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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 61

MAJOR-GENERAL TREVOR CHUTE was a vigorous downright soldier who infused new energy into the operations on the West Coast. His tactics were in strong contrast to those of his predecessor. Cameron hated the bush, and consistently kept his troops as near the coast as possible. Chute, on the other hand, boldly entered upon forest operations, and followed the Maoris up into their strongholds, sought them out in their bush retreats and stormed pa after pa, concluding a successful series of attacks by undertaking a venturesome and difficult march through the roadless forest at the back of Mount Egmont. He proved the ideal commander for a short, sharp bush campaign.

There had been several murders by the Nga-Rauru and Pakakohi Tribes, who, like Ngati-Ruanui, had refused to receive the peace proclamation by the Governor in 1865. On the 1st November Mr. Charles Broughton, interpreter to the forces in the Wanganui district, went to Otoia, on the Patea River, to confer with the Hauhaus on the peace proclamation, and was treacherously shot. Farther north Ngati-Ruanui and their kin gave evidence of their determination to hold their lands against the pakeha and to scorn all demands for surrender. On the 4th October a small party of the Military Train was ambuscaded on the track between the Manawapou and the Wai-ngongoro redoubts, by way of Hawera, and one of them, whose horse was shot, was tomahawked.

Chute, having received his directions from the Governor to open a campaign against the West Coast tribes, began operations from the southern side at the end of 1865. He marched out from Wanganui on the 30th December for the Weraroa, the scene of Sir George Grey's triumph of strategy earlier in the year. His force was considerably smaller than that which Cameron had led slowly and cautiously up the coast. Some reinforcements joined him on the Waitotara, and the column he now had at his disposal was a very capable force, consisting of 33 Royal Artillery, with field-guns, under Lieutenant Carre; 280 of the page 62 14th Regiment, under Lieut.-Colonel Trevor; 45 Forest Rangers, under Major Von Tempsky; and the Wanganui Native Contingent and other Maoris, about 300 strong, under Major McDonnell; besides a Transport Corps of 45 men each driving a two-horse dray.

Chute wasted no time at Weraroa. Crossing the Waitotara on the 3rd January, 1866, with three companies of the 14th Regiment and the Maori Contingent, he advanced upon Okotuku, a village on the edge of the high ground about five miles inland from the Wairoa (the present Township of Waverley). On the wooded plain below Okotuku, in the direction of Wairoa, was Moturoa, destined to be the scene of a disastrous fight for the Government forces nearly three years later.

At daylight on the 4th two companies of the 14th and a Maori force under McDonnell advanced upon Okotuku, where the village had been burned the previous day; it was now the intention to destroy the large plantations of potatoes and maize found there. A small advance-guard (Lieutenant W. E. Gudgeon, Ensign W. McDonnell, and Winiata Pakoro, of the Wanganui Contingent) were heavily fired on close up to the pa, which was defended by a breastwork of heavy timbers, and took cover in a small hollow until Lieutenant Keogh's company of the 14th, with the Maori Contingent, came charging up to the position. The pa was stormed at the point of the bayonet, and three Maoris were killed; three more were killed by the Contingent and the Forest Rangers in the pursuit of the retreating enemy through the bush. The British loss was one killed and six wounded.

The next operation was the attack and capture of a strong Hauhau pa at Te Putahi, on high ground above the Whenuakura River. The terrain was thickly wooded, with awkward spurs, where it was easy for a small force to resist an advance. Very early on the morning of the 7th January the British force (detachments of the 14th, 18th, and 50th Regiments, Forest Rangers, and Wanganui Maoris) made a detour under cover of darkness and cautiously ascended through the bush to the top of the plateau on which the pa stood. McDonnell and his natives took the place in the rear while the troops advanced to the attack. The Hauhaus were first seen engaged in their morning service round the niu pole. Their resistance was determined, but the pa was soon taken at the bayonet's point, with a loss of two killed to the Imperial troops. Among the twelve wounded was Major McDonnell, who received a bullet in the foot. The Hauhaus lost fourteen killed in the pa, and in the retreat another was shot.

This sharp action drove the Hauhaus inland, and terminated page 63 the fighting south of the Patea. The scene of action now shifted to the Tangahoe territory, in the heart of the rebel country. Here, at the edge of the plateau high above the right bank of the Tangahoe River, the Hauhaus had constructed the strongest fortification built in this campaign.

Otapawa* occupied a very commanding position. The hill on which it stood was the terminal of a long table-land then densely wooded—it is now a beautiful well-grassed farm, with a fringing of bush in the gullies and on the slopes toward the Tangahoe. The river flows in a sweeping curve round the base of the spur, several hundreds of feet below the fortress hill. The pa was roughly wedge-shaped, with the apex toward the river. The irregular base of the wedge, on level open ground, was defended page 64
J. C., sketch-plan, 1918] Otapawa Pa, South Taranaki

J. C., sketch-plan, 1918]
Otapawa Pa, South Taranaki

by two lines of high palisading and by rifle-pits and well-traversed trenches. On each flank the ground fell precipitously into the forested gorge. From the narrow rear a long forest-covered spur tended steeply to the elbow of the Tangahoe. This end of the fort was defended by two deep ditches and three parapets.

The General selected the Tawhiti, near the present Town of Hawera, as his field base for the advance on Otapawa. The intervening country was fairly level, intersected by small streams with steep banks. At Taiporohenui the large meeting-house of the Hauhau tribes was destroyed. Lieut.-Colonel Butler, with a detachment of the 57th, had now joined the column. On the 12th January Chute moved out across the plain and encamped within easy striking distance of Otapawa, and next day Ensign W. McDonnell and some of the Wanganui Maoris page 65 reconnoitred the position. Very early the next morning (14th January, 1866) the General advanced to the attack with a force consisting of 200 men of the 14th Regiment (Lieut-Colonel Trevor), 180 of the 57th (Lieut.-Colonel Butler), 36 of the Forest Rangers (Major Von Tempsky), and 200 of the Native Contingent under Major McDonnell, beside three Armstrong field-guns. The friendly natives were to move to the rear and cut off the retreat, but the General was impatient to attack and did not give them time to get into position in the very broken ground. Fire was opened with one of the Armstrongs from the plateau facing the pa, and several shells exploded within the palisades. As no Maori appeared, it was thought by some of the troops that the place was deserted. However, there were over two hundred Hauhaus manning the trenches, waiting until their foes were within close range. The 57th, supported by the 14th, were ordered to advance to the assault. The veteran “Die-hards,” led by Lieut.-Colonels Butler and Hassard, steadily breasted the rise leading to the level front of the pa. They were within point-blank range when the whole front of the palisades blazed and a heavy volley came ripping through their ranks, followed by another volley as the soldiers rushed upon the stockade with their bayonets at the charge. Slashing at the aka-vine fastenings of the palisading with tomahawks and bayonets, the troops were soon in the fort and despatching the Hauhaus who remained to dispute possession. Those who escaped fled down the long steep spur to the Tangahoe, most of them eluding the Native Contingent which followed in chase. On the right flank of the pa, where the ground was steep and wooded, Von Tempsky and his Rangers had cleared the bush of some Hauhaus who had opened fire on the Imperial troops as they advanced to the assault.

The Hauhaus lost about thirty killed in this sharp encounter and they had many wounded, who were taken up the Tangahoe to a sheltered spot and there tended. Thence the fugitives, fearing further pursuit, travelled inland several miles, through a wild forest and gorge country, to Rimatoto, on the northern side of the Meremere Hills.

The British loss in the assault was eleven killed and twenty wounded. Lieut.-Colonel Jason Hassard, of the 57th, was mortally wounded. Major-General Chute had a narrow escape; a bullet tore the braid on his coat. The rather heavy casualties, suffered chiefly by the gallant 57th, were due to the impetuosity of Chute's frontal attack. Lieut.-Colonel Butler was indignant at not being allowed to send out flanking parties, but that part of the operation could have been attended to very thoroughly by the Forest Rangers and the Native Contingent had a little more time been allowed.

page 66

It was camp gossip after the battle that Kimble Bent, the deserter from the 57th, was one of the defenders of the pa, and that it was his bullet that had laid his old officer, Hassard, low. This was incorrect. Bent, however, had assisted, on compulsion, in the building of the fort, and was in the place until two or three days before the assault, when he was sent away with non-combatants to a place of security in the forest higher up the Tangahoe.

The Hauhaus who garrisoned Otapawa were chiefly members of the Tangahoe, Ngati-Ruanui, and Pakakohi Tribes. One of their principal fighting chiefs was the old warrior and priest Tautahi Ariki; another was Tukino. Te Ua, the arch-prophet of Pai-marire, had been in the pa, but had ridden away shortly before the day of the engagement.

The principal stronghold of the South Taranaki Hauhaus having been captured, the General continued his advance, concentrating on Ketemarae, a famous gathering-place for the West Coast tribes and the junction of several old war-tracks. The stockaded village of Ketemarae (about a mile from the present Township of Normanby) was attacked by the troops, who occupied it early on the morning of the 15th January. Ten Hauhaus were killed. The Wanganui Native Contingent, in the advance, had some sharp skirmishing when the order was given to clear the various settlements in the neighbourhood of Ketemarae, including Keteonetea and Puketi.

The force moved on past Waihi, taking several settlements, and, crossing the Wai-ngongoro River, captured the large village of Mawhitiwhiti, the principal kainga of the Nga-Ruahine Tribe. Here seven of the defenders were killed. The day's work resulted in the destruction of seven villages of Nga-Ruahine and Ngati-Ruanui, including, besides Ketemarae and Mawhitiwhiti, the large kaingas Weriweri and Te Whenuku. Most of the fighting fell to the lot of the Native Contingent, and here Kepa (Kemp) te Rangihiwinui (later given a Major's commission) distinguished himself by his activity and dash. The scene of these sharp operations, the first attacks delivered on the Ngati-Ruanui and Nga-Ruahine in their bush homes, is now a beautiful farming district, famous for its fertility, and covered with villages and homesteads. Some of the Maori hapus still hold their native soil, and the sons of the old warriors of Nga-Ruahine are even carrying on dairying-work like their pakeha neighbours. One of the historic settlements is Weriweri, the home in the war-days of the fighting chief Toi Whakataka, who took a prominent part in the opposition to General Chute and afterwards in Titokowaru's war. His son, Pou-whareumu Toi, is now the leading man of Weriweri.

page 67
From a drawing by Major Von Tempsky, 1866] Chute's Column on the March

From a drawing by Major Von Tempsky, 1866]
Chute's Column on the March

This sketch represents the start of the expedition from Ketemarae on the march through the forest round the east side of Mount Egmont to New Plymouth.