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Recollections of Travel in New Zealand and Australia

Up the Waika to and Waita

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Up the Waika to and Waita.

The war in the Waikato was at its height. After the fights at Meremere and Rangariri, and the fall of Ngraruawahia, General Cameron had advanced up the Waipa (the greatest tributary of the Waikato) to a place called Terore, where he then lay encamped, making preparations for his final attack on the strongholds which were situated between the Waipa and the Horatiu, or main branch of the Waikato, which runs out of Lake Taupo.

I proposed a visit to what was called "the front," and proceeded to look about for a horse. As all four-legged animals were then in great request, it was with great difficulty that I procured one from Mr. Hardington of Auckland, on which I started on February 15th, 1864. With much spurring I managed to get this wretched screw as far as Papakura, some twenty miles out, where I remained for the night. The roads were much cut up by the traffic of the campaign, and the dust was very bad. At Papakura numbers of soldiers and Waikato men were loafing about.

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Having been informed that it was absolutely necessary for safety to accompany the escort which left Drury daily at 8 A.M., I mounted a fresh horse early on the morning of the 16th (having luckily found an officer who undertook to ride Mr. Hardington's screw back to Auckland), and breakfasted at Drury, after which I rode on to pick up the escort. At 9.30 I found it wending its way along, guarding a line of carts. After a short experience of this mode of progression I got tired of it, and asked the officer in command if there was any danger in riding on. He informed me there was not, so I put spurs into my horse and went ahead. It is a pretty ride from Drury to the Waikato. Most of it is through bush, but very fine views are obtained, chiefly over the Manukau on the north, and the Waikato valley on the south, I was struck with the absurdity of the mode in which we dress our soldiers. Why should a soldier be attired in such a manner that in actual warfare he must discard or modify his usual habiliments? We do not dress our sailors in that fashion.

After enjoying a fine view over the Waikato valley, I descended to the Queen's redoubt, then garrisoned by a strong force. It was situated on the right bank of the Waikato. Here I met Dr. M'Shane of the 65th, an old friend; called on Colonel Chapman, commanding the 18th Royal Irish, and then rode on to Meremere, the road winding over low ridges of poor clay, the country open, and the river often in view on my right. The weather was page 222superb—just that bright elastic air which in New Zealand is so enjoyable.

Meremere was the pa where the Maoris made their first great stand in the Waikato, The position was turned by using a steamer in the river, and the Maoris, therefore, attacked on two sides, were forced to clear out. At Meremere I met my old friend, Major Turner, then in command of the transport department. He gave me a letter to Lieutenant Hunt, R.N., at Rangariri, which proved of service, as otherwise I might have had difficulty in finding accommodation and in getting on. I slept at Rangariri, the second place where the Maoris made a stand. Here General Cameron advanced from the north along the ridge which commanded the pa, while a steamer forced the river and landed a regiment on the south side. The pa was a square enclosure, with a ditch of very moderate size; the river was on the west, and a large swamp on the east. Many valuable lives were lost trying to storm this pa. It is probable that this attempt ought never to have been made, as the Maoris could have been forced out or made to surrender by the use of artillery alone. Probably the General either despised his enemy too much, or feared that the garrison might all escape by the swamp if not handled at once, and that in consequence he might be put to the trouble of besieging them somewhere else. The result, however, was unfortunate; we lost many lives, and many of the Maoris escaped by the swamp.

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I slept in the commissariat tent. The night was rather cold. At 6 A.M. on February 17th I started in a commissariat boat, leaving my horse at Rangariri. The boat was laden with oats, and a naval officer, Mr. Harrison, was in charge. At 7 P.M. we passed Armitage's farm, and afterwards a village of Te Wheoro's Maoris. At 9 A.M. we reached Rahuapukeko, too late to catch the "Pioneer" steamer, which had just started. Here there was a detachment of the 18th Regiment. There are coals-seams on the left bank of the river. The "Pioneer" returned, and at 3 P.M. I started in her. We stopped at the mine to coal, and I landed to examine it. The thickness of the seam in sight was nine feet; the bottom of the seam was not seen. The coal, although very useful, is unsuited for ocean voyages. The "Pioneer" burnt double the quantity of this coal that she would have done of Australian. At Rahuapukeko, while waiting for the steamer, I noticed the arrival in a canoe of one of the old-fashioned pakeha Maoris with his family: his name was Randal. He informed me that his wife was of the highest blood of Waikato; some of his numerous family had married whites and some Maoris. The sight of this large, happy-looking, easy-going family, helped to relieve the tedium of detention.

At the coal mines the steamer first entered the hills. Passing through this gorge we emerged on the upper Waikato, and passed the mission station at Taupiri on the left bank. The general character page 224of the country is made up of pumice flats and clay hills. About 6 P.M. we reached the royal city of Ngaruawahia, situated on the angle between the rivers Horatiu and Waipa. The city consisted of a palace of no great pretensions, being a not very large whare, and a few other smaller ones. Here we found a considerable detachment of troops. Mr. Frizell of the 14th gave me a bed in his tent, and we had a rubber of whist under difficulties. The situation of Ngaruawahia points it out as a place which must eventually become of great importance, standing as it does at the junction of two rivers navigable for small steamers, and backed by a very fertile country.

On February 18th we started at 5.30 A.M. with two punts in tow, the river Waipa not much broader than the length of the steamer. Snags were numerous, and we were constantly bumping upon them. At 7.45 A.M. we reached the steamer "Avon" in a semi-submerged state, with her bows under water and her stern sticking up. She had knocked a hole in her bows and had sunk in this fashion. Attempts were now being made to get her up. We passed several canoe boats of Maori women and children looking very depressed. We reached Whatawhata at noon. Here there was a detachment of the 65th, and I met an old friend, Toker, of that regiment. The country passed through was level, but well above the banks of the river. As we proceeded, the cliffs increased in height to an alternation of 80 to 90 feet on one bank and from 20 to 30 feet on the other.

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At 3.50 P.M. we reached Rahi-ngapouri, where we found another military station garrisoned by a detachment of the 14th. About 5 P.M. we reached Terore, then the headquarters of the army, a fine position commanding extensive views over the surrounding plains, and looking on to the fine mountain of Pirongia on the south, an old volcano.

General Cameron's Camp at Terore. Pirongia in Background.

General Cameron's Camp at Terore. Pirongia in Background.

I got a shake-down in the tent of Mr. St. Hill, the General's aide-de-camp, and dined with General Cameron, an officer whom I had known as far back as the year 1836, when he was a captain of the 42nd at Corfu, and I was a midshipman of H.M.S. page 226"Sapphire" stationed at the same place. I passed a pleasant evening with him and his staff.

It was supposed that the troops would soon advance to the attack of the pas to which the Maoris had retreated within a few miles of Terore; and indeed the attack did take place soon afterwards, but the time for the performance of this operation was of course kept a secret. Bishop Selwyn was in the camp and performed service daily.

On February 19th I started at 6 A.M. in the "Koheroa" steamer, in which I had ascended from Ngaruawahia. At 7.15 we struck a snag with such force that a man was knocked overboard, and I nearly went over myself. The man swam on shore, and we picked him up. At Rahi-ngapouri I met Major Dwyer of the 14th, so well known in Wellington. I reached Ngaruawahia about 12.30 P.M. On the following day I picked up my horse at Ran-gariri and rode as far as Papakura, and on the 21st reached Auckland.

Soon afterwards an order came from the General to send the first-class militia from Auckland to what was called "the front." That is to say, it was to garrison the redoubts about Papakura and Drury, while the troops then guarding them were to be moved into the Waikato. This may have been necessary, but it caused immense derangement to the business of the town. Our landlord had lost his servant, who had to shoulder his rifle and go; and he and his wife had themselves to do all the work of the house. Altogether, it struck me page 227that the war was conducted on a somewhat too imperial scale both as to men and money—it was employing a steam-hammer to crush an egg. If Governor Sir T. Gore Browne had been allowed the use of two or three regiments, the work would probably have been done as well as it was by Sir George Grey and some ten regiments sent at an enormous outlay.

The British Government might take a lesson from New Zealand with regard to the action that should follow the wars that have been going on in the Transvaal and in Afghanistan. The general rule of late has been to fight a war to a conclusion, and then rest exhausted. The proper plan is to commence then works of development. After the New Zealand wars, came the public works policy, by which means the country was opened by road and rail, and a future outbreak of the Maoris on any extensive scale rendered almost impossible. Now is the time to commence public works in the Transvaal, and to open it by road and rail to the rest of the world; but no doubt this is a work which should be undertaken by the confederated South African States, and should not be thrown upon the British Government; but if the said Government intends to continue to protect these colonies with Imperial forces, it should see that this is done. One difficulty to improvement in the South African Colonies seems to be the tenure of land. I have not been able to make out what this is, but I am informed that a man helps himself to as much land as page 228he wants without payment to any one, and that each Boer family requires 6000 acres. Now, if every family in a country requires 6000 acres, it cannot support a large population, and if land is to be had for nothing, there is then no land fund, and no money from that source to pay for roads and bridges and immigration. It is difficult for an Australasian colonist to imagine how a new country can progress without a land fund. I should suppose that if the Transvaal should be relegated to the Boers, it would pass into a stage of utter stagnation. The whole of the Cape Colonies seem to be in want of fresh blood, and a constant stream of it; but this can only be gained by placing the land laws on a proper footing.

British influence and policy ought gradually to spread from the South African Colonies to the equator, either directly, or through active, not stagnant, colonies, and this policy should always be kept in view. It will be a work of time, perhaps of centuries. The question of Afghanistan stands on a different footing, because that country is not and cannot become a colony; but the reasoning is similar. Let railways be driven up the passes as far and as fast as possible—this will open the country to trade, and will enable forces to be rapidly concentrated when required. We have not only the example of the Romans to guide us, but also that of the great road-maker, General Wade.