The War in New Zealand.
Meri-Meri evacuated—Rangiriri captured—Natives retreat up River—Ngaruawahia occupied—Negotiations for Peace—Troops advance up Waipa River—Pikopiko and Paterangi—Rebel Position outflanked—Awamutu, Rangioawhia, and Kihikihi taken—Orakau captured—Maungatautari evacuated—Termination of Campaign in Waikato.
* C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 5 A., p. 2.
Rangiriri was a native village situated on the right bank of the Waikato, about twelve miles above Meri-Meri. It was equally accessible from the latter place by land and by water. For a few days after the natives evacuated Meri-Meri, it was supposed they had scattered and retreated far page 81up the river, which I believe was true of the Ngatimaniopotu contingent. Information however soon reached General Cameron that a strong party of them were entrenching themselves at Rangiriri, and on the 20th November he advanced by land against that place, with a force of 771 men, and two Armstrong guns; sending at the same time by the river the two steamers, with an additional force of 300 soldiers, and about 200 of the Naval Brigade; in all, nearly 1,300 men, accompanied by four gunboats on the river. The Maori force is reported to have been between 400 and 500. Their position was a strong one, if they had been numerous enough to defend it and beat off our troops; but if otherwise it was a complete trap, deficient in the usual appliance of a safe back-door, for which their entrenched positions are usually so remarkable. It consisted of a main line of entrenchments across the narrow isthmus which divides the Waikato river from the Waikarei lake. This line had a double ditch and parapet, and was strengthened in the centre by a square redoubt of very formidable construction, of which the ditches are page 82stated to have been nine feet deep and the parapet (I presume from the bottom of the ditch,) twenty-one feet high. Behind the left centre of the main line and at right angles to it, there was an entrenched line of rifle-pits parallel to the Waikato river, and obstructing the advance of troops in that direction. Altogether, though formidable in appearance, the works were of far larger extent than the small Maori force in possession could defend, if attacked in front and rear at one time. General Cameron with the 770 men whom he had brought by land, and his Armstrong guns, prepared to attack the post in front, while the 500 men in the steamers were to be landed on the rear, to attack it on that side and cut off the retreat in that direction or by the lake on the right flank. The two forces arrived at Rangiriri at the same time—3 p.m.—but owing to some difficulty in getting the steamers to the landing-place, an hour and a half elapsed, during which shot and shell were poured into the entrenchments, at a range of 600 yards, by the Armstrong guns. Not much effect was produced by them, and at 4½ p.m. the assault was ordered to be led by the 65th page 83Regiment. With great gallantry they carried the rifle-pits and the weaker portion of the main line, driving the rebels into the strong central redoubt above described, which was defended with desperate resolution. The 65th having failed in the attempt to carry it, three separate assaults were made upon it: one by thirty-six men of the Royal Artillery, led by Captain Mercer, and two by ninety of the Naval Brigade, led by Commander Mayne of H.M.S. Eclipse. But all attempts to carry the work by storm were unavailing, while the assaulting parties were literally mowed down by the heavy fire which was poured upon them. At last it being nearly dark, the attempt to storm the work was discontinued; the troops were disposed around it for the night, so as to preclude escape, and a trench was commenced with the view of sapping and blowing up the parapet. In the meantime the soldiers and part of the Marine Brigade, which had landed from the steamers about the time when the assault in front began, had got round to the rear, and discovered that a large number of the natives were escaping by the lake and swamp on their right flank; from a page 84commanding position they poured in a heavy fire on the fugitives, inflicting a very severe loss, and stopping any further attempt at escape in that direction. It is stated that before the arrival of the 40th both the King Matutaere and William Thompson had succeeded in escaping by this route. I could never ascertain for a certainty that either of them was actually there, though on the testimony of five independent narrators, I am inclined to think that the king was; and one of the rebel prisoners pointed out to me on paper the track by which he said Thompson had got away. The rebels probably would not like to admit that their great men had been the first to get from under fire, which may account for the conflicting statements which have been made on the point.*
* C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 5 A., p. 3.
The casualties on our side were extremely numerous: 2 officers killed, and 13 wounded, of whom 3—Colonel Austin of the 14th, Captain Mercer of the Royal Artillery, and Captain Phelps—afterwards died of their wounds. Privates, 35 men killed, and 85 wounded. Total casualties, 135. The loss on the Maori side is never accurately ascertained. They generally contrive to carry off many of their dead, and when they have the opportunity they will bury them during the action, as they did on this occasion. About fifty was, I believe, the total number of bodies found in the trenches and swamp, though probably a few more were killed in the latter and the lake.
Both Maories and troops exhibited very great courage. Nothing could surpass the conduct of our troops, who, at the word of command, literally threw themselves against the impregnable earthworks, to meet almost certain death. The victory, though dearly bought, was a most im-page 86portant one to us. The 183 prisoners represented a very large portion of the immediate followers and near connexions of the King and William Thompson; and among their wounded was a chief of very great military reputation, Pene Wharepu, who died of his wounds a few days after the fight. What became of the prisoners I shall relate hereafter.
The colonists, though of course entirely ignorant of military technicalities, could not help criticizing the tactics of the General. It did seem to us a strange thing to attempt to storm, with no other weapons than revolver pistols, an earthwork such as the central redoubt, before which so many of our brave soldiers and sailors fell. There were no platforms or scaling-ladders to bridge the ditches, 9 feet wide, or scale the parapet 21 feet high. To get over them in any other way than by ladders and platforms involved a capacity to jump about six clear yards at an upward angle of 45 degrees from the take-off: a feat which probably no acrobat could perform, and certainly no soldier or sailor in the usual military costume, with a six-shooter in his hand, page 87and several rounds of ammunition at his waist, especially in the face of a large armed force completely protected by the parapet. On the other hand it appeared to us that if the redoubt had been quietly surrounded as soon as the enemy was driven into it from the outer entrenchments (which was done with little or no loss on our side), and a sap had been pushed on during the night, the Maories must have surrendered in the morning, or have fallen almost helplessly before our bayonets; while all the valuable lives which were sacrificed in the vain attempt to carry by assault earthworks of great strength, without a breach and without ladders, would have been spared. The assault on Rangiriri was just one of those military achievements, the reasons for which it puzzles a civilian to understand.
The rebels now retired, leaving the river and the formidable gorge of Taupiri undefended. After waiting a few days for supplies, General Cameron again pushed on, and on the 8th December he took possession of Ngaruawahia, unopposed. This place, which stands at the junction of the Horutiu and Waipa rivers, had page 88been the head-quarters of Kingism, where old Potatau's bones were laid, and where his son Matutaere held his court in a palace consisting of a large hut constructed of reeds and grass in the usual Maori fashion. Here also stood the gigantic flagstaff, from which, in its more prosperous days, floated the emblem of the King party. Potatau's bones had been carried away before the arrival of our troops, but his tomb, the palace, and the flagstaff, were left standing.
* Papers relating to intended visit to Ngaruawahia. C. P. P. 1864, E. No. 2, p. 1, &c., and p. 88.
* C. P. P. 1864, E. No. 2, p. 88.
* For General Cameron's despatches, see C. P. P. 1864, E. No. 3, p. 29.
Immediately after the events at Rangioawhia and the neighbourhood, a large party of the scattered rebels collected together at Maungatautari, a stronghold on the Horutiu, about fifteen miles to the north-east of Awamutu. It was a place to which great traditions of Maori wars attached, and was supposed to be almost impregnable. It was now said that William Thompson, and all the women and children of his tribe, and a large miscellaneous force of rebels, were there collected, prepared to make a final stand at this, the only remaining place of strength in the district of Waikato Proper. The General made up his mind to reduce it, and the superior advantages of the Horutiu having by this been made apparent to the military and naval authorities, immense sup-page 97plies were sent up that river to Pukerimu, where the head-quarters camp was formed. Before, however, active operations could be taken against the pah, an unexpected event occurred in another direction.
Brigadier-General Carey (late 18th Royal Irish) had been left with a considerable force in charge of Awamutu, Rangioawhia, and the surrounding district. On the 30th March he was informed that the natives were entrenching themselves at Orakau, about three miles from his quarters. After reconnoitring their position he returned, and collecting a force of about 1,000 men, with three guns, he made a night march, appearing before the pah at early daylight, and having so arranged the arrival of his detachments from different posts, that from the first they surrounded the enemy's position and rendered escape impossible. The pah proved to be a place of great strength, with the usual ditches and parapets of more than usual depth and height, surrounded on the outside by a strong post and rail fence, and outlying connected rifle-pits. At first, General Carey fell into the same mistake as cost so page 98many lives at Rangiriri, in attempting to storm the works and take them by a rush. But after two assaults by the Royal Irish and Forest Rangers (Colonial), led by Capt. Ring of the 18th and Capt. Fisher of the 40th, the former of whom fell mortally and the latter severely wounded, and a third led by Capt. Baker of the 18th, he wisely desisted, and determined to adopt the slower but more certain method of approaching the defences by sap; which, it may be thought, it would have been quite as prudent to have done at the commencement. The number of natives inside is supposed to have been about 300; most of them desperadoes from the wild tribes of the Urewera on the east coast, and the central interior district of Taupo. They were commanded by Rewi, the great fighting general of the King party; though that was not known till after the engagement. During the afternoon a reinforcement of 150 to 200 rebels appeared in sight, evidently intending to relieve the place. They advanced to the edge of a bush about 900 yards in the rear of our outposts, but there they stopped and commenced firing harmless vollies, at the same time page 99endeavouring to encourage their friends in the pah by dancing the war-dance and yelling. In the meantime reinforcements kept arriving on our side from Maungatautari and elsewhere, which brought up our number to over 2,000 men, who were so disposed that the escape of the beleaguered Maoris seemed to be absolutely impossible. All that day and the following night heavy firing was kept up on both sides; not less than 40,000 rounds of cartridges were served out to our troops. By the morning of the 2nd of April the sap was pushed close up to the works, and hand-grenades were thrown into the entrenchments. The Armstrong guns were brought into play, silencing the fire of the enemy to a great extent. General Cameron now arrived on the ground from Maungatautari, but did not interfere with the direction of operations. As it was known, however, that there were many women and children inside, he sent an interpreter, Mr. Mainwaring (now resident magistrate at Waikato) to tell them that if they would surrender their lives would be spared. Their reply was, "This is the word of the Maori: we will fight for ever, page 100and ever, and ever." (Ka whawhai tonu; Akè, Akè, Akè.) They were then urged to send out the women and children. They answered, "The women will fight as well as we," and then the firing recommenced. Does ancient or modern history, or our own "rough island story," record anything more heroic?
Our troops were now getting desperate, so near to a hand-to-hand encounter, and only a parapet between. A private, whose name I unfortunately have not discovered, threw his cap over a partially breached place, and rushed after it. About twenty others, chiefly colonial troops, led by Captain Hertford, of the Colonial Defence Force, followed, got over the fence and into the trench beyond. The Maories, packed into a corner, delivered a withering volley and ran for the inner works. Captain Hertford fell, shot through the head, and of the whole party of twenty, ten were down. Shortly afterwards some men of the 65th and militia made a similar attempt on the opposite side, but with no better success. It was now four o'clock of the third day, during which the Maories had had no food page 101but a few raw potatoes, and not a drop of water; while the shower of grape, hand-grenades, and rifle-balls poured with more and more effect into their entrenchments. Suddenly, on that side of the works which was supposed to be closely invested by a double line of the 40th Regiment under Colonel Leslie, the whole Maori force was seen to be escaping. A friend of mine, who was present, described it to me. "They were," said he, "in a solid column, the women, the children, and the great chiefs in the centre; and they marched out as cool and as steady as if they had been going to church." The first line of the 40th was disposed under a slight bank, which had sheltered it from the fire of the pah. Before they knew that the Maories were out, the latter, it is said, had actually jumped over their heads, and then passing on, walked through the second line. By this time the General and his staff had discovered what was going on; the troops in the rear and in the trenches were got together, and with tremendous yells started in pursuit, firing at the retreating Maories as they now quickened their pace, and broke away for a neighbouring page 102swamp and scrub. Here they might all have escaped in a body, but for a small corps of colonial cavalry and another of mounted artillery (regulars) and the Colonial Forest Rangers, under Captains Jackson and Von Tempsky. These forces got ahead, and met them again just as they emerged from the swamp and scrub, and did great execution. Upwards of 100 bodies were picked up on the field, 18 or 20 were stated by the survivors to have been buried in the entrenchments, 26 wounded prisoners, and 7 unwounded, were taken, and traces were found next day of a number of more dead having been dragged away during the night. The natives themselves afterwards acknowledged to a loss of 200. Our casualties amounted to 16 killed and 52 wounded.
* Despatches, C. P. P. 1864, E. No. 3, p. 52, &c.
There was much comment on the escape of the Maories through the lines of the 40th. General Carey excuses them in his official dispatch on the ground that the regiment "had been thrown back under cover to enable the guns to open." This would scarcely seem enough to account for it. A soldier, writing to one of the Auckland papers some months afterwards, says "they had been sent away to a distance to make gabions." This is not consistent with the other account. The regular correspondent of the Southern Cross (Auckland) says, "The retreat appears to have been first noticed from the small breastwork thrown up as a protection for the gunners, &c. The cry was quickly heard that the rebels were retreating, and a scene baffling description ensued. General Cameron, Brigadier-General Carey, and aides, and the gallant colonels of the Staff, were rushing about to warn and gather the men from the sap, &c. This occupied some minutes, and all this time not a 40th man appears to have seen them. The Maories must have page 104jumped over the heads of the soldiers lining the road, cut out of the steep embankment, and so passed into the swamp and the Ti-tree, first wounding, it is said, two or three of the 40th, as a remembrance of their passing. No attempt was made to pursue them, until the Forest Rangers, &c." This exactly corresponds with what was told me by the friend before referred to, who was on the field. One thing is certain, that, whoever may have been to blame, it was through the double line of the 40th, or over their heads, or behind their backs, that the Maories escaped; and that, had this not unfortunately happened, Rewi, the most influential chief in the war party, must have fallen into our hands, dead or alive.
General Cameron now returned to Pukurimu to prepare for his intended attack on Maungatautari. On the morning of the 5th of April he proceeded with a force of 300 men, to reconnoitre the position from the opposite bank of the river. To his surprise he found it evacuated. A few remnants of old clothing, a kit of mouldy corn, and an old musket, was all that remained to reward the party of six men who crossed the page 105river, and clambered up into the works. It was, however, a place of great strength, both from position and by artificial works. What, however, was not at all unusual in old Maori wars, and was the case at Orakau, not a drop of water existed within the works. In the old times the Maories, when besieged, trusted to their braves getting out at nights and bringing water through the lines of the enemy. But closely invested, these waterless entrenchments were mere traps; and had we contented ourselves with surrounding them, and abstained from throwing away ammunition and lives in vain attempts to storm them, the Maories must, in every such case, have walked out into our lines at the end of forty or fifty hours. Even if, at the end of that time, the natives had succeeded in breaking through our lines, as at Orakau, a small cavalry force in reserve would always have enabled us, as it did on that occasion, to cut off their retreat and inflict crushing loss upon them.