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A Sketch of the New Zealand War

Entrenched at Waireka V

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Entrenched at Wairekapage 40page 41 V

Before proceeding, I ask myself again, what is the object I have in view? Well, I wish to remind the New Zealander of to-day, whether white or brown, that the Maori of my time was a gentleman—a man of superior talent and undoubted courage, who knew more about strategy, fortifications, defence and attack than our army had learned either at Woolwich or in India. Also, I would do justice to the British soldier.

Soon after my arrival in New Plymouth, a wing of the 12th regiment, under Major Hutchins, disembarked in the roadstead. A flying column, consisting of some companies of the 12th and 40th, some Royal Engineers and a few artillerymen, was despatched to encamp on the Waireka, the land on which the first engagement between the Maoris and Volunteers had been fought. I was put in medical charge of the wing. General Pratt was now page 42in command, and all dispositions were carried out with the formality observed in a European campaign. Although we were passing through a peaceable, open, well-cultivated country, skirmishers were thrown out, a rearguard formed, our baggage waggons were protected by outlying skirmishers, and we proceeded with all possible caution, as though every hedge, hillock, and break concealed a lurking enemy. This had the worst possible effect on the morale of our men, all new to the country.

Arrived at Waireka, we proceeded hastily to entrench ourselves, as if danger was imminent. Before nightfall the lines of our earthworks had been drawn, mounds raised, trenches dug, tents pitched, all within a fortified space. So afraid of a surprise were we that, although we had double pickets out, we had not dared to encamp near either wood or water. In order to secure water from a neighbouring stream, we detached on each occasion an armed party of thirty or forty men to cover the advance and retreat of our water-carriers. Next day we commenced sinking wells. We continued this operation for days. The deeper we sank, the drier the ground, and never once did we turn up either gravel or stone. The soldiers began to think that the devil was in the country. page 43They had never seen the like before. Finally the Engineers declared the land waterless, and the fatigue party broke off this work. Our daily expeditions for water were in time extended to search for potatoes. Had it not been for the frequent night-alarms, given by the outlying sentries, followed by the cry, "Man the defences," our lives would have been pleasant enough. All this over-cautious watchfulness had a depressing effect on our men.

By degrees our pickets and scattered handfuls of men went farther afield, until at length many of us began to doubt the existence of any enemy. I made one of these excursions with two or three brother officers. We found on this occasion the body of a farmer which had been shoved into a drain. The settler had been tomahawked in the head, legs, and arms. This was evidently the work of the Ngatiruanui, who were bitterly savage against us. The appearance of this unfortunate man, who had evidently been surprised whilst examining his homestead, gave me "quite a turn."

A few days after this some Maori appeared in our immediate neighbourhood, and Major Hutchins ordered a reconnaissance. About 150 of our men were thrown into skirmishing page 44order, and instructed to feel their way under cover of some gorse hedges, with the object of getting between the enemy and some neighbouring ridges of elevated land.

It was my duty to accompany the force, and as the troops opened out from the centre and extended to both sides, I found myself on the most distant—the left flank of the line of skirmishers.

As soon as the Maori saw our object, they opened fire. Our bugles sounded "Take cover." Our men immediately fell flat, crept up anyhow to some gorse hedges, and fired blindly through the fences at anything or nothing. As I lay prone on the ground, clutching absolutely—not figuratively—at the blades of grass, the balls ripped up the sward around me. I first drew in one leg, then another, then tucked in my arm, anon tried to bury my head in my shoulders, or my buttock in my back. It was useless. There was no escape. My soul was frozen within me. My orderly, Corporal Prince, was lying beside me. I knew nothing of his state of mind. The bugle sounded. My heart stood still, then the blood bounded back to my brain.

"What is it, Corporal?"

"Call for the medical officer, sir."

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"Malbrouk s'en va-t-en guerre." An electric flash went through my brain. Have you the courage to neglect your sacred duty? look in the face of your comrades with the brand of a coward on your heart? No. No. A thousand times no. I arose, alert and smiling. Corporal Prince and I marched with coolness and dignity from one end of the line of skirmishers to the other, almost the only persons exposed to the fire of the enemy. I looked after the wounded without cover and under fire. Now that I had something to do, my fear was gone. The instinct of the doctor was uppermost. The wounded on either side were alike interesting to me. Apparently, if both parties had been firing at me, it would not have made much difference. Training is a wonderful human moulder: I am certain martyrdom is nothing to persons educated to look for it.

As soon as the strength of the Maori was revealed, the retreat was sounded and our men returned to camp. Very little mischief was inflicted on either side. The range was too long for Maori smooth-bores. They were chiefly spent balls that frightened the wits out of me. I happened to have been at a point where the fire from two angles converged. The trajectory of our rifles was probably too page 46high to hurt any one, for the Maori were up to their chins in rifle-pits.

This little affair left a bad impression on the Maori. A reconnaissance en force seems a fine military exhibition, when defined in words: with the Maori the mere formal dignity of a withdrawal amounts to nothing. A single Maori as long as he was in view would feel bound in honour to retire with formal dignity though pursued by a whole army. But ours seemed the retreat of a powerful force. The Maori concluded we were afraid. Had our men on this occasion been pushed on, and allowed to put their fortunes to the test of battle, it is no exaggeration to say millions of money would have been saved and thousands of lives.

Major Hutchins dared not risk it. Had the attack failed, he would have been cashiered. Had it succeeded, he would have been tried by court-martial and reprimanded. His instructions did not admit of an aggressive movement.

About a week or ten days after this the Maori, with their women, children, and baggage, were seen pouring over a tortuous mountain quite near us. Their formation was so extended that a company of our men could have page 47destroyed the whole lot Before Major Hutchins could move a finger, this incident had to be reported in full to headquarters and the explained and the explanation elucidated.

About four o'clock in the day General Pratt with an overpowering force arrived at our camp. The Maori had concluded their march about half-past one, and were out of sight over the range of hills. I saw the general and staff on their arrival. They cross-examined every one. My own opinion is they did not believe a word of Major Hutchins's narrative. Maori cross that range of hills! Where are they? Why, we were in town the whole time, and never saw one of them! The Taranaki volunteers crowded our camp in numbers. Our mess spent about a week's pay feeding them and allaying their thirst. As they went away I heard them say, "It is a wonder those soldiers cannot fight. They are awfully decent fellows." We all knew their opinion of us, but did not care. Soldiers in any case are hospitable. The rough aspect and cheery familiarity of these volunteers more than compensated us. General Pratt with his formidable force with-drew in an hour or so, and we returned to our usual avocations.

In a few days the Maori erected earthworks page 48to our left front 800 yards distant, to our left 600 yards distant, and to our left rear about 500 yards. We took no notice of them. One fine morning they opened fire simultaneously from these works. We stood to arms, making no reply except by occasional sharpshooters from our flanking angles. The Maori fire had no effect on us. As our right and right front were open, we continued to draw water from the neighboring creek and armed parties foraged for potatoes and vegetables coast-wise. We had occasional skirmishes with the enemy, who laid ambuscades for us; but our modes were too uniformly guarded to admit easily of surprises. Once we surprised an ambuscade consisting of about six or eight Maori. They all got off, as usual; but one poor fellow, as he was vaulting over a gate 800 yards distant, was caught by an Enfield bullet in an extraordinary way. Our musketry instructor, when running full pelt, dropped on his knee, fixed his sight at 800 yards, pulled the trigger, when down fell the sable warrior. He was up again and bundled off on one leg and two arms whilst you could cry "Jack Robinson," and left nothing behind him except his mat.

The effect of this siege was to restrict our liberty. We had double sentries on our inner page 49defences each night, and were constantly aroused by the firing of our out-pickets. After a little time every one got weary of the restraint. Our men began to loaf around outside our fortification, the Maori firing at them all the time. One day whilst Major Hutchins was walking about in a fit of affected abstraction, a few of our men began to kick a football. Presently a large portion of the garrison off duty joined in the sport. The Maori fired volley after volley at our men, but as their distance at this point was 800 yards, not a single shot took effect. They soon left off firing, and looked at us over their rifle-pits. My own opinion is that, had not our men been withdrawn by the sergeants to their evening meal, the Maori would soon have joined in the game. And certainly they would have been made welcome. At this time there was no animosity between us. A day or two later the Maori deserted their position. We were free of the whole country-side, and enjoyed our liberty prodigiously.

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Map showing Maori tribal boundaries in the North Island of New Zealand

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