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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XIII. — The Opotiki Expedition—continued. — Adventure with Kereopa and his Twelve Apostles. Surrender of Mokomoko and Hakaraia. Return of the Force to Wanganui

Chapter XIII.
The Opotiki Expeditioncontinued.
Adventure with Kereopa and his Twelve Apostles. Surrender of Mokomoko and Hakaraia. Return of the Force to Wanganui.

These operations had great and immediate effect upon the Whakatohea tribe. On the 17th October a portion of the Ngatirua Hapu (section) of the tribe came into camp, and surrendered themselves prisoners, delivering up twenty stand of arms; the remainder, numbering 200 of all ages and sexes, came in the next day and were ordered to camp close to us in a portion of the old village, where they remained peacefully for months. The other large Hapu Ngatiira did not surrender for years after. In the afternoon of this day, a Maori of the Uriwera tribe arrived in Opotiki, and reported that the prophet Kereopa and his twelve apostles were surrounded by the friendly natives inland of Whakatohea. Within two hours, McDonnell page 75and 150 men were on the march in quest of his murderer. We arrived at the Ohirva Bay shortly after dusk, and, after wading up to our waists for an hour, found a small canoe that would carry ten men at a trip. In this craft 150 men were ferried over, the last load arriving about 2 a.m. The force started again before daylight, and towards noon reached a pah in the Waimana valley, when we obtained information that Kereopa and his wife had been there the previous day, his apostles being hidden in a gully close at hand. From this it was evident that the report of his being surrounded was false, and probably originated in our guide's imagination. We remained here until dark, and then moved on to a village about two miles nearer to the gorge; remained there until midnight, and started again, guided by two of the villagers. How they found their way over steep hills covered with high fern, and across watercourses, is a mystery, for the night was so dark that the men were obliged to hold on to each other's coat-tails to keep together, and some twenty men followed their leader head-over-heels into a deep watercourse, when they anathematized creation in general, and the Hauhaus in particular. At grey dawn we found ourselves on the skirts of the forest, and soon after heard the Hauhaus at their matutinal prayers in the village of Koingo, where Kereopa was supposed to be; but McDonnell, knowing what a wary foe he had to deal with, did not believe that Kereopa would sleep in a village, and, ascertaining from the guides that there were potato-plantations two miles farther on, he left one half of the men under Captain Newland in ambush to attack the village, while he marched with the other half to the plantations, half an hour being allowed him to get into position before Newland would attack. Things turned out better than such plans generally do, for as we crossed the river into the scrub bordering the plantations, we heard the volley fired by Newland's men, and, immediately after, voices in a clearing close to us.

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A moment later, the advanced guard came suddenly upon Kereopa and his twelve apostles. Our men fired, but being in Indian file on a narrow bush-track, only two or three could deliver their fire with effect. Two of the enemy fell, and Kereopa with the other apostles bolted with great celerity, but were followed so closely that they threw away their guns. Three more were killed on the river-bank before they reached the scrub, and there was every prospect of exterminating the remainder, when at this critical moment the main body sixty strong arrived on the river-bed immediately below the pursuit on the hillside, and seeing the waving of the fern and scrub and hearing occasional shots, concluded that it must be the Hauhaus, whereupon they opened such a fire upon their friends that the advance guard were forced to take cover, and remain quiet. McDonnell, who immediately took in the situation, alternately swore and entreated, but in vain, for the men could not be stopped until the enemy had escaped. It is strange but true that men who would not hesitate to face a heavy fire from an enemy, will quail at once under a fire from their comrades. Mrs. Kereopa had a very narrow escape. She was engaged in cooking that Maori delicacy, stinking corn, and in her native garb was taken for a man and fired at, but, luckily for her, she succeeded in reaching the bush. One remarkably fine specimen of the apostles was found lying on the cliff above the river, terribly wounded. The man who found him called to McDonnell, informing him of the fact; the major, thinking the man was dead, said, "Throw him into the river," and over he went into twenty feet of water. To the astonishment of all, the shock revived him, and he succeeded in swimming to the shore. The poor wretch's jaw was shattered, and he could not speak, but wrote his name and tribe in a pocket-book. This finished the chase after Kereopa. The force returned to Koingo, where they found Captain Newland in possession; he had killed three men and taken some prisoners, among them a man who page 77was shot right through the chest. I venture to say that few Europeans would have recovered from this wound, yet this man walked three or four miles in a jaunty careless manner, evidently very little put out. On returning to the village that we had started from the previous night, we found our old doctor had shot a cow, and had a large portion of it in the family three-legged pot of the village. My readers may judge how acceptable it was when they learn that we had only received two biscuits per man since leaving Opotiki two days before. On the following morning we started again for Opotiki, and reached it about 4 p.m.; one of the smartest marches the forces have ever accomplished. These raids so alarmed the Hauhaus that they came in and surrendered in great numbers; even the chief Mokomoko (afterwards hung for Volckner's murder) and thirty fighting men surrendered. The chief was almost immediately arrested, together with Hakaraia, and a man named Te Uhi, who was accused of complicity in the murder of Mr. Fulloon, but the charge fell through in his case, and it was proved that his tribe had actually accused him, hoping that we should dispose of him in a summary manner; not because he was guilty, but because he was supposed to have been a great wizard, and his tribe lived in deadly fear lest he should bewitch them. This dread extended to the Wanganuis, for not one of the contingent would go into the whare to arrest him, and I had to warn him specially not to look at the men, for if he did so they were determined to shoot him. By this time our prisoners were so numerous, that twenty men mounted guard day and night over those accused of complicity in Volckner's murder; and on the 1st November they were still further increased by the arrival of Major Mair, and thirty of Fulloon's murderers, who had been captured at the Teko by the major and his Arawas, after nearly two months' skirmishing among the swamps and islands of Te Matata. No time was lost in convening a court-martial for their trial. Proceedings commenced on the 6th, and eighteen page 78of them were identified by two young half-castes (White and Campbell), as having been among the party that murdered Mr. Fulloon and the crew of the Kate. The majority were condemned to death. But after all the trouble it was found that somebody had not power to do something or other, therefore the court was illegal, and the prisoners were sent to Auckland, to be again tried at the Supreme Court. I have before mentioned that the Ngatiira tribe still held aloof and refused to surrender; parties were occasionally seen hovering about the mouth of the Waireka gorge. Our commanders decided to beat up their quarters, and, if possible, capture them. With this view McDonnell and 200 men started at midnight, and before daybreak were well within the gorge, marching up the stony bed of the river, crossing and recrossing perpetually until noon, when, as they were exhausted, a halt was called. Traces of the enemy had been found throughout the march, but none of them seen. So tired were the men, that in ten minutes every soul was asleep among the boulders, in more or less uncomfortable positions, careless of Hauhaus or anything else. I can imagine the horror with which this will be read by strict military men, devotees at the shrine of pipeclay and red tape, but our men were so good in those days, that panics were unknown, and a volley fired into them would simply have brought them charging down upon their foes. In later and more degenerate times they learnt how to post sentries, and lost the knack of charging dead upon an enemy, substituting cover-hunting and firing. Both systems have their merits, no doubt. I do not intend to deny either, but I think the former told best on the Maories.

For about an hour the force slept soundly, then they were roused and ordered to return to Opotiki. As usual, the men had brought no food with them (they were rather given to trusting in Providence, and were generally hungry), therefore it was impossible to proceed. This was most unfortunate, for a few miles farther would have page 79brought us to the village, but we did not know this at the time. It had taken eleven hours to march up, and it would probably take ten to walk down, so no time was to be lost, and the return march commenced, but not so happily as might have been expected, for the eleven hours through water and over boulders had been too much for regulation boots, and the soles began to drop behind, leaving the men, with blistered and bleeding feet, to struggle on after their more fortunate comrades. At dusk, we reached the mouth of the gorge, and by 10 p.m. the main body arrived in Opotiki, after twenty-one hours' march over some of the worst country in New Zealand. After this march nothing of importance took place until the 17th of November, when the steamer Stormbird arrived with orders for the contingent to return to Wanganui, and join the force under General Chute, in the coming campaign on the west coast. McDonnell issued orders for the men to prepare for embarkation, but ordered them not to attempt to cross the bar in canoes. This prohibition was particularly hard upon the Wanganui, for they had accumulated quantities of loot, and were tolerably certain that room would not be found for it all in the boats. Under these circumstances they promptly disobeyed. Two canoes, heavily laden, attempted to cross the bar, and, as McDonnell had foreseen, were capsized and lost everything except themselves. Maories are not born to be drowned, unless they wish it; only one man was drowned, and he did wish it. It was the prophet Pitau, who unfortunately had prophesied his own death. The oracle spoke as follows:—"You will be successful in all things, O Wanganui: only one man will die, and that will be Pitau." Now this was rough on the prophet. At Kiorekino he sought death, and found it not: his character was at stake; it really appeared as though he would be found out; but here was a chance not to be lost—rather death than lose his fame as a prophet, so out of pure cantankerousness he threw up his arms and died. I doubt whether that oft-page 80quoted Roman soldier at Pompeii deserves more credit than Pitau. He was much regretted by his tribe, for the Wanganui are not great in prophets; in fact, some of the young men have been heard to scoff at prophecy, but they were degenerate, and there were no old warriors present to wither them with their scorn. All went well during the trip, until the steamer arrived in Wellington, but while lying at the wharf, the demon of mischief persuaded the mate to show the warriors that he also knew the use of powder and shot. So he loaded a small cannon and put fire to the touch-hole; but finding that it would not go off, he, with several Maori friends, went to the muzzle to find the reason. Suddenly it exploded, and severely wounded the mate and two Maories. This was a dreadful aitua (ill omen) which nothing but a two-days' spree in Wellington could rectify. Unfortunately for this idea, McDonnell came on board with orders to start at once for Wanganui, and the captain prepared to put to sea. The anchor was being weighed, and the officers went to their tea. Suddenly there was an awful hubbub; all ran on deck and found that some of the contingent had taken the capstan, declaring the steamer should not go. The ringleaders were dancing the war-dance, and brandishing their guns in a manner truly terrific to those who did not know them. A few moments changed the face of affairs. Lieutenant Wirihana seized the chief man and lifted him, despite his struggles, over the bulwarks, with the intention of throwing him overboard, and he was only prevented by the united strength of a dozen of the man's relations. Finally, the ringleaders were tied hand and foot, and peace restored; but on arrival at Wanganui the whole thing broke out again, and it was then found that General Mete Kingi was the instigator of this row, as he had been of all others throughout the campaign. If it were possible to have the Maories without their chiefs they would be most valuable allies. But O that mine enemy commanded a Maori contingent containing four Mete Kingis! These page break
Vincent Brooks, Day & Son Lith.Major Kepa.Sampson Low & Co. London.

Vincent Brooks, Day & Son Lith.
Major Kepa.
Sampson Low & Co. London.

page 81remarks do not apply to Major Kepa or Wirihana, for the former is probably the best Maori officer in New Zealand, and the latter always ready to take the right side.