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Soldiering in New Zealand, Being Reminiscences of a Veteran

Chapter X

page 125

Chapter X.

Opunake—Training artillery—Interview with Mr. Ballance—More trouble with Te Whiti—In command of the Field Artillery—Accident to my wife—Point Halswell—Visit of H.M.S. Nelson—Artillery Board—New Government—Retirement of Sir George Whitmore—Discharge of officers—Sheriff of Auckland—Arrest of Hinckley—Mr. Seddon—“Retrenched.”

Opunake is unpleasantly windy; there is usually a gale from the sea, and flax was the only shelter that we could grow for the protection of the garden. Even such hardy trees as poplar and willow will not live near the coast, though they may perhaps be grown a few miles inland. However, under the shelter of the flax we grew beautiful geraniums and pelargoniums.

There was a change of government about this time. Mr. Ballance became premier, and many changes and alterations were made with regard to the military force of the colony. Peace being assured with the Maoris, the attention of the country had turned to the question of defending the chief ports against a foreign enemy. Big guns were imported for the forts, and it became necessary to train artillery-men to work them. The authorities decided to select the men required for the Field and Garrison Artillery from the Armed Constabulary, to draft men of the old Field Force or A.C. who were of suitable height and weight to the civil police, and to discharge the rest.

It was an easy matter for our officers and men to acquire a good working knowledge of artillery drill, but it was obviously necessary that an expert artillery officer capable of supervising the minutiæ of drill and munitions connected with the new work should be appointed to the chief command of the new force. The Imperial Government page 126 ought to have been asked to lend or recommend the officer required; but with that want of common sense and patriotism which is a persistent characteristic of the people who in England and her dependencies dub themselves Liberals, our Government appointed an ex-subaltern of Engineers, who had wandered into the colony, to the command of the artillery and the new torpedo corps, with the rank of colonel. He did not teach us anything worth knowing.

About this time I was startled by receiving a letter from head-quarters informing me that by direction of the Minister of Defence, Mr. Ballance, my “services would be dispensed with as from date.” I at once went to Wellington, and having with difficulty obtained an interview with Mr. Ballance, I demanded to know if my discharge from the service was in consequence of an adverse report from the officer commanding the New Zealand forces. The Minister was somewhat indignant at being questioned by such an unimportant individual as myself, but finally he admitted that my surmise was correct.

I submitted to him that if guilty of any military fault I was entitled to a specific accusation, and that an opportunity of replying to it ought to be allowed to me. Mr. Ballance would not admit that I had any “right” as claimed; he consented, however, to give me three days' grace before deciding on my discharge.

I forthwith telegraphed to three civilians of known respectability and position, asking them to wire their personal recollections of my actions in the matters referred to by my accuser. On the following day, after over two hours of obstinate demand in his office, I wrung a written statement from my accuser, Sir George Whitmore. This and the replies to my telegrams I laid before Mr. Ballance, who when he had carefully perused and compared the documents, simply directed me to return to my duties at Opunake. page 127 page 128
Lieut.-Col. J. M. Roberts.

Lieut.-Col. J. M. Roberts.

page 129 About a week afterwards the Gazette recorded my promotion to the rank of major, and again I was as a “bird escaped out of the snare.”

Mr. Ballance was an honest and just man, worthy of the honour and respect accorded to his memory, but he was handicapped by humanitarian ideas, and lacked the firmness and tenacity of Mr. Bryce.

Towards the end of 1885 the Ballance Government allowed Te Whiti, Titokowaru, and the other leaders detained as prisoners by Mr. Bryce under very easy conditions after the dispersion of Parihaka, to return there. Forthwith they renewed the monthly gatherings and preachments, adding to their programme a march out in force for several days, going as far as Hawera and camping to the great annoyance of the settlers on private land. Early in January, 1886, they started the game of “marching round the walls of Jericho,” and on the 15th Te Whiti and Titoko with six hundred natives, of whom 250 were on horseback, passed through Opunake, having first encircled the township. They tried to march round my quarters, but as my fences abutted on the cliff, they could not get round without entering the garden, which I would not permit.

They continued to annoy the settlers for many months, until in July we arrested Te Whiti, Titokowaru, Ngahina, and seven others, and committed them all for trial, sending them under guard in the s.s. Hinemoa to Wellington. I do not remember the result of their trial, but I suppose they were bound over to keep the peace, with the usual alternative of a term of imprisonment in default.

Early in October Colonel Roberts, N.Z.C., was ordered to take command of the Auckland district, leaving me in command at Opunake.

Shortly afterwards I was offered and accepted the command of the Field Artillery, but as regarded the Opunake portion of the force, the page 130 name was the only difference made, for all the artillery munitions were kept in Wellington. However, watching the vagaries of the followers of Te Whiti, and road work, kept the men busy enough.

My wife had now been laid up with a badly strained knee, the result of a trap accident, for over four months; and though three doctors had attended the case, using plaster of Paris bandages, etc., no improvement had resulted; she could not use her leg at all. Now a neighbour who was aware of her crippled state, asked her to let him treat the knee with rhus toxicodendron, a homœopathic remedy, assuring her that if she persevered with the treatment which he prescribed, she would be able to walk in two weeks. My wife consented, and actually did walk without much difficulty at the end of a fortnight.

Early in January, 1887, I was ordered to Wellington to take charge of the artillery stationed in the forts at Point Halswell near the entrance of the harbour.

We rented a house in Adelaide Road which I afterwards bought, but I lived mostly at the Heads, as Point Halswell was usually called. The men stationed there were employed in building the forts, gun pits, and bomb-proof chambers, Lieut.-Colonel Boddam, the recently appointed ex-subaltern of Royal Engineers, being in general supervision of the work. I remember a curious oversight on the part of the person responsible for the building plans of these chambers. The walls were of solid concrete reinforced with heavy railway irons, and when the largest of the bomb-proof walls had reached the height intended, it was discovered that no provision had been made for windows in the rear wall for light and ventilation. I had to keep four men at work for many weeks cutting a couple of window holes with cold chisels, a horrible job for the workers' eyes and fingers.

I greatly appreciated the change of employment, and was page 131 interested in the study of gunnery, torpedoes and mines; but I still felt the effects of the illness from which I had suffered at Alexandra; and the efforts which were still being made to prejudice Mr. Ballance against me caused me some anxiety, though fortunately for me they were without effect.

About this time my wife had a very severe and prolonged illness. The doctors believed that she was suffering from Addison's disease and gave no hope of her recovery; she was much wasted and very weak for more than a year.

On 19th February, 1888, H.M.S. Nelson, Admiral Tryon's flagship, arrived in harbour, and during her stay kept things lively with dinners, parties, balls, and inspection parades.

In May, Colonel Roberts came from Auckland to hold a board to draft new regulations for the artillery. Major Messenger, Captain Colman and I were on the board, and we had plenty of work for a month, considering and making arrangements with regard to such matters as rates of pay, strength, uniform, and discipline. We got our new uniforms from England about this time at a cost of £70 apiece.

In this year there was another political upheaval. Mr. Fergus became Minister of Defence; and I think it was at this time that the long period of misrule established under the maxim of “spoils to the victors” commenced. For over twenty years New Zealand was governed by a cabinet who kept possession of the Treasury Bench by aid of the deciding votes of a fourth of the population. These voters, who form the more ignorant portion of the community, are easily influenced by a liberal use of catch phrases such as “trust the people,” “the toilers of the land,” “the workers who create all the wealth of the country,” and many like expressions, which have long formed the stock-in-trade of candle-box orators and the drones of the labour page 132 unions, and are believed by the manual labourer to apply only to himself.

Looking back for nearly thirty years, it seems to me that the outstanding result of twenty years' legislation under a so-called Liberal government is the creation of a bitter and unreasoning hatred on the part of the younger employees against all wage-payers. This regretable fact can be traced, I think, to the presence, for most of that period, in the House of Representatives of a number of vote-hunting chatterers chosen from an ill-educated class lacking legislative capacity.

At the end of January, 1888, Sir George Whitmore retired from the command of the colonial forces, and Colonel Boddam resigned that of the artillery.

Within a month the Government, having obtained the loan of an Imperial officer to take command of the artillery, dispensed with the services of Colonel Roberts, Major Tuke, myself, Major Scannell, and five other officers, several non-commissioned officers being promoted to carry on the duties. Colonel Roberts was made stipendiary magistrate at Auckland. I was appointed sheriff of Auckland; but the remuneration, which depended solely on fees, was so poor that it did not provide a living income. We rented a large apple orchard beyond Remuera, in the hope of making a profit by the sale of the fruit, but with apples selling at one shilling a case, our orchard did not pay expenses.

We made many friends in Auckland, and our nearest neighbours at Remuera, Captain H— and family, were a source of much pleasure during our stay in the district.

The failure of apples as a help to provide an income and the distance of our house from my offices, decided us to shift our quarters page 133 into Auckland, and at the end of the year I was placed in charge of the government arms store and magazines, at a salary of £200 a year.

On 25th April, 1891, while I was sheriff, I had an exciting experience in arresting under writ of the Supreme Court an absconding Yankee skipper named Hinckley. His ship had been seized for a debt of £3,500, and he concealed himself on board a big American ship lying at the wharf. When I boarded this vessel with my bailiff, the captain refused to allow me to search his ship for the debtor, on the ground that his deck was American territory, and his flag protected all Americans on board. I insisted that my authority was good within a radius of three miles from British land. While we argued the point, my bailiff, unknown to the captain, searched the ship and discovered his quarry in a little dark cabin at the end of a long passage between decks. Presently my bailiff showed himself among the hands working cargo and made me a sign; so I left the captain, saying I would look into the saloon for form's sake. As soon as I was down the companion steps, the bailiff and I slipped along the passage which he showed me, and I knocked gently at a locked door at the end of it. As the door was cautiously opened an inch I pushed in and hustled the man I wanted into the passage, in spite of his resistance and the outcries of his wife. Then as the bailiff and I filled up the passage behind him, we ran him down the passage and over the gangway, on to the wharf and into the waiting cab, before the bystanders realised what we were doing. By this time the American consul appeared with the captain of the ship, and threatened dire results if I dared to profane the sanctity of the flag overhead. However, I had got my prisoner and did not care for international complications. In the afternoon my prisoner found the required bail, and I released him in time for him to rejoin his wife on board the page 134 American before she sailed.

We had a pleasant time in Auckland. The Governor, Lord Onslow, liked the place and spent much time there; and owing to a kind memorandum from Lord Salisbury to his Excellency, we were often at parties at Government House.

On Saturdays we frequently chartered a small steamer in conjunction with a party of friends, and went out to the entrance of the harbour for a day's fishing, and usually caught hundreds of medium-sized schnapper. On our return to the wharf there were always plenty of people who were willing to accept our spare fish.

Altogether we had much reason for regret when another turn of fortune's wheel obliged us to leave Auckland.

About this time the department of Justice thought that if they made the registrar of the Supreme Court in Auckland perform the duties of sheriff, they might occasionally pick up a fat fee that otherwise would go into my pocket; so, to the disgust of the registrar and my loss, they saddled him with the sheriff's work, in addition to his own.

On 5th December, 1890, the general election returned the Ballance Government to office, and Mr. R. J. Seddon took the portfolio of Defence Minister. Alas! for my chance of escape. My little billet was certain to be wanted for a man of the “right colour.”

Mr. Seddon arrived on a tour of inspection in May, accompanied by the usual staff of anxious officials. He walked into my office, ignoring my civil greeting in his boorish way, and addressed his questions and remarks to the arm-cleaners. On this hint I returned to my desk, and in spite of the kindly meant signs and whispers of the officers who were with him, I took no further notice of him till he repassed through my office, when, of course, I paid his official rank the compli- page 135 ment of standing to “attention.”

A few days after this I received notice that I was “retrenched,” and my billet was duly bestowed on a man more in sympathy with the Government.