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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XXIII. — Colonel McDonnell's Campaign—continued. — Te Umu, Popoia, Tirotiromoana, Rotorua

Chapter XXIII.
Colonel McDonnell's Campaigncontinued.
Te Umu, Popoia, Tirotiromoana, Rotorua.

Toi and Titokowaru, the leading chiefs of Ngaruahini, were now greatly alarmed for their future safety. They argued correctly that what had happened might well happen again; from such an enemy no place was secure. In fact, they strongly objected to their own tactics being used against them, and this feeling found utterance shortly after, when Toi said to McDonnell, "We thought we were fighting against a man, but find he is a rat who moves only by night." "No," replied McDonnell; "you thought page 134we were soldiers, and find that we are Pakeha Maories. The end is not yet, Toi." On the 13th a reinforcement of Maori volunteers arrived from Wanganui, and later in the day a small party of Titokowaru's people came into Waihi camp, saying that they had swum the Waingongoro with the news that the whole tribe would surrender when the freshet subsided. A few days after, Toi and twelve men arrived. This was not what we had expected, and they received scant welcome. McDonnell told them to return, that he did not want to see a few men; if the whole tribe, men, women, and children came, he would welcome them, but would not have spies in his camp. Toi returned, but six of his men refused to accompany him, and requested permission to remain with us. Their leader, Katene (a first-rate fighting man), said, "I have tried to do my best for the tribe. When I lead them into a fight they do not back me up; and when I told them that the Pungarehu would one day be surprised, they laughed at me, and now those men are dead. I am sick of the whole thing, I shall stay with the Pakeha." He did stay, and his people of the Umutahi hapu gradually joined him, until they numbered at least seventy men, women, and children; bnt three hapus still held aloof, viz., Te Ahitahi, Te Mannhiakai, and Te Hinuawai. The first of these three hapus, or families, lived apart from the others, and had not suffered at the Pungarehu, therefore, McDonnell turned his attention to them, and on the 17th started with nearly two hundred men to attack Te Umu pah, which was situated on the Taranaki track, in rear of the mountain. They, however, had taken warning by the fate of their tribe in the last fight, and had sentries posted everywhere, who gave the alarm when our men were within 200 yards of the village. So soon as we were discovered, McDonnell gave the order to charge; the column dashed forward and opened fire upon the fugitives, killing two men and capturing one old man. On looting the whares twelve guns were found which had been left behind in the stampede.

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As the column retired, the enemy, with their usual tactics, followed, and opened fire, which caused some confusion among the rear guard, who had not expected it, but they were quickly driven back by our skirmishers, and the force returned without further molestation. On the following night, Captain Newland received orders to take 100 men and attack the Ngatitupaea tribe, who were supposed to be living in the neighbourhood of Keteonetea, at a village named Popoia. The column started at 11 p.m., and were guided by our late enemy, Katene, who, upon reaching the edge of the forest, recommended us to lie down in silence and await the dawn, as he did not consider it advisable to enter the bush in such darkness. Captain Newland agreed with him, and called a halt; after waiting an hour or two, Captain W. McDonnell induced Newland to move forward, which was done, against the better judgment of the remaining officers and men. The force advanced in single file along the track, although it was so dark that a man could not see his comrade in front, when suddenly, from the front and right flank, a volley was fired into our leading files, lighting up the bush with streams of fire. The leading files fell back upon the main body; Captain McDonnell, who was leading, fell severely wounded in the track, and in the darkness would have been left, had not our guide missed him and reported his fall, within a few yards of the ambush. Volunteer White at once dashed forward and brought him back. The mistake made in entering the forest before dawn was now apparent to all, for the column, checked by the volley, unable to see their enemy, or move on, remained kneeling in the track; luckily the Hauhaus were in much the same condition, they had only a general idea of our direction, and their bullets flew over our heads.

Nothing was left us but a hasty retreat, and Captain Newland gave the order reluctantly; we reached the open country at grey dawn, closely followed by the enemy, who fired volleys from the edge of the bush. The gallant little Winiata of the contingent was much troubled in his mind page 136by these volleys. "It is a challenge for us to go and fight them," said he. "If something is not done we shall be disgraced; I will go and defy them." Forthwith his scanty clothing came off, and in an alarming state of nature he went zigzagging down the track, in the most approved Maori style, until within 100 yards of the enemy, when he halted, and with gestures more forcible than polite, challenged them to come out and fight in the open. The enemy made no sign beyond firing at him, and Winiata returned covered with glory. "Never mind our retreat," said the old men; "the Hauhaus are beaten, they dare not accept Winiata's challenge." Captain McDonnell, our only casualty, was found to be dangerously wounded; the bullet had entered near the groin, smashing the hip bones, and for many months it was not expected that he would survive the injuries, but an unusually strong constitution pulled him through.

Many months after, when Ngatitupaea had surrendered and were living peacefully at Keteonetea, we learnt how it was that we had received such a warm reception in the bush at Popoia. Te Marau said, "Our hearts were uneasy at the fate of the Pungarehu, and we determined to watch in turns; I and two others were the scouts that night, so we walked down the track to Keteonetea, meaning to stay there until daybreak. We had just got outside the bush when a voice said in Maori, close to me, 'Where is Te Kepa.' My heart stood still, for I knew I was in the midst of a war party; then the thought struck me, they think I am one of them, so I replied, 'I do not know,' and walked slowly away until I got some distance from them; I then ran and awakened the people of my village. The women and children took to the bush, but the men came with me to the place where we had felled trees across the track. There we fired upon you, and it was well you did not attempt to charge over them in the dark." From the failure of the last two expeditions, it was evident to those versed in Maori matters that our page 137raid at Te Pungarehu had placed the other tribes on their guard, and that there would he hut small chance of success for some time to come. Had McDonnell followed his own inclinations, the force would have remained inactive for at least a month, until the enemy relaxed their vigilance, when the Pungarehu might have been repeated. But news having arrived that his Excellency Sir George Grey intended to visit us and direct operations, it was necessary to do something more. Sir George arrived on the 22nd of October, and immediately ordered the available men of the 18th Regiment to Waihi, with the view of attacking Popoia. Colonel Rooke of the above regiment, who commanded the column, advanced by the track taken on the previous occasion, and was fired at from the same barricade of trees; but this time there was daylight, and the order to charge being given, the imperial and colonial forces swarmed over the barricade after the retreating Hauhaus, who made themselves scarce in a wonderfully short space of time. The loss to the colonial forces was one killed and one wounded, the soldiers escaped scot free; but the Hauhaus lost two men, and had their village burnt. On the following day our guide, Katene, told McDonnell that a great fighting man of Titokowaru's tribe (Te Waka) would visit Keteonetea that day, and proposed that he should meet him and draw him into an ambush by promising to show him where he had hidden some percussion-caps, which he would pretend were stolen from the Pakeha. McDonnell, only too glad to gain possession of so formidable a foe, consented, and allowed him to take twenty men to form the ambush. The men were duly hidden on the track, while Katene and his brother went on to the semi-friendly pah of Mawhitiwhiti, where they met Te Waka, who reproached the former for having joined the Pakeha, and fought against his own people. "Pish!" said Katene. "The Pakehas are fools, and I have more brains than you have. In one month I shall steal more ammunition than I can page 138use in two years; then I shall return to you. If you disbelieve me, come, and I will show you a thousand caps I have stolen already." Te Waka, like all Maories, was greedy for ammunition, and fell into the trap; he followed the treacherous scoundrels until within ten yards of the ambush, when suddenly Katene seized his gun, while his brother seized the tomahawk, at the same time calling on the ambush to fire. Te Waka, too late, saw he was lost, and turned to fly. One more stride and he would have slid over the steep cliff into the river, and probably have escaped; but just then one of the ambush fired, and Te Waka, with a convulsive spring, bounded over the precipice and fell dead on the river-bed. Katene was asked why he had taken the gun instead of the man, as he had been instructed. "In that case," he replied, "you would have saved him. I wanted him killed, for he had done me an injury." One more attempt was made to surprise the Hauhaus; information had been received that the Popoia tribe, after the destruction of their village, had retired to an inland pah, Tirotiromoana, and were living there in force. McDonnell, thinking that he might have a chance of success if he made a long detour and attacked the position from the rear, started at midnight, and was some miles in the bush before daybreak. For hours the force marched over a lightly-timbered, level country, directly inland of Keteonetea, and about 2 p.m. were well inland of the position. Shortly after the advanced guard fell in with two Hauhaus, whom they afterwards heard were on their way to Te Ngaehere, a settlement far inland. Our leading files fired hastily and without effect, and the two rebels succeeded in making their escape. This untoward event precluded all chance of success; but McDonnell pushed his men forward, crossed a deep ravine, and was in the act of mounting the opposite hill, when the advanced guard were fired on by an ambuscade, and Private Economedes (a Greek), one of the best men in the force, fell dead. Nothing staggers men so much as an page 139ambush. For some moments there was great confusion among the young hands; but the order to charge brought them to their senses, they dashed up the hill, entered the village, and found it deserted.

About a mile off, and on the opposite range, another clearing could be seen with a large body of the enemy, who had evidently been roused by the firing, and were watching operations as well as the distance would permit. McDonnell would have attached these Hauhaus, but found his men too tired and disheartened by their failure to be useful; under these circumstances he gave the order to return to Waihi, which camp was reached by the column about 6 p.m., after eighteen hours' continuous marching. A very curious incident, illustrative of the Maori character, occurred during this expedition. Winiata, bravest of the brave, kept resolutely in rear of the column; his character as a fighting man was so well known, that his behaviour attracted some notice, and an officer asked him the reason of it. He replied, "I dreamt last night that I was leading the advanced guard as usual, and that I was killed by a volley from an ambush. I felt the bullet hit me; it went in at one hip, and came out near the other." No further notice was taken of his dream until Economedes fell, when Winiata rushed forward, examined his wound, and found it to be just as he had described. "Look!" said he, "this man is killed by the bullet I dreamt of. This is the first time that he has been the leading file, I have always led on other occasions; my dream has saved my life." After this incident no one doubted that Winiata had a very strong god of his own.

Several other small expeditions were undertaken, but with little benefit to the public service, for the villages were found deserted, and it was obvious that the Hauhaus had retreated far inland. Some of Titokowaru's tribe had taken shelter with Wiremu Kingi at Ngatimaru, inland of the Waitara, while Ngatitupaea retired to their almost mythical stronghold of Te Ngaehere, which, from native page 140accounts, was supposed to be impregnable. And it certainly was a strong position, as Colonel Whitmore found when he attacked it in January, 1869, and crossed his men over a hundred yards of quaking bog on supplejack hurdles. Colonel McDonnell did not deem it advisable to attack these latter places, so the 18th Regiment returned to their stations, the native allies were sent back to Wanganui, and the military settler portion of the force were employed for some months in the peaceful but wearisome work of guarding survey parties. There being no immediate prospect of a renewal of hostilities on the west coast, Colonel McDonnell received orders to proceed to the Bay of Plenty, to take charge of the Arawa friendlies in a campaign against the Ngatiraukawa Hauhaus, who were then threatening to attack Rotorua. The campaign was commenced by Lieutenant-Colonel St. John, who, with a strong force of militia and Arawas, searched in vain for the enemy, and finally gave up chase, concluding that they had cleared out of the district.

Under this impression he returned to Tauranga with the European portion of his force, leaving McDonnell and the Arawas at Rotorua. That same evening the latter officer commenced his operations by marching for the enemy's country, and at daybreak came upon their outpost, killing two men and capturing another. From the prisoner it was learnt that the main body of the Hauhaus were at no great distance, and they also were surprised, and lost nine men. These sharp skirmishes proved enough for the enemy, who gave no further trouble. The Arawa pretended to be very anxious to attack Waikato; but Colonel Haultain, who understood the Arawa mind, refused to allow the movement, satisfied with the peace obtained at Rotorua. Colonel McDonnell returned to the west coast, and resumed command of that district, which was soon to be the scene of murders and war, under the leadership of Titokowaru.