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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XXV. — Skirmishes on The East Coast—continued. — Colonel St. John at Opotiki. Murder of Mr. Pitcairn

page 149

Chapter XXV.
Skirmishes on The East Coastcontinued.
Colonel St. John at Opotiki. Murder of Mr. Pitcairn.

A sort of armed peace, varied by occasional alarms, followed this outrage, and lasted until September in the same year; during which period, a few of the settlers, undaunted by the fate of Moore and Beggs, returned to their farms.

The Government, extremely anxious that the military settlement of Opotiki should prove a success, were unwilling to commence hostilities in earnest, trusting that the bad feeling between the two races might die out. The only measures taken were defensive, and these were altogether short of the requirements of the district. The erection of two block-houses, at the entrances of the Otara and Waioeka gorges, was authorized; but only one could be built at a time, as there were not sufficient men on pay in the district to afford a covering party for each work. The total effective strength at this period was twenty-seven men of all ranks; of these nineteen were stationed at Waioeka and eight in Opotiki, hardly sufficient to supply a guard for the magazine at the latter place. The erection of the Waioeka blockhouse evidently annoyed the enemy; for, cm the 12th of September they made a most daring attempt to burn it, before it could be finished and occupied. The attack failed, for the contractor with some of the garrison of the Lyon redoubt sallied out, drove off the enemy, and extinguished the fire before any serious harm was done. About the same time, another strong party of Hauhaus, under our quondam ally and guide, Hemi Kakitu, came down the Whakatane River, and ravaged the country of the friendly Ngatipukeko, carrying off cattle and horses.

Colonel St. John proposed to surprise these men by night marches, viâ the Waimana to Ruatoki; this place page 150taken, he proposed that the Utenuku pah should be occupied by friendly natives, thus opposing a permanent barrier to Hauhau raids in that quarter. The plan was excellent, and, had it been carried out, would probably have dealt the enemy a severe blow; but the Government, unwilling to give the whole Uriwera tribe a casus belli, declined to approve of the operations, and ordered Colonel St. John to confine himself to the defence of the Opotiki district and to keep as few men as was possible for that purpose.

The effect of this policy was soon evident; marauding parties of the enemy made their appearance about the Otara gorge; the settlers, having a lively recollection of past events, deserted their farms and came into Opotiki, where they requested permission to form a volunteer party without pay, provided they were allowed to follow up and destroy the scouting parties. This somewhat dangerous request was refused by Colonel St. John, who had grave doubts as to the legality of such a force, and his refusal was approved by the defence minister, who remarked: "It is not only the desire of the Government to avoid further hostile operations, if possible, but the progress and success of the settlement, and the colony generally, depend upon the maintenance of peace; and, except for self-defence, no operations are to be undertaken without orders from the Government."

Under these instructions no steps were taken, and on the 8th of January a settler's house at the Otara was burnt by a party of hostile natives. This roused Colonel St. John to a sense of his danger, and sixteen additional men were placed on pay, as a guard over the arms and magazine. Later in the same month, information was received from the semi-friendly Uriwera chief, Rakuraku, that a force of 170 men, composed of eight Hapus of the Uriwera, had started from the Waimana to attack Opotiki, or lay ambuscades on the Ohiwa Beach; he also stated that this war party had started in obedience to the command of King Tawhiao. On the 23rd this party made their appear-page 151ance on the Ohiwa Beach, and laid an ambuscade at their favourite place, on the Waiotahi Creek; but without effect, for our people were forewarned, and Colonel St. John, who had now 200 men on pay, sent sixty of the most experienced to attack the enemy. These gentlemen did not, however, wait the attack, but, after burning the monument erected to the memory of the Maori mailman who had been murdered on this spot, they hastily retreated to the ranges, and crossed into the Waimana valley, where they looted cattle and horses, and generally frightened the friendly natives out of their wits. This state of things could not be allowed to go on, so Colonel St. John, with ninety picked men, started from Opotiki on the evening of the 8th of February, and arrived in the Waimana at 4 p.m. on the 9th; here the men camped until midnight, when they resumed their march, and at grey dawn came upon the Hauhau Kainga. Colonel St. John was cautiously surrounding the enemy with every prospect of exterminating the detachment, when one of his men prematurely fired at a Maori, who was unfortunately visible. This roused the Hauhaus, and a smart skirmish took place, during which they lost six killed and nine wounded, while we had only two men wounded. When day broke sufficiently to admit of distant objects being seen, several new villages were observed on the adjacent hills, and from one of them fire was opened on the Opotiki Rangers, who skirmished towards it through the high ferns; but by this time the enemy were thoroughly roused, and reinforcements began to arrive so fast, that Colonel St. John ordered his men to retire. This check did not suffice the enemy, who still held their ground in the Waimana, and Colonel St. John, after consulting Major Mair (civil commissioner) decided to avail himself of the authority given him to raise 100 Arawa to supplement his force. The Government also sent Major Fraser with his division of constabulary to Opotiki. On page 152the 9th of March intelligence reached Opotiki that two friendly natives of Rakuraku's tribe had been murdered at Ohiwa by the Hauhaus. Colonel St. John started in pursuit with the Arawas and constabulary, and followed the enemy's trail to Hokianga, where one of the murdered men was found, dreadfully mutilated. The column reached the upper Waimana before dawn, and found the enemy entrenched upon a spur, with the main bush in their rear. As it was impossible to attack the position before daylight, the Colonel halted his men, and so soon as it was sufficiently light advanced to the attack. The enemy did not, however, care to await the shock, and the position was found to be deserted. Having come so far, the Colonel did not care to return without accomplishing something; so, after issuing four days' rations to his men, he announced his intention of following the Hauhaus to Maungapohatu.

The Uriwera had evidently not abandoned the first position from fear, for a few miles farther on at Te Ponga they were found barring the way, and a sharp skirmish took place. Major Mair, with the Arawa and Tauranga volunteers, led the way, and drove the enemy back, only losing one man. This slight resistance inspired the column with the hope that they would be able to reach Maungapohatu: but Colonel St. John had reached the limit of his advance, for the Arawa were as usual nervous at finding themselves in the bush, and declined to go farther. In vain Major Mair expostulated; they turned tail and went back with great celerity. The Colonel, deserted by his guides, was obliged, much against his will, to follow the Arawa, who thus, for the twentieth time, were masters of the occasion, after spoiling an expedition. When the retreating Arawa reached the Otara village in the Waimana, they surprised a Hauhauan scout, who, mistaking them for some of his own people, called out that he was Kereopa's advance guard, and that they were to prepare food for that ruffian. Instead of taking the scout prisoner, page 153and so catching the whole party, these idiotic Maories shot him dead, and thus alarmed the main body who were close at hand.

The Arawa justified their conduct at Te Ponga, by declaring that they disapproved of operations carried on from the Waimana side, and maintained that the Matata was the proper base from which hostilities should be carried on. Holding these opinions, they were useless to an officer whose instructions limited him to pursuit and reprisals after outrages on the part of the enemy; they were, therefore, disbanded and sent back to their own country. For some weeks the Hauhaus remained at the entrances of the Waimana and Whakatane gorges, in the hope of obtaining satisfaction for their losses. Seldom had so large a party of Uriwera met with so little success. At last they appeared to have a chance, for some semi-friendly natives informed them that Major Fraser, who was stationed at Whakatane, was in the habit of sending out a working party of his men every day to improve the roads about his post. Tamaikowha and Heteraka Te Whakaunua, the most daring of the Hauhau chiefs, led a party to surprise these men; but instead of so doing, they encountered a party of the friendly Ngatipukeko, who lost six of their guns, and had a man wounded; but who squared accounts by killing one of the Hauhaus. Intelligence of this affair was carried to Colonel St. John, who started from Opotiki on the 29th of April, and joined Fraser at Whakatane. Here they were detained one day by floods; but on the 1st of May, they followed the Hauhau trail to Ruatoki, and found the place deserted.

As it was the guide's opinion that the Hauhaus would be found at Tunanui or Waikare Whenua, the column marched there next day, following the river-bed, but to no purpose, for the enemy, anticipating pursuit, had retired to Ruatahuna, and farther advance on our part was cut short by the river rising suddenly. This obliged our men to cut their way back through the thick fern and page 154scrub on the hill-sides, and was not accomplished without some days' hard labour.

The Uriwera had, however, finally retired to their own country, disgusted with their want of success, and did not again trouble us until March, 1869, just before Te Kooti came upon Whakatane, when they murdered Mr Pitcairn at Ohiwa.