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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XXXII. — The Important Difference Between Disciplined and Undiscplined Men, a Fact Never Sufficiently Recognised by The New Zealand Government. — Death of The Traitor Kimball Bent. Tactics of Titokowaru

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Chapter XXXII.
The Important Difference Between Disciplined and Undiscplined Men, a Fact Never Sufficiently Recognised by The New Zealand Government.
Death of The Traitor Kimball Bent. Tactics of Titokowaru.

After examining the various narratives of this fight, one is still at a loss to account for the large number of killed and wounded on our side, without a corresponding loss to the enemy. It is certain that we fell into a trap on first approaching Te Ngutu, but had the men behaved with ordinary coolness it would have been easy to withdraw them, and attack from a more favourable position. The enemy were not more numerous than they were at Pungarehu, but our force was nearly three times as strong as on that occasion, and in individual courage probably equal. But there was the important difference between disciplined and undisciplined men, a fact never sufficiently recognised by the New Zealand Government, who have been apparently under the impression that one man is as good as another. The best authorities in Europe state that it takes three years to make a soldier. Then, how much more a forest ranger, who has frequently to become his own officer, and act on his own responsibility in bush warfare, when orders can scarcely be heard, much less men seen by their officers? A forest-ranger, to be efficient, must skirmish like a Maori, to whom it is second nature, but only to be acquired by the European after long practice. He must reserve his fire until he sees his enemy, and not blaze away from the hip, as new hands invariably do, under the impression that page 190they will scare the enemy; and above all, he must have that feeling of trust in his officers and comrades which leads men to believe that all is going well, until they are officially informed to the contrary. Should another outbreak take place, the lesson of Te Ngutu will be repeated; for it is absurd to suppose that a wily foe, like the Maori of the present day, will meet us on open ground, and but few of our present force have ever fought in the bush. I have previously mentioned that a boy was taken prisoner at Te Ngutu, and carried into camp, when he gave a good deal of information. When questioned about the deserter Kimball Bent, he said there were two Pakehas with Titokowaru; one of them named Te Ringi-Ringi and the other Kingi (Bent). He also stated that both of them were engaged in the attack on Turu Turu Mokai, and that Kingi tried hard to persuade the Hauhaus to rush the redoubt. After they returned to Te Ngutu, he cursed the Maories for their cowardice in not following him; these men complained to Titokowaru, who replied, "Shoot him." Now this tale is not strictly true; the reason that Kingi was shot was, that a tale had been industriously circulated by the Europeans among the semi-friendly Maories, to the effect that Bent had promised McDonnell to shoot Titokowaru, provided he received pardon for having deserted to the Hauhaus. This tale reached the Ngutu o te manu, and gained credence among the people, who at once demanded his death. Titokowaru consented, but it was a case of "who is to bell the cat?" Kingi, from his behaviour, evidently suspected something, and had always his arms at hand. Under these circumstances he was not a man to be lightly attacked, so his death was deferred until a favourable opportunity. At last he was found asleep in his whare, and the man who found him tried to tomahawk him, but was in such a state of funk that he only inflicted a severe wound, and before he could strike another, Kingi grappled with him and would have taken page 191his tomahawk, had not his cries brought other Hauhaus on the scene, who cut the deserter to pieces—a fit ending to such a life. No sooner was Kingi dead, than they wanted to serve the other Pakeha in the same manner; but Titokowaru refused, saying, "He is too useful; who will make the cartridges when he is dead?" On the 12th, a half-naked man was seen coming from the bush towards the camp; a party was sent out to meet him, and found it was a man named Dore, one of the Wellington Rangers. He had been wounded on the 7th, his arm shattered near the shoulder, and must have fainted from loss of blood, as the first thing he remembered after coming to his senses, was finding himself stripped of everything but his shirt. He was probably found by the enemy while unconscious, and they, believing he was dead, neglected to tomahawk him, a most unusual piece of neglect on the part of the Hauhaus, and one not likely to happen again should they hear of Dore's escape.

The poor fellow hid in an old rata-tree until it was quite dark, and then attempted to find his way to Waihi. For three days he wandered in a circle, always returning to Te Ngutu, but on the evening of the 10th he managed to reach the open country, and made for the crossing of the Waingongoro; here he felt his senses going, and feared that he would never reach camp. How he crossed the rapid stream in his weak state is a mystery, and he himself does not know, but he declared that he was fired on while crossing, and fainted on the opposite bank. After this his mind was a blank, he only knows that he tried to reach camp Waihi. The unfortunate man was within two miles of the camp when he crossed the river on the 10th; yet he was not seen until the afternoon of the 12th, and had evidently wandered aimlessly about during all those hours. This is certainly one of the most wonderful instances of endurance on record; a man with an arm shattered to pieces, without food and nearly naked, page 192struggled on through, five days and nights of frosty weather, and yet recovered from his wound more quickly than men whose injuries were of a slighter character, and who had not gone through the five days of terrible hardship and despair. On the evening of the same day that Dore reached Waihi, a heavy volley was heard in the direction of the Waingongoro ford, and soon after a war-dance was performed; it was supposed at the time to be a piece of defiance on the part of the enemy, but after events showed that it was a scouting party sent to see if the road was clear to Taiporohenui; for on the 14th the Tangahoe chief Ngahina arrived in camp, and gave the information, that Titokowaru and all his tribe were at that village, and that Tito Te Hanataua and his people had joined him. It was now painfully evident that we had a very resolute and farseeing man to deal with in Titokowaru; for if he intended to visit the different tribes on the coast, his personal influence, and prestige as victor at Te Ngutu, would undoubtedly turn the scale with the waverers, and bring the whole fighting men of the coast against us. And by marching through the forest towards Wanganui, he would hold a position in line of our communication, and force us to abandon all the outposts except Patea; with which there was communication by water. Thus he would have the advantage of carrying the war into our districts and saving his own.

The colony was then at this critical moment denuded at one blow of the force she had struggled so hard to raise and equip. And worse than all, the enemy gained in greater proportion than we lost. The arms taken from us at the Ngutu enabled Titokowaru to equip the recruits who now joined his standard. Where he gained, we had lost prestige; where our force was diminished, he gained adherents in the Tangahoe and Papakoe tribes. Throughout the colony a feeling of insecurity arose, a doubt of our own fitness to carry out self-reliance, or to combat the natives with our own men. The people of Wanganui page 193clamoured for military protection, though, they numbered 1500 able-bodied militia, and two companies of 18th R. C. had to be sent for the defence of their city.

From end to end of the colony the calamitous reverse of the Ngutu created a painful feeling. Parliament was sitting; the Opposition made it a political question. Three times already votes of want of confidence had been defeated by Mr. Stafford's Government, but this untoward event, and the refusal of the Cabinet to remove McDonnell before even his despatches had arrived, enabled McLean, hitherto a supporter, with the aid of Mr. Ormond, Major Atkinson, Captain Browne, and others who changed sides on this subject, to press what were called the "Alarm" resolutions to an equal vote. The Speaker gave his voice with the Government, but Mr. Stafford wished to resign. Meanwhile time elapsed. Colonel Whitmore addressed a letter to the journals, pointing out the injustice of judging and sentencing an old colonial officer on the mere report of men who, by their own showing, had misbehaved. He advised Colonel Haultain to send for No. 1 Division Armed Constabulary from Napier, which was not in the same dire straits that the West Coast was placed in, and that a new division should be at once raised to replace No. 1 at Napier, and brought into discipline as quickly as possible. This step no doubt saved the credit of our arms at Patea. This valuable and fresh division came up at the critical moment, and gave confidence. But at Napier a storm of indignation arose, increased to some extent by the members who represented the district, from which, a resistance to the Stafford Government sprang, which ultimately brought it to defeat.

Colonel Whitmore further offered to accompany Colonel Haultain to the front, and to serve under Colonel McDonnell, his junior officer, for a short time, till his own (No. 1) division was fairly installed, and new officers found to replace those who had fallen.

This offer was accepted, and Colonel Haultain left page 194Parliament sitting, though Mr. Fox generously refused him a pair, and Government had but a vote or two of a majority. At Patea, the first thing done was to seize the liquor, "fons et origo malornm," and send it away to Wanganui by the Government steamer Sturt.

Colonel Haultain then proceeded to the front, where the state of the camp at Waihi was simply terrible. The irregulars were completely disorganised. The hospital was full, and no sufficient means of treating the sick existed. Such was the impression produced by the late defeat, that, unless in large bodies, it was held to be unsafe to move about the country between Patea and Waihi. With such reduced forces it became manifest that it would be impossible to maintain the several posts, to escort food, forage, and supplies, and also to have a sufficient force to meet the enemy in the field. The natives, too, of the Wanganui tribe, who formed part of the force, declined to serve any longer, giving as a reason that their crops must be looked after, and a great tangi was about to take place. But, in truth, they were cowed like the rest, and glad to avoid further collision with a tribe which seemed likely to win in the struggle.

Under these disheartening circumstances, Colonel Haultain decided, to use a French expression, "reculer pour mieux sauter," and to withdraw from advanced positions which only commanded what the rifles from the parapets could reach, and which required a large force to provide escorts for their supply. Colonel McDonnell quite approved of what was clearly inevitable, and the withdrawal of the troops towards Patea was decided on.