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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

Chapter X. — The Battle of Orakau

page 59

Chapter X.
The Battle of Orakau.

And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?

—” Horatius” (“Lays of Ancient Rome.”)

The defence of Orakau Pa by the three hundred Maoris who deserve lasting fame as surely as the three hundred of Thermopylæ has passed into imperishable history as an inspiring example of heroism and devotion to a national cause. Many and many a story of that three days' siege has been written, and yet new narratives with much that is thrilling are still to be gathered from the very few survivors. Far away in the wild forest glens of the Urewera Country I have heard the story of Orakau told in the meeting-houses at night by the old warriors, and travelling over the Huiarau Mountains to Waikaremoana, my companion, a Hauhau veteran, told me how his father fell at Orakau and he himself escaped from the field with a severe wound, and proudly he exhibited the deep scars.

Orakau was one of those defeats and retreats that are grander than a victory. The spirit of Bannockburn was in the defenders' scornful defiance of terrible odds; but even Bannockburn was outdone by the Maori garrison's indifference to the foe's superiority in numbers and arms and by the devotion of the women who remained to share the fall of their husbands and brothers. The pakeha's cattle graze over the unfenced, unmarked trenches where scores of brave men were laid to rest. Technically they were rebels, holding stubbornly to nationalism and a broken cause, but the glory of Orakau rests with those rebels. And now that the old racial animosities have disappeared Briton and Maori join in fraternal worship of the men and women who died for a sentiment. A Waikato Regiment has taken for its motto the war-cry of the people whom Cameron defeated but could not conquer, and has inscribed on its colours the words, “Ka whawhai tonu matou, ake, ake, ake!” To New Zealanders of the blended races in the years to page 60
A Plan of the Battlefield of Orakau, 1864.

A Plan of the Battlefield of Orakau, 1864.

page 61 come that slogan of the soil should carry as thrilling a call in battletest as the last words of Burns's ode hold for the Scot: “Liberty's in every blow—let us do or die!”

∗ ∗ ∗

Of Ngati-Maniapoto themselves there were but fifty or so in Orakau; the defence fell chiefly on the Urewera—who had come fully a hundred and fifty miles to fight the pakeha—and on the Ngati-Raukawa and Ngati-te-Kohera and other West Taupo hapus.

Very nearly all those dogged heroes of Orakau have passed to the Reinga; I know of only five now living—three Ngati-Maniapoto and two Urewera.

In this sketch of Waipa history I need not enter into the already familiar military history of Orakau. There is, however, an immensely interesting MS. narrative at my hand—Major Von Tempsky's account of the siege—and extracts from this animated description make a valuable contribution to the story of the three days' fighting.

Von Tempsky, after describing his march with the Forest Rangers from Te Awamutu, as advance guard of Major Blyth's column, narrates that the force crossed and re-crossed the Puniu and came out in rear of Orakau, soon after the main body under Brigadier-General Carey had opened the attack. His Rangers (No. 2 Company—No. 1 was in camp at Ohaupo) were ordered to guard the east side of the Maori position. Von Tempsky then goes on to describe the events of the first day (31st March, 1864):

“For two hours we lay under what cover the inequalities of the ground afforded, with a heavy and well-directed fire upon us. We could see the Maoris strengthening their works as busy as bees, firing away also with rifles from two or three small embrasures with most unpleasant comparative accuracy. There was one gentleman in particular sending his shots at me with a wonderful progression of skill. I had a hillock somewhat bigger than my head to shelter the same; a gentle incline thence afforded a philosophical resting-place for the trunk and limbs; so that I lay in comparative security from direct shots, though not from the leaden droppings of high descent. The first indication of the notice taken of my insignificant presence was given me by a bullet striking the ground in beautiful line with my head about eight or nine yards in front. The next shot made the distance six, in the same splendid line, the third five, the fourth four, and so on until—he did not hit me after all.

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“I had had some hopes that the nearness of our circle to the pa indicated an intention of a general assault, but nothing of the kind took place. We could not even fire, as the danger of a cross-fire was then too imminent, and I must confess that I was heartily glad when we were removed at last from that uselessly-exposed position to a point further back, where the sudden fall of the ridge gave a comparative shelter from bullets. Here I was joined once more by the rest of my men and Lieutenant Roberts, and got from him a full account of the proceedings of the main column.

“They were first fired upon from some peach-groves in the beginning of the village. The advance guard under Captain Ring, accompanied by Roberts and his Rangers, skirmished along the road, the natives retiring before them. It became then apparent that the Maoris were going to make a stand in a large peach-grove before them. There was an old stock-yard fence visible, but as to the nature of any other defences no one had any idea of what was before them. The word for assault was then given, and, Captain Ring and Roberts leading gallantly, they advanced in quick time. The Maoris held their fire until our force was within fifty yards, and then gave them volley after volley. Within a few yards from the ditch, and a parapet now becoming visible, Captain Ring fell dead by the side of Roberts. A few Rangers were trying to get into the ditch, but were not supported. Several men had fallen, and the bugle from the main body sounded the Retire. Another effort to lead the men on to the assault proved as ineffectual as the first. Captains Fisher and Hinds, of the 40th, and Captain Baker, of the Staff, most gallantly set the example, and urged the men on—but the advance of the latter was this time even a milder affair than the first. Captain Fisher was badly wounded, several men shared the same fate, and only a few of my men got into the ditch. Roberts saw that he was not sufficiently supported, and drew his men back. The two pieces of artillery then commenced to play upon the pa. We arrived about that time, and I witnessed the harmless flight of shells and other equally ineffectual shots. A little dust, and a cheer from the natives, were all the results that I could see. This firing of the Armstrong even continued after we were in our encircling position, and I had the pleasure of picking up nice pieces of shell dropped amongst us, after the explosion had taken place over our heads.”

Von Tempsky here comments on the failure to reconnoitre the pa before the troops were rushed against it in premature assaults.

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“After we had taken up our position on the east side, closing the circle that now surrounded the pa on all sides, everyone asked, ‘What next?’ A sort of vague idea circulated that ‘the place was going to be blown up that afternoon.’ I heard this myself from an officer of high standing, wondering in myself how this wonderful feat was going to be accomplished, and particularly in the space of time mentioned. However, there was little Hurst of the 12th (acting engineer officer). He suggested sapping. The idea was greedily seized and carried out.

“About twelve o'clock we began to see natives trooping along the ranges to the east, and making for the forest between us and Rangiaowhia [the Manga-o-Hoi bush]. Their numbers increased at every moment. I was stationed in a hollow where the main road from the pa [toward Otautahanga and Parawera] crossed a swamp and led up an adjoining ridge, on which stood a large weather-board house. I had previously put a picket near that house, as the view from it commanded the very point of the forest now that reinforcements were gathering.

“The natives in the pa had seen the arrival of succour as well as we had, and repeated cheers and volleys announced their appreciation of the sight. From the forest responsive cheers soon established a sympathetic intercourse between the two separated bodies, and I must confess that as far as I was concerned at least the enthusiasm was all on their side. Some Maori trumpeter in the pa now commenced one of those high-pitched shouts, half song, half scream, that travel distinctly over long distances, particularly from range to range. He was giving the reinforcements some instructions. I never have been able to find out what they were, though we had plenty of interpreters with us. I went to the picket with reinforcements, and extended a line of skirmishers along the brow of the hill in some tea-tree scrub. There was open ground between us and the line of forest in which the reinforcements were, and they had to cross that opening if they wanted to come to us.

“About this time the natives in the pa commenced a war dance. Of course, we could see nothing of it, but we could hear it—the measured chant—the time-keeping yell—the snort and roar—the hiss and scream—the growl and bellowing—all coming from three hundred throats in measured cadence, working up their fury into a state of maniacal, demoniacal frenzy, till the stamping of their feet actually shook the ground.

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“There was soon an echo in the forest of this pandemoniacal concert. Another chorus of three hundred or four hundred throats made the woods tremble with their wrath of lung and the thundering stamp of feet. Twice it subsided, and skirmishers appeared, firing lustily into us. I must confess there was something impressive in these two savage hordes linking their spirits over this distance into a bond of wrathful aid, lashing one another's fury into a higher heat by each succeeding yell echoing responsive in each breast. Yet when the result of all this volcanic wrath broke against us, when the simple crack of our carbines sent line after line of their skirmishers back into the bush, then the third war dance to get the steam up anew became a most laughable affair, particularly as its result was equally pusillanimous with the first two. No! that open ground under the muzzles of our carbines was not at all to the liking of the war-dancers. There they remained in the bush firing at us at long range, their bullets coming amongst us with that asthmatic, over-travelled sound denoting exhaustion of strength.

“The sap workers were now covered by a good number of Enfield rifles, which dropped most of their bullets into our snug hollow. I must say that as night came on I reflected upon its probable effects, and I experienced a good deal of uneasiness. I was placed on the one point where the Maoris from the pa, trying to effect a junction with the forces in the bush, would have to pass or break through. I never for a moment believed that they would allow the night to pass without making the attempt, as they had no water in the pa. If the forces in the bush, then, favoured by darkness, crossed the opening and attacked our rear while we faced the Maoris from the pa, the chances were ten to one that the junction would be effected, and that thus our prey would escape us after having done irreparable damage.

“I gave Roberts charge of the picket. It could not be in better hands. That day his behaviour before the pa, and on many previous instances, had borne me out in my preconceived idea of the young man that he was as true as steel. I ranged all my men on one side of the road, lying down close to one another in the fern, with strict orders not to stir from their positions until I gave the word—to let the Maoris run the gauntlet of their fire—and then, when Roberts had barred the narrow pass across the swamp, to charge them, bowie-knife and revolver in hand.

“It was an anxious night—so much so, that I even forgot the page 65 want of sleep of the night previous, and listened with little need of effort to the firing from the pa on the sap and from the sap on the pa. ∗ ∗ ∗ The Maoris had now fought for more than twelve mortal hours; they had wrought at the spade with marvellous rapidity and pluck; and last, not least, they had hurrah'd and war-danced enough to supply all England with consumption, and all that with no adequate supply of water, as their store of it inside must have been quickly exhausted. I believe that night some daring and devoted slaves managed to creep through our sentries and bring a few calabashes-full into the pa. But what was that for the great number of parched throats? (Also, raw potatoes assauged their thirst considerably.) Still the roar of their guns did not cease, and allow me to tell you that they had some old-fashioned barrels that roared like the bulls of Bashan and threw balls as big as potatoes. Hour after hour I listened to the firing and to the pinging of bullets whistling over our heads and dropping amongst us the whole lifelong night; but the sounds I most listened for were footsteps and that indescribable hum that precedes even the most silent body of men. I went to the picket several times, and returned each time in great haste, fearing the Maoris might break cover during my absence. But I was not the only wakeful officer. I think nearly everyone with any responsibility on him slept little that night, except those borne down by fatigue. The artillery troopers under Rait had hardly ceased their rounds along our whole circle throughout the night, and Rait and I had a long chat about the certainty of the Maoris breaking cover that night. Yet the night passed and nothing happened.

“This is one convincing proof to me that the Maoris after all, with all their cleverness, have not the true military sagacity in them to distinguish when obstinacy of defence turns into stupid self-sacrifice. Had they pushed through us that night we would have suffered at close quarters with their guns quite as much in ten minutes as in the time that the whole siege lasted, and their loss would have been comparatively small, as up to that time I believe not half a dozen of theirs had been hit.

The Second Day.

“The morning of the first of April brought Jackson and his Rangers. I was glad to see another half-hundred revolvers page 66 make their appearance and strengthen my rather ticklish position. Some of Jackson's men, on passing by the sap, had volunteered to work therein. They did excellent service, all having been diggers, and, being strong, daring fellows, they pushed the sap in great style. They were under the direction of George Whitfield, who had got his commission for his behaviour at Mangapiko. At Orakau his services were quite as prominent, and should have been recognised more than they were.

“Another weary, weary day—wait, wait—nothing but waiting. There was not even the fun of a war-dance—no water for boilers, so there could be no steam. Now and then yet a hurrah or so of the natives, when someone got prominently hit, but the strength of voice and lung displayed on the first day had made us hypercritical, so that their performance in the vocal department was not appreciated. They made, however, some very good shooting, particularly at unconscious amateurs and spectators. There was poor Major Hurford, of the 3rd Waikato Regiment. He came to me and said that he had just had two very narrow escapes, one ball contusing his breast, another his hip. ‘I am so glad,’ he said, ‘that my wife will not hear of this until all is over.’ The following morning it was all over with him.

“That day the natives began running out a counter-sap to outflank ours, and the firing from each covering party became exceedingly hot. We got all our own lead from those musical Enfield messengers en masse. When it comes to eating, drinking, and sleeping under an unceasing peppering of lead, when it drops into your pannikin, or into the bowl of your pipe—a man may be excused for losing his temper—if he has one to lose.

“The natives in the bush showed again that afternoon, but their spirits were not so high as the day previous. They would not treat us to any more war-dances, and just fired their sullen shots to let their friends in the pa know that they were there. That evening the sapping party of Jackson brought home their first victim of the war—Private Coglan. Having exposed himself rather imprudently in planting a gabion, he was shot dead on the spot.

“I felt a little less anxious that night. More than one hundred revolvers were now in a row, which in half a minute would fire 500 shots, and these at close quarters should tell. At night there is nothing like a revolver for a struggle.

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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.”

Incidents of the Siege.
The Maori Defence.

The Maoris' reason for not building the Orakau pa in a more defensive position is explained by the survivors. They say that it page 71
The Battlefield of Orakau The blockhouse on the hill was built five years after the battle, close to the site of the British field head-quarters during the siege. This drawing shows the battleground as it was about 1870.

The Battlefield of Orakau
The blockhouse on the hill was built five years after the battle, close to the site of the British field head-quarters during the siege. This drawing shows the battleground as it was about 1870.

page 72 was not placed where the native church stood, and where “Kawana” afterwards fixed his homestead, because that situation was conspicuous, and would readily be seen from the Kihikihi redoubt. This position certainly would have been superior to that selected as the site of the fort on the Rangataua rise, for on the western side of the Orakau Hill, just in rear of the old homestead, the ground slopes steeply to the Tautoro gully and swamp, and that side of the pa could easily have been scarped into an insurmountable wall. On the southern side there is a quick incline to the present road; on the east and north aspect the land slopes gently from the hill crest.

With regard to the famous cry of defiance associated with the defence of Orakau, it is difficult to reconcile some of the Maori versions with the popular story. From none of my Maori authorities, all of them men who fought at Orakau, have I been able to obtain exact confirmation of the reported ultimatum: “Ka whawhai tonu matou, ake, ake, ake!” (“We will fight on for ever, and ever, and ever!”) The following is the statement of Major W. G. Mair, who, when ensign in the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry, acted as staff interpreter, and conveyed General Cameron's demand for the surrender of the pa and his promise of safety for the garrison: “I could see the Maoris inclining their heads towards each other in consultation, and in a few minutes came the answer in a clear, firm tone: ‘E hoa, ka whawhai tonu ahau ki a koe, ake, ake!’ (‘Friend, I shall fight against you for ever and ever!’”) Then Mair made request for the women and children to come out. “There was a short deliberation, and another voice made answer: ‘Ki te mate nga tane, me mate ano nga wahine me nga tamariki.’ (‘If the men are to die, the women and children must die also.’)” The difference between the popular version and Mair's narrative is obviously very slight.

The Maori account, as given by Te Huia Raureti and Pou-Patate Huihi and the late Te Wairoa Piripi is to the effect that the answer of Rewi and his fellow-chiefs was that they would not make peace. Te Wairoa Piripi said: “The General's messenger came to us and called out: ‘Do not fire at me. I have a message for you from the General to request that you make peace, so that your women and children may be saved.’ This message was made known by Raureti Paiaka to the whole pa, to Rewi, who was at the northern section of the pa when the pakeha was speaking to Raureti. The page break page break
Major W. G. Mair Major Mair, who served with great distinction in the Maori Campaigns, 1863–72, was General Cameron's interpreter in the negotiations with the Maoris Orakau, April 2nd, 1864. For many years after the wars he was a judge of the Native Land Court.

Major W. G. Mair
Major Mair, who served with great distinction in the Maori Campaigns,
1863–72, was General Cameron's interpreter in the negotiations with the Maoris
Orakau, April 2nd, 1864. For many years after the wars he was a judge
of the Native Land Court.

After Fifty Years: Old Opponents Meet This photograph, typifying the peaceful union of the races, was taken at the monument on the Orakau battlefield, on the occasion of the jubilee gathering, April 1st, 1914.

After Fifty Years: Old Opponents Meet
This photograph, typifying the peaceful union of the races, was taken at the
monument on the Orakau battlefield, on the occasion of the jubilee gathering,
April 1st, 1914.

page break
The Battlefield of Orakau (Present Day) The bluegum tree in the foreground marks the site of the gun emplacement, the Armstrongs were posted to shell the pa. The site of the pa is in the middle distance, on the roadway marked by the row of trees. The artillery was 350 yards.

The Battlefield of Orakau (Present Day)
The bluegum tree in the foreground marks the site of the gun emplacement,
the Armstrongs were posted to shell the pa. The site of the pa is in the
middle distance, on the roadway marked by the row of trees. The artillery was 350 yards.

The Capture of the Entrenchment This picture is a drawing, untitled, among the numerous war sketches left by Major von Tempsky. Major Mair, to whom it was shown many years ago, said he believed it represented the final scene at Orakau, April 2nd, 1864, when the last few Maoris to abandon the pa encountered the bayonet.

The Capture of the Entrenchment
This picture is a drawing, untitled, among the numerous war sketches left by
Major von Tempsky. Major Mair, to whom it was shown many years ago, said
he believed it represented the final scene at Orakau, April 2nd, 1864, when the
last few Maoris to abandon the pa encountered the bayonet.

page break page 73 people in the western part of the pa were listening. Rewi Manga made reply: ‘Kaore au e hohou te rongo’ (‘I shall not make peace.’) Then all the people cried in chorus: ‘Kaore e mau te rongo, ake, ake, ake!’ (‘Peace shall never be made—never, never, never!’) Then stood up Karamoa Tumanako, of Ngati-Apakura, and said: ‘I shall make peace.’ To this Rewi, Hone Teri, and Raureti replied: ‘We are not willing that the people should be made prisoners, but if we leave the pa you make your own peace.’ Some of the people having fired, the pakeha dropped down, and the fighting began again. It was now that the rakete (rockets, i.e., hand-grenades) were flung into our pa. They were not so bad at first, but when the fuses were shortened many were the deaths. The sap was now close up. The outer fence, or pekerangi, was thrown down on the top of the soldiers, and some of them were killed or injured there. Two shells from the big gun on Karaponia [the hill on which the blockhouse was afterwards built] burst in the Manga-o-Hoi swamp, and the tribes in that direction were scattered. The explosion of a third shell slightly damaged the end of the pa where Te Huia and certain others were. The sun was declining, and now the pa was broken at the south-east angle, and the people jumped out from all parts of the work. The line of soldiers below the pa in the south-eastern direction was broken through by Paiaka, Te Whakatapu, and Te Makaka te Taaepa, and the people fled to the swamp, thence to the Puniu, leaving a great many dead.”

Te Huia Raureti said (1920): “When the interpreter spoke to us, saying, ‘Friends, come out to us so that your lives may be saved,’ Rewi Maniapoto made reply, through a messenger, my father Raureti Paiaka, ‘Peace shall never be made—never, never!’ Again spoke the pakeha, and said: ‘That is right for you men, but as for the women and children, send them out of the pa.’ This was declined, and all the people cried, repeating Rewi's words, ‘Peace shall never be made—never, never, never!’ (‘Kaore e mau te rongo—ake, ake, ake!’)”

The Ngati-Tuwharetoa and Ngati-te-Kohera tribes declared that it was Hauraki Tonganui who replied to Mair on behalf of Rewi—he was simply a mouthpiece or messenger.

It is clear from all the Maori statements, and also Major Mair's account given me many years ago, that Rewi himself did not speak to the interpreter. (For full details of Orakau and the discussion page 74 between the opposing parties see the Official History of the New Zealand Wars, written for the Government, and published 1922.)

Orakau pa was surrounded by a square of post-and-rail fence, about a chain outside the earthworks. A veteran of the Forest Rangers says it was a cleverly-designed obstruction—the predecessor of our modern barbed-wire entanglements. It was partly masked with flax and fern, and it wrought the defeat of Captain Ring's charge at the pa. The mounted men, too, were stopped by the post-and-rail fence, and there made a good target for the Maoris. The earthworks were not high, but the wide trench was a deadly affair and a complete obstruction to any charge.

Cross-Section of Orakau PA From a survey, 1864.

Cross-Section of Orakau PA
From a survey, 1864.

Cross-Section of Orakau PA

Cross-Section of Orakau PA

The British headquarters in the siege were fixed just under the fall of the ground on the south-west of the pa close to where the blockhouse was afterwards built. The slopes are covered to-day with a dense growth of prickly acacias. The blockhouse has disappeared; the site is traceable only by a hollow showing where the magazine was under the floor of the building. A short distance to the W.S.W. of this spot, on slightly higher ground, just on the edge of the Karaponia crest, with the acacia grove feathering the abrupt slope to the swamp a hundred feet below, is the place where two Armstrong guns were posted to shell the pa. A tall bluegum marks the exact spot; at its foot are the fern-grown remains of a short parapet, the gun emplacement.

It was estimated that about 40,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by the troops during the three days' fighting at Orakau.

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“Some of our men,” wrote an eye-witness, “lost their lives through foolishly and recklessly exposing themselves to the fire of the rebels. Tired of waiting in the sap, and in some instances excited by drink, they stood up and invited their fate: ‘Come on,’ they would cry, ‘and we'll cook your head for you!’—in jocular allusion to the preserved heads which once formed an important article of trade in this island.”

The same narrator, an army chaplain, wrote: “Our men were short of caps; the reason for this was that they often used them for lighting their pipes. They placed a small piece of rag inside the caps, which they then caused to explode with the points of their bayonets.

“The Royal Irish had to avenge the death of their gallant leader [Captain Ring]. More than one Maori was slain from the belief that he had fired the fatal shot. It is said that ten Maoris fell in this way; when a fugitive was overtaken the cry arose: ‘That is the man who killed the captain!’—then came a wild yell, a shot, a bayonet thrust, and all was over.

“A Maori fugitive was taken prisoner and committed to the charge of two of the Royal Irish, who were thus prevented from joining in the pursuit. As they heard the shouts of the pursuers dying away in the distance they cursed their hard fate in being obliged to remain behind. An officer came up when their impatience had reached its crisis: ‘Shall we kill him, Barney?’ Barney thought for a moment, then shook his head. ‘I couldn't kill the craytur in cold blood, Shane, but I wish we were quit of him.’ ‘Kick him and let him go,’ was the ready response. They loosed their hold and applied their heavy boots with full force to the person of their prisoner, who turned round and looked as if he would have sprung at their throats. The love of liberty was stronger than the thirst for revenge; he disappeared in the bush, while Shane and Barney hurried after their comrades.

“Most of the women who attempted to escape from the pa were taken; they were not able to run as fast as the men, and were soon exhausted. One woman was found dead clasping a Bible to her breast. The sacred volume was found on the persons of several of the dead and wounded, who had left everything else behind.

“There was little left to reward those who first entered the pa; they found about three tons of raw potatoes and a little Maori bread, but not a drop of water, nor any vessel to hold water. ∗ ∗ ∗

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They had no surgeons to attend to their wounds. One man had his left leg broken by a ball; he bound two pieces of wood round it with wild flax and fought on to the last. Another whose side was pierced plugged the wound with a cork and kept his place among the defenders of the pa. ∗ ∗ ∗ We have officers here who fought through the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny; all unite in affirming that neither the Russians nor the Sepoys ever fought as the Maoris have done; all lament the necessity of having to fight against such a gallant race. On this point the whole army is unanimous; a different feeling may prevail among the colonists, who look forward to reaping a rich harvest from all this carnage and bloodshed.”

A Maori Survivor's Story.
The Retreat to the Puniu.

The following are extracts from the narrative given to the present writer in 1920 by the veteran chief Te Huia Raureti, of Ngati-Maniapoto, who with his father fought at Orakau:

“Orakau was not a strong fortification. There was no proper palisading around the earthworks—we had not sufficient time to complete the defences—but there was a post-and-rail fence, in the form of a square, a little distance outside the trenches and parapets. The principal parapets were about five feet high and four feet in thickness, composed of sods and loose earth, with layers of fern pulled up and laid with the roots outward. The fern helped to bind the earthworks. We were still working away at the ditches and parapets when the troops came upon us. We had a sentry on the look-out, on the west side of the earthworks, the Kihikihi side, from which the soldiers approached. His name was Aporo. Suddenly his voice was raised in these words of alarm:

“‘He pukeko kei te Kawakawa! Kei Te Tumutumu te mea e tata ana!’ (‘A swamp-hen has reached the Kawakawa! There are others nearer us at Te Tumutumu!’)

“The ‘pukeko’ was the advance guard of the Imperial troops; the Kawakawa was the settlement near the large acacia grove [about a third of a mile north of the Orakau church and kainga.] The troops marched by the road which skirted the bush and up through the cultivations. Meanwhile some other soldiers (mounted men) had come a more direct way, a little to the north of the cart road, and we saw them at the peach and almond grove on the hill just west of the Tautoro swamp and creek about a quarter of a mile from page 77 our earthworks. Some of the troopers rode at our pa, but had to retire before our volleys. The main body of the soldiers came marching on; and another force which had marched up along the Puniu River, crossing and recrossing, finally fording the river near where the Waikeria joins it and coming out on the Orakau-Maungatautari Road.”

After describing the three days' fighting, Raureti told the story of the retreat to the Puniu on the last day:

“When the people had come to the decision to abandon the pa we all went out of it on the north-east side and retreated on the eastern side of the Karaponia ridge. My gun was loaded in both barrels, and I had some cartridges in my hamanu [ammunition-holder.] The soldiers were already in the outworks of the pa. Only one man wished to surrender, and this was Wi Karamoa, the minister. He remained in the pa, holding up a white handkerchief on a stick in token of surrender. We left many killed and wounded in the pa. Some of the dead we had buried; others were left lying where they fell. Among those whom we buried in the works were Matekau, Aporo (Waikato), Paehua (of Ngati-Parekawa), Ropata (the husband of Hine-i-turama), and Piripi te Heuheu (Urewera). There was bayonet work in the first rushing of the pa. On the first part of our retreat, across the slopes of the pa, we did not fire; we reserved our shots for emergency.

“We had to break through the soldiers at the steep fall of the land east of Karaponia. Here, where the ridge dropped, there was a scarped bank and ditch, made to keep the pigs out of the Rangataua cultivations. Just below this, between us and the swamp, were the soldiers. A man rushed first to break through the soldiers; he was killed. Then the foremost man turned back towards the pa, but my father Raureti Paiaka and his comrade Te Makaka dashed at the line of soldiers and broke through, and all the rest of us followed and made for the swamp. Raureti shot two soldiers here. We now were broken up and separated from one another. We retreated through the swamp, and when we reached a place called Manga-Ngarara (Lizard Creek) we found some troops who arrived there to stop us. There again Raureti Paiaka broke through and we passed on. Ngata was nearly killed there by being cut at with a sword. Raureti raised his gun as if to fire at the swordsman, but he had no cartridge in his gun. The soldier, fearing to be shot, hastily turned back, and our friend was saved.

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“Our chief and relative Rewi was with us in the retreat through the swamp, and several of us formed a bodyguard to fight a way through for him. When we had crossed the swamp to the Ngamako side, where the hills go steeply up, we saw soldiers, mounted and foot, in front of us, and we fired at them, and one or two dropped. At last we reached the Puniu River; we crossed it and travelled through the Moerika swamp, and presently halted at Tokanui. Next morning we went across to Ohinekura (near Wharepapa). Some of those who escaped from Orakau retreated to Korakonui and Wharepapa; some crossed to Kauaeroa; and others went to Hangatiki. When we crossed the Puniu the old Urewera chief Paerau, who was following us, called out to us from the Orakau side of the river, ‘Friends, Te Whenuanui is missing.’ However, Te Whenuanui (the chief of Ruatahuna) appeared safely, and we continued our retreat together.

“Rewi Maniapoto had gone to the Urewera Country before Paterangi was built, in order to enlist assistance in the war. There were old ties of friendship with the Urewera dating back to the time of the battle of Orona, at Lake Taupo, in the ancient days. The Warahoe section of the Urewera had a pa there then, and there were Ngati-Maniapoto living with them. Some of Warahoe later came and lived in the Ngati-Maniapoto country. Two casks of gunpowder were given to Rewi for the war; one of these was paid for in this way: Takurua, elder brother of Harehare, of the Ngati-Manawa tribe, came back with Rewi, and Raureti gave him £30 to pay for the gunpowder.”