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Soldiering in New Zealand, Being Reminiscences of a Veteran

Chapter IX

page 110

Chapter IX

Te Whiti stirs up trouble—His influence with the natives—Parihaka—Maori superstitions—Murder of Miss Dobie—Strong measures—Dispersing the natives—Effects of Mr. Bryce's firmness—Discomforts of our camp—Opunake—Road to Rotorua—Alexandra—King Tawhio meets Mr. Bryce—Hursthouse and Newsham—Te Kooti saves Hursthouse's party—Mahuki's attack on Alexandra—We defeat it—Te Kooti thanked—Waikato—Serious illness.

During 1880 the Maoris at Parihaka, near the foot of Mount Egmont, began to give so much trouble, under their leader and prophet, Te Whiti, by ploughing up paddocks belonging to settlers, destroying the fences and putting others across the roads and highways, that the government decided to put a stop by force to their lawless conduct. As the turbulent natives were about 1,500 in number and possessed of arms, six divisions of the A. C. Force and nearly 300 volunteers were assembled at a spot called Pungarehu, about a mile and a half from Parihaka, and strong patrols kept on the road daily to try to stop or prevent the damage done to settlers' property.

I was ordered to Parihaka on 1st September, 1880, and leaving my wife with friends at New Plymouth, I reported myself at Pungarehu in the middle of the month. Next morning I took twenty men to stop, and, if necessary, arrest, a gang of Maoris fencing across the main road to New Plymouth. There was always a rough and tumble bout of fisticuffs and cudgel play on these occasions, and their prophet Te Whiti must have had great power over them to prevent these bitter and daring natives from resorting to firearms to resist our men. I thought that a sudden attack would be made on our camp, and we heard that page 111 page 112 page 113 Te Whiti had sent to the Waikato tribes for a supply of ammunition. A big meeting of natives from distant parts was held at Parihaka every month, when the prophet addressed the crowd in very ambiguous language, of which our interpreters vainly tried to gain the real meaning.

It is characteristic of the Maori race that they readily place unquestioning faith in the supernatural powers claimed by their prophets and leaders. I have known hundreds of them to charge in close column, holding up their right hand open with palms to their front, and shouting “Hau! Hau!” in the belief that their bare hands would stop our bullets, and only retreating when the gaps in their ranks convinced them that something was wrong with that particular karakia.

A Maori war-party is always on the watch for omens, and the cry of “Aitua!” will generally cause an immediate stampede of even seasoned fighting men, as I learned to my cost when I had a narrow escape of losing my life in our first attack on Ngatapa.

On 25th November, Miss Mary Dobie was murdered by a young Maori when she was out sketching near Opunake, and as her murderer took refuge in Parihaka from the police, we officers at Pungarehu thought that the murder was possibly the arranged signal for open rebellion. However, the murderer, a man named Te Tehui, was arrested, tried and hanged in due course, about two months after the crime was committed.

Early in January, 1881, Mr. Bryce retired from the Ministry of Defence, and the Hon. William Rolleston took his place. I believe that this gentleman was an authority on educational matters and a fair amateur farmer, but he did not know anything about military matters, or about Maoris and their ways.

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Of course Te Whiti was well posted in regard to ministerial doings in Wellington; the Maori members of the House took care of that; and doubtless the government of the day was anxious to avoid any risk of bringing on another native war. Anyhow, the stupid business of knocking down the fences erected by the Maoris, and seizing their ploughs and bullocks when they broke up a settler's paddock, went on for eight or nine months. Then Mr. Bryce again took charge of affairs. On the morning of 5th November, 1881, four hundred armed constabulary in column of divisions marched into the middle of Parihaka and made prisoners of the leading men, Te Whiti, Tohu, and Hiroki. They then proceeded to camp in open order on the rising ground in front of the village, ready at a moment's notice to suppress any attempt at insubordination by the Hau-hau community.

Several hundred volunteers were camping on the low spurs commanding the village on the north side, and strong pickets were told off to remain under arms all night. I was in command of the guard over the prisoners. Everything went off without a hitch, the big population of the native settlement quite understanding that any attempt at hostile action would be hopeless under the concentrated fire of the force surrounding them.

The next day, Sunday, was a pouring wet day, and not at all pleasant for over a thousand troops without shelter. On the Monday we pitched tents on the various camping grounds. The chief prisoners had meanwhile been taken to our main camp at Pungarehu, and we proceeded to collect some three hundred stand of firearms, and nearly as many more on the following day; at the same time we made prisoners of Titokowaru, Rangi, and five other chiefs, and about eighty of the common people.

In the following week we drafted out the natives who belonged to page 115 distant settlements. I marched 350 men, women and children belonging to Waitara down to New Plymouth, and then took them by train to Waitara. There I turned them loose, to the alarm of some of the settlers; but the natives promised me that they would at once disperse to their homes, which they did.

I returned that night to Parihaka, and next day took another big party to Opunake, bound for Wanganui. In this way we soon reduced the number of natives (over 2,200) to the six hundred that properly belonged to Parihaka. By 15th November Mr. Bryce, having put an end to the Parihaka danger, was able to return to Wellington, and though the natives continued to attend the monthly meetings, the strangers always returned to their own settlements when the meetings were over.

Knowing that I should be stationed at Parihaka for some time with my division to keep the natives in good behaviour, I now had a whare built for myself there. I intended to let my wife come to the camp as soon as matters were fairly settled, for boarding in New Plymouth was too costly for our purse, and I was confident that the natives would give no more trouble while Bryce was Defence Minister.

The ground on which our camp was situated had been bush, and had plenty of logs and stumps on it, and the camp swarmed with “Maori bugs,” as the men called them. The Maori's name for these horrible insects is kekerengu. They are about one inch and a half long and resemble a black cockroach in appearance. They used to crawl up the inside of the tents and cluster round the top of the tent-pole, and when a breeze shook the canvas the creatures emitted a most horrible smell of at least a thousand bug power. By burning a kerosene-soaked rag in the tent one could make them drop down, but then they got into the blankets and clothing, so it was voted best to page 116 leave them alone.

While we had charge of old Titokowaru as a prisoner, he went on “hunger strike,” but when after two days Dr. O'Carroll produced a flexible tube to pump porridge into him, the threatened indignity broke down his resolve to starve himself.

On 27th February I received orders to march on the following day with one hundred men to Opunake, and to ship from there to Waikato, so we were busy packing up till late into the night. Next morning we started in pouring rain, which obliged us to leave our tents standing, as it would never do to pack wet tents. We reached Opunake at 7.30 p.m., and then found that we should have to wait nearly a week for steamship transport. We left by s.s. Stella for Manakau on 4th March, and got a special train next day (Sunday) for Ngaruwahia. From there a river steamer took us to Cambridge, where we arrived before daylight on Monday morning.

We, the 6th and 7th divisions, marched on the 13th for the road camp, and reached Waitaki after four days' march in heavy rain. There was no reason for marching in such bad weather, but in those days the A.C. Force were supposed to be weather-proof, and to act when required as if they were bullet-proof.

We began making the road through to Rotorua on the 20th, cutting down the timber for a width of two chains. The country was rough and broken and covered with blocks of a very light volcanic rock which gave out a metallic sound when struck with a tool. We had much trouble in getting a water supply for the camp, as the creeks in this part ran in deep, narrow gullies and often underground for long distances, the country being severely cracked up by volcanic action. We could only get sufficient room for camping on the top of the ridges, page 117 the sides being generally too steep for pitching tents. However, I found a place where by using a powerful ram and nearly 300 feet of iron pipe, I raised the water 100 feet up from the gully to a 500 gallon tank placed high enough to be reached by a water-cart.

We worked on this road until June, when all the men were ordered back to Cambridge, and shortly after I was sent to take charge of Alexandra, relieving Captain Capel. I was pleased to have this shift, for Alexandra was a good place for pheasants and rabbits and promised good shooting, and I was glad to be near my good friend, Mr. J. D. Hill, who owned a large trading concern there.

Alexandra is on the boundary line of the (so-called) King Country, and only separated by the Waipa river from the Maori king's town of Whata-whata-hoe, about two miles from our redoubt.

At this time the government was very anxious to establish more friendly relations with King Tawhio, in the hope of bringing about a greater degree of security for the Waikato townships and the isolated farmers. The latter, located near the boundary of the King Country, ran a special risk of losing life or property in the event of an outbreak of the hostile feelings still cherished by a very large body of the Ngati-maniapoto tribe, who gave refuge to Te Kooti and all the murderers and natives “wanted” for theft, and other malcontents and scalliwags. I was well aware that I had been selected for this command on account of the minister's favourable opinion of my ability to act quickly on my own initiative should serious trouble arise, while my experience of Maoris and my knowledge of their language would make me cautious in acting on reports from excited and frightened people.

Very shortly after my arrival, a half-caste named Barlow, who had enemies among the Maoris, came to Alexandra though warned that he did so at risk of his life. Next day he was fired at in the page 118 township by an unseen hand. I arrested Barlow and sent him under escort to Hamilton, and reported the occurrence to Inspector McGovern, requesting him to prevent this man and certain others from coming to Alexandra, as they might cause dangerous excitement ending in bloodshed.

On 4th October, at 3.30 a.m., we saw the great comet, a most wonderful sight on account of its great size and brilliancy.

About the end of the month Mr. Butler and I arranged a very important meeting between King Tawhio and Mr. Bryce, the Defence Minister, for the settlement of many matters, to promote a more friendly feeling on the side of the natives, and to permit Europeans to pass unmolested through the King Country on their way to Kawhia or Mokau.

For the next six weeks or so old Tawhio was constantly in our quarters, often dining with us. We always had two or three of his followers with him, and sometimes his wife; and we found our position as hosts most unpleasant, for the old schemer wanted to collar anything which he saw in the house that took his fancy. Of course my wife put most of the ornaments in our sitting-room out of sight, but we had to be careful not to offend the old scamp. He seemed a curious mixture of cunning and childish greed and self-importance. He seldom said anything; but his secretary, Te Whero, a big chief, would tell us that he would like us to give him such and such things. The Government gave him a free railway pass, and offered him a pension of £300 a year and to build a house for him; but he finally refused everything but the pass, evidently believing that by holding back he would get more valuable offers.

About six hundred of his people assembled to meet the Defence Minister at Whata-whata-hoe, and of course there was much talk with page 119 page 120
Captain Wilson Hursthouse, C.E.

Captain Wilson Hursthouse, C.E.

page 121 but little immediate result; still the after effects of the meeting were in the direction of bringing influential chiefs such as Wahanui and others into a more friendly attitude towards the Government.

On 5th February, 1883, Mr. Bryce, with Mr., Mrs. and Miss Rolleston, and others arrived from Kawhia by way of Hikorangi. Mr. Rolleston, his wife and daughter left next day for Auckland, but Mr. Bryce and the remainder of the party stayed at Alexandra for the purpose of meeting Te Kooti.

Mr. Bryce duly met the rebel leader a week later at a kainga called Maunga-rongo, and promised him an amnesty for his past crimes on condition of his good behaviour in the future. Many people found fault with this action of Mr. Bryce; but it was a wise step to take, for it practically insured the peace of the colony, and was shortly to result in Te Kooti saving the lives of Captain Wilson Hursthouse and Mr. Newsham.

On 12th March these two gentlemen with a friendly chief, named Te Rerenga, started to go through the King Country to Mokau, but were turned back by a party of Te Whiti's followers who called themselves “Te Kau-marua” (The Twelve). On hearing of the occurrence Mr. Bryce came from Auckland to see Wahanui and arrange that Hursthouse and his companions should be given safe conduct through to Mokau. This was agreed to, and Mr. Bryce returned to Auckland the following day.

Hursthouse and Newsham left for Mokau under the protection of a party of Ngati-maniapoto on the 19th, and the same day their chief, Whahanui, sent me word that the white men had been seized by the Kau-marua, who also had taken Wetere prisoner.

Next day we learned that the prisoners were heavily bound with bullock chains and were shamefully treated, being thrown on the page 122 ground in an open shed, with no food but a few raw potatoes, and only some blood-stained water in a filthy bucket for drink. I reported to Mr. Bryce and asked for reinforcements and leave to rescue the prisoners by force; but on the 23rd news was sent to me that Te Kooti with a party of Wahanui's tribe had on that day liberated Hursthouse and his two companions, who would be escorted to Alexandra by Te Kooti's people on the following day.

Two days afterwards a report reached me that the Kau-marua, led by Te Mahuki, intended to attack Alexandra and tie up all the Europeans and loot the town, so I sent my mounted men to ask the officer commanding the Awamutu cavalry volunteers to come to my assistance immediately. I also sent to Cambridge for some constabulary, but could only get six, who reached me by daylight next morning. At 7 a.m. on 26th March, 1883, four of the Awamutu horsemen whom I had sent to watch the road at the bridge over the Waipa, rode in with the news that a body of mounted natives was approaching. I quickly stationed fifteen men with fixed bayonets in a shop at one end of our short main street, and another fifteen in a building at the other end of the street, a hundred yards off; the rest of my men (about twenty) I sent into cover midway between the others. These last were in their shirt sleeves and provided with short lengths of light rope, and had orders to pull the attacking raiders off their horses and tie their hands.

At 8 a.m. Mahuki with twenty-six followers galloped into the town, and loudly called on the white people to surrender. In a moment the raiders were between two lines of bayonets. As they turned to escape, they were pulled or knocked off their horses and had their hands tied behind their backs, with but a few blows struck and a bit of rough wrestling. I marched them straight into our redoubt, inform- page 123 ing them that I would shoot on the spot any of them who resisted or attempted to escape.

The townspeople, the women especially, were wild with joy, for they had been much frightened, not knowing if my plan would be successful. However, I was able to report to Mr. Bryce that I had caught and tied up the whole gang of the Kau-marua and their leader Mahuki.

Mr. Bryce, who arrived next day, having come by train as far as Te Awamutu, was much pleased at the capture of all the boastful Kaumarua; and as he had brought some police with him and a sack of hand-cuffs, we marched the prisoners to the train at Awamutu and started them off to Auckland in charge of a guard of fifteen men and two sergeants. I am sorry to have to add that at the subsequent trial of these men the sentences seemed to me to be shockingly light in view of the cowardly cruelty with which they had treated Wilson Hursthouse and his companions.

Te Kooti came into Alexandra with forty followers to see Mr. Bryce and receive his thanks for his prompt delivery of Hursthouse and party. Te Kooti got very drunk, but his men kept sober and took him back to Kopua next morning. Mr. Bryce also went to Kopua to see Wahanui, and then returned to Auckland the following morning.

On 3rd April I handed over charge to Captain Capel and went to Auckland, taking eleven natives with me, to give evidence in regard to Mahuki and his gang. I returned to Alexandra on the 9th, and Mr. Bryce came back on the 11th. On the 17th Mr. Bryce, Hursthouse, Butler, Lewis, Wilkinson, Newsham and two orderlies left for New Plymouth by way of Mokau to open up the road. I was to be ready to go to their assistance with a strong party of my men, if news came that they had been obstructed, but on the 21st Captain Messenger tele- page 124 graphed that Bryce and his party had reached New Plymouth without mishap, and Mr. Wilkinson and the orderlies and horses had returned from Mokau.

On 11th May I turned out a guard of honour to receive his Excellency Sir William Jervois, and the Governor and party inspected the detachment and redoubt, leaving in the afternoon.

On 20th May I was much grieved to hear of the death of Major Withers in Auckland. He was a gallant soldier, a warm friend, and a good comrade. His death made it necessary for Colonel Lyon to take charge of Auckland, and I was sent to Waikato.

A couple of months after this I was taken seriously ill with peritonitis and hernia, due, according to the diagnosis of the doctors who attended me, to internal injury and strain suffered in the rough and tumble struggle of arresting Mahuki's gang, in which I was foolish enough to take an active part. For eight months I had a hard fight for my life, and when I was able to return to duty I was permanently crippled. My former physical strength and activity were gone; I was unable to lift a weight, run, jump, or ride a horse; and it was intimated to me that the Military Pension Act did not provide for a case of injury sustained otherwise than by bullet or weapon of war. I do not care to write further of this protracted period of suffering and anxiety.

It was the end of February, 1884, when I returned to my post at Alexandra, and again took up the routine of road work and drill. Things went on without any incident of special interest to the end of the year, when we were transferred to Opunake, and took possession of the quarters on the cliff overlooking the little bay.