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 VI — The Waikato War.
The Waikato War.
We broke a King and we built a road—
A cow thouse stands where the reg'ment goed,
And the river's clean where the raw blood flowed,
When the Widow give the party.
The eviction of Mr Gorst from Te Awamutu served to precipitate the Waikato War, but in truth a conflict had become inevitable. There was a widespread feeling that the time had come for a racial trial of strength, and the conflict was due as much to the aggressive policy of the Government and the anti-Maori tone of the newspapers and the politicians as to the martial preparations of the Kingites.
The construction of the military road and the establishment of military posts in obvious readiness for an advance into the Waikato confirmed the natives in their belief that the Government meant to force a way into the interior and shatter their home-rule plans.
The first definite act of war was Lieutenant-General Cameron's despatch of troops across the frontier, the Mangatawhiri River, on 12th July, 1863.
Te Huirama, with a body of Waikato, barred the way with rifle-pits on the Koheroa ridge, near Mercer, and on 17th July the first engagement took place. The troops under Cameron charged the Maori position with the bayonet, and the Kingites were driven out with the loss of their leader and about thirty others. Numerous skirmishes followed in the South Auckland country on the northern side of the Mangatawhiri; the Lower Waikato and Wairoa and Hauraki war-parties carried gun and tomahawk into their enemy's country, following their favourite tactics of ambuscade and plunder. There were many bush fights, in which the Forest Rangers and the Forest Rifle Volunteers, as well as Imperial troops and militia, were engaged.
The three principal fortified posts of the Kingites in the early stages of the war were Paparata, Meremere, and Pukekawa. These positions were designed to stop the southward progress of the troops and enable the Maoris to levy war on the frontier settlements.page 36
Pukekawa is the beautiful round green hill on the west side of the great elbow of the Waikato, where the river bends westward below Mercer; anciently a fortified pa of the Ngati-Tamaoho stood on its summit. When the Waikato War began the Ngati-Maniapoto came down the river in their canoes and selected it, as their headquarters, and from Pukekawa as a convenient base they made raids on Patumahoe, Mauku, Camerontown, and other frontier districts. They expected to be attacked there, and entrenched themselves, but General Cameron did not carry the war to the west side of the Waikato.
Presently the arrival of gunboats specially adapted for the river war enabled Cameron to outflank and capture the strongholds on the east bank of the Waikato and to occupy Ngaruawahia, the Maori King's headquarters, unopposed. His only serious check was at Rangiriri, where in disastrous frontal attacks the Imperial naval and military forces sustained heavy casualties—47 dead and 85 wounded. The pa surrendered next day, and 183 prisoners were taken. The Lower Waikato was conquered, and the General with his steam flotilla shifted the army to the Waikato-Waipa delta for the final blows to the Kingite cause.
Paterangi and Waiari.
Falling back from pa to pa, Waikato and Ngati-Maniapoto at last concentrated their forces in the great series of entrenchments at Pikopiko, Paterangi, and Rangiatea, defensive works intended to block the march of the Imperial and Colonial troops on the principal Kingite cultivations and food stores at Rangiaowhia. The chief fortification was Paterangi; the traces of this elaborate system of earthworks can be seen to-day close to Mr Harry Rhodes' farmhouse on Paterangi Hill.
General Cameron's headquarters were at Te Rore, on the Waipa, and there he camped for several weeks early in 1864. The principal engagement during this period of waiting—for Paterangi was too strong for frontal attack—was a lively skirmish at Waiari, on the Mangapiko River. Forty Maoris fell that day (14th February, 1864), and six British soldiers lost their lives.
Here, at Waiari, that free-roving and adventurous colonial corps the Forest Rangers had their first taste of sharp fighting in the Waipa country. We shall hear a good deal of those Rangers in the succeeding chapters. There were two companies of them, each page 37 fifty strong. No. 1 Company was commanded by Captain William Jackson—afterwards Major Jackson and M.H.R. for Waipa—and No. 2 Company by Captain G. F. Von Tempsky, who as Major of Armed Constabulary fell in the bush battle of Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu, in Taranaki, in 1868. The Rangers were armed with Terry and Calisher breech-loading carbines and five-shot revolvers, and Von Tempsky's men also used bowie-knives, made in Auckland from a pattern supplied by him, somewhat on the model of the bowie-knife of Arkansas and Texan fame.
The Rangers at Waiari were ordered to clear the Maoris out of the scrub which covered the old pa in the river-loop. They dived into the thickets, and soon killed or dispersed the Kingite warriors, and then covered the retreat of the main body of troops to Te Rore and Colonel Waddy's advanced camp. The Rangers enjoyed the work so much that it was difficult to get them home to camp at Te Rore for their tea. The British dead and wounded had been removed, and as many as possible of the Maori dead were brought across to the north bank of the Mangapiko. General Cameron had ridden up from the main camp at Te Rore in time to witness the defeat of the Maoris in Waiari. The Rangers, covering the return of the troops, came under a heavy fire in front and from both flanks, and returned it with coolness and accuracy from the cover of the manuka and fern.
A veteran corporal of No. 1 Company (Jackson's) recalls Colonel Havelock's ire at the indifference of the frontiersmen to the bugle calls. “It was getting dusk,” he says, “and still all our Rangers had not come out of the scrub, and we could hear their carbines cracking in reply to the heavy banging of the double-barrel guns. Captain Jackson was standing alongside Colonel Havelock, A.D.C.—the son of the famous hero of the Indian Mutiny—who asked why the Rangers had not returned. Jackson replied in his blunt fashion that he didn't know; he supposed they'd come out when they had finished their job. The ‘Retire’ was sounded again, but still our fellows kept popping away in the dusk. At last, Colonel Havelock, swearing that he would turn out the 40th Regiment and fire on the Rangers if they did not obey orders, called up all the buglers that could be found and told them to sound the ‘Retire’ all together. Presently our boys came out of the manuka and joined us, as pleased as kings with their afternoon's hot work.”
A very few of those hard-fighting Rangers are left to recall the page 38 incidents of a vanished phase of New Zealand life. Some—like Major Jackson—settled down to pioneer farming, but for others the warpath had attractions irresistible, and long after the battle of Orakau many of the young veterans strapped on their fighting gear again and followed “old Von” to Wanganui and Taranaki to do battle against the Hauhaus. The corps ceased to bear its distinctive name; most of its members returned to their sections of land in the military settlements on the confiscated Waikato land; some joined the Armed Constabulary. And when Von Tempsky fell to a Hauhau bullet before the stockade of Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu it was a young officer who had been his subaltern in 1863–64, J. M. Roberts—now Colonel, and holder of the New Zealand Cross for valour—who coolly and competently extracted the rearguard after a terrible night in the forest of death. He had learnt his work well in Von Tempsky's practical school in many a scout and in many a skirmish in a country where the name of the Forest Rangers is already but a dim legend, so quickly has the work of nation-making marched in New Zealand.
Von Tempsky was a clever artist in water-colours, and had a gift of writing animated narrative. He wrote a journal of events covering his service in the Waikato War, and his story of the fighting at Rangiaowhia, Hairini, and Orakau will be given in the chapters which follow. His account has the merit of being a participant's direct description of the engagements; moreover, it now sees print for the first time.*
Among the notable figures of that day whom Von Tempsky describes in his journal was Bishop George Augustus Selwyn. There is a word-vignette of the great Bishop, riding unostentatiously with the army, his old pack-horse ambling along laden with his tent and simple camp gear. “What comfort the wounded and sick derived from his presence may be imagined,” wrote Von Tempsky. Often have I followed with my eye his fine, manly figure wending its way on errands for the good of others; and the study of that man's character, strongly impressed in a face where hard work has stamped its signet on high-bred features, would yield materials for an epic poem. How that man's being has clung to a preconceived idea of his work in this country! How every fibre of his existence has wrapped itself round that one object, the improvement of the page 39 aboriginal! Through good and evil times he has stood by his work, strong, fresh, after years of disappointment, unalterable in his purpose, even if in opposition to the good of his own race. There perhaps we find the one flaw in an otherwise almost perfect character.”