-moana. The Native Minister, Mr. J. C. Richmond, had relieved him of the organization of this force, and had gone to Wairoa (H.B.) to push it forward. Whitmore knew that Te Kooti was somewhere about Waikare-moana, and as the days went on he began to fear that Herrick had met with a reverse. On the 11th May he ordered a reconnaissance in force up the narrow valley on the south leading towards the Huiarau Moutains and Waikare-moana. The column despatched on this service consisted of one hundred Armed Constabulary, under Major Roberts, and one hundred of the Ngati-Pikiao and other clans of the Arawa, under Gilbert Mair and Pokiha Taranui (Major Fox, of Maketu).

Pokiha, in the lead, encountered Te Kooti's advance-guard at Orona, a fern hill in the bush, about two miles from Tatahoata. This force had been hurried up by Te Kooti from Matuahu, on Waikare-moana, on hearing of Whitmore's invasion of the Urewera Country; it was commanded by the ruffianly half-caste Eru Peka te Makarini (Baker McLean), the bugler of Chatham Island fame. Gilbert Mair and Pokiha, leading the Arawa, charged and drove back the Hauhaus. The Native Contingent occupied Orona Hill, but withdrew, and Peka and his men took possession of it. On the following day a strong force of Constabulary marched out to assault the position, but the hill was found deserted. Peka drew off his men southward, leaving a rearguard in ambush. The sharp actions which followed along the Waikare-moana track and at Te Wai-iti are thus graphically described by Captain Mair:—

“Before commencing the ascent of Orona Hill, which is an open fern ridge, the track is intersected by a narrow gulch perhaps 40 feet deep. This gully we had to cross by a large fallen tree in the bush; it lay across the gully, which was over 30 feet wide. I was leading, and when half-way across the log I saw a Hauhau rise up behind the big stump of the tree on the other side and take a deliberate aim at me. I could not cut for it, so I made a pretence of aiming, which evidently disconcerted him, for his bullet sang past me quite wide of the mark. We got on top of the hill without further opposition, and there was a general halt while further movements were discussed. Sub-Inspector George McDonnell with fifty or sixty of his company of Armed Constabulary went forward as directed, taking up positions on the ridge. Colonel Whitmore directed me to go forward and feel for the enemy. I called on Matene te Huaki with his hapu of the Ngati-Pikiao Tribe (Ngati-te-Rangiunuora) to follow me, and page 355 advanced with some thirty of them. Passing McDonnell and his men, all lying down and taking it easy, I said, ‘Back me up, Mac., if you hear any firing.’ I took the lead, with Matene close behind me. A large body of Hauhaus was in concealment behind a thick bank of the drooping kiokio ferns (Lomaria procera) which fairly overhung the track. This was at a point about 80 years from McDonnell's men. The trail ran along a deep rut on the side of the hill, which sloped steeply to the left. There must have been eighty or more of them, as I judged afterwards from the beatendown growth extending to where the trail branched. Directly we got a few yards past a tree on the left we received a volley from thirty or forty guns. A bullet cut one of Matene's ears clean off, and we were half-blinded by flame and smoke, so close was the volley. Some of the Hauhaus poked the muzzles of their breechloaders through the kiokio ferns, firing at a few paces. My Maoris were so staggered that they bolted to a man. At this moment a large piece of oily rag (the wrapping of a bullet) fell on my neck, setting fire to my shirt and making a most painful burn on my neck half as big as my hand. Then I saw the Hauhaus jumping down out of the dense mass of kiokio into the track (the trail to Waikare-moana), I suppose, 30 to 35 paces off. I jumped behind the tree I have mentioned, shouting to McDonnell to come up. To my horror my carbine jammed, and I could only whip out my revolver and empty it at the dozen or so of Hauhaus in the track. Most of them were reloading; several potted at me. Suddenly they disappeared like magic along the track. Not being supported, I immediately ran back, and McDonnell looked as if it was my ghost. My remarks were brief and appropriate.

“As for Ngati-Pikiao, seeing the stream of blood from their pet chief Matene, they set up a ghastly howl.

“Suddenly, from an eminence not more than a hundred yards way, we heard the notes of a bugle. It was Peka te Makarini, who was commanding Te Kooti's advance-guard; he used the bugle he had taken when he escaped from Chatham Island. Then he called out in a loud clear voice, ‘Kua mate rawa i a te pakeha pahau-roa! (‘The white man with the long beard has been killed!’)—meaning me. In the ambuscade I had no doubt dropped flat, my usual trick when the flash of a gun came at close range. Then Peka shouted, ‘Kua tahia e au a Turanganui, marakerake ana; kua purumutia e au a Mohaka. Apopo ka mitikia ake ohe!’ ‘I have swept Turanganui [Poverty Bay] bare; I have swept out Mohaka. To-morrow you will be liked up!’)

“I was in a furious rage, probably I could hardly speak, so angry was I at McDonnell's failure to come to my assistance. I managed to gasp out that the Hauhaus were just along the track.

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“Then a few gallant fellows got round me—Henare Pukuatua, Arekatera Rongowhitiao, Pore Motunau, Rangiriri Ngahere, Te Honiana, and other toas, about twenty in all, including two or three of Te Pokiha's young relatives—and away we went at our utmost speed to engage the Hauhaus. When we reached the place where the trail branched [see X X on the sketch-map at the end of this volume] I urged them to go down there and make a detour to the left; we might thus round up the ambuscading-party and also those who had taunted us about the ‘long-bearded man’ and the massacres at Turanganui and Mohaka. My Maoris nearly all got ahead of me, and we had not gone far when they signalled back and left the track, turning slightly to the left. I could then see, down a clear little glade in the forest, seventy or eighty Hauhaus kneeling on the ground, while an elderly man, dressed in a full suit of navy blue, was addressing them in warlike terms—‘te korero o te toa.’ When we got abreast of them Henare, Arekatera, and the leaders made a sharp turn to the right up the little hill, fell on their faces, and let fly a volley—all too soon. I do not think I got a chance to fire, but dashed forward over several bodies and soon found myself in a small deep kahikatea-pine swamp, with a heavy fire coming from the enemy.

“Then came a bugle-call, and my comrades ran in highly excited. They had picked up quite a lot of delicious cooked pork, dropped by Te Kooti's advance-guard in their flight, and we all made a hasty meal there in the swamp. Henare's men with their tomahawks decapitated several of the Hauhaus, and we marched back, feeling very elated, the Maoris brandishing the bleeding heads about, swinging them by their long hair. On the way up they left two of the heads on stones in the creek-bed, not knowing how the Colonel would take this bit of barbarity. But they made a great display of those they carried into Orona, posturing before Whitmore and their chief Te Pokiha.”*

One of Mair's soldiers conspicuous in this savage parade of enemy's heads was a youth whom the troops called “Red-head,” because of his urukehu or ruddy-tinged head of hair. He came dancing in with the head of a man he had shot at Wai-iti. This young warrior, Captain Mair relates, was Ngahere te Wiremu, of Ngati-Manawa (Rangitaiki district). In 1867, during the bush campaign inland of Tauranga against the Piri-Rakau Hauhaus, he greatly distinguished himself by his dash and fearlessness, though only fourteen years old at the time. The 12th Regiment, at Tauranga, wanted to adopt him; the soldiers called him “Ginger.” In February, 1870, when Gilbert Mair encoutered Peka Makarini's ambush-party at the foot of Tumunui Moutain,

* Letter from Captain Mair, 4th June, 1923.

page 357 after Te Kooti's attempted raid on Rotorua, this urukehu fighter Rewi, and Te Warihi were the only men of the Arawa who were with Mair at the moment.

The scene of the skirmish in which the Hauhau heads were taken was Te Wai-iti, a valley, with a small native kainga through which the present track passes from Ruatahuna to the north shore of Waikare-moana. On the same day as Gilbert Mair's sharp action his elder brother, Major William Mair, led the Ngati-Pukeko, Ngati-Awa, and other Maoris of the Bay of Plenty contingent in an attack on the lofty hill above Mataatua Village, the locally celebrated Manawaru. The official accounts confused the two brothers, and referred to Gilbert's work at Orona and Wai-iti as the Major's action. The gallant Major himself however, never got sufficient credit for his own good work in the campaigns. It happened that he was nearly always his own commanding officer, and so many of his fine deeds necessarily passed unrecorded by a superior.

Whitmore was desirous of pushing on to Waikare-moana, a mountain and gorge march of about twenty miles, and tried to persuade the Arawa to undertake the expedition. The Maoris were by no means eager for this perilous march through a country quite unknown to them and bristling with dangers. Peka Makarini and his experienced bushmen were certain to lay ambuscades in a region so suitable for defence against invasion, where the only road was a narrow trail through ravines and up steep mountain-sides, everywhere smothered in forest, or crossing and recrossing the rapid mountain-streams. Pokiha and sixty of his men volunteered to accompany the Constabulary, but on further consideration withdrew their offer. Whitmore had divided his force into two columns, one to march across the ranges to join up with Herrick at Waikare-moana, and the other to return to Fort Galatea with the wounded. He could not, however, move without the co-operation of the friendly Maoris, who urged the lateness of the season and the shortness of food and ammunition as reasons for immediate return to the open country. Henare te Pukuatua spoke of the difficulties of a march through the snow on the Huiarau Range. “Tell him,” said Whitmore to his staff interpreter (Lieutenant Preece), with a dramatic wave of his hand—“tell him that my men come from a land of snow.” But the Arawa were not impressed. They were determined to march home. The Armed Constabulary were quite ready to go on, in spite of the hardships of the expedition. It was ascertained afterwards that Te Kooti had prepared a trap for the expedition, an ambuscade in a gorge where scores of the Government men could have been shot down by the Hauhaus posted in perfect cover. It happened also that there could have been no support page 358 from Colonel Herrick, who was preparing to build boats at Onepoto instead of attempting the march round the eastern end of the lake to the Huiarau trail. Whitmore's force had exhausted the provisions carried, and was practically out of ammunition. Potatoes formed the chief article of food, and many of the men were offering the Maoris 5s, apiece for small cakes made from kaanga-wai (steeped maize) and grated potatoes.

Whitmore's final decision to abandon the proposed march to Waikare-moana and to return to Fort Galatea by the way he had come was a relief to the whole force, and particularly to the experienced officers, who realized that a disaster in the mountains would have brought hundreds of recruits to Te Kooti and altered the aspect of the war. On the 14th May the return march was begun. After leaving Ruatahuna the column was divided, Whitmore with the main body going as he came via Ahikereru, while Major Mair was sent out with the wounded by way of the Horomanga Gorge, emerging on the Kuhawaea Plain close to Tauaroa. Mair was given a detachment of Armed Constabulary besides the greater number of the native auxiliaries—Arawa, Ngati-Awa, and Ngaitai. Colonel Whitmore was taken seriously ill and had to be carried out in a litter by native bearers. At Ahi-kereru the force was joined by Major Cumming, who had been left there with some Armed Constabulary, and arrived at Fort Galatea on the 16th May. Major Mair had an anxious and perilous march with his wounded. The Urewera and other Hauhaus followed up his column and fired upon it at long range. The two nights in the mountains were a trying time, for the friendlies were eager to get out of the hostile country. The safe arrival of this column at Galatea was an intense relief to Whitmore and his officers, who feared for the safety of the sick and wounded.

This expedition, the first European force that had ever penetrated the Urewera Country, did a great deal to dispel the mystery which had enveloped that savage region, and to demolish its reported impregnable character. For the first time its physiography became accurately known, and, despite the formidable natural obstacles, it was proved that the country was not inaccessible to white troops. The tactics of ambush in which its tribes excelled did not deter the Government forces from traversing the most forbidding country, where the gloomy gorges and the most forbidding country, where the gloomy gorges and the all-enveloping forest gave a thousand opportunities for murderous ambuscades. The plains Maoris, naturally nervous of the bush on their first expedition, saw that under skilful leadership, and given sufficient supplies, they could fight their way anywhere through the ranges. As for the Armed Constabulary, in the words written of them by Colonel Whitmore, “Six months' page 359 continuous marching and fighting in the bush had destroyed its terrors, and they were now able to do anything except to run as fast as their naked native opponents, and as regards their pluck, constancy, discipline, and use of their arms they were better beyond comparison.”

Colonel Whitmore, leaving the district in charge of Lieut.-Colonel St. John, went on to Matata and thence to Wellington via Wairoa, where he consulted Colonel Herrick with regard to further operations. Whitmore was crippled with rheumatism and unfit for further active service in the field. He left orders to advance the main camp to Opepe or Taupo, concluding rightly that Te Kooti must soon leave the shelter of the Urewera Mountains and emerge on the Kaingaroa Plain on his way to Taupo and the King Country.