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

Mahoetahi, and a Story of Atkinson

Mahoetahi, and a Story of Atkinson.

There was almost constant soldiering duty for a year following Waireka, until the first Taranaki war closed. The Volunteers and Militia were engaged in many bush expeditions, scouting, and patrolling the roads and tracks, in rear of the town, and now and again skirmishing with the war-parties and foragers of the tribes. There was a sharp affair, the battle of Mahoetahi, where the British and Colonial troops stormed the position held by warriors of the Ngati-Haua and Ngati-Maniapoto tribes from the North; this was on November 6, 1860. Captain Atkinson and his men were in that thrilling charge. Another of the Atkinsons was in the field that day; W. S. Atkinson, who commanded a friendly Maori contingent.

A story of the Mahoetahi affair that reveals the fiery determined Atkinson of those heroic days was told by the late Dr. Grace (who was surgeon with the troops in Taranaki and elsewhere) in his book of Maori War reminiscences. It was still rather dark when Major-General Pratt's column mustered in Devon Street, New Plymouth. The Taranaki Rifle Volunteers were intended to act as support, and space was left in the column for their companies. When the force was ready to march, as the space retained was not nearly filled, there was “much tittering and ridicule,” as Dr. Grace put it, among the Imperial soldiers. Colonel Carey, the Adjutant-General, rode up to Captain Atkinson and said.—

“Captain, this is very bad. Where are your men?”

Captain Atkinson's eyes shone with a fierce light as he replied in a hoarse trumpet voice:—

“Colonel, let the column advance. My men will fall in as we go, and in any case there are enough Volunteers here to storm the Pa!”

This answer electrified the listeners. The news of Atkinson's defiant air spread like wildfire through New Plymouth. His men joined the column in threes and fours as it marched along and soon the complete force of the Rifles was in the column. The force halted below Mahoetahi hill on which the Maoris were concealed (the main highway from New Plymouth to Waitara and the North cuts through the ridge close to the site at eight miles from New Plymouth).