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The War in New Zealand.

Chapter XIV

page 209

Chapter XIV.

Wanganui River and Interior—Gallant Behaviour of friendly Natives at Ohoutai—Capture of Pehi and eighty Rebels—Pehi released by Governor—Joins the Rebels again—Captain Brassey's brave Defence of Pipiriki—Governor throws away Advantages by issuing a foolish Proclamation—Murder of Kereti and Mr. Broughton.

I Have now, I am glad to say, completed the record of dilatory military operations, and vigorous contentions between the able and distinguished men whose office it was to direct and conduct them. What remains to be told is of a much more satisfactory character, and, as regards military operations, affords in all respects a most remarkable contrast to what has gone before.

Perhaps the most difficult portion of New Zealand for military operations is that through which the upper part of the Wanganui river flows. Volcanic action, and the rush of many mountain page 210streams in one, have forced a great cleft 120 miles long, through a rugged semi-mountainous country, broken by innumerable ravines running at right angles to the course of the main river. Where these minor ravines cut the river, there will be a delta of a few acres of level ground, the intervening space between one delta and another being a solid wall of perpendicular rock several hundred feet high, commanding from that height the course of the short river reaches below. The country is for the most part clothed with dense forest, interlaced with supplejacks and vines, and slippery with the roots of huge trees which twist along the surface of the ground like gigantic serpents. The river which is the only key to this country, rushes in broken foam in successive rapids over jagged rocks and great boulder-stones, The natives when they ascend it, throw away their paddles, and with great labour and an immense amount of "capstan songs," they force their canoes of a few inches draft through the rushing water. The navigation of the Wanganui, is, I believe, the only thing of the kind of any magnitude in New Zealand.

It was up this river and into this country that page 211our native allies showed us the way when they stopped the threatened inroad of the Haus Haus, and fought, as I have already related, the brave battle of Moutua.

After that victory they built three redoubts in the neighbourhood, and held possession during the ensuing winter. When the campaign began in the following summer, they offered to come down to the coast, to go in advance of the troops and sweep the enemy away between Wanganui and Taranaki. These offers were, however, not accepted, but acting under the Governor and the Colonial Ministry, the native contingent, which appears to have amounted to about 400 men, continued to hold possession of the posts up the river, and to prevent the descent of a large rebel force congregated there under Pehi, a chief of high rank and prestige as a warrior. The hostile parties were encamped in strong pahs on either side of a line which was held to be the Rubicon between them, the crossing of which by either party was to be the signal for immediate hostilities. The principal pah of the rebel party was Ohoutai, but they had several smaller redoubts page 212near it. Some rebels having crossed the line were captured and sent back; but they soon re-appeared in larger numbers, endeavouring to outflank the loyal natives. Then "General Mete King" gave orders and the fighting began. The principal attack was led by Hoani Hipango, better, known as John Williams, of Putiki. The assault was carried on with vigour, and the rebels were driven from pah to pah, till at last they sent out Pehi's wife with a white flag. "O Hori Kerei," they heard her crying, "when will light come out of darkness?" Then they ceased firing, and white flags were run up at the rebel pah. Pehi and his people came out unarmed and in single file, and agreed to go to Hihuarama (Jerusalem) as prisoners. Fifteen rebels were killed; five only of the friendly natives. But among them was John Williams, who was shot from the pah when holding the advanced post of the attack. From the earliest days of colonization he had been the firm friend of the colonists; he was a Christian native, a man of peace and civilized habits, and had just built himself a good eight-roomed house on the European model, on his valuable property page 213close to Wanganui. In 1852 he had been in England and been presented to the Queen. In 1846 he had, at great personal risk, arrested the murderers of the Gilfillan family at Wanganui. When shot at the head of his men he did not fall, but walked quietly away, and was taken down the river to Wanganui, where in a few days he died, respected and honoured by all who knew him. He was buried with all the honours that could be bestowed.

Pehi, the rebel chief, now a prisoner, was taken down to Wanganui. He was well known to be one of the most slippery and untrustworthy Maories in New Zealand. At the same time his influence was very great with the rebel party. If there was a rebel living whom it would have been wise to keep in safe custody it was Pehi. The Governor, however, according to his usual practice of throwing away by diplomacy what he gains by action, was satisfied with his taking the oath of allegiance and let him go up the river again; writing to General Cameron, "Wanganui is now quite safe; your mind may be at rest on that point." I need scarcely say that before many page 214weeks were over Pehi had broken his oath of allegiance, rallied his people around him, and gone again into the thick of the war.

Indeed, at the moment he was writing, the Governor must have felt that Wanganui was not "quite safe," for he determined at once to send up a force of native and military settlers to Pipiriki, a strong position a few miles above the spot where the native engagements had taken place, and which if occupied would give us the permanent command of the river, as well as cut off the rebels on the coast and at Wereroa from all communication with the interior. Captain Brassey of the colonial forces, with 250 "Military settlers," succeeded in getting up the river and taking possession of Parakino and Pipiriki, which he held without opposition till the removal from the river of the friendly native contingent which the Governor had sent for to attack Wereroa pah, as recorded in the last chapter. Then Pehi and his followers, who had so recently taken the oath of allegiance, and been released by the Governor, appeared in force, and prepared to attack Captain Brassey and his weakened post at Pipiriki. When page 215the Governor was engaged in the capture of Wereroa, news reached him of the critical position of that officer, hemmed in by a superior force, and short of supplies. Fearing that his letter might fall into the hands of the rebels, Captain Brassey scraped together the little Latin that a life of colonial adventure had left him, and wrote, "Sumus sine rebus belli satis," which he got a friendly native to undertake to carry through the enemy's lines for 15l The moment that Wereroa was captured, the Governor despatched reinforcements of colonial forces and friendly natives to his relief. Before these got there, however, Captain Brassey had relieved himself. His post was attacked by a large force of rebels, whom after a sharp engagement he repulsed, inflicting upon them, with his "rebus belli," a very heavy loss.

We had certainly now gained something by our military operations. Ohoutai, Wereroa, Pipiriki, and the junction of the forces under Colonels Warre and Weare, all except the first the work of a few days, had re-established our prestige, no less than given us substantial advantages. page 216It must be admitted that Governor Grey had exhibited very considerable military skill; and that the course he had taken in carrying on operations with friendly natives and colonial forces, which General Cameron had declined with the Queen's troops, had been eminently successful. As usual, however, he proceeded to throw away by his pen what he had won by his sword.

Although the rebels on the coast and up the river had made no submission (except the sham submission of Pehi and his followers), though they still held strong positions in the bush where General Cameron had said it was useless to follow them—though not a soldier could straggle a few hundred yards from camp without being shot down, the Governor thought that the time had come for his favourite panacea, the issue of another Proclamation. This singular document announces to the natives of New Zealand that the war which commenced at Oakura is at an end.

"The Governor," it says, "took up arms to protect the European settlements from destruction, and to punish those who refused to settle by peaceful means the diffi-page 217culties which had arisen, but resorted to violence, and plunged the country into war.

"Upon those tribes sufficient punishment has been inflicted. Their war parties have been beaten; their strongholds captured; and so much of their lands confiscated as was thought necessary to deter them from again appealing to arms.

"The Governor hopes that the natives will now have seen that resistance to the law is hopeless; he proclaims on behalf of the Queen that all who, up to the present time, have been in arms against her Majesty's authority will never be prosecuted for past offences, excepting only those who have been concerned in the murders of the following persons.

"The Governor will take no more lands on account of the present war.

"As regards the prisoners now in custody, the Governor will hold them until it shall be seen whether those who have been in arms return to peace. If they do so, the prisoners will be set at liberty."

The only effect this document was likely to have was to increase the contempt of the natives for us. They always regard the party who makes the first overtures of peace as beaten; and must have been greatly surprised and encouraged, when after our recent undoubted successes they found us in the position of what they would consider page 218suppliants for peace. The Governor asserted that the war was at an end. They knew that it was not, and that as it takes two to fight, it takes two to make peace; which they also knew they had no intention of making. They said, "What is the good of all these proclamations? This is the ninth which the Governor has issued. At first he told us we must give up our arms, our persons and our lands; then it was, that we must give up our lands and sign a declaration of allegiance; and now he says the war is over, and we need give up nothing, and he will take no more land." The mandarins of China, according to Sir John Davis, used to try the effect of government by proclamations. The Chinese rebels called them "paper tigers." There is a story of one of these dignitaries being found as our troops rushed to the breach of one of their forts, complacently sticking a proclamation on the wall, informing the outside barbarians that it was "trespass to come that way." The Maories have learned to look on Governor Grey's proclamation, much as our soldiers and sailors must have regarded this warning. Such "paper tigers" only exas-page 219perate the enemy, and increase their contempt for us.

So when a messenger was sent with a file of this last paper tiger to one of the rebel pahs on the coast between Wanganui and Taranaki, a few days after it was issued, he was barbarously murdered, and the proclamation torn up and trodden under foot with every mark of insult and contumely.

A few days later Brigadier-General Waddy sent to these people with whom the Governor declared we were not at war, a Government interpreter, Mr. Charles Broughton, well known to, and formerly on most intimate terms with them. He was by specious pretences, and the hoisting of a flag of truce, inveigled into their pah, and then, after (it is said) the most horrible tortures, he was barbarously murdered. Such, and such only, down to the latest dates, were the fruits which this ill-judged proclamation had borne.

But what must have increased the astonishment of the natives when they read it, was that in the same gazette appeared another proclamation, declaring martial law in the Opotiki district, page 220on the east coast, and the intended punishment of the murderers of the Rev. Mr. Völkner and others. These murders had been committed by, and at the instigation of members of the very tribes with whom the first proclamation declared the war was ended. There probably was not a man among them who did not glory in the murders, and as they showed a few days after, were ready to commit similar atrocities. Yet here they saw the Governor holding out the olive-branch to them on one coast, and the sword on the other. It must have puzzled them exceedingly.

When the latest news left the colony, General Chute was preparing an expedition to chastise the murderers with whom the proclamation had just announced "to all the natives in New Zealand," we were no longer at war.

And this brings me to the last stage of the war, the campaign by the colonial forces at Opotiki and the east coast.