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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XII. — The Opotiki Expedition—continued. — Taking of the Pua Pah

Chapter XII.
The Opotiki Expeditioncontinued.
Taking of the Pua Pah.

On the 14th the enemy seemed to think it time to stop our ravages, and so tried a skirmish: our men turned out readily, and the Hauhaus fell back on the Pua pah, a small fortification built on a spur of the main range at the entrance to the Waioska Gorge. Major McDonnell, who was the senior officer present, ordered Lieutenant Gudgeon and the advanced guard of the Native Contingent to skirmish up to the pah, supported by Major George and his rangers; the enemy opened a very heavy fire as the contingent advanced at the double, but the elevation was too high, and the bullets fell among and beyond the support, causing some excitable individual to give the order to take cover. The rangers, who were charging at the time, obeyed, thinking the order came from McDonnell, but Major George who was leading his men did not hear the command, and went on followed by about eight men, with which number he joined Lieutenant Gudgeon at the outer palisade; here they held their ground for some time expecting reinforcements, without which they could do nothing, but none came, for McDonnell was so disgusted at the mistake made by the rangers that he would give no order to advance, and ordered the small party under the palisades to retire. This would have been rather ticklish work had the Hauhau fire been well directed, for the men were tolerably page 70safe in the position held by them, but would have to cross 400 yards of open ground when they left it; however, it was managed safely by leaving one at a time, and the force returned to Opotild with very little glory. Our only casualty was Captain Percy of the Yeoman Cavalry, who was severely wounded in the hip. Up to the 1st of October the men did little but scout and forage, collecting the ploughs, carts, and farming implements at the different villages, and driving in the stock, allowing the Hauhaus to erect a strong pah in the bush-ranges, and otherwise strengthen themselves.

Major Brassey and his officers did not work well together, and this in a measure prevented the unity of action which ensures success. Major McDonnell, annoyed at the want of enterprise shown, asked permission to scout the country in the neighbourhood of the Pua pah; he was informed that he might do so, but must not take more than forty men. With this small force he started early in the morning, and about 3 p.m. arrived in the neighbourhood of the pah: here the men halted to collect potatoes, and while doing so were fired upon by two of the enemy's scouts; an immediate pursuit was ordered, and the scouts followed across a flax-swamp. On reaching the opposite side a body of forty Hauhaus were seen on our right front, falling back towards a pah (Kiorekino) which had evidently been only lately built; McDonnell allowed them to retire unmolested until they entered the pah; he then extended his men and threw forward the flanks until they were in the form of a half-moon, explaining to the men that he intended to surround the pah, and ordering them to charge as though they intended to assault, but to listen to his voice and fall flat when he gave the order. The word was given and the contingent advanced at the double, the Hauhaus, about eighty strong, thinking we intended to storm, reserved their fire as McDonnell had foreseen, and, when within forty yards, just as they were preparing to fire, every man fell flat on page 71the ground; the country was perfectly open, and there was no cover available, the only thing of the sort was a small tutu-bush, but this drew the enemy's fire so heavily that no one would lie behind it. For about an hour the fire on both sides was very severe; any one attempting to stand up was hit almost immediately. Only McDonnell seemed to bear a charmed life, for though he continually walked round his men he escaped without a wound; his rifle however was less fortunate, for the stock was shattered by a bullet. The Pua pah was situated about one thousand yards from Kiorekino, and though men could be seen looking on at the fight, they for some time made no attempt to help their compatriots; at last a party of about forty men were seen descending the hill towards us and our position looked dangerous, for it seemed as though we should soon be between two fires. But just in the nick of time fourteen men of the Yeoman Cavalry galloped up, and were sent to hold the Pua Hauhaus in check. Our firing had been heard in Opotiki, and the fourteen troopers were the advance guard of a larger party coming to our assistance. The cavalry made short work of the forty Hauhaus by charging and driving them up to the palisades of their pah, killing eleven of them, our loss being one man wounded and two horses shot. After the charge Sergeant Duff brought a boy a prisoner across his horse to McDonnell, and said, "He is only wounded, sir; I have brought him to give information." Some thirty-six hours after, it was found that this "only wounded" boy had a sword-cut across his head, four inches long, through which the brain protruded. At least a teaspoonful was taken away by Dr. Walker; the boy recovered and is now known to the Opotiki residents as Paora Taia. Reinforcements now began to arrive, the Patea and Wanganui Rangers under Captain F. Ross were the first to put in an appearance, and opened fire with such effect that the enemy was completely silenced, and for the first time for two hours our men could walk about with impunity within page 72forty yards of the pair. The Hauhaus were afraid to expose their heads and shoulders above the rifle-pits, and therefore could not fire low enough to hit our men, but one poor fellow of the Patea Rangers lay on his face with his gun at his shoulder so long that his comrades thought he had fallen asleep, and went to rouse him. He was indeed sleeping his last sleep, for a bullet had entered the crown of his head, and death must have been instantaneous. Winiata of the contingent gave us a specimen of Maori daring in the midst of the fight; he suddenly jumped up, rushed to the pah, and, regardless of the fire of both friend and foe, placed his hand on the palisading, shouting that the pah was his. It was now getting dark, and McDonnell ordered the men to cease fire, and walked round to see that the pah was properly invested, and that each corps held its own position. Just then No. 8 Company of Military Settlers arrived, and brought with them a mysterious and dreadful weapon (to her friends) known as the "Huntress" gun; the men were ordered to dig rifle-pits and get it into position to bear upon the pah, this was soon done, and she was loaded to the muzzle with case-shot, old iron, in fact anything that could be got. Our quartermaster's peace of mind was quite destroyed by the amount of old iron (so carefully hoarded) that was required to load this gun. McDonnell's intention was to keep guard over the pah all night; and, if it was not surrendered before morning, to take the place by storm. About 8 o'clock in the evening a voice was heard from the pah, asking whether McDonnell was present, the major answered it himself; the speaker then said that they wished to give in, and asked what terms would be given them; the Major answered," Unconditional surrender; those men who have been implicated in Volckner's murder will be tried, those who have not will be simply prisoners of war." Feeling as they must, that they were all more or less guilty, the reply rather frightened them, and they requested an hour to deliberate thereon; this was granted, and hostilities page 73ceased for the time. It is an old saying that a little learning is a dangerous thing, and the truth of it was experienced on this occasion; for one of the junior officers understanding a little Maori, heard them talking about peace, and concluded that a sort of Millenium had arrived, so he left his post, went up to the pah and shook hands most affectionately with many of the enemy; he even allowed them to pull down some of the palisades, so that they might come out to their Pakeha friends. It did not strike this too confiding officer that the narrow gateway of the pah was wide enough to allow them to come out as prisoners, but not wide enough for them to charge out as foes. No sooner was the opening finished than they fired a volley and charged out through the breach they had made, knocking down the dupe of an officer and rushed upon some twenty men of the Patea Rangers, who having a youthful officer of anything but a confiding disposition, were busy entrenching their portion of the lines. The suddenness of the attack allowed no time for consideration; carbines, revolvers, and spades alike proved useful, and although the twenty men were knocked down and trampled upon, they bit hard, and left fifteen of the enemy dead in a very small space, while they themselves escaped with a few severe wounds.

The volley fired by the enemy created great confusion; on the other side of the pah the cry was raised that they were escaping, and the man in charge of the "Huntress" gun wildly fired it off. Had it been properly pointed the chances are that not a man of No. 8 Company would have survived the discharge, as they were in the line of fire on the opposite side of the pah; but the individual in charge of this murderous weapon was finally convinced that an elevation of forty-five degrees was the correct thing for a sixty yards' range, so it only frightened the company by the infernal screeching of the old iron as it flew over their heads, while he himself nearly fell a sacrifice to his devotion, as the gun turned a back page 74somersault, scattering the would-be artillerymen far and near. After this unfortunate termination, nothing further could be clone but camp for the night and wait the attack on the Pua pah at dawn next morning. Early on the following morning Major Brassey arrived from Opotild and assumed command. The men were formed in close column of companies, a formation admirably adapted for wholesale murder, and advanced towards the pah, when within about five hundred yards, the Native Contingent were sent forward to attack; the Hauhaus were seen to come out of the pah and man the rifle-pits, but only as a blind, for we found when we entered the pah that they had retreated; thus the Pua pah or pahs (for there were three of them) fell into our hands without loss and without glory.