Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The War in New Zealand.

Chapter V

page 55

Chapter V.

Alarming State of Affairs in Waikato—Suppression by Force of Government Printing Establishment—Obstruction of Buildings at Kohekohe—Expulsion of Resident Magistrate—Attempts made by Waikatos to rouse Rebellion in the South—Thompson's Complicity—Commencement of Waikato Campaign—The first step taken by the Rebels—Attack on Escort, and Fight at Koheroa—Defeat of Rebels—Long Delay.

While the Governor was engaged at Taranaki, as related in the last chapter, events had been occurring in Waikato, indicating that, even if the outbreak at the former place had not occurred, the temper of the King party had become such, that it would be impossible for the Governor long to avoid coming into hostile collision with it.

Shortly after the Governor's arrival in the colony, in 1861, William Thompson had complained of ardent spirits being smuggled into Waikato by a French trader, and called on the Government to assist him in suppressing the page 56practice. Advantage was taken of the opportunity afforded by this request, and a magistrate (Mr. Gorst), was sent into the heart of the Waikato country, where he was established on a small block of land which had been sold by the natives to a carpenter, and was held by him under a grant from the Crown. Mr. Gorst was not allowed by the surrounding Kingites to exercise his functions as a magistrate among them; but he was useful to the Government in keeping it informed of what was going on in Waikato, and getting an insight into the character of the King movement. About the close of 1862 Mr. Gorst proposed to establish a school in the district, for the education of young men who might be gradually weaned from the influences of the King party; and the Mission station of Awamutu, with an estate of several hundred acres of land, and extensive buildings, was placed at the disposal of the Government for the purpose. Additional buildings were erected, and an ample staff of teachers suitable for a large industrial school were provided at the cost of the Colonial Government, Mr. Gorst being placed at the head page 57of the establishment. Several pupils were induced to enter, and though things had gone much too far in Waikato to make it likely that it would exercise any perceptible influence on Kingism, yet no doubt the intention was good, and no harm, political or otherwise, was likely to arise from the establishment of such an institution, if discretion were exercised in its management. Unfortunately discretion was not exercised. The King natives had for some time past been in the habit of issuing an occasional sheet of newspaper on a very small scale, in support of the principles of Kingism. It was printed at a press which had been sent to them as a present by the Emperor of Austria, and was called the Hokioi—the name of a fabulous bird of ominous portent. This journal was a very poor affair, and might safely have been left to itself. Some one, however, unfortunately suggested the idea of an opposition paper for the purpose of writing down Kingism. A printing press was obtained, and under the editorship of Mr. Gorst, a journal in the Maori language was issued periodically from the industrial school. In contempt of the Hokioi appa-page 58rently, it was styled the Pihoihoi, the name of a little ground lark common in the country, and which might represent to Maori ideas what "the chirping sparrow" would to us. Great was the bickering between the birds; and it is probable that that which chirped under Mr. Gorst's auspices had the best of the argument. At all events the natives seem to have thought that it was more than a match for their champion, so they determined to abate it. A strong party of them marched down to the printing office armed, took possession of the press, types, and material; and in spite of all the resistance, short of bloodshed, which was offered by an extremely energetic Maori pressman, carried them away. A member of the House of Representatives palliating this transaction, said that if any one had established a violent anti-Catholic paper in the town of Tralee, that not only would the press have been seized, but the proprietor also summarily disposed of. It might be so; but the perpetrators of such an act would have been very likely to have to answer for their conduct at the next criminal assize. And though no one can page 59deny that the attempt to establish a political agency under cover of an industrial school was neither judicious nor straightforward, yet it certainly did not justify the resort to violence which followed. This happened in 1883. A more serious affair, however, happened very shortly afterwards.*

The Governor wishing to strengthen the frontier between the King party and Auckland, and possibly with ulterior views for the maintenance of the Queen's authority, had determined to erect a court-house and police barracks in lower Waikato, on land belonging to a loyal chief—a native magistrate—who gave his full consent; if, indeed, it was not originally requested by him, which, if my recollection does not mislead me, it was. From the very first, the King natives up the river said it should not be done. At last the timbers were ready, sent to the place, and the erection commenced. The King natives came in force, and on the 9th of March 1863, threw the whole concern into the

* All the papers relating to this affair are collected in C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 1.

page 60river. The friendly natives resisted to the utmost short of the loss of life, but they were over-powered.*

Immediately after this transaction, the King natives expelled Mr. Gorst from the district. He and his assistants had with much courage stuck to their post to the very last, and it was only after the natives had threatened to put them into a canoe and launch them down the river—when in fact their remaining was no longer consistent with personal safety—that they abandoned it. This happened at the end of April 1863.

These events all occurred before the outbreak at Taranaki. No sooner had that event occurred, and the King natives had committed themselves to hostilities by the part they took in directing the murders of the 4th May, than they began to make preparations for an immediate aggressive movement upon Auckland. Evidence of this poured in from all sides. A great number of letters were addressed to the Governor, to missionaries and others, by friendly natives in

* C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 3.

C. P. P., E. No. 3, § 1.

page 61Waikato and elsewhere, urging them in the most earnest manner to be on their guard against the contemplated attack on that city and the surrounding settled country. A mission, headed by an old chief seventy years of age, was sent by the King party to Cook's Straits, a distance of 200 miles, to rouse the natives there, and they were urged "to drive the Europeans into the sea, so that they might disappear from the island." These Southern natives were also informed, by a circular letter signed by leading chiefs of the war party in Waikato, and of which the Government obtained a copy, that it was intended immediately to attack Auckland and other places. They were exhorted to "sweep out their yard, and we will sweep ours," meaning, "Do you drive out the Europeans in your districts, and we will do the same;" and the letter concluded with a well-known war song of the olden time, the last line of which is, "Grasp firm your weapons, strike! fire!" It was distinctly stated also that William Thompson, the leading spirit and controlling mind of the King party, had "consented to the attack on Auckland;" and letters which he wrote imme-page 62diately after the commencement of hostilities confirm the statement. "I have consented," he writes on the 26th July, "to attack the whole of the town. I shall spare neither unarmed people nor property. If they prove the strongest, well and good. If the Maories prove the strongest, this is how it will be: the unarmed people will not be left."*
The Governor had no longer any doubt that the tribes of Waikato had organized plans for "the wholesale destruction of the European settlements." He had positive proof that they had authorized the murders at Taranaki, and that they were on the point of attacking the immediate neighbourhood of Auckland and committing similar murders there. He knew that they had been arming and drilling for years past. He determined at once to advance into their country, to bring to account the tribes which had provoked the outbreak at Taranaki, and to suppress if possible the threatened insurrection.

* A portion of the letters, &c. referred to, will be found in C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 3, and E. No. 3 A. Thompson's letter, E. No. 3 A., p. 7.

page 63General Cameron was still at New Plymouth endeavouring to punish the actual perpetrators of the murders there—and he had fought one successful engagement with them at Kaitikara. He was now recalled to Auckland, with all the force that could be spared beyond what was necessary to form a garrison for the protection of the town of New Plymouth. By the beginning of July he had concentrated a strong force on the boundary between the settled European districts and the unsold Maori lands. The proper right bank of the Waikato river and the Maungatawhiri creek which falls into that river just where it makes a rectangular bend, forty miles from Auckland and about the same distance from the sea, formed the frontier line between the Imperial troops on the one side, and the insurgent natives on the other. The King tribes had always said that they should look upon our crossing this frontier as a declaration of war. We were now prepared to take that step, but not with any such intention as "declaring war." War had already been declared by the Waikatos, when they ordered the murders of the 4th of May; that, according to page 64Maori ideas, was a declaration of war; and the Governor crossed the Maungatawhiri creek to punish them for that act, and to arrest the invasion of the province of Auckland, of the immediate imminence of which he had the irresistible proofs above referred to.
On the 12th July General Cameron crossed the Maungatawhiri creek with a detachment of 380 men of the 12th and 14th Regiments, and placed them in a redoubt on the Koheroa ranges, overlooking, and at a distance of about 500 yards from, the Waikato river. It appears that the very day before this step was taken, the Waikatos had despatched from Ngaruawahia, the head-quarters of the rebels, in the upper river, the force intended to invade Auckland. It was divided into two columns. One of them proceeded by a circuitous route up the Maramarua creek, descending secretly through the heavily timbered Wairoa ranges, so as to outflank and get completely into General Cameron's rear.* The other column

* Governor Grey to Secretary of State, Dec. 5th, 1863. P. P. of June, 1864, p. 7; and Same to Same, 6th Jan. 1864. P. P. 23rd May, 1864.

page break
Sketch Map to Illustrate theWaikato Campaign.Published by Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill, London.

Sketch Map to Illustrate the
Waikato Campaign.
Published by Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill, London.

page 65advanced straight down the river, intending apparently to attack the outposts on the north side of the Maungatautari creek, and at the pah on the bend of the Waikato river. Both columns seem to have arranged to commence their operations simultaneously. On the 17th of July, the column which had got into the rear of our forces, attacked an escort marching from the Queen's Redoubt to Drury, under command of Capt. Ring of H.M. Royal Irish. A smart engagement ensued; but the escort was overpowered by numbers and had to retire to the shelter of a settler's house in the neighbourhood, with a loss of four killed and ten wounded. The loss of the natives was not known.

In the meantime, on the same morning, at 11 A.M., Colonel Austin, commanding the advance-post which had been stationed at Koheroa, observed a large body of natives collected on the ranges in his front. This was undoubtedly the other invading column before mentioned. He immediately got his men under arms, and advanced against the enemy; his force being increased to 500 men by detachments of the page 6612th and 70th Regiments which had just arrived from the camp on the other side of the creek. General Cameron, who was at the moment on his way to Koheroa, hurried forward, and put himself at the head of the force. After proceeding in skirmishing order for about two miles, the rebels opened fire; but as the troops advanced, they retired along the narrow crest of the ridge towards the Maramarua creek in their rear, making a stand on a very favourable position which the ground presented. As our troops advanced, they fell back on several lines of rifle pits, which, from the nature of the ground, could not be turned, which they defended with great obstinacy, and from which they were only dislodged by the bayonet. From one of these positions they poured so heavy a volley on the advancing detachment of the 14th Regiment, which had never before been under fire, that the troops wavered; and it was only by General Cameron rushing twenty yards to the front and cheering them on, that they were steadied to their work. The rebel force was pursued from one position to another, a distance of about five miles, until page 67they were driven in great confusion across the mouth of the Maramarua creek, where some of them escaped up the Waikato river in canoes, and others along its right bank, after swimming the creek. As no means of crossing this creek were at hand, the pursuit was here necessarily abandoned. The loss on our side was, one killed, and eleven wounded; one of whom, Lieutenant-Colonel Austin, of the 14th Regiment, afterwards died of his wounds. The loss of the natives was not accurately ascertained, but was variously reported at from 17 to 100.*

The great body of the rebels at this time were busy entrenching themselves behind earthworks and lines of rifle-pits at Meri-Meri—a strong position on the right bank of the Waikato river, about three miles from the Wangamirino creek, which now formed General Cameron's advanced post. There was, it is believed, a larger body of the rebels collected at Meri-Meri than ever again

* C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 5, p. 7. The official returns are generally under the true numbers, being made up immediately after the actions. Many, often very many, were found for days afterwards, doubling and even trebling the original return.

page 68assembled at any one time or place; in short, the whole force which they could bring together in Waikato proper amounting probably to not less than 1,000 fighting men, besides many women—who always assist more or less in Maori warfare making cartridges, loading guns for the combatants, cooking, and otherwise aiding in the active operations of the campaign.

After the successful skirmish with which the Waikato campaign had been initiated at Koheroa, it was earnestly hoped that no time would be lost in following up the advantage gained. Those who know savages, and particularly those who know the Maories, will agree that the one thing of essential importance in fighting with them, is always to follow up an advantage with rapidity; never to give them breathing time, to harass them from place to place, to impede their lines of communication, to destroy their stores of provisions, and compel them thus to break up and scatter for food and safety. Such a strategy vigorously followed up, ought, in such a country as Waikato is, very briefly to have placed the Maories in a position which would in all probability have led page 69them to submit. What we had to convince them of was, that we were better soldiers, personally, than they were; that our force was irresistible, and that, with our superior training and armament, they had no chance of resistance. Short, sharp, and decisive operations were what were wanted, in order to convey to the minds of the natives, not only those engaged in the conflict but to those at a distance who sympathized with them, the moral conviction that we were their masters. We therefore looked with intense anxiety to see what would be the next move made by the General against the enemy, whose whole force was encamped in a position the fortification of which was still quite incomplete, at a distance of only three miles from his advanced post. For weeks, however, we looked in vain. The skirmish at Koheroa was on the 17th July. It was not till the 30th October, a period of fifteen weeks, that a forward movement was made. I shall take advantage of this pause in the operations, to give a brief account of the country in which the Waikato campaign was conducted, and of the immediate cause of page 70this most serious, and, as it seemed to us, almost fatal delay.*

* To avoid breaking the thread of my narrative, I have omitted a fact that occurred a few days before the commencement of hostilities. About 300 to 400 Maories, belonging to, or closely related to the Waikatos, lived in villages very close to Auckland. They were known to be deeply disaffected. Mr. Gorst, the resident magistrate of Waikato, has designated two of their leading chiefs as "salaried firebrands," and there is no reason to doubt that their followers were sticks of the same faggot. Governor Grey (acting apparently on a hint given by the Rev. Mr. Ashwell, a missionary in Waikato) gave them the choice of taking the oath of allegiance and giving up their arms, or going off to Waikato. They preferred the latter: but the matter was clumsily managed, and they were allowed to take their arms with them. It is believed that they joined the marauding party in the Hunua ranges. Governor Grey has been vehemently assailed for this, as an act of great cruelty; but if he really believed that a plot had been matured for an attack on Auckland by the immediate relatives of those people, I cannot see that he could have prudently acted otherwise than he did.