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Soldiering in New Zealand, Being Reminiscences of a Veteran

Chapter VIII

page 98

Chapter VIII.

Tauranga—Whakatane—Inspector Branigan—Attack on Porere—Captain St. George's death—Colonel Fraser—Hard travelling—Captain Mair—Visit of the Duke of Edinburgh—Rotorua—Taupo—My father's death—My marriage—Many military changes—Tarawera.

From Matata the force marched to Tauranga for a short spell in winter quarters and to obtain a much-needed supply of clothing. Very few of us possessed a decently whole pair of trousers, and nearly all, officers and men alike, wore a kilt of some sort, mostly a shawl worn kilt fashion just long enough to reach the knee. In many cases a sack split lengthways was used in the same way as the shawls, so we presented a very ragged and war-worn appearance as we formed line of divisions on the sea front at Tauranga, before being marched to our camping ground on the open terrace above the town.

We had easy times in Tauranga for a couple of months. To the best of my recollection Colonel William Moule was in charge of the district, and Colonels Harrington and James Fraser of the field force.

The Arawa Division (No. 8 Maoris) in time became troublesome in town in spite of plenty of drill, and were accordingly sent to build a stockade at Whakatane. But they had quite got out of hand; I was despatched to take command of them and managed somehow to make them behave decently.

While I was there the late Inspector Branigan suddenly landed at Whakatane on a tour of inspection. He walked into camp and inquired where the men were. I told him, “In the swamp, cutting material for the stockade” (now nearly built). He wished to inspect them, so the “retire” was sounded, and presently the men came page 99 into view doubling up to camp. I asked for a quarter of an hour for the men to dress for parade and clean their rifles. Mr. Branigan wished them to parade at once, as he believed in constables being always ready for inspection, and I gave the order to my sergeant-major in accordance with his wish.

Now when in tents I allowed the men to keep their arms well oiled to prevent rust. On parade and for guard mounting the men always turned out smart and clean, with arms and belts bright and polished, but it may be imagined how things looked when they had to fall in with arms snatched from the tent poles and in their fatigue dress. Mr. Branigan said that in all his experience he had never seen arms kept in such a filthy condition, actually covered with grease and oil inside and out. I suggested that in wet weather and damp tents it was the best way to keep the arms fit and ready for instant use, and ten minutes would suffice to clean them bright inside and out.

Mr. Branigan stared very hard at me for venturing to express an opinion differing from his own, and I felt sure that his report of Whakatane would not be flattering to me. He was a very good officer in his own line, but bush-fighting and navvy work appeared to be somewhat outside of his experience.

About this time Te Kooti had built a fighting pa at Porere, south of Lake Taupo, and two divisions of armed constabulary and a strong native contingent under Renata Kawepo and Major Keepa, of Wanganui, were ordered to march against him, Colonel Macdonald being in chief command of the column.

In the attack on Porere on 4th October, 1869, I lost my best friend and comrade, Captain J. C. St. George, who fell dead, shot through the forehead, leading a charge against the pa. Jack page 100 St. George and his brother Fred were my chief chums from our first meeting in 1856. Jack joined the Hawkes Bay squadron of the Colonial Defence Force in the same month as myself, his brother joining the Forest Rangers in Taranaki, where he was wounde slightly in one of the scrimmages. Jack was buried on the shore of a beautiful little lake called Rotoaira at the foot of Ruapehu. Two years afterwards I brought his remains from there to be interred with military honours in the cemetery at Napier. He was brave to rashness, and the finest horseman I ever knew.

I was so much cut up at the news of his death that I was unconcerned when relieved of my command and sent to Tauranga under arrest, owing to the adverse report of Mr. Branigan, who objected to my method of keeping rust from the rifles by a liberal use of grease and oil.

On reaching Tauranga I found that my division, No. 1, was under orders for the front, and I was sent on advanced picket duty at once. Such trifles as greasy arms did not count when a fight was in prospect.

We got in touch with the enemy about 18 miles from Tauranga on the Tapapa track, but only our advanced guard was engaged; their main body scattered and made off to the westward so rapidly that we could not overtake them in the dense bush. On regaining the edge of the timber we struck a few huts, and seized an old native and questioned him for information. The enemy had evidently been there that morning, but we could get nothing out of him. Some of our natives rubbed noses with him, and claimed him as a relative. I had been interpreting for Colonel Fraser, and as we turned away from the old man, meaning to leave him unhurt, some young brutes among our natives suddenly emptied their carbines into his body before I noticed page 101
Colonel Fraser.

Colonel Fraser.

page 102 page 103 their intention or had a chance to save him. When reprimanded for their cruelty, they grumbled at the fuss “over a useless old man.”

As it was supposed that Te Kooti's men were making back to the Tuhua country, Colonel Fraser thought to intercept them somewhere about Rotorua or Ohinemutu, and called for volunteers for a rapid march to try to get ahead of them.

Captain Archibald Turner and I presently collected about forty Europeans and eighty natives, who all volunteered for the attempt. We started at once, carrying one day's rations and a blanket each, and marched rapidly, reaching the beach track to Maketu before sunset, mostly travelling at a sort of jog trot. Up to then the natives had kept the lead next to Turner and myself, but now the staying powers of the white men told. Gradually the natives, who during the afternoon had got a mile ahead, began to lag, and when we reached the mouth of the Maketu river a little before midnight, the white men had a long lead. The two Maori girls, however, who had come with their husbands, kept up with Turner and myself. When we threw ourselves down on the sand to wait for the ferry canoe, I fell asleep at once thoroughly exhausted, and was only aroused by the kindly-meant pommelling of one of the girls, afterwards well known as Sophia, the Rotorua guide. She gave me a pannikin of tea, and then helped me down to the ferry canoe, where I found that Turner had been looking for me, fearing that I should be left on the beach till next morning if he allowed the canoe to take him across the river.

When we reached Ohinemutu next afternoon, we found that Te Kooti had passed two hours earlier, and that Captain Gilbert Mair had had a running fight with his rearguard and slain several of them, among others a notorious ruffian, a half-caste named Baker.

Captain Mair fell ill, and orders came for me to relieve him and page 104 take charge of the Arawa contingent. Thus I happened to be in command of it when acting as escort for H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, who had arrived in H.M.S. Galatea and come up with his suite to see the wonders of the Hot Lakes district and the Rotomahana Terraces. The visitors enjoyed themselves thoroughly, swimming in the hot pools and seeing Maori war-dances and hakas; and copying my shawl costume went about in kilts with bare legs. Lieutenant Herbert Way, the subaltern lately attached to the contingent, thought fit to follow the fashion, but not being used to it got his long, thin legs so terribly sunburnt and swollen that he was laid up for a fortnight.

The Duke was well tattooed on the arms, breast and legs with coloured flowers, birds and dragons, in the Japanese style, but Lord Charles Beresford was the most elaborately tattooed man I have ever seen. He had coloured designs, besides the usual nautical emblems, anchors, ships and dolphins, all over his body. He was of medium height, very powerfully built, and of good figure.

On parting the Duke gave me a signed photograph of himself in memory of his visit, and expressed himself as greatly pleased with the arrangements for his comfort, protection and amusement. He seemed to be somewhat shy and awkward in manner compared with the members of his suite.

Soon after this visit I was recalled to Tauranga. Colonel James Fraser, after a short illness, had died of typhoid, and I had to take charge of the district until another senior officer should be appointed to the command, which did not happen for three or four months. Then I was again sent to Rotorua to patrol the open country about Kaiteriria and intercept parties of Te Kooti's followers, who were supposed to be passing between the Urewera country and Waikato, or the “King Country,” as it was called.

page 105
H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh

H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh

page 106 page 107

Hearing that a strong party, armed and led by one of Te Kooti's chief supporters, intended to go through, I made my plans for surprising and capturing them, and duly forwarded the information and my plan of action to the officer commanding at Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty. This brought the officer in a hurry to Rotorua, and sending for me he told me that unless I wished to lose my commission I was on no account to fire on Te Kooti's men, but was to arrest them without bloodshed, as the Government wished to avoid any further fighting.

After receiving these (to my mind silly) instructions, I took no further steps to arrest Te Kooti's people, for I was certain that they would fight, and equally certain that I should give them shot for shot and volley for volley, regardless of whatever blame might follow my action.

My next move was to Taupo, where we built a redoubt close to the outlet of the Waikato river from the lake. For two years the chief employment of the armed constabulary was road-making, and the officers and sergeants became experts at grading and forming roads and building bridges and culverts.

Early in this year (1872) my father died at the farm at Paingatotara, and family affairs necessitated my going on leave for three months. On Christmas Day, 1872, as the Maori war was ended and peace had been maintained for the past twelve months, I was married at Napier by the bishop of Waiapu to Marion Carr. She was the only daughter of an old friend who had died two years before, and we had long been engaged. I took my wife up to Taupo, where we lived in the redoubt. In spite of the absence of female society, she was well contented with our surroundings. Indeed, the varying interests and mild excitements of a soldier's life, in a country with a delightful climate and full of page 108 natural wonders, made monotony impossible.

We saw many tourists and travellers, who were frequently people of wide experience and information and left pleasant memories behind them.

A cousin of my wife, who was engaged to my old comrade, Dr. Murray Gibbs, and later two of my sisters, spent some months with us, and helped to make our life very pleasant and full of interest. We made excursions on horseback to places of romantic beauty and startling wonders, such as Roto-Mahana, Tokaano, and the Huka Falls, and enjoyed boating on the great lake and bathing in the numerous hot springs and creeks. Indeed, time usually seemed too short for our many schemes of interest and recreation.

In the winter of 1875, matters affecting the military force of the colony were very unsettled: officers were continually transferred from one post or district to another for no important reason, and they and the colony were thus put to needless expense and inconvenience. Major Scannell was transferred to Waikato; I had to move to Opepe to take charge of the district headquarters. Four months later Scannell was sent back to Taupo, and I was ordered to the Tauranga district, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel J. M. Roberts, where for six months or so we lived close to Ohinemutu at a very pleasant spot named Poutu. I was once more in charge of the Arawa contingent, who were employed on road work. We enjoyed the six months we spent here, having plenty of riding, and seeing many tourists and friends who came to visit the beautiful Rotomahana Terraces.

From Ohinemutu the road party was shifted to Oropi, where we camped. We stayed here about twelve months, and I built a nice two-roomed cottage with a verandah, which was far more comfortable than the tent in which we had to live at first. At that time Tauranga page 109 was a very pleasant town. Its situation on the splendid harbour, with the fine mount guarding the entrance, is extremely beautiful, and the townsmen and adjacent settlers were a respectable and reputable community, untroubled in those days by the noisy vapourings of place-seekers and spoilers.

April, 1877, saw us transferred to Tarawera in the Taupo district, and I bought a cottage there, as we were likely to remain for twelve months. I was in charge of road work again, and there was plenty of that to do in order to get a coach road through from Pohue to Tapuaeharuri at the north end of Lake Taupo. I liked the work, and on my daily visits to the several road gangs I always carried my gun, and used to secure plenty of game.

Tarawera is on a terrace in the deep gorge of the Wai-pongo river, and originally consisted of a few huts surrounded by an old stockade. It is the half-way rest-house for the night of the Napier-Taupo mail coach, and there is a good hot spring in the vicinity. We saw plenty of the travelling public, and time never hung heavily. My men were a quiet, well-behaved lot, and I think that the three years we spent there were the most enjoyable time I had while in the service of the Government.