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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XX — The Raid of the Mountain Men — How a Hauhau War Party threatened Napier and how it was Defeated

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Chapter XX
The Raid of the Mountain Men
How a Hauhau War Party threatened Napier and how it was Defeated

Up in the high broken ranges over which the present motor road climbs and winds from Napier to Lake Taupo, there lived a small but pugnacious tribe called Ngati-Hineuru, allied to both Ngati-Kahungunu on the east and Ngati-Tuwharetoa on the west. When the Pai-marire holy war against the pakeha reached the East Coast Hauhau apostles visited these people, and found them ready disciples of the new fighting religion. At the principal villages in that rugged region, with their small oases of cultivation in a generally sterile pumice country, the Hauhau poles, the sacred niu, were set up and round them marched the halfcrazed people, men, women and children, chanting their newly learned hymns—the “Piki mauteni, rongo mauteni” recitals and the prayers of the “Kororia,” Maorified English phrases and scraps of English and Roman Catholic church services.

For generations accustomed to raid and foray on their lowland foes, Ngati-Hineuru welcomed the Hauhau cult and the appeal from their tribes as a call to national action against the white man. They had no particular quarrel with Government or settlers, but the spread of pakeha industry and influence down on the plains of Heretaunga and Ahuriri excited at once their suspicion and distrust and their agelong desire for plunder. They and their fellow-mountaineers to the north, the Urewera, were in essentials the Highlanders of Scott's day. Te Rangihiroa, their principal chief, was a Rob Roy of the Maori mountains, and his high-set page 86 camps at Te Haroto and Ohinekuku were the headquarters of warlike preparations for a raid on the inviting lands of the plains. The spring of 1866 saw these preparations culminate in a bold expedition with gun and tomahawk against the young town of Napier.

In the meantime, the early part of 1866, there were indications of the spread of Pai-marire propaganda in Hawke's Bay. Donald Maclean and his firm friend and political colleague, Mr. J. D. Ormond, took measures to combat the rebel gospel. Mr. Ormond was at this time a leading settler and a member of Parliament for a Hawke's Bay seat. Maclean, acting as Superintendent of the Province and as Native Agent for the Government, called meetings of the Hawke's Bay chiefs and urged them to do their utmost against the Hauhau peril. The old warriors, Te Hapuku, Tareha te Moananui, Renata Kawepo, and the leaders of the younger generations, particularly Karauria and Karaitiana Takamoana, staunchly supported “Te Makarini.” They admitted that the Pai-marire craze had infected some sections of their people. As it developed, a number of Ngati-Kahungunu went over to the Hauhaus, but the majority of the people remained friendly to the pakeha settlers, and prepared to resist any raid on the settlements. There was, however, considerable danger on the plains a: the outset, when Hauhau prophets, in particular a man named Panapa (Barnabas), went from village to village preaching the gospel of national union against the encroaching white man.

Some time before these conditions came to a crisis, Te Rangihiroa and others of his tribe visited Napier ostensibly to conduct a land deal but really to make converts to Pai-marire among the people of the neighbouring settlements. At a public-house they got liquor and became disorderly and threatening. “Te Rangihiroa got very bounceable,” said an eye-witness of the rowdy scene, “and a man named Parker laid him out with his fist. The chief's followers snatched out their tomahawks from under their blankets, and the situation was dangerous. Word was at once sent to Mr. Maclean. He came out and succeeded in pacifying the Maoris. The trouble, however, was only page 87 postponed. Te Rangihiroa rode off with his men, threatening to return before long and have his revenge for the blow.”

Maclean established a system of patrols in the Petane and Puketapu districts, covering the route by which the raiders from the hills were likely to come. In this way communications were left open as far as Puketitiri. The patrol leaders had instructions to arrange that at every homestead in the out-districts one of the men should keep a sharp look-out at night, and give warning immediately there was any sign of the Maoris coming from the ranges. Arrangements were also made for the quick removal of the women and children to Napier at the first alarm from the scouts.

Te Rangihiroa and Panapa, by their fierce appeals to the people for a campaign against the pakeha, raised a warparty of about eighty men, chiefly of Ngati-Hineuru, with some wild spirits from the Taupo villages, headed by the burly warrior Te Rangi-tahau. In after years we knew this grim fighter—he was a tohunga also—by the sinister description of “Te Kooti's butcher.” There were several men who came all the way from the Ngati-Maniapoto lands, the King Country, for the sake of a fight; the Kingite leaders there had been sounded, and they approved of the proposed raid. Among the chiefs of Ngati-Hineuru there were Kipa and Kingita (brothers), Nikora and Petera Kahuroa. At the request of the chiefs, the women made a fine flax mat in which Maclean's head was to be wrapped when he was taken and killed.

The plan of campaign was a bold one. The chiefs planned an attack on Napier town itself, as well as the out-settlements of the pakeha. Panapa had sent spies down to the coast, and these men, strolling through the town had noted where the barracks were and found where the arms and ammunition were kept. The first effort of a raiding party would be to seize the rifles and store of cartridges.

When the war-party reached Te Pohue, its strength was brought up to about 130, including some Ngati-Kahungunu recruits. The column was now divided. Panapa marched page 88 on to Omarunui, on the Tutaekuri River, six miles from Napier town, with the greater portion of the force; Te Rangihiroa with about twenty-five mounted men was to make a night attack on the town by way of Petane (Bethany), the settlement near the sea on the north side, while Panapa, Nikora, and Te Rangitahau were to deal simultaneously with the out-settlements of pakeha and Maori and then join in the sack of Napier. It was expected that at the same time Wi Hapi and the Hauhau sections of Ngati-Kahungunu would march on Porangahau and other settlements in the south of the province. Should the attack on Napier be successful the Hauhaus in other districts were to rise and attack the pakeha and the friendly Maoris; the Urewera were expected to make forays, and the Waikato Kingites were to cross the frontier and raid the settlers on the confiscated lands.

The armed force available consisted of the Militia, numbering about one hundred and thirty men and the youths, and Napier Rifle Volunteers, forty-five men, under Captain Buchanan. A message was sent to Wairoa for Major Fraser and his company of Military Settlers. Fraser and his men, numbering forty, and also a party of Wairoa Maoris, under Kopu Parapara and Ihaka Whanga, reached Napier on 11 October. The Napier forces were under the command of Colonel George Whitmore, who had been military secretary to General Cameron; he had left the Imperial Army and was now a settler in Hawke's Bay. He detached Fraser and his veterans to guard the approach from the Petane side. Reports had been received that Te Rangihiroa and his party would pass down the valley at Petane on the morning of the 12th, and Fraser was instructed to await them at a point where the track passed through a defile on the sheep-station of Captain Carr (late R.A.). Whitmore and the Napier citizen soldiers, numbering about two hundred, including some twenty-five Volunteer Cavalry, marched out from the town soon after midnight on 11 October and took up positions on the Tutaekuri in cooperation with the friendly Maoris. The Omarunui settlement was surrounded at dawn, the Maori contingent taking up a position on the edge of a swamp in the rear.

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At daybreak the Hauhaus began their fanatic services round the Niu pole of worship which had been erected in the village, Panapa the prophet standing at the foot of the mast and leading the Paimarire incantations.

Mr. Maclean sent Mr. Hamlin into the village under a flag of truce with a message to the chiefs, demanding the surrender of the Hauhaus in an hour, otherwise they would be fired upon. Hamlin returned and reported that the natives would not listen to any proposal. After waiting an hour the order was given to attack the village.

The Militia, two companies under Major Lambert, were sent forward to ford the river opposite the settlement and take up a position on the bank. The Hauhaus were still undecided how to act, for they had not intended to take the offensive until the signal was given that Te Rangihiroa was attacking Napier. They permitted the Militia to ford the river, cross the wide shingle bed, and ascend the bank near the village without opening fire. Volleys were poured into the village from three sides. The Hauhaus ran for the shelter of their wharés and the large meeting-house and returned the fire, Panapa, the war-priest, came out into the open and was shot dead.

The firing continued for over an hour; the Maori casualties were heavy. Disheartened by the fall of their prophet, who they had believed was invulnerable to bullets, most of the survivors decided to surrender. Some attempted to escape to the hills across the swamp, but Captain Gordon and his volunteer cavalry galloped round and intercepted the fugitives. All except one or two were killed, wounded or captured. Those who remained alive in the village hoisted a white flag, and the “Cease fire” was ordered. The brothers Kipa and Kingita both were killed. The Hauhaus lost twenty-one dead and about thirty wounded, of whom some died in hospital. Fifty-eight unwounded prisoners were taken. Very nearly the whole war-party, therefore, was accounted for by death, wounds, or capture.

The Napier victors came out of the fight with few casualties. One Militia man and a Maori were killed, and there were fourteen wounded.

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Turn now to Petane that same day (12 October 1866). Te Rangihiroa and twenty-four of his warriors, all on horseback, descended to the plain and entered the narrow pass in the fern hills through which the track ran near Captain Carr's place. Fraser and Carr and their Military Settlers and some armed farmers of the district surrounded the Hauhaus, cutting off their retreat. The fight was short and desperate. Te Rangihiroa and eleven of his men were shot dead, one was wounded and three were taken prisoners. One pakeha was wounded.

So ended the daringly conceived little campaign against the Napier settlement. Ngati-Hineuru was destroyed as a fighting tribe. Of about 130 men (including the allies from the tribes) who challenged the pakeha to combat that day, only fourteen returned to their people to tell the story of their defeat and the death of their leaders. Eighty prisoners, some of whom were wounded, were sent off in a steamer to the Chatham Islands on the same indeterminate sentence as those taken at Waerenga-a-Hika. And the fine flax mat which was to have held Donald Maclean's head, presently to decorate a Hauhau worship pole in one of the mountain kaingas, is preserved in the old Maclean home in Napier to-day. Some of the prisoners told the story when it was given up on the battlefiel.

Maclean's prompt and capable handling of the critical situation and Whitmore's military skill, saved Napier from the Hauhau raiders that day. The citizen volunteers and militia, most of them quite inexperienced in war, and the trained men of the Military Settlers, served with coolness and intelligence. But had Panapa the prophet not delayed so long at Omarunui, and had he and Te Rangihiroa marched directly against the settlements and attacked the town at dawn one morning, as was their original scheme, the result would have been very different. Te Kooti, two or three years later, was not so deliberate. A Hauhau dash on Napier, “taka mua, taka muri” (“Swift to attack, swift to retreat”) as the Maori has it, if at all successful, would have enormously stimulated anti-pakeha feelings in other parts of the Island, and Waikato, Taranaki and the Bay of Plenty frontier settlements would have suffered.