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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 447

A YOUNG MAORI in shirt and waist-shawl, with a tomahawk stuck in his flax girdle, was perched like a monkey in the branches of a tawai tree, 50 feet above the ground, far up the slopes of the lofty wooded mountain-range called Tikitiki-o-Rotari, in the heart of the Urewera Country. He made an eye-survey of the wild country around, then quickly parted the branches immediately above him and shouted,—

“Smoke—I can see smoke over there, lying on the tree-tops.”

“Where is it?” came a voice, in Maori, from the shadowy ground below.

“There, over to the west—not far—perhaps three miles, perhaps four.”

“Come down quickly and point me out the direction of the smoke.”

The Maori scout descended, dropping from bough to bough with the agility of a wild cat. Reaching the mossy ground he picked up his carbine, and stood before his captain, surrounded by an eager company of Maoris, armed like himself with carbine and tomahawk, and bearing heavy pikau, or swags. The tall, bearded leader, Captain Porter, and his companion, Lieutenant J. T. Large, were the only two Europeans in the band. Both, like the Maoris, wore coloured shawls strapped round their waists; their blue uniform jackets were torn and frayed by weeks of bush exploring; there was little to distinguish them from their comrades but their silver-braided forage-caps and the revolvers which they carried besides their short carbines.

The tree-climber pointed to the west, indicating the spot where he had seen the smoke, and Captain Porter took a bearing by prismatic compass. The place was on a spur of the Maungapohatu Ranges. The order to march was given, and in a few moments the column of a hundred Ngati-Porou friendlies was moving smartly along the wooded mountain-side, animated by the prospect of a speedy fight.

It was nearly three weeks since Porter's column had marched page 448
Scene of the Defeat of Te Kooti at Te Hapua, Urewera Country (1st September, 1871.) (See Major Large's explanatory notes in this chapter.)

Scene of the Defeat of Te Kooti at Te Hapua, Urewera Country (1st September, 1871.)
(See Major Large's explanatory notes in this chapter.)

from the Wairoa, Hawke's Bay, in renewed search of Te Kooti, who with the remnant of his band was supposed to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of Maunga-pohatu, the “Rocky Mountain,” the natural citadel of the Urewera Country, the refuge-place of Hauhau war parties after every raid and every fight. The pursuers—the fourth expedition of Ngati-Porou—worked up into the higher ranges, crossing and recrossing cold, swift torrents innumerable times, and scaling with infinite labour, swag-laden as they were, the steep ridges and rocky cliffs that page 449 continually confronted them. The best trackers were with Porter in the advance-guard, following up a trail after Captain Preece had overtaken their force in the mountains and reported the Waipaoa engagement and the flight of Te Kooti.

Now there was no doubt that the smoke reported by the scout was from Te Kooti's camp. It was wintry weather—the last day of August, 1871—and the fugitive Hauhaus must have suffered, like their pursuers, from the cold and the wet in those stormy ranges, and would be reluctant to leave a comfortable camp.

Travelling quickly through the bush until he considered he must be close up to the smoke-betrayed camp, Porter ordered a halt, and sent two men forward to scout and discover what they could of the position of the Hauhaus and their probable strength. In a very short time the young warriors returned and reported that it was indeed Te Kooti; he was encamped in a small clearing in the bush on the face of the range. There was a large hut of totara bark in the middle of the clearing—an old Urewera potato plantation—and this they believed, from what they could see, was occupied by Te Kooti. There were a number of smaller temporary wharau, or lean-to's of saplings and bark, scattered about the clearing; on the edges of the cleared ground were masses of fallen timber.

Porter determined to surround the camp and attack at day-light next morning. It was now dusk, and it would be useless assaulting the place in the night-time.

It was a long, cold night, and the half-stripped Ngati-Porou, crouching in the bush, shivered and crept close to each other for warmth, and thought regretfully of the warm clothing they had left in their camp half a mile in the rear. At last the foggy day began to break. With the first faint glimmer of light Porter sent his men out, extending either wing so as to surround the camp. Henare Potae and his tribe were on the left, while Ruka Aratapu—a noted toa of Ngati-Porou—and Lieutenant Large were to surround the other side and upper end of the cultivations so as to prevent Te Kooti from escaping. It was difficult work, for the ground was rough and the fallen trunks and branches formed an almost impassable chevaux-de-frise. The greatest caution was observed, for the crackling of a branch would be enough to arouse the light-sleeping Hauhaus. Dim figures crept through the bush, and the white commander and his own men lay, tensely waiting, behind some logs at the lower end of the clearing, commanding the bark hut in which Te Kooti was believed to be, with his bodyguard of Maori wives.

Suddenly the bark of a dog was heard, and Porter feared that he was discovered. A voice—it was Te Kooti's—was heard from the central whare. “What's that dog barking at?” he asked.

page 450

Aua!” (“I don't know”) replied a woman, who emerged from the whare to gather firewood. “There is no one about.”

“Light the fires,” called Te Kooti; “we must move on quickly.”

At this order the women in the camp began to get the fires ready for the morning meal. Although Porter did not know it at the moment, the party in ambush had already been discovered by one of Te Kooti's Hauhaus. This man had gone out from the camp at the first streak of dawn to examine the tawhiti-kiore, or rat-traps made of supplejack, set along a run for the now-extinct native rat—an article of Maori diet—which led up towards the hills. This alert fellow detected figures moving in the bush, and realized instantly that a Government force was stealthily surrounding the place. To have uttered a sound then would have been fatal; so he turned and made his way silently towards the camp to give the alarm to his chief, when the silence of the bush was suddenly shattered by a gunshot. One of the force had fired without orders; the culprit's identity was never definitely established, but it was strongly suspected that a man who was related to Te Kooti was guilty of thus treacherously warning the camp. The cordon of Porter's men was not quite complete, and that premature shot saved Te Kooti's life.

Then what a hubbub there was of yelling Hauhaus and screaming women and cracking carbines! Shaggy-haired fellows, some stark naked, some with scarcely any clothing but rough flax shoulder-mats, raced for the bush; others returned the fire of Porter and his men as they came charging into the camp. Ngati-Porou charged from the front and the two flanks, firing as they ran, and, indeed, their firing was so indiscriminate that there was a danger of their own party suffering by the cross-fire. Ruka and Large rushed on and outran all the rest of their party in the pursuit, but in vain, for Te Kooti escaped.

That wily warrior had snatched up his carbine at the first shot. Divining on the instant that the front of his hut would be covered by his enemy, he broke out through the bark covering at the back near the edge of a steep bank. Leaping behind a tree, he shouted to his followers that it was Ngati-Porou who were up on them. “Save yourselves!” he cried. The next moment, with bullets whistling about him, he jumped down the bank and disappeared in the forest like a flash, with several of his bodyguard following him. Meanwhile the Hauhaus went down before carbine and tomahawk in the smoky clearing. Ten were killed and a number were taken prisoners; amongst the captives was one of Te Kooti's wives. This woman was Oriwia (Olivia); she had shared many of Te Kooti's bush adventures. Before the fight began Porter had observed her, wearing only page 451 a waist-shawl, come out of the large whare; his guide, Hori Niania, a recently captured Hauhau, told him it was Oriwia.

There were hand-to-hand combats with gun-butt and tomahawk, and Ngati-Porou came out victors in each. Among the men captured in the chase was a ruffian whose face was as savage and ugly as his character—one Wi Wehi-kore, of which the English is “Fearless William.” He had amongst other deeds murdered his own wife and children, because, as he explained, they were an encumbrance to him in the bush. “Shoot him!” was the order, and a Ngati-Porou bullet gave him the despatch he deserved.

The scene of Porter's engagement was Te Hapua, also called Ruahapu; the date was the 1st September 1871. Porter and his hundred of Ngati-Porou, burying the dead, and gathering their prisoners together, resumed their march, and that night camped in the deserted clearing, Opokere, on the wooded range above, only half satisfied with their morning's work, good as it had been. It was very bleak weather and heavy snow began to fall. Next morning it was impossible to move on, and the force was snowed in at the Opokere camp for some days. Porter told Large and Ruka that he would mention them in despatches for the active part they had taken in the attack and pursuit of the fugitives.

Among the Urewera Hauhaus in this fight was Eria Raukura, of Ngatapa, now the chief priest of the Ringa-tu or Wairua-Tapu Church, founded upon the ritual originally laid down by Te Kooti. Eria, describing the skirmish, says that he carried a rifle, but the attack was so sudden that the Maoris had little opportunity of making resistance. He escaped into the forest, where the fugitives were broken up into small parties. Te Kooti, with only his wife Heni and five men, fled through the bush towards Ruatahuna, and later reached Ahi-kereru; thence he made for the refuge of the unpeopled bush on the Waiau, west of Waikare-moana. When at last, in 1872, he escaped to the King Country, Eria joined him at Tokangamutu, close to the present town of Te Kuiti; there in the waters of the Mangaokewa Stream Te Kooti in 1881 ordained him after his own fashion, with baptismal ceremony, as high priest of the Ringa-tu religion.

Major J. T. Large supplied the following notes explanatory of the sketch-map of the fight at Te Hapua camp (1st September, 1871):—

“Te Hapua was a bush clearing, containing whares and potato plantations, on the side of a forest-clad range; higher up was Opokere, on a branch range of Maunga-pohatu. The trees around the edge of the clearing had been felled with their heads outwards, forming a kind of cheval-de-frise very difficult to penetrate.

page 452

“Foot of plan: Captain Porter and his men were on this side, at the bottom of the clearing, where a track led to the camp. It was said that it was one of the ex-Hauhaus who accompanied the party that fired the treacherous shot which alarmed the camp and gave Te Kooti the opportunity of escaping; at any rate the shot came from the lower end shown on plan.

“The right side was the position assigned by Captain Porter to Ruka Aratapu and myself, and the figure marks the point which we had reached when the treacherous shot was fired that alarmed the camp. Ruka and I, with some of our party, raced up the hill through the tangled and matted vegetation as fast as we could to intercept Te Kooti, all the time exposed to the shots of Henare Potae's men and the left of Porter's party, but though the two of us outran our men we never caught sight of the outlaw, who slipped over the brow of the hill and escaped, his followers—or those of them who were not knocked over—scattering in all directions. Several Hauhaus dashed through on the right. One fired at me at a very short distance, but missed; he was out of sight in a flash before I could reload and fire.

“The left flank was the position assigned to Henare Potae and his party. Captain Porter did not have much faith in these men. They reported soon after they started to take up their position that a cliff obstructed them from advancing farther in that direction.

“From the upper end of the clearing a track led to Opokere, a branch range of Maunga-pohatu.

“It had been arranged that when Ruka and I got to the top of the clearing Ruka was to call out to the Hauhaus to surrender, as they were surrounded. But the premature shot spoiled all our plans, and our arduous pursuit and hardships and the careful scheme to surround the position were all in vain. It was a bitter disappointment.”