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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]

The Fight At Omaranui

The Fight At Omaranui.

In 1866 the native risings were a source of much uneasiness to the people of Hawke's Bay. A secretly organised attempt was made by the Maoris to attack Napier. Discovering their intention, Archdeacon Williams, of Te Aute, hastened to town, and informed Sir Donald McLean, then Superintendent of the Province, of the danger that was immediately threatening Napier. The forces were at once called out, marched through the night to Omaranui, about thirteen miles distant from Napier, and at daybreak on the following morning, October 12th, were formed up to attack the fortified pa on the eastern bank of the Tutaekuri river. The Napier Rifles and Puketapu Militia were posted on the right flank, Nos. 1 and 2 Companies of Militia, and the Meanee Militia— the main body—were drawn up for a frontal attack, while a small body of friendly natives, from the northern districts, took up a position between the two attacking parties. Chiefs Renata, Tareha, and Karauria brought up another small force of friendly natives on the left flank. On a small hill in the rear a white flag was hoisted, while Mr. Hamlin, the Maori interpreter, took over a message calling upon the rebels to surrender. Near this flag Major Whitmore, who had charge of the operations, took up his position, being accompanied by Sir Donald McLean. For one hour the parleying continued, when, upon the enemy refusing to surrender, the Union Jack was run up in place of the white flag, and the order to attack was given. Led by page 324 Major Lambert, the main body crossed the river, formed up, and took cover under the bank of the river. Volley after volley was exchanged, and an enfilading fire was maintained by the right flank. Under cover of the smoke, the forces drew nearer to the pa. The first answering volley from the rebels killed Private Young, of the Meanee Militia, seriously wounded Private Brooking, of No. 1 Company, while a bullet pierced the shoulder of Captain Kennedy, of No. 2 Company. The main body moved along the extended front of the pa, towards their right flank, and the forces had approached to within fifteen yards from the redoubt, when Major Whitmore, who had in the meantime crossed the river, arranged and gave the order to storm the pa. At this critical moment the rebels ran up a white flag and surrendered. The casualties of the white forces were two killed (William Young and Henry Morrison) and about twenty wounded. The enemy's loss was twenty-one killed, and a larger number wounded. The prisoners and wounded were brought to Napier, and located in the barracks, gaol, and hospital. Had the natives opened fire upon the troops while they were crossing the river, the result would have been more disastrous. Muzzle-loading rifles were the only arms used in the conflict, no ordnance being available.

While the engagement was proceeding at Omaranui, another fight was taking place at Petane. There Major Fraser and Captain Richardson and Captain Carr, with the military settlers of the district, intercepted and captured a body of Maoris—of, which about twelve were killed—who were attempting to join their comrades at Omaranui. Near Parke Island the natives who were fighting at Omaranui, had previously drawn up their canoes, which were left in charge of a small party. A detachment from the main body, with the assistance of the harbour pilotman—who rowed across the inner harbour—overpowered this party, and took possession of the canoes. The prisoners were afterwards sent to the Chatham Islands for a term of imprisonment. The story of their escape from the Chathams, under Te Kooti, and subsequent massacre of settlers in Poverty Bay, is told in an article on “The Maori Wars,” in the Auckland volume of this work. The Napier forces were again called out on Sunday morning, on the 13th of April, 1869, and marched to Petane. There they remained in camp for a fortnight, but no conflict took place, as the threatening rebellious natives approached no nearer than Mohaka.

In 1869 the F Battery of Artillery was formed, under Captain Joshua Cuff. He was succeeded by Captain (afterwards Major) Richardson, and Captain (afterwards Major) Garner. Later, both these gentlemen successively held the position of Officer Commanding the Hawke's Bay district. Captain McCarthy was subsequently in command of the company. This corps afterwards changed its name, and became the present Napier Guards.

Interest in volunteering abated considerably after the Maori war, and the next impetus it received was the Russian “scare” of 1885. The original company of the Napier Rifles disbanded in 1874. On the 5th of March, 1878, the Napier Engineers were formed, but this corps changed its name to that of the Napier Rifles. The Napier Naval Corps was formed in 1885, but disbanded after about ten years' service. The rifle companies of the present battalion are the Hastings, Waipawa, Ranfurly, and Gisborne corps. On the 7th of December, 1898, the first No. 3 Battalion of the Wellington (East Coast) Rifle Volunteers was established, of which Captain Chicken, V.D., was appointed the first commanding officer, with the rank of Major. On the formation of this battalion, a presentation of colours was held on the Marine Parade, before a large muster of volunteers, veteran soldiers, and civilians. The flags, which were the records of the British regiments, were the gift of Dr. de Lisle, and were presented to the battalion by Mrs. R. D. D. McLean, after being consecrated by the late Dean Hovell. It is said that this was the first occasion in New Zealand on which regimental colours were presented to any battalion. The function terminated in a dinner, held in the Masonic Hotel the same evening.

The outbreak of the Boer war gave another impetus to the volunteer movement. It is claimed for Hawke's Bay that more men were sent to South Africa from that province, in proportion to population, than from any other district in the colony; namely, First Contingent, seven men; Second Contingent, twelve men; Third Contingent, fifty-seven men; Fourth Contingent, forty men; Fifth Contingent, forty-five men; Sixth Contingent, twenty-seven men; Seventh Contingent, forty-two men; Eighth Contingent, twenty-nine men: Ninth Contingent, forty-eight men: Tenth Contingent, seventy-nine men. A handsome monument of a life-sized trooper, carved in marble, standing upon a lofty pedestal on the Marine Parade, Napier, was erected by the people of Hawke's Bay to commemorate the part taken by the sons of her province in the war in South Africa, and was unveiled by His Excellency the Governor on the 10th of February, 1906.

Many settlers have materially helped the volunteer movement in
J. Bell, photo.Hastings Street South, Napier.

J. Bell, photo.
Hastings Street South, Napier.

page 325 Hawke's Bay, among whom may be mentioned Mr. J. H. Coleman, who presented many prizes and a shield for shooting; Dr. de Lisle, who donated colours and encouraged an esprit de corps; and Mr. R. D. D. McLean and Mr. and Mrs G. P. Donnelly, who presented horses for the contingents.