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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XXXVIII. — Te Kooti's Progress—continued. — The Fight at Te Konaki. The Hauhaus Again Victorious

Chapter XXXVIII.
Te Kooti's Progresscontinued.
The Fight at Te Konaki. The Hauhaus Again Victorious.

On the day prevous to the fight at Paparatu, Major Biggs, recognising the possibility of defeat, offered £30 to any one who would ride through to Te Wairoa with despatches for Mr. Deighton, R.M, warning that officer to muster all the force at his disposal, and intercept Te Kooti at the Waihau lakes, in case he should reach that district. Lieutenant page 215Gascoigne refused the reward, but offered to perform the duty, which he did satisfactorily, riding and walking over ninety miles of rough country in twenty-four hours. On his return he had a narrow escape; when rather more than half-way he met an orderly (Paku Brown), who was on his way to Te Wairoa, with despatches from Colonel Whitmore; the poor fellow doubtless thought the road safe after meeting Gascoigne, hut four miles farther on he fell in with Te Kooti, who had just arrived; was taken prisoner and brought before the chief. Te Kooti ordered his instant execution; he was shot, and with his dog thrown into an old ditch, where both were afterwards found by Colonel Whitmore's force.

The news conveyed by Lieutenant Gascoigne was not the first intimation of Te Kooti's landing that the Wairoa settlers had received. On the 15th of July, Mr. S. Deighton, R.M., and Mr. Preece, clerk to the bench, were at Te Mahia, where they were met by a messenger from the old loyal chief Ihaka Whanga, who informed them that the Chatham Islands prisoners had landed at Whareongaonga, and had been summoned to surrender by Major Biggs, but had refused to do so. A few minutes after, another messenger arrived from Biggs, bearing a letter, requesting that Deighton would march without loss of time to his assistance with all the force he could muster.

Orders were sent at once to the Mahia tribes to muster at Te Mahanga, which they did promptly, 100 strong; then it was found that our whole supply of ammunition did not exceed four rounds per man. Under these circumstances, it was useless to go on, so Mr. Deighton returned to Te Wairoa to communicate with the Government, while Mr. Preece, by dint of great industry, succeeded in obtaining three casks of ammunition from the Wairoa chiefs. Until within two months of the events related, a private in the Military Settlers had been retained on pay as storekeeper in charge of sixty kegs of ammunition, which was then stored in the Wairoa block-house; but, about that period, re-page 216trenchment was perfectly rampant through all the public departments; so an enormous saving was effected, by striking the private off pay, and sending the ammunition to Napier. Mr. Preece, with his small supply of ball cartridge, reached Ihaka Whanga's pah that night; next day the ammunition was served out, food cooked for the coming campaign, and everything prepared for the next day's march; but all to no purpose, for the delay in obtaining supplies had given Te Kooti time to escape, and our men had only marched a few miles on the road to Poverty Bay, when they were met by a messenger from Major Biggs, with instructions for Mr. Preece to return to Te Wairoa, and march for the Waihau lakes, with the view of intercepting the Hauhaus at that place. On receipt of these instructions, Mr. Preece decided to leave his present force with half the stock of cartridges at Te Mahia, lest Te Kooti should double back; and, taking the remainder with him, he made a forced march to Te Wairoa, and, on the following evening, was on his way to Waihau with a fresh force, composed of eighteen European volunteers and twenty-one picked Maories, the advanced guard of a larger force, who, under the chief Te Apatu, were to follow as soon as possible. Next day the advanced party arrived at Whenuakura, where they found the Ngatikowhatu Hauhaus under the chief Rakiro. These men were closely questioned, but without result; they professed to know nothing of the escape from the Chatham Islands; so our men contented themselves with keeping a sharp look-out upon their neighbours, and scouted the country towards the Hangaroa River. On the 22nd, Lieutenant Gascoigne arrived in camp en route to Te Wairoa with despatches, and reported having heard heavy firing for several hours that day in the direction of Paparatu. Next morning Captain Richardson arrived in camp with sixty Maories, and assumed command. On the 24th, the whole force marched through pouring rain for Poverty Bay, but were not destined to reach that place; for, at the first crossing of the Hangaroa, they were met by Captain Wilson, page 217who informed them of the result of the fight at Paparatu, and gave them instructions from Colonel Whitmore to return and guard Waihau, a position they should never have left. These contradictory orders, combined with the news of our defeat at Paparatu, did not tend to encourage the friendly natives, who had set their minds on going to Poverty Bay, and were correspondingly sulky on the return march; in fact, anything but trusty allies. Just before dark, the column halted on the Konaki ridge, and, from this elevated position, a long string of men and horses could be seen descending a distant spur of the Ahimanu range, and advancing in our direction. The arrivals were Te Kooti, with his two hundred men—their women, children, and horses—a most formidable-looking force, when compared with our hundred warriors of doubtful fighting capacity. Mr. Preece and Captain Richardson resolved to hold the ground on which they stood, and allow Te Kooti to attack them; orders to that effect were issued, and the Europeans, with about twenty of the most trustworthy Maories, obeyed; but that unmitigated coward Paora Te Apatu, taking advantage of the discussion, had bolted, and was followed by sixty of his gallant tribe, to the village of Whenuakura. Messengers were sent imploring him to return, but he declined to trust his valuable life in such a position; so the few men who would have fought, had no alternative but to follow, for Captain Richardson did not consider it advisable to separate his small force. On the retreat down the hill, one of the Maories (who had been repeatedly warned to keep his rifle at half-cock) fell, and not only choked the muzzle with clay, but managed to explode the cap. The result was, that the rifle burst, and with it the owner's hand; the mischief unfortunately did not end here. No one in the column would have cared much, if the man's head had gone, instead of his hand, but the bad part of the affair was, that it was an aitua (ill omen) of terrible significance, fore-page 218boding defeat on the morrow; and certain to disperse the little courage left to the Wairoa tribe.

Next morning great preparations were made for the coming fight; rifles were fired off, cleaned, and reloaded; even Rakiroa and his Hauhaus, uncertain who might win the day, professed themselves intensely loyal, and so imposed on some of our gallant allies that four men, who were going to Te Wairoa to bring up rations, trusted their rifles to them during their absence. About 11 a.m., the flood in the Hangaroa had subsided sufficiently to allow our valiant army to cross in battle array, and a young chief of well-known courage, named Karaitiana, was sent ahead with six scouts, to observe the enemy's position; in a few minutes shots were heard, and Mr. Preece doubling up to his assistance, found him engaged with the enemy's advanced guard, one of whom he had captured. The action now became general, as the main body of the Hauhaus came up, and, throwing forward their left flank, rendered our position untenable, by threatening to cut us off from the ford. Paora Te Apatu, who should have held this position, had bolted at the first shot, and was in full retreat to the Wairoa, with fifty men; bad he held his position, Te Kooti would have been checked for some time, if not beaten, and this would have given Colonel Whitmore time to come up; as it was, Captain Richardson was obliged to fall back, to avoid the flank movement, and take up a strong position on the next hill, where, from the nature of the ground, both flanks were protected. By this time, Paora and his men were out of sight, but the remainder held their ground until 4 p.m., when, finding their ammunition nearly run out, they retired quietly, unmolested by the enemy. Rakiroa, and two of the men who had received rifles that morning, deserted during the fight, and joined Te Kooti. Mr. Preece noticed the chief moving off and asked him where he was going. "To get a drink of water," he replied; he must have gone a long way, for he was absent four years. Our loss in this engage-page 219merit, were two killed (Maories) one of whom was shot by a comrade during the stampede from the first hill. The enemy's loss was three killed and one wounded. Thus they had gained their second fight by the failure of our ammunition; and on this occasion were assisted by the cowardice of a portion of our allies.