The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
THE MARCH THROUGH THE FOREST
THE MARCH THROUGH THE FOREST
The vigorous Imperial commander now rounded off his invasion of the Hauhau country by taking a column through to New Plymouth by the most direct route—the difficult, almost unknown, Maori trail through the dense forest on the east side of Mount Egmont. This route was the ancient war-track between Puke-rangiora, on the Waitara, and Ketemarae; to the Maoris it was known as Whakaahurangi, a name which alludes to the gradual ascent to the heights as the eastern ranges of the great mountain are approached. The Whakaahurangi track was the common route in pre-European times between North and South Taranaki, and in the early days of the New Plymouth settlement working-parties sent out by the New Zealand Company's agent in Taranaki had cut a bridle-track along the native trail. In the course of twenty years, however, heavy undergrowth had covered the almost disused track, and Chute's determination to page 68 take horses through to New Plymouth made the enterprise one of vast labour for his troops. Chute was determined to vindicate before the eyes of the colonists the capacity of the British soldier to undertake hazardous and difficult bush campaigning, and to demonstrate to the Maoris also the willingness and the ability of troops to follow them up into their most remote fastnesses.
The column set out on the forest march from Ketemarae northward early on the morning of the 17th January, 1866. Chute took three companies of the 14th Regiment, Von Tempsky's Forest Rangers, and a picked body of the Native Contingent, in all 514 of all ranks, including 247 of the 14th Regiment. Each soldier carried a waterproof blanket and greatcoat, and biscuits for two days. The transport service consisted of 67 packhorses, with their drivers, besides 24 saddle-horses. The staff included Colonel Carey, D.A.G., and Lieut.-Colonel Gamble, D.Q.M.G.; and Dr. Featherston, the Superintendent of Wellington Province, accompanied the General. The march through to the open country at Mataitawa occupied eight days; it could have been done in half that time but for the necessity of cutting a track and making bridges for the horses. The first day's march was between nine and ten miles. The only skirmishing was an encounter between the Native Contingent in the advance, a few miles from Ketemarae, and seven Hauhaus on the track; three of these were shot. As the column advanced across the lower spurs of the mountain the country became more and more difficult; the forest undergrowth was dense and matted, and gullies and watercourses continually intersected the line of march. The Forest Rangers in the advance did excellent work as pioneers, cutting the track and bridging creeks and swampy gullies with trunks of fern-trees, which gave good footing for the horses. Half-way through the forest heavy rain set in, and the rest of the march was slow and toilsome in the extreme. The Rangers were now so exhausted by the heavy labour of pioneer duty that working-parties of the 14th, under Colonel Carey, were sent to the front.
On Sunday, the 21st, the force marched only four miles, crossing four rapid streams and fifteen gullies, and went into bivouac early in wet and gloomy weather. That evening it became necessary to kill one of the horses for a meat ration; all the provisions but a little biscuit had been exhausted. On the night of the 20th Mr. Price, of the commissariat, and Captain Leach and Ensign McDonnell, with some Maoris, had set out on a forced march for Mataitawa to get supplies for the troops. The rain fell in torrents, and the struggle through the roadless bush became so exhausting that Mr. Price had to be left under page 69 a tree while his companions pushed on to Mataitawa. Reaching the British post at last they obtained provisions, and on the evening of the 2nd Captain Leach returned from Mataitawa with a party of the 43rd and 68th carrying supplies for the half-starved troops. Meanwhile the Native Contingent and some of the Rangers had hurried on in advance to the open country. A second horse was killed on the 22nd before the arrival of the party with food. The weather continued wet, and progress over the gully-dissected forest country was slow and toilsome. At last, on the 25th, after a bush march of sixty miles, the column gladly halted in the Mataitawa Valley, and the sun shone out once more. After drying clothes and blankets the troops marched through to the Wai-wakaiho flat, where they encamped, and next day made a triumphal march into New Plymouth, where the townspeople dined the soldiers, and the General was presented with a congratulatory address, read by the Superintendent of Taranaki Province, Mr. H. S. Richmond. The address described the expedition as the first march on which a large body of regular troops had been led for several days together through the forests of New Zealand, and declared that General Chute's decisive field operations had shown that against British forces, regular and irregular, New Zealand had no impregnable fortresses; that British courage and arms could penetrate wherever man could hide; that there was no security for rebellion, and that the only course open to the hostile natives was frank submission to the terms which the Empire and the colony held out for their acceptance.
Included in General Chute's column on the bush march was a detachment of the Mounted Artillery under Lieutenant G. T. Carré, R.A. (afterwards Lieut.-Colonel Carré). Describing the arduous march, Lieutenant Carré wrote in one of his letters:—
“We started on the morning of the 17th January, 1866, and marched by a well-marked track into the bush with a few native guides and three days' provisions and 300 men. At first the track was all that could be desired, and the first three miles were soon passed over. We laughed at the idea of taking more than three days to do sixty miles, but by degrees the path grew smaller and beautifully less until it disappeared altogether to the sight of any European, though the natives could follow it. After the first four miles we had literally to cut our way with hatchets and billhooks through the most entangled jungle, the undergrowth very thick with plenty of supplejack in it; but what was worse than all this were the innumerable gullies and small rivers. It took us an immense time to get the pack-horses over these obstacles. In most places we had to make steps with fern-trees, both up and down, for them, and we moved at about page 70 the rate of a quarter-mile an hour, starting always at 7 a.m. and working till dark. After the third day we were out of provisions, and, to make matters worse, it came down a regular three days' New Zealand rain, drops as large as half-crowns coming off the trees, which were so high and dense that twilight reigned at noon. It began to look certainly very horrible, for no one knew where we were. We had to eat out horses, and the rain prevented out lighting fires to cook that unpalatable fare. But luckily we got succour at last. Captain Leach was sent on with the natives, who would no longer stay with us, taking a dog for food on the way, and in two days got help and returned with some men carrying blankets and food. We were nine days in the bush altogether.
Chute without delay set out on his return march through Taranaki southward by the west coast road, thus encircling Mount Egmont. At the Hangatahua River (usually called “Stony River”) Captain Mace's Mounted Corps and seventy men of the 43rd Regiment joined the column; a company of Taranaki Bush Rangers also came up to join in the projected operations against the Hauhaus in the Warea district. Before daylight on the 1st February the General moved out of camp with 450 men of all ranks and followed a track which had been reconnoitred by the Native Contingent scouts the previous day. Advancing through bush and scrub, the force came out on a large clearing five or six miles inland from the Warea-Opunake Road. A pa, called Waikoko, was now in sight about 500 yards distant. The troops were extended in skirmishing order, the 14th on the right, the 43rd on the left, and the Rangers in the centre. The order to assault the stockade was given, and under a heavy fire the troops rushed cheering upon the enemy. The Maori resistance was vigorous but short, and the garrison soon took to the bush in rear, leaving four dead men in the pa. One man of the 14th was killed, and a sergeant of Corbett's Rangers and two of the Wanganui natives were wounded.
This was the last skirmish on Chute's march. The force went on to Opunake and the Wai-ngongoro, and marched into Patea on the 6th February, 1866. In the five weeks' campaign, beginning at the Waitotara, the force had captured and destroyed seven fortified pas and twenty-one open villages, inflicting large casualties.
While the General was on his bush march from Ketemarae northward, Lieut.-Colonel Butler (57th) had some skirmishing with a flying column operating from the camp at the mouth of the Wai-ngongoro. With 200 of the 50th and 57th Regiments and 120 Maoris, and taking two field-guns, he marched inland on the 18th January and went as far as Tirotiro-moana, east of Ketemarae. The pa and cultivations there were destroyed. On page 71 the 20th he made another expedition, marching northward into Ahipaipa, with 20 of the Military Train as cavalry, 80 men of the 50th and 100 of the 57th, besides the greater part of the Native Contingent under Lieutenant Wirihana. Ahipaipa was found deserted, but as the troops were destroying the whares they were fired on. The Native Contingent, pursuing the Hauhaus through the bush, found another large village, a very well built place. A 57th detachment under Sir Robert Douglas came up, and the force attacked and carried the village, after a sharp fight in which five Hauhaus were killed and one Wanganui man was wounded. The village, niu flagstaff, and cultivations were destroyed.
The 57th Regiment, after its excellent work in General Chute's campaign of 1866, was sent to Te Awamutu, in the Waikato. There the corps remained for several months and then was ordered to England. Those men who did not take their discharge in New Zealand were despatched to England in the ships “Electra” and “Maori” in April, 1867. Seven officers and sixty-eight non-commissioned officers and men of the regiment lost their lives in the New Zealand campaigns. Many of the 57th veterans joined the colonial forces after their discharge. In the heroic defence of Turuturu-mokai Redoubt in 1868 four of the old “Die-hards” were engaged, and three of them were killed.