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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XXXIX. — Te Kooti's Progress—continued. — The Fight at Ruakituri. Loss of Captain Carr, Mr. Canning, and Three Others. Captain Tuki and te Kooti Wounded

Chapter XXXIX.
Te Kooti's Progresscontinued.
The Fight at Ruakituri. Loss of Captain Carr, Mr. Canning, and Three Others. Captain Tuki and te Kooti Wounded.

Once a Maori begins to retreat, he seldom stops until he has gained the shelter of his pah, and such was the case on this occasion; the force fell back to Te Wairoa, where it was reorganised, and increased to 200 men, by the arrival of Ihaka Whanga's people. Heavy rain now set in, and they did not start again until the 2nd of August; the main body was left at Opoiti, but the advanced guard, under Captain Richardson and Preece, scouted all the country about Te Reinga Falls, and Whenuakura, where it was found that Te Kooti had crossed the river, and the trail was seen leading in the direction of the Papuni. Unfortunately, Captain Richardson had received orders not to follow the enemy in this direction, so he decided to return to Te Wairoa for orders. This was a fatal step, for, bad they pushed on, they must have met Colonel Whitmore, and the 200 men would have been a most welcome addition to his force. Hardly had Richardson arrived at Te Wairoa, than he was overtaken by an orderly from Colonel Whitmore, ordering him to follow up with twenty picked men, carrying a reserve of ammunition, and instructing him to go by Whenuakura; here again, the page 220orders were too precise, therefore obstructive; had it been left to Richardson's discretion, that officer could have gone by the Tuki track, and joined the colonel in time for the fight; as it was, he arrived too late to be of service.

While these marchings and counter-marchings were going on from Te Wairoa, Colonel Whitmore was toiling behind, on Te Kooti's trail, over horrible country; he had with him the Poverty Bay Volunteers, and some of the Napier tribes, in all about one hundred and thirty men; while Major Fraser, with fifty of No. 1 Division Armed Constabulary, was also in pursuit, on the Hangaroa track.

The colonel and his division had very rough work, for they were delayed by heavy snow-storms, on the Ahimanu range, and had exhausted their rations by the time they reached the Waihau lakes, where they were joined by Major Fraser, who reported Te Kooti's trail as leading in the direction of the Ruakituri gorge. Notwithstanding the fact of being without food, the colonel, whose energy nothing could damp, decided to follow up; but the Poverty Bay Volunteers had by this time seen sufficient of campaigning, and they announced their intention of returning, giving as a reason, that they had reached the boundary of their district; this, of course, was only an excuse; the real reason was, that they had not forgiven the colonel for his incautious remarks after Paparatu, and had only waited an opportunity to make things even. Whatever blame they deserved for the course they pursued, their punishment was at least equal, for there can be but little doubt that these fifty men would have turned the scale at Ruakituri, and converted a defeat into a victory, in which case there would have been no massacre. As it was, Colonel Whitmore, with 130 men, marched on to attack 220 Hauhaus, who were posted in an unusually strong position, within the gorge of the Ruakituri river. The colonel was nowise daunted by the defection of these Europeans, but pushed forward with No. 1 Division Armed Constabulary, a few independent volunteers—who page 221were not particular as to boundaries—and about sixty friendly natives. The column crossed the range in their front, and descended into the bed of the Ruakituri; the men had been without food since the previous evening, were knocked up by long marches through rough country, and were certainly not in a condition to encounter a well-armed and determined enemy, in a position of their own choosing.

But all these circumstances counted as nothing to Colonel Whitmore, who never encumbered his mind with considerations for his men; he firmly believed that he had only to meet the foe, and be victorious; and so the force struggled on through the boulders and water of this mountain river. Camp after camp of the Hauhaus was passed, and, at each one, the traces appeared more fresh; yet to the hungry, jaded men there seemed but little probability of overtaking the enemy, and towards noon they became slightly mutinous, at what they considered useless hardship. Even Colonel Whitmore halted at last and decided to return, but, while the men were resting, Captain Carr, late R.A., who was with the force as a volunteer, asked permission to go forward, and reconnoitre. The result was, that he found a halting-place of Te Kooti's, at which the fires were still burning. This intelligence infused some life into the men, and a general advance took place; the track still led up the bed of the river, which ran between low steep cliffs, impossible to climb; thus the men had to advance in single file, up the river-bed, in a position very likely to cause heavy loss, if the enemy should happen to observe them, and line the cliffs. The advanced guard of six men was led by Captain Carr and Sergeant-Major Withers, and the main body followed, in long straggling Indian file. After marching a few miles, the force reached a bend in the river, where a narrow track led through a break in the cliffs, and up the spur of a hill; the advanced guard were within fifty yards of this place, when they were made aware of the enemy's presence, by a volley; page 222luckily the river-bank near them was sufficiently low to enable them to take cover in the thick scrub above, from whence they replied vigorously to the Hauhaus, who were within a few yards of them.

Meanwhile, the main body had mustered their long line, and were standing in the river-bed, exposed to a raking fire from the enemy, who lined the base of the hill at the river-bend, and were unable to scale the steep bank and take cover in the scrub. Colonel Whitmore and Captain Tuke tried to lead the men out to charge, but this could only be done in single file, and the men were indisposed to follow, in such a very hazardous formation; the few who did try were killed or wounded, Captain Tuke severely; the other took what cover could be found among the boulders in the river-bed, until the advanced guard, unsupported, and hard pressed by the enemy, fell back and reported the death of Captain Carr, and Mr. Canning, (another volunteer); the latter had taken cover behind a large fallen tree, not knowing that the Hauhaus had possession of the other side, and was shot as he looked over it. The Hauhaus, having got rid of the advanced party, soon made themselves felt by the main body, and, working their way down through the thick scrub above the cliff, very nearly succeeded in cutting off our retreat; to meet this movement, Henare Tomoana and his Napier natives, who as usual were well behind, were ordered to turn the Hauhau flank, at a point in the rear, where it was possible to scale the cliff. This they might have done with little danger to themselves, but very few obeyed the order; Henare himself, with a handful of men, tried to do something, but his best fighting man got a bullet through the scalp, and hastily retired, the remainder followed closely on his footsteps, and continued the movement down the river, leaving the Pakehas to their fate. Colonel Fraser and Captain Tuke at once collected the men of their division, about fifty strong, and fell back to an island, about half a mile in the rear; here they awaited page 223the Hauhau attack, despite the fact that their Maori allies and some of the Europeans were in full retreat from the field. Meanwhile, the enemy were also drawing off disheartened by their leader's wound, for Te Kooti had been hit in the foot; and Colonel Fraser, finding that he was not likely to be attacked, retired upon Te Reinga Only a few of the strongest men reached the camp that night, the majority, knocked up by want of food and fatigue, lay down in the pouring rain, and did not get in till the following morning. Our loss in this engagement was five killed and five wounded; while the enemy had eight killed and three wounded, including Te Kooti The result of this fight was fatal to the future peace of the Settled Districts, as it enabled Te Kooti to camp at Puketapu, just beyond the scene of the fight, from the 8th of August till the 28th of October; during which period he sent messengers all over the island, exaggerating his success, and proclaiming himself the saviour of his people.