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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XXIV. — Skirmishes on The East Coast. — Wonderful Escape of Wilkinson and Livingstone. Murder of Moore and Beggs

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Chapter XXIV.
Skirmishes on The East Coast.
Wonderful Escape of Wilkinson and Livingstone. Murder of Moore and Beggs.

The year 1865 had seen the neck of the Maori rebellion pretty well broken. The Hauhaus of Taranaki, Te Wairoa, Turanga, and Waiapu had been thoroughly beaten. At Opotiki and Tauranga, the large majority of the Hauhaus had surrendered; but at these places there were still roving bands of the most daring men of their tribes, who having been more or less connected with the murders of Messrs. Volckner and Fulloon, preferred to remain in arms, and maintain a desultory warfare against their European and Maori foes.

During 1866 and 1867, Opotiki was in a chronic state of small skirmishes; while at Tauranga, the Pirirakau tribe kept the settlement in a state of excitement and alarm, by several unprovoked murders. A section of the Waikato tribe also threatened Rotorua, to the great terror of the Arawa, until Colonel McDonnell took command of them, and decisively settled the Waikato pretensions in the first skirmish.

The province of Hawkes Bay, which had hitherto been free from native disturbances, had also its fight; one of so decisive a nature, that beyond giving the peaceful citizens an opportunity of winning laurels, it scarcely interfered with the ordinary course of events.

After the surrender of the Ngatirua hapu of the Opotiki tribe in October, 1865, and the seizure and trial of those concerned in the murders of Messrs. Volckner and Fulloon, it was generally supposed that peace would ensue. But there still remained the Ngatiira hapu, under their chief page 142Hira Te Popo, who, contrary to the general expectation, steadily resisted all attempts at conciliation. His obstinacy was the more surprising, that few men bore a higher character among the Maories; and it was well known that he had opposed the murder of the Rev. Mr. Volckner, at a time when the whole of the Whakatohea had doomed that gentleman to die. The history of the Ngatiira has been an eventful one; they appear to have been one of the old original tribes, and at one time held nearly all the country now in possession of Ngatiporou,

They were, however, almost exterminated, and the survivors of them, driven back into the bush ranges towards Opotiki by the Tuwhakairiora and Waiapu people, are now only known in that district by the names of their numerous old pahs and by a few descendants, the result of intermarriage with Ngatiporou.

Ngatiira in itself would hardly have troubled us, but they were supported by their relations, a section of the Poverty Bay tribe, and by the Ngaitama Uriwera under Tamaikowha. This rendered them formidable, when their style of warfare is considered, and made any attempt at settlement impossible. Colonel Lyon, then in charge of the district, was indefatigable in his endeavours to clear out this nest of Hauhaus, whose headquarters were in the Otara and Waioeka gorges. Many expeditions were undertaken in the difficult and dangerous country lying between the Ootara and Waimana rivers; but it will be sufficient to notice those only in which the force succeeded in meeting their enemy. The first successful skirmish took place during the month of February, 1866, when a column of 200 men marched up the Waioeka gorge in search of an enemy.

The Hauhaus were found at the Kopani village, and were completely surprised; they attempted to escape by crossing the river in their canoes, and the Arawas, who formed our advanced guard, fired upon them while so doing, but without effect. The enemy would have escaped, had page 143not the Patea Rangers forded the river up to their armpits, and in a running fight killed five of their foes. Colonel Lyon had intended to follow the river to its source, but the weather became so threatening that he ordered an immediate retreat, fearing lest he should be overtaken by a freshet while within the gorge. About a month later, when it was supposed that the enemy had recovered their usual feeling of security, another expedition was undertaken, and again they were found at Te Kopani, and two of them killed. The survivors retreated up the river, followed by our men to Kairakau, where they made a stand. The village of Kairakau was built in a very strong position on a cliff in a bend of the river, and could only be attacked by crossing the river-bed under the enemy's fire.

A detachment was sent to attract the attention of the Hauhaus by marching up the river-bed, while the Patea and Wanganui Rangers were ordered to take a short cut across a bend of the river, under cover of the scrub, cross immediately under the pah, and scale the cliff. So soon as our men appeared on the open river-bed the Hauhaus opened a plunging fire, but without effect, for Captain Newland, calling on his men, carried the position with a rush, to the great discomfiture of the enemy, who fled, pursued by the Rangers, and lost four men in a long running fight. Piles of loot, casks of powder, new saddles, valuable Maori mats, in fact all the property of which the Opotiki settlers had been plundered, was retaken in this village. Nothing further was done during this expedition; but after the return to Opotiki, the Ngaitama Uriwera under Tamaikowha sought utu for the death of their friends, by laying an ambuscade at the Waiotahi, and killed Wi Popata the Arawa mailman. Captain Newland had a narrow escape from the same party, and only just crossed the Ohiwa in time to elude them.

Up to this time, all our energies had been directed against the Waioeka gorge, but, about this period, Colonel page 144Lyon received information that the Hauhaus were in communication with the semi-friendly natives living in Opotiki.

A Maori entering camp was stopped and searched, and on him was found a letter to the chief Tiwai, informing him that the Hauhans would meet him next day in the Otara gorge. Both the messenger and the chief were placed in durance vile; and about midnight sixty men under Lieutenants O'Callaghan and Northcroft started for the scene of action, taking with them Tiwai as guide. About an hour before daylight a small native village was attacked, and two men were shot; the detachment then advanced upon another Kainga village, but the inhabitants had evidently been alarmed by the firing, for the place was deserted, though it had been recently occupied. Further success was now considered impossible, as the fugitives had probably alarmed the whole river; nevertheless, the men still advanced, and shortly before dawn their perseverance was rewarded by one of the advanced guard observing a large whare. At the same moment the dogs gave the alarm, and the door opened; but too late to save the inmates, for our men had the place surrounded, and Lieutenant Northcroft burst open the door. This officer had a very narrow escape while so doing, for the Hauhaus fired through the 'door while he was in the act of bursting it open, and the splinters of wood wounded him in the face. This did not, however, deter him from entering through the narrow opening, followed by two or three of his men; here they found twelve Hauhaus, who, un daunted by their almost certain fate, were reloading their guns. Northcroft snapped his revolver at them, but like others of its kind, it refused to go off; it had, however, the effect of quieting the enemy, who offered their guns in token of submission. This act in itself would hardly have saved men who had probably taken part in the murder of Mr Volckner; but a woman completed the softening process by clinging to Northcroft's knees, when page 145she thought he intended to shoot her husband. For some time after these events, things were more peaceful, and the military settlers were placed upon their land. Some few of these men settled down with the firm intention of making a permanent home for themselves and families, but a large majority sold their claims to speculators, or to intending settlers, willing to brave the dangers of occupation, provided they could get cheap land. Among others who bought in this manner were Messrs. Livingstone and Wilkinson (the latter is now native interpreter at the Thames); these gentlemen went to work with a will, and, in May 1867, had built a house on their property near the entrance to the Waioeka gorge. Two other settlers, Moore and Beggs, who owned the adjoining property, lived in the same house, on the principle of there being safety in numbers. Such was the position of affairs in the Opotiki district, on the 23rd May, 1867, on which day the settlers were confined to their houses by torrents of rain. The four gentlemen above named, finding it impossible to work in such weather, decided to pass the time by playing cribbage, and were soon deeply immersed in the game. So much was their attention taken up, that no heed was given to the barking of their dog, who was evidently annoyed at the approach of strangers; at last, however, the continued barking drew the attention of the players; when Moore rose and looked out of the window. What he saw did not appear to surprise him, for he merely remarked that there were some natives about; this was explained by Wilkinson, who suggested that they were friendly Whakatoheas, hunting up their horses. This seemed likely enough, and play was resumed; but had the party known what a fearful death was in store for some of them, the game would hardly have been continued. Again the dog barks; once again Moore rises; but this time his attention is arrested, and he excitedly remarks, that a number of Maories appear to be surrounding the house; every one rises hastily, and well they may, for page 146there can be no doubt of the intentions of those half-naked silent men, who are stealthily surrounding the place. The road to Opotiki has been already cut off, and what was a few moments before a quiet game of cards is now a game of life and death, with fearful odds against the four. The Hauhaus, more than ten to one in number, and well armed, are already within twenty-five yards of the house; the situation would have been trying even for armed men, but these were not so fortunate; they certainly had rifles, but, in the hour of need, it is found that they do not possess a single cartridge, and only one of the rifles is loaded. Nothing can now save them, but to run the gauntlet; to remain in the house is certain death; so, clutching their empty rifles, they open the door and run round the end of the house. Up to this time not a word had been uttered by the enemy, but as the Europeans make their appearance, a loud yell is raised, and the kokiritia (charge) sounds like a death-knell to the ears of the doomed men. The back of the house has not yet been surrounded, and the fugitives take advantage of the opening, and dash through; some of the enemy have, however, taken possession of a blind ditch, flanking the line of retreat, and past these men our friends run, receiving a volley as they do so, but without effect. A yell from the Hauhaus proclaims their want of success, and the fugitives make for the steep fern-ridge, with the intention of gaining the shelter of the bush which crowned the summit. Every nerve is strained to effect this end, but the odds against them are too great, for they are encumbered by clothes, now saturated by the wet fern, whilst the enemy, nearly naked, run like deer, and are fast overhauling their prey. The edge of the forest has been nearly gained, when the foremost of the enemy comes up; some sort of a stand must now be made, and Moore, who has the loaded rifle, and is running last, turns and levels his rifle at the nearest Hauhau; but in page 147vain, for the solitary charge, on which so much depended, fails to explode, and Moore is at the mercy of his foes. Two or three of them make for him while the remainder continue the pursuit after his comrades, who are Toy this time in the shelter of the bush. A correct account can hardly be given of what afterwards occurred, even by those who participated in the affair. Moore, it seems, reversed his rifle, and presented the butt to his foes, as a token of submission; but this action availed him nothing, for he was immediately shot. Wilkinson and Livingstone, closely pursued, dashed headlong down a steep bush gulley; but without Beggs, whom, it was afterwards discovered, had been overtaken and tomahawked. The two survivors made their way through the dense undergrowth, at a pace that would have done credit to the Maories themselves; their guns, now useless, were thrown away, and it was more than ever a race for life. Volley after volley was fired at them; but the dense nature of the New Zealand bush renders all chance of being hit, except by a chance shot, very remote; their great danger lay in being overtaken, and this seemed probable enough, for the hard running and high action necessary in springing over roots and supplejack began to tell, and brought on violent cramp in the legs of one of the fugitives. His companion stood by him well, straightening the limbs each time they were contracted, and while so engaged, they noticed for the first time that the enemy, if they had not given up the pursuit, were certainly left far behind. The first gleam of hope that had entered their minds since they rushed from the whare now dawned upon them; and, after going a short distance, they stopped to rest, and lay, anxiously listening, behind trees. No more shots were fired, nor were there sounds of footsteps in pursuit; they, therefore, felt tolerably safe, and, after resting for a short time, struck again into the heart of the bush, in the direction of the Otara River, and reached that place after some hours of laborious page 148work. As they once more opened out on the Opotiki flat, smoke was seen to rise from what had once been their home; and they knew that months of hard work had been destroyed in as many minutes. On reaching camp their tale was told to Colonel St. John, who at once dispatched the Opotiki cavalry and militia to the scene of the outrage; but, although all haste was made, they were too late to overtake the enemy. The wily savage had taken everything into consideration, and knew well that the heavy rain would stop all pursuit, by flooding the Waioeka. Such was the case, for, when the cavalry arrived at the still smouldering house, they found that the enemy had crossed the river, which had now risen, and inundated a large portion of the flat country. Everything portable had been carried away from the house, by means of the settlers' horses, and the heavy property was burnt with the house. The bodies of Moore and Beggs were not discovered until some time after, and the sight they then presented showed with what fearful barbarity they had been treated; the eyes had been scooped out, and they had been disembowelled. After the freshet in the river subsided, an expedition started for the Uriwera country to punish the murderers; two Hauhaus were shot, and some of the horses retaken; but the desolate and broken nature of the country prevented anything like adequate chastisement being inflicted on the ruffians.