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A Sketch of the New Zealand War

Waitini and Wiremu Kingi VIII

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Waitini and Wiremu Kingipage 72page break
Portrait of Wiremu Tamihana

Nga Wiremu Tamihana: The King Maker

page 73 VIII

Here is Donald McLean's story about Waitini:—

It is easy to understand the character and position of a man like Waitini amongst such a race. He was worthy of it all—genial, kindly, unassuming, brave; and what a hero he looked! He was six foot four, twenty-one stone weight, without a particle of spare flesh on him. I saw him naked. He had muscles like iron bands, a head like a Roman emperor, and a heart in loyalty and simplicity like a child's.

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When the great wave of enthusiasm for national independence swept over Maoridom, Waitini, with a chosen band of 140 men, went down to Taranaki to fight for the cause.

Waitini Taiporutu was a sucking babe in Wiremu Kingi's hands. Wiremu Kingi was a diplomatist. He was amongst the Maori a counsel chief; that is, a politician. Waitini Taiporutu was a war chief, a soldier.

Wi Tamihana te Waharoa was a counsel chief of the Ngatiawa, Waitini's tribe. Tamihana besought Waitini not to go to the Taranaki war. "You are a great warrior," said he. "We cannot spare you. The trouble is coming home to us. I see it. You are a great baby, too—guileless as an innocent girl. You are my sister's son and the pride of your race. Wiremu Kingi is a subtle, white man's Maori, without any special sense of honour. He will entrap you, and you will be lost. You weaken our tribe by taking away the pick of our young men; and when it is all over, the Ngatimaniopoto will turn and rend us. The future of our race is in your hands; stand fast, and wait. In due time, I will find you fighting enough."

In spite of it all, Waitini would go to the war. The fever was in his blood.

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The Battle of Mahoetahi.

Mahoetahi lay about five or six miles to the north of New Plymouth. It was a knoll with sides sloping irregularly. Somewhat egg-shaped, it was almost surrounded by a flax and raupo swamp. It was easily approachable on the north-east, where a dry ridge led from the open plain right up to the brow of the knoll.

When Waitini arrived at Waitara and joined forces with Wiremu Kingi, he carried things with a high hand. Haperona, a slave by birth, was Wiremu Kingi's fighting chief, a little, fiery man, with a jealous temper and great military talent. On Waitini's arrival, Haperona was relegated to an insignificant position. Wiremu Kingi was a man of imagination, with a practical turn for affairs. He was not carried away by any Utopian idea of Maori nationality. He had lived too long among white men of high intellectual order to deceive himself. He was at Waikanae the personal friend of Archdeacon Hadfield, a distinguished missioner, who had been educated at one of our great English universities. Archdeacon Hadfield united to great enthusiasm for the Church scholarly attainments of page 77a high character. He was by nature meant for a constitutional lawyer. Divine faith turned him into an apostle. Wiremu Kingi sat at his feet, and became an enthusiast for the British Constitution. Wiremu was forced into war by Governor Gore Brown's pragmatic incapacity.

Kingi had sufficient intellectual power to command a large following in the Parliament of the Colony. Isaac Earle Featherston, William Fox, William Fitzherbert, Archdeacon Hadfield, and Bishop Selwyn were the advocates of his views. Wiremu had used the wave of Maori enthusiasm to further his purpose and secure allies in men and money, but he had no intention of being swallowed up in the King movement. Therefore Waitini Taiporutu's arrival was to him by no means an unmixed blessing. To make war for the defence of his tribal land and constitutional privileges as a British subject, with the whole of Exeter Hall and half the New Zealand Parliament at his back, was one thing; to declare openly for the Maori king another. Wiremu Kingi dissembled. He said to Waitini, "Hitherto we have done nothing. Now indeed, with the chivalry of Waikato, under the command of our greatest soldier, we page 78can make a forward movement, and drive the Pakeha into the sea."

Waitini, accompanied by Haperona, and a few of his own tribe, scouted for a day or so. Finally they agreed to establish a post at Mahoetahi, on a part of the land in dispute, and challenge General Pratt to a pitched battle, beat him, and then by a forced march along the sea-shore cut him from his communications with the sea.

For this purpose it was agreed that Waitini, with his Waikato warriors, was to hold Mahoetahi as a blind; the soldiers, who had always acted like fools, were to be drawn on to make an attack on the front and sides of the knoll through the swamp; and that Haperona, with 800 armed men, was to cover, if necessary, Waitini's retreat. On the morning of the battle, Waitini in person made all the dispositions. He planted Haperona, with his 800 men, in some scrub to the north-east of the ridge which led up to Mahoetahi, where these men lay absolutely hidden. He supported them with 400 men under the personal command of Wiremu Kingi. These were hidden in a wooded gulch, half a mile to the rear of Haperona's position. Waitini was to stand singly the assault. When he was surrounded page break
Portrait of Haperona


page 79in the agony of the struggle, Haperona was to extend his men fan-shaped to the right and left, take our forces by surprise in the rear; then, at a given signal, Wiremu Kingi was to move rapidly to his right front by the sea-coast, and cut off General Pratt's retreat to New Plymouth.

I have never been able to satisfy myself as to the cause of the absolute failure of this combined movement. Either Wiremu Kingi's courage failed him at the supreme moment, which is quite possible, as he was only a counsel chief, or Haperona, out of pique, determined to destroy Waitini, or there was an agreement from the beginning between Wiremu Kingi and Haperona to humble the Waikato. From personal acquaintanceship with Haperona, I am inclined to think that he merely obeyed Wiremu Kingi's orders, whatever they were. Haperona had military genius and a profound contempt for the soldier. His position was a perfectly safe one, practically chosen by himself. His chief also was out of danger, his rear being covered with capable scouts in touch with his fighting pas. Whatever the cause, Waitini Taiporutu was not assisted in the hour of danger, and the flower and chivalry of Waikato was left to perish at Mahoetahi.

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