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Soldiering in New Zealand, Being Reminiscences of a Veteran

Chapter II

page 10

Chapter II.

Outbreak of hostilities in 1860—The Waikato campaign, 1863—Fighting at the East Cape in 1865—H.M.S. Eclipse—Waiapu—Capture of Kairomiromi—Two narrow escapes—Pukemaire taken and destroyed—Surrender of Hungahunga-te-roa—Mr. Donald McLean and the Hau-haus of Waerengaahika—Operations in the bush—Omaranui—Turiroa—Good service rewarded.

Fighting between the Maoris and the Europeans broke out at Waireka in the Taranaki district of the North Island about the end of 1860, and continued for twelve months or more in the vicinity of New Plymouth. In these operations detachments of the 57th and 40th regiments were engaged, assisted by the local settlers and militia and parties of bluejackets. Then the Waikato tribes began fighting, and in 1863 General Cameron opened the Waikato campaign and gradually drove them back to Orakau, after which the troops were recalled and distributed to garrison the weak points of settlement.

About this time the government of New Zealand decided on using the militia, the forest rangers and the defence forces to put down the rebellion without the assistance of regular troops. My squadron of the C.D.F. was camped at Peka-peka for the defence of Napier, and our time was spent in constant drills. Our commandant was Major Whitmore; the other officers were Captains La Serre and Anderson, and Lieutenants St. George, Gascoyne and Hudson. With us was brigaded a company of military settlers who had been embodies and were then encamped at Puketapu.

In the middle of 1865 hostilities broke out at the East Cape between the loyal and the rebel Maoris, and about 120 militia and volunteers were hurriedly embarked to reinforce the friendly tribes. page 11 I was detailed for this service and had a big job single-handed to get the men, baggage and stores on board H.M.S. Eclipse, which landed us at Te Awanui two hours after dark on the following night, 5th July, 1865. The sea being rough we had to creep through a crack in the reef to reach the beach, so that we were very fortunate to get ashore without a mishap. Then we had to fall in by touch, as the order was “strict silence and no striking of matches or smoking.” It was not known if the enemy was aware of our landing, and as we had to march along three or more miles of narrow beach at the foot of a black cliff, a sudden volley out of the darkness would have been disconcerting to a lot of raw men jammed between the foot of the cliff and the sea.

A little after midnight we reached the mouth of the Waiapu River and could see the lights of Hatepe, the stronghold of our friendly natives across the river; but we could only find two small canoes, carrying three passengers each, to ferry us across. I waited to see the last of our party off before I could cross, and was very glad to get into a warm whare in the pa, and find food and tea provided for us.

Evidently the enemy did not know that we had landed until it was too late to attack us; they could easily have trapped us when we were waiting on the shelterless strip of land at the river mouth. Next morning, 6th July, they opened fire on our front and our right flank, but we were almost out of range of their fire, and they did not do us much damage. They wounded one of our Maoris, however, and killed a horse that was tied outside our pallisade; but when we turned out to attack them, they cleared off, and we only got a few long shots at them before we were recalled.

Meanwhile the Eclipse stood in and sent off a boat, and we went to cover their landing on the beach about a mile from the pa. The officer who came ashore arranged with our commanding officer, page 12 Captain James Fraser, late of the 73rd Highlanders, that the ship would fire shell at the nearest of the enemy's huts, and at any parties firing on us; we were to signal directions and elevation for the ship's fire, for we should be in the line of most of the shells.

This signalling fell to me, and I climbed into a high look-out platform inside our lines and signalled from there, as I could easily see where the shells burst; but two of the shells exploded just beyond us, and so alarmed our natives that we had to signal “cease fire” to the ship.

On 18th July we heard a great shouting from the direction of the enemy, and could see from the look-out a number of them advancing to attack us. Ensign Arthur Tuke and I took our men out to meet them in skirmishing formation, and were soon warmly engaged. We pressed them slowly back through patches of scrub scattered over old cultivations. I had a narrow escape while signalling the right of our line to move forward. I was leaning against the remains of an old fence, when a bullet struck and glanced off the stake against which I was leaning, hitting it just opposite the buckle of my waist belt.

This was our first experience of a fight carried out strictly in accordance with drill-book instructions, and it was very noticeable that the enemy were much better at taking cover and acting in concert than we were. On the other hand they seemed to be very bad marks-men. We had only two casualties, but the enemy lost seven killed, although I did not know of this till later, for they retired as we advanced. We were recalled by bugle before we got near their strong-hold, our C.O. fearing a trap.

On 2nd August we marched in two parties by different routes to make a surprise attack on their pa, Kairomiromi, timing the assault for page 13 page 14
Taking Pahairomiromi at Waipu East Cape.

Taking Pahairomiromi at Waipu East Cape.

page 15 daylight. Guided by the friendlies we felt our way in single file in thick darkness until after some hours we reached our point by a circuitous path. Lieutenant R. Biggs and Ensign A. Tuke were in charge of the left attacking column, and Major Fraser and I of the right. Just as day was breaking we reached the end of a low ridge overlooking the rear of Kairomiromi. Only a shallow stream and about 100 yards of open flat on the farther bank separated us from the enemy.

I led the men across, formed them up behind a large shed which stood on the bank, and passed the word to fix bayonets. Immediately Fraser, who wished to attack before the left column could get up shouted “Charge!” and ran for what looked to be an opening in the stockade. I went straight for the wall in front of me, intending to clamber over. Our men divided and followed us closely.

Many of the enemy must have been sleeping in the rifle pits, for quick as we were in our rush, they fired a volley before we reached the fence, and I had my clothes torn by bullets in two places while getting over. However, I slung myself into the pa, and firing my revolver at the nearest of the defenders, rushed forward, followed by several of our men, to join the party under Fraser, who were fighting by the entrance gate and were hard pressed. Then Biggs' men got in on our right, and the Maoris broke. Private Blackstock, who was fighting close to me, just then threw his rifle like a harpoon at a big Maori running to escape. The bayonet went in between the man's shoulder blades, and, catching in his ribs, supported the rifle which stuck out horizontally from his back, until Blackstock recovered his weapon. In this fight we killed 25 of the enemy, wounded many and took about 30 prisoners. We had eight wounded, some dangerously.

Captain Fraser, who had emptied his revolver in the attack, had a narrow escape. His life was saved by Private Welfitt, who followed page 16 him through the opening in the wall and saw a Maori in the act of striking at Fraser with a long-handled tomahawk. Welfitt drove his bayonet into the Maori, who, changing his aim, struck his assailant over the forehead and cut a piece out of his skull, exposing the brain. Welfitt eventually recovered, but he was crippled for life and retired with a pension.

I at once went in pursuit of those who escaped out of the pa, and in doing so came on a fine young Maori, who threw up his hands in token of surrender. I placed my arm across his breast to protect him from my men, but unfortunately two who were following me closely thought that I was wrestling with him, and one of them thrust his rifle under my arm and killed my prisoner. Just then our bugles sounded the “retire” and “assembly,” and we had to stop the pursuit.

Shortly after taking and burning Kairomiromi, we reconnoitred a fighting pa built by the Hau Haus at the end of a long, low hill named Pukemaire. The place was voted too strong to attack without more men, and on 1st October H.M.S. Brisk landed a party of 45 forest rangers under the command of Captain Westrupp and Lieutenant Ross; Thus reinforced we marched on the 3rd to attack Pukemaire at daylight. Unfortunately it rained hard all day; our attack was unsuccessful, and we had to return to Hatepe that night, having two killed and several wounded to carry back with us.

After this the rain and bad weather kept us idle for several days, but during the night of the 8th Captain Westrupp led an advance party to take up a position in the rear of the enemy. The rest of us marched at dawn on the 9th to attack their front, only to discover that the enemy had retreated to another very strongly fortified position named Hungahunga-te-roa, about 20 miles from Waiapu. We burned Pukemaire, and on the 11th reached the new stronghold, which we page 17 page 18 page 19 took by climbing to an almost inaccessible point that commanded the interior, thus forcing a surrender. We found 20 killed, many wounded, and took 500 prisoners, but sixty Taranaki warriors escaped by breaking the palisading and sliding down a cliff on the bush side of the pa.

The capture of Hungahunga-te-roa and of the majority of the rebel Ngatiporou, and the seizure of about six hundred firearms, completely settled matters at the East Cape. The prisoners were made to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen and to salute the Union Jack, and were allowed liberty on parole under the general supervision of the chief Mokana (Morgan) and of the resident magistrate, Mr. Campbell, and a guard of thirty military settlers.

On 8th November the rest of our force left Waiapu in the Government steamer Sturt, and were landed at Gisborne for the protection of the Poverty Bay settlers, for the Hau-haus in that district had built a strong pa at Waerengaahika and declared war. On the 9th H.M.S. Esk landed 250 of the loyal Ngatiporou natives at Gisborne, together with his Honour the Superintendent, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Donald McLean, who on the following day sent an ultimatum to the Hau-haus demanding their submission and the delivery of their arms within eight days.

No reply having been received from the enemy by the appointed day, Major Fraser, with a combined force of 600 English and loyal natives, attacked Waerengaahika. Fighting continued day and night until the 22nd, when the enemy after severe loss surrendered. The other forts were then evacuated and all the Hau-hau strongholds were destroyed.

On 1st December the Sturt embarked our whole force under Major Fraser (excepting the loyal natives who were left in charge at page 20 Turanganui) and steamed for Wairoa; and on the 9th Mr. McLean, who had come from Poverty Bay in the Sturt, left for Napier after placing the district in the charge of Major Fraser.

On the morning of Christmas Day, Fraser, with 200 whites and Maoris, took the pa at Mangaruke, near Waikaremoana. Captain Hussey, of the military settlers, was killed in that assault.

For the first eight or nine months of 1866 the East Coast contingent continued to patrol the country between Poverty Bay, Hawkes Bay and Taupo, having occasional fights with small bodies of rebels. There was little loss on either side, as the rebels preferred operating in small parties scattered through difficult country to building fortified positions which could be attacked in force. Every now and then a batch of a dozen or two prisoners was taken by our men, and such of them as refused to take the oath of allegiance were deported to the Chatham Islands.

Meanwhile much fighting occurred under Colonel Thomas Macdonnell and other leaders throughout the bush country between the Wanganui River and Mount Egmont, with considerable loss of life on both sides, although, according to the reports of the various actions and skirmishes, the rebels lost more men than we did.

Early in October 70 Hau-haus, under chief Panapa, came to Petane, eleven miles from Napier, and from there took possession of the pa at Omaranui, near Puketapu, and only about six miles from Napier. Reports also came in that more rebels were on the march from Taupo and Upper Wairoa to assist the party at Omaranui. Donald McLean called out all the Hawkes Bay militia, and sent orders for Major Fraser to bring forty military settlers and thirty of the men of Kopu and Thaka te Whanga from Wairoa with all speed. These reached Napier on the 11th by the steamship Star of the South, page 21 and on the 12th marched out to Petane to intercept the rebel reinforcements coming down the river, now called the Esk. This operation was successfully carried out, the Hau-haus being met and driven back with a loss of eleven killed, five prisoners, and many wounded. Our loss was one wounded.

On the same morning the militia, under Lieut.-Colonel Whitmore, surrounded Omaranui. Panapa was summoned to surrender within an hour, but he refused to answer and evidently was prepared to fight. After waiting two hours for a reply, orders were given to attack his fortress, which made a vigorous defence for an hour and a half, when a white flag was hoisted in token of surrender. Panapa had been killed with twenty of his men, and as many more wounded. Our loss was two killed and nine wounded.

It is certain that Mr. McLean's prompt and decided action prevented a great disaster. Any hesitation on his part would have been the signal for numbers of local and more distant natives to reinforce Panapa, who in that case would have been strong enough, in the absence of trained men other than Fraser's handful of forty, easily to destroy Napier and massacre all who could not escape by sea.

At this time I was stationed at Awanui, near Waiapu, with a guard of thirty men for the protection of Mr. Campbell, the resident magistrate, and as a check on the behaviour of the many Hau-haus whom we had lately disarmed in that district. I was recalled by the end of the year, and rejoined my company of military settlers at Wairoa. We were in camp at Turiroa for nearly nine months until the company was disbanded, when each of the men received the 50 acres of land which had been promised to them when they enrolled for three years.