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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand


'Now Major,' said the President, 'we are ready for your story.'

'Well,' said the Major, 'I don't know that I have much of interest to tell, still, it may help us to pass the time till the weather clears.

'The Maories are natural warriors both in the open fern plain, in the tangled forest, or in their earthwork fortifications. Discipline and drill are of course indispensable in our military operations, but a British soldier, however efficient under most circumstances, is not the best man in a dense New Zealand forest, interlaced with sharp ridges and deep ravines. In touch with his right or left hand man, with his supports not far in the rear, the regular soldier is hard to beat, but those are just the conditions which cannot be secured in a dense, trackless forest. The combatant in a forest must know the ways of it; he must be a man of resource; he must know how to get into it; how to keep in it without being discovered; and how to get out of it. His quick eye must find and follow the faintest track made by naked feet on fallen leaves. He must be silent, watchful and unwearied. He will know that if the forest gives shelter to the foe, it gives cover to him, for indeed a big tree makes a very good front-rank man.

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'The British soldier, necessarily, does not possess these advantages. He dreads the forest, and brave though he is, he is often demoralized by its difficulties, which his discipline has done little to enable him to overcome.

'In the last war, Governor Sir George Grey soon realized the difficulty of driving out the daring and intrepid Maori warriors from the wooded mountain ranges, which bounded the then settled districts to the south of the City of Auckland. Through his representations, General Cameron commissioned me to raise a corps of Forest Rangers without delay. I had neither time nor opportunity to enrol the class of men I wanted. Still, with a few exceptions, I raised a fine body of men for forest operations. I was placed in command, and at very short notice, after receiving orders from the General, I entered the forest.

'With all my care, I soon found I had rather a strange medley. Old soldiers, men-o'-war's-men, bush-men and aristocrats. Amongst the latter, were the Hon. Mr. L., Sir Frederick F., Bart., and Baron von B. These latter fellows, though game to the backbone, were lazy dogs. One day, a sergeant in charge of a fatigue party, roused them up with a "Turn out you——nobles." When off duty, which goodness knows, was none too often, an occasional carousal by the "nobles" would take place, which though clearly against "the articles of war," I found it convenient to wink at for a while.

'One morning, after one of these "sprees," the ser-page 156geant, a rough and ready Yorkshireman, fond, like many more of my fellows, of a joke, accosted the Baron with
  • '"Well Baron, are your pistols in order?"
  • '"All right," replied the aristocrat, "but why?"
  • '"Don't you know," says the sergeant, "that you have to fight Sir Frederick?"
  • '"Mein Gott," said the Baron, jumping out of bed, "I am very glad you told me, I had forgotten all about it."

'Another of the fellows meantime, had roused Sir Frederick, telling him a similar yarn. However, that worthy baronet had either a better memory, or was less of a fire-eater, for he declined the meeting with thanks. In the interval, Baron B. pistol in hand, came dancing up to Sir Frederick's tent, determined to fight out the quarrel of the night before.

'By this time, the sergeant considered the joke had gone far enough, and with great difficulty pacified the fiery Baron. In the interval, the baronet had been stirred up and would fight anyhow. I had enough to do to prevent the two madcaps from making targets of each other. At last however, the imaginary quarrel was made up.

'When the Forest Rangers, as our corps was called, were first embodied under my command, the corps was attached to the "Flying column" under Col. N., and subsequently to the left division, under the command of Major R. of the 70th. This officer had somewhat curious notions of bush fighting. One day, he had ordered the force, consisting of two hundred men, page 157into the forest on the Hunua ranges, then swarming with hostile Maories.

'Traces of the enemy having been discovered, the order of march was given—advance guard, skirmishers on the right in a deep wooded ravine, skirmishers to the left in another deep gully, the worthy major on the ridge between the two, and a rear guard to cover our retreat. This was doubtless very proper and ship shape, but it would not work in a forest as dense as an Indian jungle of a very tangled pattern, and only served to show, how unsuitable a rigid military tactician was, for the command of such a force in a forest. What with sentry go and pipeclay, my men got thoroughly disgusted.

'It was soon found that such a hybrid force with such tactics was useless, and the Forest Rangers were detached, and to use their own term, "put on their own hook," under my sole command.

'I always made a point of starting on an expedition at night, so concealing my movements. My tactics were very simple. We never went on a path except when following a trail, and never emerged from the forest by the same path we had entered. We carried three days' cooked rations—so avoiding lighting fires with their tell-tale smoke.

'Reconnoitring in the forest, we one day came upon a trail, which I felt sure, had been made by the enemy, who had just plundered the Wairoa settlement and killed some of the people. We tracked them for a long time, and then, owing to the trail running page 158through a Tawa forest, we lost all traces of them. The Tawa roots had been trodden bare by cattle, so that notwithstanding the minutest examination not a trace of a naked footprint could be seen by the sharpest eyes. We trudged on, and at length I observed a twig, which had lain across the roots broken in the middle and pressed down, the ends being turned up. A close scrutiny revealed the impress of a staff, evidently carried by one of the enemy, the solitary dent from which had already many times enabled us to recover the trail.

'We crept stealthily on with renewed ardour. Further on, we came upon the remains of a fire, the ground under the ashes showing a very slight trace of warmth. We knew then, that the Maories were not more than a few hours ahead. Night came on. We posted sentries as usual, and rolling our blankets round us, snatched a few hours' sleep.

'Up with the dawn, we took up the trail. Slowly and stealthily we crept along through the mazes of the gloomy forest. After a long tramp we came upon the remains of another fire. This time, the embers were hot. With redoubled ardour we followed on. At nightfall we camped. At break of day, I sent two or three of the sharpest-eyed fellows up the tallest trees, to look out for the smoke of the enemy's fires. For a long time they watched in vain, but at length, just before sunrise, they reported five puffs of smoke rising out of a deep gorge.

'Without more ado, we left the trail and made a page 159bee line for the point. A long and steady march, or rather crawl, through the trackless and almost impenetrable forest, its mighty trees, interlaced with supplejacks (a kind of vine), hanging like ropes in every direction, made our progress no easy task, even, to my fellows, who, by this time, were all experienced bushmen. Against such mettle as theirs however, the densest forest could not stop our progress, and we came out on a high semicircular bluff. Around the base of the cliff roared a mountain torrent, which, some fifty yards further up the valley, dashed over a mass of rock into a deep pool below. The opposite bank was low, not more than a few feet above the stream, being a level flat a few acres in extent, sheltered by dense forest.

'There at last, we had come upon the enemy. It was a perfect picture. More than a hundred Maories were lying about in careless security, as they thought. Some were finishing breakfast, others cleaning their arms, many more were examining their plunder, taken a few days before from the homes of the Wairoa settlers, some of whom they had killed.

'I reconnoitred the position, and with two trusty followers crept round the bend, towards a track which crossed the stream just above the waterfall. Creeping noiselessly up the path, we spied a single Maori sentry, evidently posted to warn the enemy against pursuit from the plundered Wairoa district Standing up in his white blanket, looking at nothing in particular, with his gun resting against a tree, he saw nothing. One of my companions begged me to let page 160him knock the fellow over, but I forbade him to draw trigger, as I knew well enough, that as long as he was there, the enemy would fancy themselves secure, besides that, a report at that moment would have sent the enemy flying.

'I crawled back, and instantly dividing my party, twenty-six men all told, I placed thirteen at a point covering the enemy's position. The remaining thirteen, I placed nearer the waterfall, covering the path on which the sentry was stationed.

'This party I led, and instructed the first party, when they saw me lift my hand, to fire a volley right into the marauders, and then rejoin me.

'The dense forest and the roar of the cataract enabled me to complete my dispositions without in the least disturbing the enemy. Just at this moment, a cow-bell was tinkled by one of the Maories.

'"My father's cow-bell," whispered Aleck the guide.

'That instant I gave the signal. In a second, my party delivered their fire, followed by a second volley from the reserve. The first party had reloaded, and dashed over the torrent at the waterfall right amongst the enemy, now in complete disorder.

'The greater part fled, leaving a few brave fellows to cover their retreat. We made short work of them. In less time than it takes to tell, they were put hors de combat, and after a short, but decisive struggle, we remained masters of the field.

'Scattered around, lay the plunder taken from the page 161Wairoa settlers. Rapidly seizing the most valuable portion, and setting up the wounded in the most easy postures, giving to each a mouthful of rum, we moved off at once. We would have done more for them, but there was nothing more we could do. We had to go, and that at once, knowing well that their departed friends would creep back in no long time. Fortunately we did not get a scratch, or, so small a force, in the heart of a dense forest, many miles away from any supports, might have been in a difficult position.

'We lost no time in retracing our steps. Amongst the recovered booty, Pompey, a gigantic negro in the corps, had carried off a heavy carpet bag securely locked, filled, as he joyfully supposed from its weight, with a large sum in gold. Having put many miles between us and the scene of the conflict, we halted for dinner. Pompey lost no time in breaking open his bag, when out rolled on to the blanket he had carefully spread to receive his golden treasure, about twenty pounds weight of—leaden bullets. Pompey swore frightfully at the deadly missiles, but his outlandish oaths were quickly lost in the uncontrollable laughter of his comrades. For my part, I felt that the bullets were a far more valuable booty than gold, for doubtless Pompey had saved many lives by the capture of his leaden spoil.

'I had the satisfaction of learning afterwards that we had killed the murderer of old Mr. H., as well as the ruthless villain who had so cruelly murdered the little children of Mr. T., both Wairoa settlers.

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'A still more important result followed the engagement, for the rebels cleared out of the Hunua ranges and molested the harassed settlers no more.

'Now,' continued the Major, 'let me tell you a story of battle of the olden times, which I may call