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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XXIV — Maclean the Road-Maker

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Chapter XXIV
Maclean the Road-Maker

Geography is two-thirds of military science,” wrote a famous historian of military operations. It might have been said with equal truth that roads are three-fourths of a general's problems in such a country as New Zealand. The unroaded unbridged condition of the interior of the North Island in Donald Maclean's time was the pakeha settler's and soldier's most troublesome obstacle and the Maori's greatest defence. The conquest of the Waikato tribes was only made possible by the existence of a good navigable waterway, the Waikato River, into the Maori country, linking up with a military road from Auckland which had been constructed before the war as a strategic highway. But the heart of the island was not touched by a wheel road in 1869, when Donald Maclean became Minister for Native Affairs and Defence, and took over the control of the campaign against the Hauhaus and began the pacification of the tribes. To the retreats of Te Kooti, Kereopa and other rebel leaders still “out,” there were no roads at all; and the colonial soldiers, pakeha and Maori, engaged in the bush campaigns had to be their own pack-horses.

None realised more thoroughly than Maclean the necessity for making roads into the interior as a preliminary and accompaniment to military operations and the establishment of permanent friendly relations with the hostile tribes. Acquainted as he was with the history of the Scottish Highlands and General Wade's road-making through the heart of those wilds after the Jacobite war, he was impressed by the value of such highways not alone for the transport of troops and supplies, but for the purposes of settlement and civil communication. He had the labour at hand in page 106 the Armed Constabulary force and some of the friendly tribes.

The following memorandum was issued by the Native and Defence Minister, under date Auckland, 29 October 1869:

Officers and non-commissioned officers of Constabulary will understand that it will be a part of their duty in regard to information to send to the Defence Minister from time to time (or as may be specially ordered) reports descriptive of the topographical character of the country that they may be stationed in, with the facilities of communication by roads or rivers from their station as a centre; bearing in mind that the peace of a district cannot be permanently insured until facilities shall exist to penetrate its fastnesses.

Assuming Taupo Lake to be the centre through which lines of military road will have to diverge, officers will, as the circumstances of their ordinary duty may admit, examine the paths leading from their respective stations towards that place, with a view of ascertaining what improvement may be made in their direction. Native tracks, as a rule, follow the best lines of country, but are generally capable of being improved in detail. Inasmuch as bridges are rarely thought of by the natives, considerable detours are often made to avoid a stream that might be covered with the exercise of a moderate amount of mechanical ingenuity. Swamps, too, are wound round which might be made passable by a small amount of work in draining.

As soon as any officer or non-commissioned officer in charge of a detachment or station is in possession of authentic information on these subjects, he will furnish to the Defence Minister a sketch with explanatory notes descriptive of the present paths leading in that direction, and the improvements that he would suggest. Officers and non-commissioned officers will in this way have an opportunity of evincing their ability in a very important branch of their duty. A sketch map of the district of which their station is the centre should also be prepared, and a copy sent to the Government, the original being kept at the station for general use: this should be drawn to scale say four miles to an inch.

In observing a line of country, particular attention is to be given to the existence of any parallel tracks; these may be more available for transit at certain times of the year; they are of the greatest importance in advance and retreat. Notes should be made as to how far a path continues available for carts or packhorses.

Lieut.-Colonel St. John, who had commanded the left wing of the composite European and Maori force with which Colonel Whitmore invaded the Urewera country, was specially instructed by Mr. Maclean to report on the physical features of the country lying at the back of the Bay of Plenty and the best means of communication between the coast and Taupo. His report dated 8 October 1869, was of particular importance, for it led to the selec- page 107 tion of the present road from Tauranga to Rotorua and thence to Taupo. At that time there was no direct road from Tauranga to the interior; the usual route to Rotorua was by way of Maketu and Taheke (Lake Rotoiti). St. John described three possible routes for a permanent line of communication with the heart of the island. The first was from Matata by the Rangitaiki River to Kokohinau (near the present township of Te Teko), thence by way of the redoubts established by the A.C. Field Force across the Kaingaroa Plains to Opepe and Taupo. This line he would not undertake to keep safely open with fewer than 500 men distributed from Matata to Taupo. The Hauhaus could easily raid this track. The second was by way of Maketu to Rotorua, thence by way of Kaiteriria (Captain Mair's Arawa Constabulary station on Roto-kakahi lake) and Niho-o-te-Kiore redoubt, on the Waikato, near Atia-muri, thence to Taupo. A coast road had already been made from Maketu to Rotorua. The third route, which St. John recommended should be adopted, was direct from Tauranga to Rotorua, through the forest across the Mangorewa River gorge, thence to Taupo. Tauranga, he said, was the natural key to the interior. Mr. Heale, the surveyor, had told him, as to the proposed road from Rotorua to Lake Taupo, that there was an excellent natural route past the Horohoro mountain by Niho-o-te-kiore and Oruanui to Tapuwae-haruru (Taupo).

St. John's suggestions commended themselves strongly to Mr. Maclean. The result was the adoption of the Tauranga-Rotorua route and the construction of the present road through the Oropi-Mangorewa forest and gorge, and the road from Rotorua to Atiamuri, thence to Taupo. On St. John's recommendation also the site of the present township of Taupo, opposite the Maori settlement of Tapuwaeharuru, was selected as the location of an Armed Constabulary post and a redoubt was built there, on the right bank of the Waikato River, which presently became the military headquarters in the heart of the island. Opepe stockade, however, was for some time the principal post in the district, and there that very gallant officer Major (afterwards Colonel) J. M. Roberts, N.Z.C., was for several page 108 years in command of the field force and the road-making operations initiated by Mr. Maclean.

This road-making campaign was not welcomed by some of the Armed Constabulary force. There were officers who disliked the prospect of a monotonous job as road over-seer instead of the soldier's life, and the extra shilling a day for navvying did not strongly attract all the men.

Maclean on learning this, deemed it necessary to issue a circular to the officers in charge of districts, requesting to be informed of cases in which their subordinates objected to the road-making work. He emphasised the necessity for road-making as a means of opening up and controlling the interior, and pointed out that it was just as important as any branch of military duty. This cautionary letter had its effect, but the veterans of the Force needed no such reminder. In the Taupo country Major Roberts's Constabulary carried out some excellent work, so did the Waikato divisions under Colonel Lyon, with headquarters at Cambridge. One of Lyon's officers, Captain (afterwards Lieut.-Colonel) Stuart Newall, received high commendation for his reconnaissance work when it was proposed to make a road through the great Moanatuatua swamp between Cambridge and Rangiaowhia, and for a useful map he made of the upper Waikato. The Constabulary in many districts—Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay, Taupo, Waikato, Taranaki—became very capable road-makers, and carried out heavy work in draining impassable swamps and bridging rivers. Many of the roads they made, laid out by Government surveyors, and in some cases by the A.C. officers of experience in road-engineering, have become the main highways of to-day.