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The War in New Zealand.

Chapter XII

page 168

Chapter XII.

Wanganui and Taranaki Campaign of 1865—Why Undertaken—Number of Rebels in the District—Number of Troops—Distance over which Operations to be carried on—Attack by Rebels on Road Party at Waitotara—Attack on General Cameron's camp at Nukumaru—Advance up the Coast towards Taranaki—Reaches Waigongoro—Campaign closed for the Season—General Cameron goes to Auckland—Quarrel between Governor and General Cameron.

It will be remembered that almost immediately after the outbreak at Taranaki and the murders of the 4th of May, 1863, military operations were suspended in that settlement, and General Cameron recalled to Auckland in consequence of the threatening aspect of affairs in Waikato. Before leaving Taranaki he had one engagement with the rebels at Kaitakare, and inflicted considerable loss upon them; but unfortunately it was not the perpetrators of the murders whom he encountered on that occasion, but a party of Upper page 169Wanganui natives, who, instigated by the love of fighting,, had gratuitously come a distance of 120 miles to take part in the strife. During the Waikato campaign, the troops at Taranaki did little more than stand on the defensive; but the rebels continued to scour the country and attack our outposts. It was there also, as we have seen, that the horrid Hau Hau superstition originated; and it was Taranakis and other south-west coast natives who attempted to attack Wanganui, when they were so gallantly defeated by our Maori allies. In addition to these acts of open aggression, they had for five years closed the road along the coast between Taranaki and Wanganui, threatening death to any one who might attempt to travel on it. On one occasion Bishop Selwyn made the attempt, when they stopped him, imprisoned him, and finally sent him back by the way he had come.

The Governor had never abandoned the idea of punishing these natives. He "always considered," he writes to Mr. Cardwell, "that the safety of the southern settlements required that these tribes, who were among the most guilty of page 170all the tribes in New Zealand, should be reduced to submission." As early as June or July, 1864, preparations had been commenced for the prosecution of this campaign, but had been suspended partly by the lateness of the season, partly by the Governor's attempts to carry out Mr. Cardwell's abortive cession schemes, and partly by his own futile amnesty proclamation which tied his hands till December, 1864. In the interval the Weld ministry had taken office. Their views as regarded Taranaki were identical with the Governor's, and with those of their predecessors. They "considered it indispensable to the permanent safety of Taranaki and to the general pacification of the country, that a passable road should be opened between Taranaki and Wanganui as soon as possible; that the settlements of New Plymouth and Wanganui should be strengthened and extended; that military posts should be established between the two; and finally that as the tribes referred to had always been among the most turbulent of the native population, had committed the worst and most unprovoked outrages, and were then in a state of open rebellion, there could page 171be no permanent peace until they should be reduced to submission and their country opened."*

It was to carry out these views that the Wanganui-Taranaki campaign was undertaken.

The Governor's plan was to begin at both ends, to force a way along the coast till the troops met, in the course of which operation there was little doubt that the rebels would be encountered and thoroughly beaten.

The total number of natives in the rebel district of all ages and sexes was estimated at 1,500; of these perhaps 700 might be fighting men. Allowing for a few contingents from Taupo or Waikato, it was not probable that their force would ever reach 1,000. The General had with him 4,497 Queen's troops; colonial forces and transport corps, 600; military settlers, 800; irregular cavalry, 60; and bush-rangers, 100; in all, 6,000 enlisted soldiers; with nearly 1,000 more of friendly natives and local militia. If our troops had adopted the Hau Hau religion and eaten all their enemies, there would not have been

* See also Mem. in C. P. P. 1865., A. No. 1., p. 9.

page 172a leg or an arm for each of them. The General had also artillery and several steamers on the coast capable of entering the various rivers which ran through the district.

The distance from Taranaki to Wanganui is 128 miles, all of which, except 90 miles, was already in our possession. Colonel Warre, C.B., commanding at Taranaki, offered with his column of 600 men, to clear 90 miles of the 128, leaving General Cameron only 34 miles, 18 of which were in our possession, and half of that cultivated and occupied by Wanganui settlers. With these figures it does not seem as if the General had much work before him.*

Before, however, he could begin his work, whatever it was, the rebels challenged us to the fight. The provincial government of Wellington was engaged in making a road over Queen's land in the Waitotara block, about 12 miles north of Wanganui. Some rebels residing on the north side of the Waitotara river had threatened to stop

* These and previous figures are Governor Grey's. See Despatch to Secretary of State, 10th July, 1865; C. P. P. 1865, A. No. 5.

page 173the road; but after some discussion they agreed that it should go as far as the river; if we crossed that, they said they would fight. While it was still some miles from the river a party of Taranaki natives came down the coast and attacked one of the road parties. A few days afterwards they most barbarously murdered in cold blood, in his own district, a friendly chief and some of his followers. On the 24th January the General's force advanced towards the Waitotara river, but before reaching it a skirmish occurred, in which we lost Lieutenant Johnstone of the 40th, and three others killed, and had seven men wounded. On the next day a force of 600 rebels (according to General Cameron)—400 (according to the Governor)—boldly attacked the General's camp at Nukumaru, a place on land belonging to the Queen, on the south side of the Waitotara river. The attack was made both on flank and in front, and it is stated that at one time the rebels got within 150 yards of the General's tent. The pickets were driven in with considerable loss, and had the Maories brought up a reserve in time, it is doubtful which way the fortune of the day page 174would have gone. The fight lasted a long time, but eventually the rebels were repulsed and driven to the bush by a small party of cavalry. Only eleven bodies of rebels were found on the field; but it was "estimated" that their loss was "heavy." Ours was 11 killed and 19 wounded. We had 46 officers, 45 Serjeants, and 878 rank and file engaged.

This was the only occasion in which the forces under General Cameron became engaged with any considerable number of the enemy during this campaign. With the exception of the skirmish of the previous day and another running fight near Patea on the 13th March, it was the only occasion on which an enemy was seen at all. On the 5th of February the General crossed the Waitotara river with half his force, leaving Brigadier-General Waddy and Colonel Weare of the 50th to follow him a few days afterwards. On the 16th February the united forces got to Patea, a considerable river about 40 miles from Wanganui, where the head-quarters were established. Thence detachments were advanced to Kakaramea, Manawapo, and Waigongoro, where posts were page 175established; the latter being the farthest point to which General Cameron advanced. Not any enemy was seen on the whole march, except the small party with which a skirmish took place near Patia. The native villages were all deserted, large quantities of food being left growing around them; the rebels had gone to the much-dreaded "bush," where, as the General says, "it would be useless for us" (i.e., the Queen's troops,) "to follow them."*

The whole distance traversed between Nukumaru and Waigongoro did not exceed 50 miles. General Cameron stuck close to the sea-beach, travelling by a road which was ordinarily traversed by horses, and, I believe, most part of it by carts. The natives, who had retreated into the bush three or four miles on his right hand, where he says "it would be useless for us to follow them," called him in derision "the lame seagull." The 50 miles' march occupied from the 5th of February, when he crossed the Waitotara, to the 7th of April, when he reached Waigongoro, exactly eight

* C. P. P. 1865, A. No. 4.

page 176weeks of summer weather, being at the rate of rather less than one mile a day. His whole marching column was 1,948 rank and file, with the usual proportion of officers.

The autumn now set in, and occasional rough weather occurred on the coast. A boat-load of groceries intended for the troops was upset in the surf, and accidents happened to one or two more. General Cameron, who, as Sir George Grey remarks, was the only General who ever thought it necessary to go into winter quarters in New Zealand, conceived it time to terminate the active operations (if they may be called such) of the campaign, and about the end of April he departed for Auckland.

No one can suppose for a moment that General Cameron and his army of 6,000 men were really doing their best all this time. It must have been a matter of considerable difficulty for him how to contrive to do so little. All our conjectures to discover how he solved the problem, would, I fear, have been futile, had there not reached us certain "Blue Books, presented to the General Assembly by command of page 177his Excellency," which contain the key to the Wanganui campaign. They are entitled, "Correspondence between his Excellency Sir George Grey, K.C.B., and Lieutenant-General Sir D. Cameron, K.C.B.," and they contain the record of one of the most remarkable quarrels between "two able and distinguished men," as Mr. Cardwell calls them, which probably ever occurred in official life. The English public has been wondering why the New Zealand war would not come to an end, and why the five regiments which they were told a year ago were on their way home have not arrived. The documents, of which I shall proceed to give an abstract, will enable them to discover the reason why they have been disappointed in these matters, and will also give them such an insight into the manner in which wars are conducted with Imperial troops in our colonies, as must make them more determined than ever, that if it be possible this shall be the last occasion on which such an event shall ever happen in the history of the British Empire.