The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 35: DEFEAT OF TE KOOTI
Chapter 35: DEFEAT OF TE KOOTI
THE HARASSING AND indecisive character of the campaign against Te Kooti in the early part of 1870 was relieved by a truly brilliant action on the part of that most gallant young officer Lieutenant Gilbert Mair, a deed rewarded by a captaincy and the decoration of the New Zealand Cross. Mair's running engagement with the Hauhaus, fought in the neighbourhood of Rotorua on the 7th February, not only saved the Arawa people at Ohinemutu from massacre in the absence of most of their fighting-men, but deprived Te Kooti of some of his best warriors, and inflicted so severe a blow that he never again risked a battle in the open.
Te Kooti had formally kanga'd, or pronounced a curse upon, the Arawa for their unswerving adherence to the Government and their persistent pursuit of himself and his band. He had also announced that his atua would deliver them into his hand, and that he would “hew them in pieces.” It is true that his strong supporters, the Urewera, including the chiefs Te Pukenui, Te Whenuanui, Paerau, Te Ahikaiata, and others of Tuhoe, who accompanied him on this campaign, were related to the Rotorua tribes, but it is not to be supposed that any intercession on their part would have saved the Arawa from his wrath. Moreover, only a few months previously their own country had been invaded by an Arawa contingent with Colonel Whitmore's force, and their villages and cultivations had been devastated by men led by the very chiefs most nearly related to Tuhoe. Not a whare had been left standing or a potato-store unspoiled in the mountain settlements.
The rebel chieftain's movements after his attack on McDonnell's camp at Tapapa were intended to throw his pursuers off his trail and disguise his matured intention to attack Rotorua. His scheme was cleverly laid. He sent one of his chiefs with a small force off northward, and he himself made in that direction, inducing the belief, as he intended, and indeed announced, that he was making for the Ohinemuri district. After a skirmish in the forest behind Okauia he made a sudden deflection to his right, page 388 and caused it to be known that his objective was Tauranga. This threat induced Colonel James Fraser to leave Rotorua unguarded and make his ill-managed expedition in to Paengaroa. Fraser ordered Lieutenant Mair to go to McDonnell's assistance at Tapapa, neglecting Rotorua, which was Te Kooti's real objective. Mair, much against his own judgment, had to report to McDonnell at Tapapa, all the time knowing that the Arawa settlements were in grave danger, most of the fighting-men being away in one or other of the forces. Mair had two hundred and fifty men with him. He strongly urged the necessity for returning to Rotorua at once, and on the morning of the 6th McDonnell and Commissioner Brannigan consented to his departure; and he slipped away at once with a smaller number of men than he had taken there. The forest track between Tapapa and the lakes had not been trodden for many years, having been tauarai'd, or closed to war-parties, and the trail consequently was so overgrown and jungly that rapid marching was impossible. It was night before the Arawa column reached Te Ara-piripiri, near the edge of the great forest of the Mamaku plateau above the Rotorua lake-basin, and camped at the source of the Waiteti River. No fires were lit, lest the Hauhaus should discover them. The men's supper was a pannikin of water each, with a little sugar in it, and some biscuit.
At daylight next morning (7th February) the march was resumed, and Te Kooti's trail was picked up at the edge of the bush. It was only by accident that it was observed, for the cautious rebels had jumped across the track, one after the other, so as to leave no trace of their passage. Then it became clear that Te Kooti's movements in the forest country of the Hautere highland had all been designed with the object of drawing off the military forces from the Rotorua district, and Mair's men were frantically anxious to reach their homes and families in time to avert the impending ruthless blow. Just before the enemy's trail was discovered Mair had detailed his Arawa for duty in the following order: Fifty men of Ngati-Pikiao, under Ieni Tapihana (Hans Tapsell, son of the old Danish trader of that name at Maketu), to guard the Kaharoa and Taheke tracks; fifty men to guard the country north of Rotorua Lake from Puhirua to Waerenga and the Ohau channel; a small party to patrol the Roria Road through to Hamaria; and Ngati-Rangitihi and Tuhourangi Tribes to take post at Pari-karangi and patrol as far as the face of Horohoro Mountain. It was now a rush to get to Rotorua and forestall the desperate foe. Mair had just reached the level near the lake when a messenger came with news of the capture by the Arawa of the deserter Louis Baker (a French Canadian, lately a stoker in H.M.S. “Rosario”), who had been with Kereopa in 1865 and who afterwards joined page 389 Te Kooti. The rebel leader was on the range at Paparata above Rotorua and delayed descending to Ohinemutu until he had received a reply to a letter he sent to the Arawa chiefs by Baker (who had signed the Tuhoe chiefs' names) promising peace. Mair immediately made his dispositions to attack. He ordered the men up to Ohinemutu from Puhirua, and sent the Tuhourangi and Ngati-Rangitihi off at their utmost speed to Pari-karangi, to guard the track which came out there from the wooded ranges of Te Raho-o-te-Rangipiere and Paparata, in order to block Te Kooti's attempt to reach the Kaingaroa by that route.* Mair himself with all available men dashed off for Ohinemutu: he and his force were on the run the whole way.
Te Kooti meanwhile had emerged from the bush with his whole force, about two hundred armed men besides some women, and surprised a party of Ngati-Whakaue women and girls who were out gathering potatoes in a cultivation on the edge of the bush on the Tihi-o-Tonga slopes, south-west of Rotorua. Kiri-Matao (afterwards locally celebrated as “The Duchess”) and some other women were captured, but most of them made their escape, although fired upon.
* Captain Mair writes as follows (22nd February, 1923) in reference to the share of the Tuhourangi Tribe in the day's work:—
“The Tuhourangi made straight for Pari-karangi to protect their women and children there, and had they tried to cut off Te Kooti the moment they heard our firing at the Hemo Gorge he would have been badly mauled; but their principal man, Te Konui, persuaded them against getting athwart Te Kooti's track, lest he take the short, straight route through Te Wairoa and between Tarawera Lake and Rotomahana, and destroy the Wairoa Village en route. Had Te Kooti been so deflected, the Tuhourangi villages at Epeha, Te Wairoa, Moura, and Te Ariki could all have been destroyed, and he would have marched over Puke-kaikahu and Te Kai-whatiwhati, two famous battle-grounds where Tuhourangi and Ngati-Rangitihi were destroyed a hundred years ago. Maoris will never fight over a ground where they have once been defeated. I remember how hard it was to get some of them to come up to the scratch at the little Koutu fight (1867), on account of their sanguinary defeat by Te Waharoa on the 7th August, 1836. Neither of these defeats had ever been avenged.”
Photo about 1880]
Captain Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C.
The New Zealand Gazette (1st April, 1886) announcing the award of the New Zealand Cross to Captain Mair for his distinguished bravery in the fight of the 7th February, 1870, stated: “During this engagement which lasted many hours, Captain Mair, by personal example and devoted gallantry, inspired his men to come to hand-to-hand conflict with Te Kooti's rearguard, himself killing the notorious Peka McLean, and driving the rest before him in disorder.”
In decorating Captain Mair with the Cross at a Volunteer parade in Wellington (1887) Major-General Whitmore said: “New Zealand has the proud distinction, not enjoyed by any other of Her Majesty's colonies, of having this honourable order of valour to bestow on her citizens for brave deeds such as were performed by yourself. By Royal Warrant Her Majesty was graciously pleased to direct that this decoration should rank equal to her own Victoria Cross, and next in precedence. The particular action for which the New Zealand Cross has been awarded to you was the turning-point in the war, and but for your gallant conduct on that occasion Te Kooti and the rebels under his command would have long continued their career of bloodshed.”
The enemy column now hastily retreated southward over the hill on the west side of the Hemo Gorge, passing through a bush called Te Karaka, on the summit of the ridge which trends along to the Tihi-o-Tonga. They then crossed the Puarenga Stream and followed up the valley parallel with the Wai-korowhiti. From here they struck in to the south side of the Waitaruna Stream and traversed a long level wiwi-covered valley called Te Wai-a-Urewera, which leads down into the Tahuna-a-Tara River. Thence they retreated across the Kapenga Plain and over some rough ground to the base of Tumunui Mountain. All this way they were hotly pursued by the gallant little band of Arawa led by Mair, who sometimes found himself so far in advance that only two or three of his men could come to his support. The black-bearded chieftain galloped about the plain in advance, shouting to his followers and waving his revolver. He wore a grey shirt, riding trousers, and high boots, and a bandit-like hat. In high contrast were his soldiery—a half-naked body of savages, whose brown skins glistened in the warm sunshine as if they had been oiled. They had that day killed a number of pigs, and many of them had greased their bodies well with pork-fat in anticipation of a running fight through the clinging fern and manuka. The clothing worn was in most cases a shawl or piece of blanket or a flax mat round the waist. Each man wore cartridge-belts—some had three or four—buckled round him; some were armed with revolvers as well as breech-loading rifles, carbines, or single- and double-barrel shot-guns. The first Hauhaus killed in the pursuit were shot east of the Puarenga, just after passing the Hemo Gorge; some distance farther on one or two more were killed, and near Ngapuketurua (opposite page 392 Owhinau Hill) several were shot. At every knoll or ridge Peka Makarini and a detachment of the rearguard turned and made a stand, or laid an ambuscade, and once or twice they charged determinedly with clubbed rifles. It was only Mair's personal coolness and accurate shooting that saved his Arawa party, who were greatly outnumbered by the Hauhaus. At Ngapuketurua, six miles from Rotorua, the principal encounter took place. The spot on which this fight occurred is a long steep ridge or tableland rising directly above the Wai-taruna Stream; the present main road to Waiotapu and Taupo runs on the opposite (north) side of the small river. There is an old crossing, called Te Kauaka, over the Wai-taruna at this point. Mair was considerably in advance of his men here, and as he ran he was heavily fired on, under cover of the scrub and the uneven ground. He knelt down and fired ahead and right and left, and presently a few of his men came up and joined in the combat. It was here that Mair shattered Timoti te Kaka's jaw with an expanding bullet from his Westley-Richards carbine. Seven Hauhaus were shot dead. Some of those killed were tumbled down by their comrades into the crater-like depression in the north side of the ridge at Kauaka, a short distance from the stream; these saucer-shaped hollows are formed by springs, and the green growth masks a morass. In one swampy depression Lieutenant Mair, running on in chase of the Hauhau rearguard, suddenly noticed the corner of an embroidered Maori mat showing above the muddy ooze. He stopped and hauled on it, and in doing so dragged up a big Hauhau, still gasping for breath. He had fallen mortally wounded in the rushes a few moments previously, and his comrades, thinking him dead, had hastily trodden him down underneath the surface of the swamp, in order to conceal his body from the Arawa.
The scene of the Ngapuketurua or Te Kauaka encounter, where a track from the ridge to the creek descends a steep bare ridge between two of the hollows mentioned, can be seen from the main road, less than 200 yards away. A short distance eastward the ridge rises to a height of about 300 feet, crowned by an ancient trenched and walled pa: this is called Kuharua. Just below it on the north two small spurs slope down and converge, and enclose a kind of saucer with steep sides. Below, again, there is a narrow gorge called Whaowhaotaha, its sides covered thickly with tutu and fern; through this gorge runs a small tributary of the Wai-taruna. Near a waterfall here Mair and his men two days afterwards found Te Kaka nursing his shattered jaw. Above this spot the main road runs along the winding valley known to the old Maoris as Te Mania-ia-tote. On the left are the slopes of Owhinau plantation, golden with young larches. The upper page 393 part of the Wai-taruna Stream is here known as the Hine-uia. Round its head (at about eight miles from Rotorua) goes an overgrown old track striking southward; this was Mair's packhorse track in the early “seventies” to the redoubt at Te Niho-o-te-Kiore, on the Waikato River near Atiamuri.
After the repulse on the ridge above Te Kauaka—in this sharp affair Mair fired eleven shots—the Hauhaus turned to the right and made direct for the shelter of Tumunui Mountain, across the plain and valleys of Te Kapenga, passing about three miles on the south side of the Pakaraka native settlement. The pursuit continued relentlessly, Mair running ahead of his men and firing whenever a good chance offered. He had twenty-five or thirty men here, as opposed to at least double that number in Te Kooti's rearguard. The Tuhourangi and Ngati-Rangitihi men came up near Pakaraka, but instead of taking the enemy in front or flank they joined Mair's party in the rear. The Hauhaus travelled so fast that only the athletic Mair and a few of his strong runners could keep up with them, and by making a short stand at every suitable spot they were enabled to keep their women in the advance and lead off the wounded.
Photo by Mr. Munday, 1870]
Captain Mair and some of His Arawa Soldiers
The Hauhaus, after travelling hastily up the forested gully on the north of Tumunui, retreated direct for the Kaingaroa and the Urewera Country. Crossing the Waikorua Valley (Earthquake Flat) and passing the Pareheru bush, they took a trail on the north side of Maunga-kakaramea (the sharp-topped height called Rainbow Mountain), and camped for the night on the northern side of Lake Okaro. Mair, after a visit to his camp for food and ammunition, followed the Hauhaus up in the night, and at 2 o'clock in the morning he found their camp. He had only nine men with him. Creeping up as near as he could to the camp, he gave them a volley. The Hauhaus fled in confusion, leaving behind them some guns and many swags of clothing and food.
Mair had sixty rounds of ammunition in his pouches when the day's action began. When it ended he had only two cartridges left. His war-path uniform consisted of woollen shirt, blue tunic, knickerbockers, long stockings, and a short waist-shawl, Maori fashion. He had marvellous escapes from death in the close-range fighting, but his only wounds were lacerated legs from the hard run through the fern and manuka. For this day's good work he received his captaincy and (in 1886) the decoration of the New Zealand Cross for personal valour in the field.
About twenty Hauhaus were shot in the running fight. On the Arawa side Te Waaka was mortally wounded, and Tame Karanama, a young man of Tuhourangi, had his knee shattered by a ball. Three others were wounded.
* Tohe was one of Captain Mair's most active young soldiers in the running fight described in this chapter. He served for several years in the Arawa contingents operating against the Hauhaus in the Bay of Plenty, Taupo, and the Urewera Country.
The Arawa displayed great satisfaction at the death of Te Kooti's most notorious lieutenant. Two or three days after the fight they dragged Peka's body down at a horse's tail from Tumunui to the Kapenga and tied it upright to a tall cabbage-tree. There it remained all that summer, desiccated to a mummy by the dry, hot weather of the plains.
Two days after the fight Mair and his men discovered the wounded Hauhau chief Timoti te Kaka in the Whaowhao-taha gully, near the little waterfall on the stream which flows into the Waitaruna. Te Kaka was suffering agony from his shattered jaw; he had contrived to pound up some flax-root and make a dressing of it, which he had tied under his terrible wound. Mair gave the man in charge of one of his Arawa soldiers, and ordered him to take him to the camp at Kaiteriria; he then continued his search for dead and wounded. When the man returned to the camp he had no prisoner. He said that after going a little distance Te Kaka refused to walk any further and wanted his captor to carry him on his back. The dispute was ended by the Arawa shooting his prisoner dead. In punishment, Mair fined the man several months’ pay and dismissed him from the force. This Timoti te Kaka was one of the most ruthless and thoroughly barbarous of Te Kooti's desperadoes. His was a remarkable reversion to primal savagery under the influence of a fanatic impulse. He had been one of Mr. Volkner's deacons or Church teachers at Opotiki, and for some time strenuously opposed the onsweep of Pai-marire. But at last he became a convert to the gospel of fire and sword, and after sharing in the murder of his old pastor he plunged into the rebellion. He was one of Te Kooti's “butchers” told off to slaughter prisoners and mutilate them with swords and tomahawks.
Among the Hauhaus wounded at the Kauaka, opposite Owhinau, was Kewene, an old soldier-of-fortune of the Ngati-Porou Tribe, from Mataura, on the Coromandel Peninsula. He had been page 397 on the war-path ever since 1863, when he fought in the Waikato War; he was reputed to have led the attack on the Trust family at Mangemangeroa, near Howick, in that year. He also served in the defence of the Gate pa. Mair shot out one of his eyes.
Following up the enemy's trail on the 10th February Mair took a small party of men across country to the Okaro and Rerewhakaitu Lakes, and finding that the tracks of Te Kooti's force led in the direction of the Kaingaroa Plain and Motumako, near the Rangitaiki Valley, he returned to Kaiteriria. Te Kooti had gone through to Ahi-kereru and thence to Ruatahuna.
This decisive defeat of Te Kooti was most creditable to Mair (or “Tawa,” as he was universally known among the natives) and to the handful of men of the Arawa who supported him in the arduous and exhausting chase. The Arawa soldiers whom Mair reported as having behaved particularly well were: Kiharoa, Tohe te Matehaere, Te Raika Metai, Hie, Hori, Te Waka, Marino, Tari, Taekata, Te Waiehi, Hakana, and Tupara Tokoaitua. “I hope,” he wrote, “the Government will feel satisfied with the effort these men have made; and had they only been supported by the others, the enemy would have suffered more severely. With the small force under my command it was impossible to guard every point. The enemy mustered at least two hundred fighting-men, well trained and accustomed to fighting, while I was never able to get up to him with more than forty.”
An incident of the rebels' retreat to the Rangitaiki was a highly plucky exploit on the part of a man of the Ngati-Manawa Tribe named Tiwha te Rangi-kaheke, who with his wife, Hera Peka, was living at Motumako. When Te Kooti continued his retreat along the old war-trail past Lake Rerewhakaitu leading to the Rangitaiki River near what is now known as Galatea, he detailed a large party of his mounted men to visit Motumako—which is a settlement on the edge of the Kaingaroa Plain near a small bush three miles south-west of Galatea—in order to obtain pigs and potatoes, as the force was in great need of food. Tiwha was the only man in Motumako capable of bearing arms; there were a number of old women and young children in the village. Tiwha and his brave wife sallied out with their guns to meet the enemy, and by rapid firing and the use of shouted derisive epithets they gave the Hauhaus the desired impression that there was a strong force under cover on the low hills. These energetic and skilful tactics were successful. Te Kooti's men drew off, and the column moved down to the Rangitaiki and crossed the river at Te Taupaki ford. The column was heading for the Horomanga Gorge when the dauntless Tiwha boldly showed himself on the opposite (west) bank. Te Kooti ordered some of his men to recross the Rangitaiki and kill the Ngati-Manawa warrior, but page 398 Tiwha made such accurate shooting with his old “Brown Bess” that the Hauhaus would not face the crossing. Te Kooti ordered the retreat to be resumed, and marched off for the Urewera Mountains looming a few miles away, while Tiwha triumphantly made demonstration of his contempt for the enemy that could be routed so easily, and danced his war-dance on the bank before returning to the little settlement he had saved from destruction. This gallant Maori had been badly wounded in 1867 in the engagement at Te Koutu, Rotorua, between Gilbert Mair's Arawa and the war-party of Hauhaus from the Waikato.
The month of March, 1870, saw a new policy initiated in the field operations against Te Kooti and Kereopa and their followers in rebellion. The Taupo-Patetere campaign was the last in which the Armed Constabulary were engaged in the expeditions in chase of the Hauhaus. The Government decided that future work in the bush could best be carried on by bodies of Maori troops under a few European officers and their own chiefs, such as Ropata Wahawaha and Kepa te Rangihiwinui, and the duties of the Constabulary were confined to the garrisoning of the various redoubts in the disturbed territory and the guarding and maintenance of lines of communication.
After Te Kooti had been driven out of the Hautere forests and the Rotorua country the Government forces were moved to Matata with the intention of working against Te Kooti simultaneously with the advance of the Ngati-Porou, under Major Ropata and Captain Porter, from the Poverty Bay side. Operations from the Bay of Plenty side were to be conducted by way of Waimana or Ahi-kereru and Ruatahuna. The Wanganui natives, under Major Kepa, had moved to Ohiwa, and Colonel McDonnell went from there to Opotiki to interview the Defence Minister, Mr. (afterwards Sir Donald) McLean. Captain Preece was instructed to go to Tarawera and then on to Fort Galatea with a body of Arawa, and, as soon as a column arrived, to make a movement on the Urewera through Ahi-kereru. Soon Preece was ordered back to Tarawera, and then to Te Teko. It had then been decided by Mr. McLean to relieve Colonel McDonnell of his command. The field force of Armed Constabulary was sent to occupy a line of posts at Taupo and several points on the Bay of Plenty.
The country between Rotorua and Tumunui Mountain over which Captain Gilbert Mair fought his gallant running battle with Te Kooti's force in February, 1870, was traversed by Mair and myself on horseback on the 7th and 13th December, 1918. Much of it was very difficult to travel, page 399 for the reason that the plains and hills, clothed chiefly in short wiwi grass fifty years ago, were now densely overgrown with manuka and high fern, and the old tracks were in places impenetrable. The route of Mair's chase of the Hauhaus is parallel with the present main road from Rotorua Town to Waiotapu, and at one point, opposite Owhinau Hill, in the State forest reserve, it closely impinges on the road, from which it is separated only by the Wai-taruna Stream. As we rode along, picking our way through the scrub and crossing swampy gullies, Captain Mair pointed out the spots where he and his men from time to time dropped some of the Hauhau rearguard, where ambuscades were laid, where desperate rushes were made by Peka Makarini and his fellow-rebels, to give time for the main body to retreat, and where Timoti te Kaka and other desperadoes were shot. The final scene was near the foot of the Tumunui cliffs.
The Kapenga tableland over which we travelled along the old fighting-trail, a gully-seamed broken plateau, is covered with a thick growth of manuka and monoao shrubs, tutu, and fern, with many ti or cabbage trees and tall flax in the gullies and swamps. Another shrub growing in abundance is the handsome flowering-plant called by the Maoris hukihuki-raho, because of the obstruction it offers to travellers on foot. In olden days the Kapenga Plain was celebrated for its special quality of harakeke (flax), much used in making strong, tough ihupuni, or war-mats, which were worn as a kind of armour in hand-to-hand battles. At the time of the fight in 1870 its clothing of vegetation on the open parts was chiefly wiwi grass and fern.
(See sketch-map and Captain Mair's narrative in Appendices.)page 400
This view of Waikare-moana is a drawing by W. H. Burgoyne, in 1869, during the first military expedition to the lake. Lieut.-Colonel Herrick's camp at Onepoto is shown in the foreground. On the opposite side of the lake, at the entrance to the northern arm, are the Hauhau strongholds and villages Matuahu, Whakaari, and Tikitiki.
(See map at end of book.)