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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter III. — Colonial Forces under Imperial Rule.—continued. — Battles of Mahoetahi, Mauku, Wairoa Ranges, Waiari Steeam, Orakau, Rangiaohia, Haerini, and Te Matata

Chapter III.
Colonial Forces under Imperial Rule.—continued.
Battles of Mahoetahi, Mauku, Wairoa Ranges, Waiari Steeam, Orakau, Rangiaohia, Haerini, and Te Matata.

Prior to November, 1860, several small successes had been gained by the Waitara tribes. This had greatly elated them, and a party of Waikatos arriving about this period were duly impressed with the fact that Ngatiawa were a great fighting tribe. As a natural consequence the former were put on their mettle, and by way of proving that their ancient courage had not departed, they conceived the bold idea of cutting off communication between the town and Waitara by taking possession of the Mahoetahi Hill, close to the main road and at no great distance from the Bell Block Stockade. This very hazardous movement was executed by about one hundred and fifty men of the Ngatihaua and other tribes of Waikato. The position chosen was a small hill in the middle of a fern page 15flat with the usual raupo-swamps, into which the men could retire when hard pressed. Intelligence of this movement was forwarded to Major-General Pratt, who issued orders for a combined attack, in which Major Nelson and the 40th Regiment would act from the Waitara side to cut off the fugitves, while the 65th Regiment and militia stormed the position. On the 6th November the forces marched for Mahoetahi; and after a sharp but ineffectual the enemy from their pits, a company of the 65th and the Taranaki Volunteers were told off to storm, which they did in good style. The Maories stood their ground well, killing four and wounding sixteen of their assailants, but without effect, for they were driven pell-mell at the point of the bayonet out of the rifle-pits and into the swamp where they lay concealed until the volunteers headed it to windward and set fire to the dry raupo. Tins drove them out to run the gauntlet; a few were taken prisoners but the majority were killed or wounded: the Maories admitted a loss of thirty-four killed and fifty wounded. As their estimate of killed tallied with the bodies found by us, it may be concluded that the list of wounded was also correct. Several leading chiefs were killed, including Taiporutu of Ngatihaua. The loss of the volunteers in this sharp skirmish was two killed and four wounded.

During the Waikato war the settlers again came to the front. Two companies of Forest Rangers under Captains Jackson and Von Tempsky were enrolled for the purpose of scouring the forest lying between the Waikato and the settled districts of Auckland, with a view to securing life and property. Three troops of cavalry known as the Defence Force were attached to General Cameron's flying column, and did good service on many occasions; and various companies of militia were employed to hold posts in rear of the active army. In October, 1863, the page 16Mauku stockade was garrisoned by a company of militia under the command of Lieut. Lusk. On the 23rd intelligence was received that a strong party of the enemy were shooting cattle on a farm at no great distance; Lieutenant Lusk at once led a detachment of three officers and sixty men in pursuit, and came up with the marauders. Lieutenant Percival, who led the advanced guard, was driven back on the main body, and the firing on both sides became very heavy, but our men advanced and drove the enemy back into some open ground. Here, Maori-like, they wheeled round the left flank of the militia, and taking cover behind some fallen timber, opened such a heavy fire that Lieutenant Lusk was obliged to withdraw his men. No sooner was this movement observed by the enemy, than they charged out, and for some minutes there was rather close firing, in which both parties suffered, despite the excellent cover afforded by the logs and stumps. The superior numbers of the Maories now enabled them to outflank the militia on both sides, and our men were forced back into the forest, where they reformed, expecting a close pursuit; but both sides had suffered enough for the time, and the Maories contented themselves with firing a few ill-directed volleys. The loss of the militia was heavy: Lieutenants Norman and Percival and six men were killed, and four men were wounded; the enemy acknowledged sixteen casualties.

For some months the Forest Rangers had been scouring the bush, and had skirmished with the Maories on several occasions. On the 11th of December, 1863, Captain Jackson and twenty-seven men started on an expedition to the Wairoa river, and on the following day came across fresh native tracks. They were followed, and several deserted camps seen with the fires still burning; but towards evening the trail was lost. The next morning some of the most active men climbed trees and reported smoke rising from the ranges; great caution was used in ap-page 17proaching the native camp lest their sentries should give the alarm. When within twenty yards Captain Jackson ordered his men to fire a volley and then charge in with their revolvers without waiting to reload. The Maories, who were quietly cleaning their guns, were completely taken by surprise, nevertheless, with their usual hardihood they turned on the rangers with empty carbines, expecting to find them an easy prey; but the revolvers soon cleared them off, leaving four dead behind them, three others were carried off after the first volley. One Maori returned to the camp, when in possession of our men, and attempted to secure a small tin box, but a bullet made him drop it, though he succeeded in effecting his escape. The rangers thought they had a prize in the box, but were disgusted to find that it only contained the king's flags. This party numbered about fifty men, and from the loot found in their camp, had evidently been concerned in some murders that had been committed only a short time previously.

Both companies of the rangers were afterwards engaged in the bathing party attack at the Waiari stream; thirty-five men under Von Tempsky were sent to clear the enemy out of a patch of scrub on the river-bank, which they did in a very few minutes, killing five and wounding two, whom they took prisoners. Captain Heaphy, an officer in the militia, distinguished himself greatly during this fight. While assisting a wounded soldier who had fallen in the midst of the enemy, a volley was fired at him, five bullets pierced his clothes, and he received three wounds, nevertheless he continued to aid the wounded throughout the day. He has been given the Victoria Cross for his gallant conduct. The rangers and militia were also present at the storming of Orakau, when Major Hurford of the latter corps was especially mentioned for his behaviour in holding the head of the sap throughout the siege, and finally leading an assault upon the pah, in which he was desperately wounded. Five men of the colonial corps were killed and eight wounded in this engagement.

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The Defence Force under Colonel Nixon, late 39th Foot, had not the same chance of distinguishing themselves, as the nature of the country prevented successful movements with cavalry, hut at Rangiaohia, while acting as advanced guard to the force, they surprised the natives in their whares. Colonel Nixon called upon them to surrender, but was answered by a volley which mortally wounded him; some of the troopers, enraged at their leader's fall, attempted to storm the whare, but were all killed or wounded; finally the hut was burnt with its defenders, only one of whom could be persuaded to surrender, On the following day, at Haerini, fifteen troopers under Captain McDonnell charged the enemy, killing and wounding several men, while the main body, who had taken the wrong path and were hampered by the swamps which intersect the country, could only look on without the power to assist their comrades. Up to the month of April, 1864, the imperial troops had been assisted in their campaigns by the European settlers only, but a new and important element was about to appear upon the scene in the shape of friendly Maories. It must not be supposed from this title that the tribes in question really loved the Pakeha: far from it. As a rule, they disliked us quite as much as the King Maories did, but there were many reasons why certain tribes should turn their arms against their fellow countrymen. Foremost among these was the tribal jealousy and hatred engendered generations since, and unabated by lapse of years. Many Europeans in the plenitude of their wisdom have condemned the Maori for want of patriotism, because, while fighting for the Pakeha, they shot and tomahawked their Maori neighbours. These people know little of the native character or history, or they would be aware that each tribe bears deadly enmity to many other tribes, with whom, but for the advent of the Pakeha, they would have been engaged in mortal strife; therefore it is only natural that they should seek every opportunity of wiping out old scores.

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Another very strong motive in joining us is the intense desire all Maories have to possess guns and ammunition, and the still greater desire to shoot someone with them, in order to show, with all their civilisation, they can still fight. It was perhaps a mixture of these feelings which induced the Arawa tribe to throw in their lot with the Government against the King party, as represented by their ancient enemies the Ngaiterangi of Tauranga, who were at this period confronting General Cameron and his 2000 men at the gate Pah. Intelligence of the general's arrival had been sent to the Ngatiawa, Whakatohea, and Ngatiporou tribes, and they, nothing loth, responded to the call by mustering 600 strong and advancing towards Tauranga; but at Maketu they were met by the Arawa, who, supported by a strong detachment of the 43rd Regiment and 3rd Waikato Militia, tinder Major Colville, refused to allow them to pass. The Kingites retaliated by laying an ambush on the bank of the Waihi river, and on the 21st of April very nearly caught Major Colville and Mr. Way. These officers had to jump out of their canoe and run for their lives; they were followed almost to the redoubt. A skirmish ensued, and the enemy were driven back across the Waihi with some loss, after wounding four men of the 43rd. Skirmishes were of daily occurrence until the 27th, when H.M.S. Falcon and the colonial steamer Sandfly arrived off Waihi, shelled the enemy out of their sand rifle-pits, and forced them to beat a hasty retreat. The ford was now open, and Major Bay, who commanded the Arawa, took advantage of that circumstance to send 100 men across, with orders to follow the enemy as far as Otamarakau; later in the day he followed with fourteen men of the Forest Rangers and 200 Arawa, and camped for the night at Waiheke. At daybreak the following morning another 100 men joined him. They were now strong enough to meet the enemy in the field, and Majors Hay and McDonnell had no difficulty in persuading their men to page 20march, forward. When within two miles of Te Matata the enemy were found awaiting attack; their position was well chosen—a deep stream in their front, their left flank resting on the steep cliff of an old raised beach, and their right touching the sea, with the small hillocky sandhills forming splendid cover for their skirmishers. The old warrior chief Toi Te Ururangi commenced the fight with his usual impetuosity, and heavy firing was the order of the day; this, however, did not last, for Major Hay with his handful of Forest Rangers, well supported by the Arawa, carried the creek with a rush. The enemy, about four hundred strong, did not wait for conclusions, but bolted pell-mell, pursued by our men for about two miles, until they came to Te Awa o te Atua river. Those who were lucky enough to get canoes paddled over and were safe, but those who did not, had to swim under fire; many of them were shot and carried out to sea. Thirty-seven bodies were found that day, and fifteen more on the 29th; others were found in the swamps at various times. Altogether the enemy lost about seventy men, wounded unknown; our casualties were very light; the brave old Toi was killed and six men wounded. A rather celebrated chief of the Whakatohea was taken prisoner; at first he was frightened lest he should be killed, but Captain McDonnell reassured him by taking him under his protection, and telling him that he had nothing to fear, and perhaps he had not from the men. But McDonnell had not taken into consideration the feminine element in the shape of Toi's wife, who, enraged at her husband's death, persuaded a man to load a rifle for her; this done, she walked up to the chief and blew his brains out. Her tribe were much exercised in their minds over this deed, but finally came to the conclusion that it was creditable on the part of the woman.

The last engagement in which the colonial forces took part under General Cameron's command was in March, 1865. That officer, after occupying the coast line between Wanganui and Taranaki, applied to his Excellency Sir page 21George Grey for a body of Forest Rangers to act as scouts, with the view to keeping the land communication open by adopting the enemy's tactics, viz., ambuscades and patrolling. The Government of that date lost no time in complying with the general's request, and two companies, each fifty strong, under Major Von Tempsky and Captain F. George, were selected from the Forest Rangers and militia in the Waikato. These corps were forwarded to Patea and stationed at Kakaramea, near the edge of the forest, from whence they did good service by scouting the country, preventing loss in life and property. On the 9th of May, while patrolling the banks of the Patea river, a well-beaten track was found which led up the face of a steep cliff by means of supplejack ladders and other Maori appliances. Von Tempsky concluded that this path would lead to some large village; he therefore retraced his steps, lest the enemy should notice his tracks and forestall his intentions. That same evening three Maori scouts were observed watching the camp, as though they expected an attack. Under these circumstances the expedition was postponed for two or three days, to allow the enemy to become careless. At midnight, on the 12th, Von Tempsky inarched with seventy men. At the foot of the cliff before mentioned an officer and twenty men were left, to hold this dangerous place open in case of a retreat; the remainder proceeded on their march over some very difficult country, and finally lost the track by following side tracks into plantations. The proper route was not found until nearly dawn. A few hundred yards brought our men into a large deserted village, which had recently been occupied, for the fires were alight. While scouting about here, we saw smoke rising from a ridge on the opposite side of a very deep gorge. It was now broad daylight, and there was little chance of surprising the enemy, but Von Tempsky was unwilling to return without doing something. We therefore crossed the gorge, and on reaching the summit of the ridge found a large clearing, page 22named Otoia, with a number of temporary whares on the opposite end. Maories could also be seen moving about, unaware that they were in such close proximity to the Pakeha. Von Tempsky extended his men along the edge of the bush, behind a barricade of dead timber which had been thrown out of the clearing. While climbing over this obstruction they were seen by the Maories, who hastily seized their arms and fired a volley, mortally wounding Ensign Whitfield and one of the rangers, and slightly wounding Captain George; the enemy then fell back upon some fallen timber, under cover of which they held our men in check. Shortly after the firing commenced the enemy began to call to their friends in the neighbouring villages, and they could be heard answering. This circumstance decided Von Tempsky to dislodge the enemy from their cover at once, or if that was found impossible, to retreat before reinforcements arrived. Lieutenant West-mp was ordered to take the enemy in the flank, but failed to do so, as the Maori right rested on a steep cliff, which had not previously been noticed by our men. The difficulty of carrying killed or wounded men in such a country is enormous, particularly if pressed by an enemy. Von Tempsky therefore determined to retreat before he was hampered by further casualties. The major, with his best shots, held the ground, while the main body carried off the wounded. Some time was lost by searching for a better track than that by which they had come, but each attempt ended by the men finding the cliff in their way, and at last they had to return by the old path, of which the enemy had not taken possession. A smart skirmish took place between them and the advanced guard, in which they were routed, leaving three dead on the ground; the loss of the enemy was supposed to have been seven killed, and the usual proportion of wounded, but only the three bodies above mentioned were actually seen. Our loss was numerically the same, being one officer and two men killed, one officer wounded.