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The Old Frontier : Te Awamutu, the story of the Waipa Valley : the missionary, the soldier, the pioneer farmer, early colonization, the war in Waikato, life on the Maori border and later-day settlement

The Third Day

page 67

The Third Day.

“The following morning (2nd April) General Cameron made his appearance with a detachment of the Defence Corps and some packhorses with hand-grenades. ∗ ∗ ∗ Our sap was now so far advanced that it entered the old stock-yard fence, which surrounded the pa at some distance. It was in rashly jumping out of the sap and cutting down gallantly one of these posts that Major Hurford received his death-wound in the head. He rallied for a short space of time, long enough to receive the attentions of his poor wife, but the ball, remaining in his head, caused his death at last at Otahuhu. Many gallant deeds were done that day in the sap, but the same being at the opposite extreme of the pa from our position I was not an eye-witness to them. I only know from good testimony that Captain Baker was amongst the foremost to urge the work by word and example; Jackson's Ensign Whitfield behaved with his usual distinction; Ensign Harrison, of the Transport Corps, did good service with his rifle en amateur; my Sergeant Southee later in the day, still with the 65th detachment, was the first to change his footing from our works into that of the Maoris. (Note.—Poor Whitfield lost his life in one of my engagements in the Wanganui district. He was one of the most gallant officers I have known.)

“The weariness on our post on that third day was becoming to me almost unbearable. There was no excitement to compensate for the constant annoyance of bullets flying about you for three days and two nights, and the constant false reports of the assault going to take place sickened one at last of the whole affair. There had been a demand for volunteers in the morning to go sapping. I knew it did not refer to me, but I thought they might accept me after all when the hottest work commenced, so I took sixteen volunteers from my company and marched round to the sap. I was close to the sap when Baker met me and instantly drove me back in spite of all my expostulations and pleas of the morning's order. ‘No, no! To your post! To your post!’ And as a sweetener for this disagreeable treatment the cunning Staff Machiavelli told me to come back at four o'clock in the afternoon, when I would be allowed to sap, knowing himself perfectly well that by that time I would have found other work to do. I went back crestfallen and miserable. My return instantly enfranchised Jackson, who took the opportunity of page 68 trying his rifle skill en amateur in the sap—and his skill in this department is by no means contemptible.

” ∗ ∗ ∗ What means that shout—that hurrah? ‘Stand to your arms, men!’ Another truly British cheer! They must be assaulting the pa! ‘Forward, men—forward!’ And away I dash with a promiscuous crowd of Rangers and soldiers. But I know the way where we can go in reasonable security. Along the slant of the hill the fern is high, and the level of the ground scarce shows our heads. If we reach the angle of the pa in front of us while attention is concentrated on the diagonally opposite angle where our sap leads to we may get into the pa with little opposition, or shoot down fugitives escaping thence, if there are any.

“We had to go some distance. The Maoris saw us first just on cresting the hill, and sent a heavy fire at us. But all those who followed my guidance were soon safe from it. I saw some heaps of rubbish under some trees, with a half-broken-down pig fence, at 30 yards from the pa. That was a good halting place to breathe my men and count them. Alas! there were not above a dozen. There were my two sergeants, Carron and Toovey, Mogul, and little Keena, and a few of Jackson's company—but we had lost our tail by the velocity of our flight forward. Well, the place had a very tenable look about it, so, seeing that every man lay well covered, I sent Sergeant Carron back for reinforcements, and saw that my men kept the Maoris' heads well down the parapet. Our arrival there had in the first instance driven back a few Maoris attempting to escape from the angle I expected they would make use of. After that they kept up a pretty close fire upon us, but we had very good cover, and gave it to them better than they could. Carron returned in a little, and said that Captain Baker wanted me immediately at my post, so nolens volens, I had to return, seeing that a dozen men were not enough with which to assault 300 Maoris behind a high parapet. During my return I was informed by my men that one of those following me had been hit, and was lying in the very path to the pa. This was the first intimation I had of such mishap, for all the men close to me and following my guidance had been untouched. This poor fellow had chosen the main track to walk upon, probably scorning the fern, and had so come by his death. It was Corporal Taylor, an old soldier of the 70th. Sadly we carried our burden to our post, where I found my mentor Captain Baker charged to the muzzle with military reprimands for me. While he and I and Major page 69 Blyth were argumenting on this subject a tremendous shout arose from the pa—a volley, and then such an incessant rattle of musketry that I perceived at once what the matter was. At last the Maoris had broken cover.

“Leaving my interlocutors very unceremoniously, and calling on my men to follow me, I rushed up to the picket house. On the other side of the house, at a glance, I saw the state of things. A dense mass of Maoris was rushing through the scrub at the bottom of the gully on the further corner from our post. The ridge where the pa stood was enveloped in a dense mass of powder-smoke, whence the incessant firing of our troops issued as if there never would be a pause to it.

“Giving hurried orders to Westrupp to watch the forest side of the picket hill, and taking Roberts with me, we went off at full speed along the ridge to cut off the Maoris whom we saw now ascending the furthest extreme of that ridge.

“‘Run, men, run! Cut them off! Cut them off!’ And the Rangers bounded over the ground as if their feet had wings.

“The Maoris had had a tremendous start of it, but the passage of the swamp and scrub in the bottom of the gully had delayed them somewhat. We came within shot of them, and as their long, irregular mass ascended the next rise our fire began to tell. Still we had to use the utmost exertion to keep within sight and shot of them, and would probably have lost half had not Rait with his troopers and some of the Defence Corps headed them by a daring break-neck ride across country. But the Maoris, seeing only these troopers after them, suddenly turned upon them, and from the other side of the swamp commenced to give them some ugly shots, killing in a moment two horses and wounding some of the men. Now, Rait's troopers had only revolvers, which were utterly useless at that distance, so they began to be rather doubtful what to do with their Tartar, when the Rangers made their appearance, and the presence of their carbines became soon painfully evident to the natives. Off they started again, and now at a lesser distance they began to drop under our fire very fast; also some of them had outrun their fleetness, and, our wind and stamina beginning to tell after the first three miles, many a laggard was shot down after giving us the last desperate shot of his barrel. ∗ ∗ ∗ The last natives we saw were three or four trotting along the top of a distant ridge. Signs of declining day and a bugle sounding the return made us page 70 relinquish further pursuit. On re-crossing the river we found Colonel Havelock collecting the squads of avengers. He marched them home in a body, myself remaining behind to wait for some men of mine who had not yet made their appearance. When these at last arrived I also turned my face Orakau-wards.

“We followed pretty much the direction we had taken in the pursuit, and soon came upon the silent marks of it. Amongst them, however, I found one poor fellow still alive. We bandaged him the best we could, and carried him along. After getting over the next mile he expired, and we laid him to his rest. We found another one, not far off, and carried him also some distance, when he, too, gave up the ghost and left us.”

Other wounded men were carried into the camp, Von Tempsky continued, but not until next day did the troops fully realise the terrible nature of the blow they had inflicted on their foes. Probably fewer than fifty out of little more than three hundred escaped death or wounds. Fully 160 Maoris were killed or died of wounds. The British loss was 17 killed and 51 wounded.

On 3rd April, 1864, the Forest Rangers were moved from Orakau, the main body having left the previous day. Colonel MacNeil, A.D.C, to General Cameron, had been ambuscaded near Ohaupo during the three days of Orakau. It was therefore decided to have a permanent post about half way between Pukerimu and Te Awamutu. Major Blyth (40th) and Von Tempsky were despached from Te Awamutu to a place a little beyond the native pa of Ohaupo, and a redoubt was built on a commanding ridge. The 40th built the redoubt, while Von Tempsky's Rangers policed the road and scouted the bush.

“There is some lovely lake scenery,” wrote Von Tempsky, “between Te Awamutu and Ohaupo. Among sombre patches of forest gleams a water mirror every now and then, with a vivid green margin of waving grasses and rushes; here and there a solitary cabbage-tree with its long, irradiating leaves giving to the otherwise home-like scenery the New Zealand character. By moonlight the lake scenery is quite a fairy effect, and has often compensated me for the tediousness of repeated night patrol.”