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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XVIII. — A Warlike Expedition

page 166

Chapter XVIII.
A Warlike Expedition.

The War in New Zealand.—A Full Private.—'On active service.'—Capturing Canoes.—A war Canoe.—Captain Lloyd our Commander.—A Maori war party.—Flagstaff cut down.—The Six-toed Man.—On the Trail.—Off it.—Her Majesty's forces in a muddy condition.—'The Articles of War.'—Wading or Bolting.—'Draw Bayonets.''Scrape Uniforms.'—The Six-toed trail lost in the Mud.—Angry and Wet.—Cautious and Valiant.—A deserted Village.—Friendly pigs and Hostile pork.—'Butchers do your Duty.'—The First blood drawn.—A picturesque Bivouac.—'All's Well.''More pork.'—Captain Lloyd Vigilant as ever.—Scouts in advance.—A Village full of Maories.—A meddlesome Interpreter.—The Captain's blood 'up.'—No Nonsense.—'Load.'—In for it.—'Charge.'—At the Double.—An awkward shot.—Visions of Glory.—Rifles discharged.—Killed and wounded.—Terror of Maori women.—Our Captain Merciful as well as Brave.—His pretty speech to the Dusky Ladies.—The Spoils to the Victors.—Marching off the Prisoners.—Something to Boast of.—Wet, but jolly.—Despatches to the War Minister announcing our great Victory.—Rifles would not 'go off.'—Despatches from War Minister.—Our Military Ardour Cooled.

In the last New Zealand war the flower of the British army were engaged, assisted by thousands of Colonial militia and volunteers. I had the honour page 167of serving as a full private in the Manakau Rifles. One morning, I and my groom were summoned 'on active service,' to capture the Maori canoes lying in the creeks falling into the Manakau harbour or gulf. I left my wife, children and women-servants in a terrible fright, but there was no help for it. Every able-bodied man had to go. The force, consisting of one hundred men, was under the command of Captain Lloyd, formerly an officer in the Irish Constabulary, a little mad perhaps, but as gallant a leader as ever men followed.

We captured a great many canoes of various sizes, from the Kupapa (little canoe) to the Wakataua (large war canoe). Amongst the latter class, was a notable war canoe. The topsides and figure-head were carved in superb Maori style. It was 82 feet long, and when fully manned, carried a crew of 100 warriors. Launching this canoe was a work of no little difficulty, requiring the full strength of the force to drag it on skids out of the Maori boat-house where it lay. A few old Maories, men and women, sat and watched the work. Arms were piled, and sentries posted, the latter precaution being unnecessary, for in accordance with the custom of the time, all the men of fighting age were off to the war, the old men and women staying at home to hold on to the land. An hour's hard work put the big canoe in the little bay ready to be towed by the steamer on her return up the harbour.

A week's cruising in the attendant little steamer, with some hard marching, enabled us to capture all the canoes in the gulf, which, with the exception of the page 168great war canoe, were all subsequently destroyed. This war canoe now lies at the Auckland Museum.

During the expedition, Captain Lloyd received a despatch from the War Minister, informing him that the flagstaff at the Manakau heads had been cut down by a Maori war party, and ordering him to pursue and capture the offenders. We were informed that one of the hostile party had six toes. This enabled us to take up the track. For several days we followed the trail through forest and fern, by means of the six-toed fellow's footprints, until running it down to a deep stream, which we forded; at this point we lost the trail, but after an hour's search again getting on the track. We followed it through all sorts of forest openings, and into many romantic glens, beneath mighty trees, lovely silver tree-ferns, and all the tangled greenery of the New Zealand forest.

In a score of places we might have fallen into ambuscades, but being one hundred to ten, Captain Lloyd pushed on, too intent on finding and keeping the trail of the fugitives, to give himself the least trouble about any other parties of hostile Maories. Happily, we met with none, and so kept our skins whole. After finding and losing the trail a hundred times, we ran it down to a broad salt-water creek. At this point the trail disappeared, probably in the broad belt of slimy ooze with which the creek banks were lined. Not a footprint could be seen. The fugitives had certainly crossed somewhere, but where? Captain Lloyd halted 'Her Majesty's forces' as he called us, at the edge of the muddy flat. It was page 169nearly low water, with a belt of slimy mud a quarter of a mile broad, and a stream of salt water forty feet across flowing down the centre. He decided to cross, and gave the word 'March.' We obeyed naturally, being, as our gallant Captain had frequently reminded us, 'under the Articles of War,' otherwise, I think the whole company would have bolted, rather than have marched into the mud.

Seeing us hesitate, he roared, 'Now men, no nonsense. Forward, March.'

And march we did, right into it, our gallant commander pluckily leading the way, sword in hand. Ankle deep, knee deep, we floundered on, some of us sticking in the mud, the mud sticking to all of us, including the Captain, for that mud was no respecter of persons. The stream of salt water in the centre gave us great relief. Wading through it, up to our cartouch boxes, we floundered on through the muddy slime, which stuck to our uniforms in a very pertinacious way. After very hard work, we reached solid ground, wet, weary and muddy.

'Halt. Draw Bayonets. Scrape uniforms,' sung out the Captain.

This done, we were ordered to take skirmishing order, and search for the trail. The ground being hard clay, covered with scrubby fern, we sought for the trail in vain. Whether the Maories had gone up stream, or down stream, we could not tell. Any way, we neither picked up the six-toed track, nor the six-toed man.

I learnt afterwards that the fellow was made page 170prisoner in the Waikato war, and finding, possibly, his extra toes a great nuisance in the way of showing his tracks, begged the doctors to cut the extra toes off.

Our Captain was very angry, and we were very wet. After marching about a mile, we fell in with indications of a Maori village. We marched for it, to fight there, or sleep there, as might happen. So our Captain said. But, being cautious as well as valiant, he threw out scouts in advance, and we crept on behind, as quiet as mice. In a little while, the scouts fell back, and reported that a village was there, but that not a Maori could be seen.

Still continuing his precautions for fear of an ambuscade, we advanced in skirmishing order, ready for the worst, and found the village quite deserted. We were glad and sorry. That is, the Captain said he was sorry, but as for the rest of us—I know it was mean—we were very glad.

Tuakoto was a large Maori village, with large cultivations and a number of good Whares (houses). To take possession of these, and hunt for, and find, potatoes and Kumaras (sweet potatoes), did not take us long. In the search, we fortunately dislodged a number of Maori pigs. Our commissariat had miserably failed us, and our gallant Captain at once gave orders to 'charge' the pigs, and capture as many as possible.

The interpreter to the force, said the pigs might be 'friendly' pigs, or rather the pigs of friendly Maories. But as there were no Maories there, either page 171friendly or hostile, Captain Lloyd declared in authoritative tones, that he was not going to stand by, and see Her Majesty's forces starve in the presence of pigs like those, and without more ado, he declared them 'hostile pork,' and commanded the men to do their duty. Two butchers in the force at once stepped out, and 'did their duty,' and, for want of their knives, stuck a dozen of the captured pigs with their bayonets, (that was the first blood drawn on the expedition), and roughly dressed them in double-quick time.

Whilst this was going on, sentries were posted, and parties detailed to get firewood and water, of which, happily, there was abundance. In a little time, a dozen large fires were under way in the forest clearing, with the Captain's' 'hostile pork' roasting or frying on every fire. It was a jolly time, and really quite picturesque. Our fellows felt, and looked, and ate, and finally, slept like warriors. Through the drowsy night, nothing disturbed us beyond the 'All's well' of the sentries, and the melancholy cry of the 'more pork,' a native owl, so called from his cry of 'More pork, more pork.'

Next morning we marched for a second Maori village about two miles away. Never relaxing his vigilance for a moment, our worthy Captain threw out scouts as before. Soon returning, they reported a large number of Maories about the village.

The military instincts of our gallant commander enabled him rapidly to make the necessary dispositions for the attack. Again, that meddlesome fellow, page 172the 'Interpreter,' said he believed they were friendly Maories. But the Captain's blood was up, and he said in fierce tones, that he 'would stand no nonsense,' and without more ado, gave the word to 'load.'

We now felt we were 'in for it,' or that the Maories were, which was much the same thing, with a difference. Said the Captain with flashing eye,

'Men, you will do your duty, men always do' (at least almost always). 'At the word, "Fire," give it 'em hot, and fire low. Charge.'

Down hill and across the stream we 'charged,' helter-skelter, the Captain in advance. We dashed on at the double in good order, but one awkward fellow stepping on a mossy boulder, fell backwards into the water, his rifle going off at the same instant.

'Confound you,' roared the Captain, as the ball whizzed within an inch of his cap, 'fall into the rear sir, and take charge of the baggage.'

This shot nearly upset the Captain, and it entirely upset his plans. For, on gaining the crest of the hill, the women and children in the Maori village rushed together in terror. About a dozen old men disappeared into the Whares (houses). This was dreadful. All our gallant Captain's visions of glory vanished with the Maories.

In the rush, several rifles had been discharged, but nobody was the worse, except a few of the 'hostile pigs,' which furnished the only list of killed and wounded resulting from our well-planned and spirited attack. The Captain, though in a towering rage, page 173manœuvred his men admirably, considering the stumps and logs lying about in all directions.

The Maori women were in great terror, and evidently expected to be killed off at once. But our Captain—merciful as well as brave—in a pithy speech informed them that British soldiers never molested prisoners of war, especially when they were women.

Our Captain, as distinguished for organization as for valour, ordered all the Maori men into one house, and the women and children into another. Sentries having been posted over them, we proceeded to search and loot the houses. We secured about thirty muskets, some ammunition, a number of spears, tomahawks, Taiahas (Maori battle-axes), greenstone ornaments, some officers' swords and soldiers' jackets, and a variety of other articles.

The Captain determined to march off the male prisoners under a strong escort, to the nearest European settlement. Before moving off, our courteous Captain complimented us on the victory we had won, which he said, though bloodless, was signal and complete. This speech was of course greeted with hearty cheers.

Laden with spoil, and proud of our decisive victory, we marched off with our trembling prisoners in proper military fashion, advanced guard, skirmishers on either flank, and all the rest of it. About nightfall we marched into the European settlement The excitement caused by our arrival was intense.

Hitherto, the regular troops had made very little impression on the enemy, who swarmed in the forest page 174ranges bordering the settled districts. That the first capture of prisoners was made by Volunteer soldiers was something to boast of. If we had not taken the 'six-toed' rebel, we had made sixteen prisoners, who though all old men, had each the regulation number of toes on both feet, as we had found, after a close examination.

It had rained all day, and we were very wet, but very jolly for had we not won a great victory?

The Captain, while we were drying our uniforms, was busy writing despatches, which he promptly sent on to head quarters, conveying full particulars of our great victory, with detailed lists of the muskets and soldiers' jackets we had captured.

Meantime, we were ordered to discharge our rifles, but—whether owing to the heavy rain all day, or to some of the cartridges having got down wrong end first, when we were ordered to 'load'—not half our rifles would go off. We had a terrible job to get out the bullets, and our Captain, though the politest of officers when everything went on right, was furious, and swore like a trooper when the rifles would not go off.

We sulked a good deal, but remembering we were soldiers, and not forgetting the 'Articles of War,' we said nothing. Nevertheless we could not help thinking, that it was just as well that the young warriors of the Kainga (village) had all gone to the 'front,' or the great victory might have been on the other side.

In a couple of days, despatches arrived from head page 175quarters. Imagine our disgust at being informed, that we had attacked a friendly village! and that our prisoners were all peaceable and friendly Maories!!

The Captain was instructed to release his prisoners forthwith, and restore all the captured property. Whether the thirty muskets were actually returned, we had no means of knowing, but as the war, out of respect for Exeter Hall, was then conducted on strictly philanthropic principles, most likely they were, and the ammunition as well.

Next day, a steamer conveyed us to our homes with the captured canoes in tow, and our military ardour at zero.