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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 2 (May 1, 1935)

The Battle of Waireka

page 21

The Battle of Waireka.

Young Captain Atkinson and his company of riflemen formed part of a composite column despatched to Omata from New Plymouth on March 28, 1860. The force consisted of a small detachment of men from H.M.S. Niger a company of the 65th Regiment, a hundred Rifle Volunteers, and 56 of the Taranaki Militia, the whole under Lieut.-Colonel Murray, a British Regular officer. Captain Charles Brown was in command of the Colonial units in the column. The Volunteers were under Captain Atkinson and Lieuts. Hirst, Hamerton, Webster and Jones; and the Militia officers were Captain and Adjutant Stapp (a veteran of the 58th Regiment, who had served in Hone Heke's War), Lieutenants McKechney and McKellar, and Ensign W. B. Messenger (afterwards Colonel). The mission of this expedition was to rescue the Rev. H. H. Brown and his family and some other settlers who had remained on their Omata farms. As it happened, they were not in danger; the minister was held tapu by the Maoris because of his sacred office. But there was blundering on the part of the superior Imperial officers. The force was ordered to be back in New Plymouth by dark. The Regulars marched by the main road to Omata; the Volunteers and Militia by the beach. There was a strong body of well-armed Maoris entrenched at Kaipopo, a commanding hill about a mile and a half south of the Colonial forces' stockade at Omata. The Maori position commanded the way to the beach; near it a small stream, the Waireka (“Sweet-water”) flowed out through a narrow partly wooded valley. Near the bank of this stream there was a farmhouse, a small building which Mr. John Jury had occupied until the war began. Lieut.-Colonel Murray's force, the main body, opened fire on the Maoris near Omata but before dusk the commander marched his men back to town, in accordance with orders, leaving the Volunteers and Militia to fight it out with the Maoris from Kaipopo Pa, who had almost surrounded them in the valley of the Waireka and were swarming over the broken ground above them.

The engagement developed into a desperate battle, in which the only help the settler-soldiers received was from a few Navy men (Lieut. Blake, R.N., was badly wounded) and eight men of the 65th Regiment who had been left with the Militia. It was now nearly dark and the Maoris kept up a hot fire on the little force at Jury's homestead. This force had suffered several casualties; a sergeant of Militia (Fahey) and a “Niger” man had been killed, and eight men wounded, including Lieut. Hamerton and Private W. Messenger (father of Ensign Messenger); the latter had his right elbow shattered by a bullet.

The Taranaki Volunteer Rifles and Militia in the Battle of Waireka, 1860. Maori Pa Kaipopo on the hill. (From a water-colour drawing by A. H. Messenger).

The Taranaki Volunteer Rifles and Militia in the Battle of Waireka, 1860. Maori Pa Kaipopo on the hill.
(From a water-colour drawing by A. H. Messenger).

Meanwhile Captain Atkinson had been doing useful work, holding a good strategic position above the Waireka stream and on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. His company included both Volunteers and Militia. His post commanded the flanks and rear of the terrace on which the farmhouse stood and the mouth of the Waireka. Shooting steadily from this position Atkinson and his men inflicted many casualties on the Ngati-Ruanui musketeers. They stood fast in their position, picking off the Maoris, while the rest of the force hurriedly put the jury farm-yard in a state of defence, throwing together a breastwork of all material available—firewood, fence rails and posts, and even sheaves of oats from stacks near the house.