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Soldiering in New Zealand, Being Reminiscences of a Veteran

Chapter VI

page 76

Chapter VI.

The reverses on the west coast—Te-Ngutu-o-te-Manu—Moturoa—Colonel McDonnell's despatch.

As I am writing of the Maori war, I must mention the sad reverses our force suffered at Te-Ngutu-o-te-Manu and Moturoa, on the west coast.

At the first-named fight our casualties were forty-four in number, and among the sixteen killed were five officers: Major von Tempskey, Captain Buck, Captain Palmer, Lieutenants Hunter and Hastings.

Very early on 7th September, 1868, a force of about 400 men, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas McDonnell, marched from Waihi camp to attack the fortified Maori pa called Te-Ngutu-o-te-Manu, situated at the head of a clearing in the bush, but nearly surrounded by forest. Avoiding the more open track to Te Ngutu, the force advanced through rough forest country much cut up by gulleys and hills. After a toilsome march of eight hours, pushing their way through supple-jack and under-scrub, they caught sight of the palisading of the pa, and came immediately under heavy fire from the enemy on all sides. Many were the casualties before the men entangled in the bush could be collected to repel the attack and remove the wounded.

Major von Tempskey's party found themselves facing the enemy's left rear. The major, leaving the men in charge of Captain Roberts, went round to the left front (it is presumed to obtain instructions from the colonel), but was immediately killed by shots fired from a platform on a rata tree, growing against the palisading. In trying to page 77 recover his body, several more of our men were killed. The colonel then directed the carriers of the wounded to retreat down the track towards Waihi, and all the spare men that could be collected were ordered to cover their retreat. But the tired and confused men, forming small groups in the bush and offering an easy mark to the concealed enemy, were with difficulty persuaded by the officers and non-commissioned officers to form a rear fighting line. By now the wounded out-numbered the stretchers. The retreat, under a galling fire as far as the Waingongoro river, moved but slowly towards Waihi camp, which Colonel McDonnell reached late at night, to find that about a hundred men had got there before him, and that Roberts and eighty men were missing.

Meanwhile Captain Roberts, hearing that his senior officer, von Tempskey, was killed, sounded the “halt” and the “officers' call,” and on being joined by Captain Buck, asked him to hold the position while he tried to ascertain the truth. “If I am not back in fifteen minutes,” he added, “you will know what has happened to me, and you must do the best you can to get the men away from here.”

Roberts then made his way back to the edge of the timber on the left flank of the pa where he had last seen von Tempskey; there he found Lieutenant Hunter's body, but no sign of von Tempskey's, which he concluded had been dragged away by the enemy.

He then returned as quickly as possible to his party, being followed closely and fired at by two or three Hau-haus. On reaching his men he found that Captain Buck had been killed, and that a number of the enemy had come out to attack his company, and looked as if they intended to make a rush.

Roberts at once formed up the men in a crescent-shaped line in the bush, and received the advancing enemy with three or four page 78 crashing volleys that not only checked their rush, but drove them back to the shelter of their palisade. Roberts was loyally assisted in doing this by Lieutenant Hastings, Ensign Hirtzel, and Sergeant-Major Livingston, the last-named being tireless in his cheerful activity and helpfulness during all that trying night.

I am sorry to add that in assisting Captain Roberts to bring in the bodies of Captain Buck and Captain Palmer, Lieutenant Hastings was mortally wounded and shortly afterwards expired. Here also Corporal Russell, another good man, was killed.

It was now getting dark, and as the enemy had ceased firing, Roberts withdrew his men a little further into the bush, waiting there until the rising of the moon, a little after midnight, enabled him quietly to withdraw his men, carrying or assisting the wounded; the dead they had to leave.

They reached the crossing of the Waingongora river without any further fighting, and got to Waihi camp early on the 8th, after a ceaseless task of thirty hours' duration.

Shortly after this, Colonel McDonnell having resigned his command, Colonel Whitmore took charge of the West Coast force. On 7th November, 1868, he directed an attack on the strongly fortified position of Moturoa; but he had under estimated the great strength of the pa and the attack failed. We lost many men, including Major Hunter, who was killed while gallantly leading the charge up to the stockade.

On the 12th July of this year the Hau-haus surprised the Turi-Turi-Mokai redoubt, and slew most of the weak garrison of twenty-five men. It was here that Captain Frederick Ross was killed.

Not having been present myself at these three fights in which our forces were defeated by the rebel natives, I find it difficult to write of page 79 them more fully. And the few survivors of those engaged are reluctant to describe those battles in any detail, because a full description would necessarily refer to mistakes and oversights of men long dead and incapable of explanation or defence. I append Colonel McDonnell's despatch in order that the official narrative may fill up the gaps in my incomplete summary of the events of those tragic days.

Camp Waihi.

9th September, 1868.


I have the honour to state, for the information of the Hon. the Minister for Colonial Defence, that I left here at 4 a.m. on the 7th inst. with a force as per margin:— The whole of the force was under Lieut.-Col. McDonnell. No. 2 Division A.C., 16 men; Patea Rifle Volunteers, 14 men, under Captain Palmer; No. 5 Division A.C., 59 men, under Sub-Inspectors Brown and Roberts; the Wellington Rangers, 45 men, under Lieutenants Hastings and Hunter; Taranaki Volunteers, 26 men, under Lieutenant Rowan; Waihi Volunteers, 2 men. Total 142 men. This detachment was under the command of Major von Tempskey; Dr. Walker as surgeon. The following companies were under the command of Inspector Hunter:—No. 3 Division A.C., 32 men, with Sub-Inspectors Newland and Young; Wellington Rangers, 65 men, with Capt. Buck, Lieutenant Fookes, and Ensign Hirtzell; Pate Y.C., 11 men, with Captain O'Halloran; Dr. Best as surgeon. Total 108, chiefs and men; Kupapas 110 men with Captain McDonnell. intending to reach Te Rua-aruru through the bush, attack that village page 80 and return by Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu. On reaching Mawhiti-ahiti we struck inland on the main track to Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu and to seaward of the track that is supposed to exist and marked out on the map, to Te Rua-aruru. After proceeding some distance on a very old trail, it ceased altogether; we then headed in the supposed direction of the place named. We got into very rough country, intersected with gullies and streams, and a perfect network of supple-jacks. About 1 p.m. we ascended a bush ridge, and, on the advice of Honi Papara, our guide, struck for the sea to try and hit a track. After struggling in the bush for another hour we heard voices ahead, and I sent a native up a tree to investigate. He could only see smoke. Pushing on in the direction of the voices, we came upon three or four bark huts, which were rushed by the Kupapas, who fired into them, the inmates rushing away, leaving two killed, and three children, who were taken. I then left the Kupapas to bring up the rear, and directed Major von Tempskey to lead on the men under his immediate command, sending Honi Papara and a few friendly natives on in front. We soon got into a fair track, and, after proceeding about 400 or 500 yards we saw some more huts and a tent to the right of the path, and afterwards, to our surprise, found it was Tikowar's sleeping place. Of course there was no one inside, the shots that had been fired having warned them. Following sharp on the track, we crossed a creek, and on rising the opposite bank we received a sharp fire. As fast as possible I got the men formed up and returned it. In a very few minutes we were fired upon from front, right and rear, but except within the palisading in the clearing in our front, we could see no enemy. In examining the place more closely I found we were at the rear of Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu, and not at Rua-aruru, and that a new stockade had been erected and the old one rebuilt. As I could see that it would be impossible to rush, page 81 and, even if successful, to hold the place, as the enemy were not only occupying but around three sides of it, and up in the rata trees, some of which were hollow at the butt and loop-holed, I determined to collect the wounded, now seven in number, and endeavour to push to my left, the only point that appeared open. There was no track, and the few natives that were with us not knowing of one, I directed Inspector Hunter to accompany the wounded with Captain Newland, instructing the latter to keep Honi Papara in view, who had promised to strike a way out. I was obliged to trust to his knowledge of the country, he having lived there for some time. I then returned to Major von Tempskey, and sent Kemp to collect as many of his men as he could, and send them to join Captain Newland in front. I then desired Major von Tempskey to collect the rest of the men to form a rearguard and come on at once. I told Captain Cumming to come on with me. During the whole of this time the enemy were firing heavily at us in every direction. Our way had to be cut through supple-jacks and undergrowths, which, with the eight stretchers we now had, was a work of toil and difficulty. We at length reached the creek that runs through Timaru, but still no track. Presently the news was brought to me that Major von Tempskey, Captain Buck, Captain McDonnell (N.C.), and Lieutenant Hunter were shot dead; but just then Captain McDonnell came up and stated that Major von Tempskey, Captain Buck, and Lieutenant Hunter were killed, and that he had told Lieutenant Hastings that the only chance was to carry out the orders that had been given to Major von Tempskey; at once his reply was that “Captain Buck is senior,” and he would consult him. Captain McDonnell then went to see Captain Buck, but found that he was killed, and the enemy by this time in possession of the place where the bodies of Buck, Major von Tempskey and two men lay. He returned page 82 then, and pointed out to Mr. Hastings the necessity of retiring. The fire at this time was very heavy from the front, rear, and right, and from the tops of the rata trees. He then followed on my trail, with eight natives and ten Europeans, and reported as above. I had now with me about 80 men, including natives—hardly sufficient to carry our wounded, now increasing in number, and to keep down the fire from our right. Knowing that a large proportion of the force was in rear, and several good officers, I moved on, feeling sure they were covering our retreat; but I presently found that the enemy had got between us, and it appears from what Sub-Inspector Roberts tells that soon after Captain McDonnell had left, the Hau-haus succeeded in completely surrounding the rearguard, and it was only with the greatest difficulty they cut their way through them. The Hau-haus then left him (as he struck to the left further into the bush) and came after us, overtaking us just before we struck the main track leading into Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu (as in map). Captain McDonnell meanwhile had taken up a position at Te Maru to keep our front open; our wounded had by this time increased to twelve, who had to be carried, beside several who had been hit but could walk. The men with our party worked hard, but were so done up as to require every persuasion and advice I and my officers could think of to keep the majority from abandoning the wounded; one man killed dead I had to leave, and Dr. Best was badly hit in going to ascertain his state. The doctor had to be carried off on rifles, having no more stretchers in my party. The natives now swarmed in our rear, and kept up a heavy fire, which I was obliged to return only occasionally, as my ammunition was very short, Captain Cumming and myself loading and firing now and then. I was afraid the enemy might have got round to the crossing of the Waingongoro river before I could reach it. We attained the opening at Ahi Pai pa page 83 just at dusk, and here received a parting volley from the enemy. They followed on yelling, and commenced a war dance in the open ground out of the bush. I caused my men to cheer and gave them a volley which I should think took effect, as their dance ended rather abruptly, and they did not molest us any more. I may state that for some time I had not heard any distant firing, and therefore concluded the remainder of the force had got in advance of me. I pushed on across the river and found a few friendly natives holding the crossing. We got the men and wounded safely across and reached camp about 10 p.m. A mixed party of natives and Europeans, the latter numbering about 80, had arrived before me, and reported that all the officers were killed or wounded and left behind, myself included. On roll being called, I found that Sub-Inspector Roberts, Captain Palmer, Lieutenant Hastings, and Ensign Hirtzell, with about 80 men and four natives, were still absent. I caused three rockets to be fired, and sent a party to the heights above the river and they sounded bugles, but no response was heard. Being satisfied that I could do nothing till day-light, and the officers and men being exhaused, they were dismissed. I had arranged to start the natives to hunt up the missing men in the morning, and just as they were about to start, a party was seen approaching the camp, which proved to be Sub-Inspector Roberts, Ensign Hirtzell and 62 men, with four natives, who reported Captain Palmer and Lieutenant Hastings as having been killed. I enclose the statement of Sub-Inspector Roberts of what took place from the time when he became senior officer of the rearguard. It is, I feel, a most difficult task to do justice to the conduct of the brave officers I have had the honour to command on this occasion. I can simply say they did their duty like Englishmen. Their gallant conduct under the most galling fire; their inspiring and cheerful demeanour to encourage men page 84 when weary, exhausted, and almost giving up, saved many lives, and commanded respect and obedience in situations rarely exceeded for difficulty and danger; and I feel confident that if Major von Tempskey or Captain Buck had lived a few minutes longer, I would not have to regret for ever the loss of so many gallant comrades whose services at this time the colony so much requires. The conduct of the men was excellent, until they found that the enemy was in force on all sides, when some of them became dispirited; but the noble example of many of their number, with the assistance of many of their officers and non-commissioned officers, helped to instil fresh heart, notwithstanding seven hours scrambling through dense forests had almost exhausted them before they reached the enemy. Of the conduct of the Kupapas I can speak hightly: I never saw them behave better. Kemp, Power, and their small party with us, and the guide Horo Papara, deserve the special thanks of the Government. The services of Ngatiapa, under Hunai, Hakiki Pirimona, Peete, Hunta, and others in assisting Europeans through the bush when cut off from us, I consider deserve to be recognised by Government. The five men who remained with Sub-Inspector Roberts when they might have left him and party to their own resources are Hakeru, Tarei, Te Waikuine, and Waikitoa or Pita; the men were so grateful for the conduct of the Kupapas that they subscribed some money and presented it to them. Amongst the non-commissioned officers and men whose conduct deserves special notice was Sergeant-Major Scannell (for whom I would be grateful if the Government would do something in the Armed Constabulary); Sergeant Davey, No. 2 Division A.C., who got up a tree and fired at the enemy; Sergeant Bennett, No. 3 Division A.C.; Corporal Cahill, No. 3 Division A.C.; Constables Ready, Kelly, Percy, and Quigley, No. 3 Division A.C.; Corporal Boyd, No. 5 Division A.C.; Sergeant page 85 Fleur, Wellington Rangers; and Volunteers Sergeants Livingston, Blake, and Pope. And now, in conclusion, I would beg most strongly to represent to the Hon. the Minister for Colonial Defence the fact that the natives who accompanied me and who, it is known, killed fifteen of the enemy, yet themselves suffered no loss, not even a man wounded; this, I trust, will prove that, to fight natives successfully in a bush, every tree and track of which is known to them, requires men who have been long and carefully trained to such difficult work. Instead of my men dispersing and taking cover, they could not be prevented from huddling together in small lots, affording a good target to the enemy. My efforts, and those of my officers, were in most cases without effect in convincing them of the mistake they were making. Though willing and anxious to do their duty, their short training had not been sufficient to teach them how.

Mr. Pringle, late of the 18th Royal Irish, accompanied the expedition as a volunteer. On the way back I desired him to take charge of some men, which he did in such an excellent manner that I promised him, on the field, to recommend him for a commission in the force.

I beg to enclose a list of my casualties which I deeply deplore are very heavy, but I am satisfied that the enemy's is much heavier. The Kupapas killed fifteen, and the known killed by the Europeans was thirteen, making a total of twenty-eight. This does not include the loss they must have suffered when we were fighting our way out.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient servant,

Thos. McDonnell, Lieutenant-Colonel.

N.B.—I omitted to mention that Father Rolland again accompanied the force and shared the same dangers. He also assisted to page 86 carry the wounded with my party, and his example was a great incentive to my men to persevere. For fear there might be any mistake, I regret to state that the dead had all to be left behind.

Thos. McDonnell,


No. 3 Division, A.C. Corporal Russell.
No. 3 Division, A.C. Constable Elkin.
No. 3 Division, A.C. Constable Fennessy.
No. 3 Division, A.C. Constable Hart.
No. 5 Division, A.C. Major von Tempskey.
No. 5 Division, A.C. Constable Gilgan.
No. 5 Division, A.C. Constable Davis.
No. 5 Division, A.C. Constable Farram.
Wellington Rangers Lieutenant Hunter.
Wellington Rangers Lieutenant Hastings.
Wellington Rangers Private Dore.*
Wellington Rangers Private Hughes.
Wellington Rifles Captain Buck.
Wellington Rifles Lance-Corporal Lumsden.
Wellington Rifles Private Grant.
Taranaki Volunteers Private Deekson.
Patea Rifles Captain Palmer.
No. 2 Division, A.C. Constables O'Brien and Houston.
No. 2 Division, A.C. Constables O'Connor and Burke.page 87
No. 3 Division, A.C. Constable Hogan.
No. 3 Division, A.C. Constable Watton.
No. 3 Division, A.C. Constable Futton.
No. 5 Division, A.C. Sergeant Towey.
No. 5 Division, A.C. Constable Shanahan.
Wellington Rangers Private McGenniskin.
Wellington Rangers Privates Harris and Caldwell.
Wellington Rangers Privates McManus and Goddard.
Wellington Rifles Corporal Walden.
Wellington Rifles Private Griffiths.
Wellington Rifles Privates Loder and Jansey.
Taranaki Volunteers Lieutenant Rowan.
Taranaki Volunteers Privates Wells and Hamblyn.
Taranaki Volunteers Privates Melville and Holloway.
Taranaki Volunteers Privates Hyland and Flynn.
Privates Darlington and Downe.

* This man was reported dead in error. He came into camp two days later, having been wounded in the arm.