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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XXIX. — Hauhaus' Attack on Turu Turu Mokai. — Death of Captain George Ross, Sergeant McFadden, Corporal Blake, and Seven Privates

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Chapter XXIX.
Hauhaus' Attack on Turu Turu Mokai.
Death of Captain George Ross, Sergeant McFadden, Corporal Blake, and Seven Privates.

On Colonel McDonnell's arrival, he ordered a party of twenty-five men to garrison the deserted post of Turu Turu Mokai, and took every step for the safety of the district that his limited means allowed. But so inadequate were those means, that after placing garrisons in a few extra posts, he had not a man to take the field with. He therefore proceeded to Wellington to represent the exact state of affairs to the Defence Minister, Colonel Haultain; and the result of the interview was, that authority was given to raise 400 men, including 100 kupapas, for three months' service. These reinforcements did not arrive too soon, for the Hauhaus were laying ambuscades all round the camp. Four days after the first murders, Trooper Smith left camp, against orders, to bring in his horse, which had strayed to the edge of the bush, and was waylaid and cut to pieces in sight of the camp. The flashing of the tomahawks as they cut him to pieces, could be seen distinctly; both legs were left on the ground, but his body was taken to Te Ngutu o te manu and eaten.

A few days later, the escort in charge of the ration-cart were attacked; but the sergeant and ten men held their ground manfully against nearly sixty Hauhaus, until supported from Waihi. In this affair the enemy lost two killed, and we had two wounded, both of whom recovered.

Reinforcements now began to arrive, the Wellington Rifles, eighty strong, under Captain Page, were the first; and shortly after, another corps, 100 strong, under Captain page 171Buck, late of the 14th Regiment, arrived and marched for Waihi, but did not arrive there in time to prevent the first real disaster. I have already mentioned that a garrison of twenty-five men had been sent to the old redoubt at Turu Turu Mokai. This was a tumble-down place with earthen parapets and ditch, built by the 18th Regiment, in as bad a position as could well be managed, for, from the top of a small hill sixty yards distant, anyone could see into the redoubt, which was so small and inconvenient, that after tents for the men and stores had been erected, there was no room for the officer's tent; so Captain Ross took up his quarters temporarily in a small whare outside the gate. A week or two passed over quietly, and Maories of both sexes, of the Ngatitupaea and Tangahoe tribes, came into camp with potatoes, and sat watching the men rebuilding the parapet; doubtless informing Titokowaru of the result of their examination. This was the calm before the storm, for on the morning of the 15th of July, the sentry, who was posted on a rise overlooking a gully that led down from the bush, was kept alert by the restlessness of a flock of sheep camped near him. Shortly before daylight he fancied he saw some dark objects moving towards him. He challenged hastily and fired, and was answered by a volley, which wounded him badly. The Hauhaus in two divisions, each forty strong, had been lying in wait for some hours, waiting for the celebrated warrior Tautai to give the word; but that wily chieftain wished to have a little daylight, and had therefore put it off as long as his eager followers would allow. Tautai's plans were, that Hauwhenua, at the head of one division, should make an attack on the opposite side to the gateway, while Tautai and his party charged into the redoubt through the gate. It was on the latter party that the sentry fired, and finding that he could not reach the gateway as soon as his active enemies, hid in the fern, and probably saved his life by so doing. Meanwhile Tautai and his men had page 172missed the gateway In the darkness, and given Captain Ross sufficient time to get inside and defend the entrance. He was just in time, for the Hauhaus, rushing round the face of the redoubt, led by their chief, made a bold dash to cross the narrow plank. Tautai missed his footing, and fell headlong into the ditch, the next man fell by Captain Ross's revolver, and he also wounded another. This effectually stopped the charge, for the enemy got into the ditches, and one man crawling under the plank, shot Captain Ross; another fellow drove a long-handled tomahawk into his body, and dragged him into the ditch, where he was afterwards found with his heart cut out. It is said that Captain Ross, as he fell, called out to his men, "Take care of yourselves, boys, I am done for," and some of them seemed to have understood that they were to save themselves; at any rate, four of the garrison, seized with a sudden panic, sprang on the parapet, and attempted to escape by jumping over the Maories' heads; strange to say, only one of them was killed, the other three escaped.

Several attempts were made on the gateway by the enemy, but Sergeant McFadden and Corporal Blake defended it desperately until they were killed; in fact, most of the men fell here, and the place must eventually have been taken, had not the Hauhaus changed their plan of attack. While their main body swept the inside of the redoubt by their fire, a small party worked hard to undermine the parapets. The few men unwounded in the redoubt took shelter in the angles, and delayed the Hauhaus by shouting, "Here are the cavalry." This had a startling effect on the enemy, who cleared out of the ditch and prepared to decamp each time the ruse was employed. The attack had now been sustained for nearly an hour, and only six men were left capable of bearing arms, yet no assistance had been received from Waihi, which was but two miles and a half distant. The survivors were just debating whether it would not be better to sally out page 173and die fighting, when suddenly the Hauhaus, warned by their scouts, left the ditch and made for the bush, and shortly after Von Tempsky and his company arrived at the redoubt. The whole place was a perfect shamble, four Hauhaus lay dead outside, and Captain Ross was found in the ditch; but inside the gate Sergeant McFadden, Corporal Blake, Privates Hold en, Ross, Shields, Swords, Gaynor, and A. Beamish, were lying dead; and Privates Flanagan, Luffin, Lacey, Conners, Beamish, and Kershaw, badly wounded, and a storekeeper named Lennon was cut to pieces a short distance from the redoubt. The names of the unwounded men were Johnson, Milrnoe, O'Brien, Stuart, M'Lean, and Gill. A few minutes after Von Tempsky's arrival, the parapet that had been partially undermined by the Hauhaus, fell, and left one side of the redoubt open; had this happened ten minutes sooner, there would not have been a man alive to tell the tale; and twenty-four carbines, a like number of revolvers, and a large store of reserve ammunition, would have fallen a prize to the enemy. The circumstances which led to such delay in rendering assistance to the garrison of Turu Turu Mokai, have never been satisfactorily explained. It appears that the firing was not heard for some time after the attack commenced, but the attention of the Waihi sentries was drawn by the flashes of the rifles round the parapet. When they gave the alarm, Major Von Tempsky, who commanded at Waihi, ordered his division, No. 5 of the Armed Constabulary, to stand to their arms, and Troop-Serjeant-Major Anderson at the same moment ordered his twenty troopers to boot and saddle, as he very naturally expected orders to gallop to his comrades' assistance. In the meantime Von Tempsky had left, without giving orders to the troopers, and took a circuitous route in the hope of cutting off the enemy. Major Hunter, the second in command, found the troopers waiting commands, and concluded that Von Tempsky did not want them, or he would have sent them on ahead. He therefore page 174ordered them to dismount and feed their horses, remarking that if Von Tempsky had wanted them he would have told them to follow. The sergeant-major could not brook this standing on military etiquette, when the lives of comrades were at stake, and he then and there used very bitter language at Major Hunter—language inexcusable, as I shall show, despite the court-martial which sat to inquire into the affair. Those hasty words of the sergeant-major found their way to the public papers, and formed the groundwork for the abuse showered upon him. He was accused of having, by his supineness and cowardice, caused the death of half the men at Turu Turu Mokai.

On the return of Von Tempsky, he brought with, him the survivors, and they stated that had the troopers been sent to their relief, they would have arrived twenty minutes sooner, and in that case not half the men would have been killed. This statement, perfectly true in itself, so irritated the force, that many officers and men, who should have known better, joined in the condemnation of Major Hunter, instead of placing what blame there might be on the shoulders of Major Von Tempsky. Those who knew Major Hunter intimately, knew him to be a good officer and strict disciplinarian, and that it would have been altogether contrary to his ideas for him to interfere with the dispositions of his superior officer. It was undoubtedly Von Tempsky's duty to relieve the beleaguered redoubt; and that he did not take the troopers, shows either one of two things, that he considered his own men sufficient, or that he wished to appropriate all the credit to himself. Major Hunter could not have followed with the troops, without leaving Waihi to a certain extent unprotected; consequently, those who hastily blamed him, must feel that they had a large share in the sacrifice of his life, which he lost at Moturoa in giving the lie to an imputation under which he was unable to live.