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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XLIV. — Te Kooti's Progress—continued. — Second Attack on Ngatapa. Massacee of Settlers in Arai and Pipiwhakau Bush. Death of Captain Brown

Chapter XLIV.
Te Kooti's Progresscontinued.
Second Attack on Ngatapa. Massacee of Settlers in Arai and Pipiwhakau Bush. Death of Captain Brown.

After Rapata had left, Colonel Whitmore sent out a scouting party, to ascertain whether the enemy had left, or were still in possession of Ngatapa. The scouts reported large fires on the crest of the hill, and believed that the enemy were burning their whares preparatory to a retreat. Why they should come to this hasty conclusion does not appear, unless the wish was father to the thought. Colonel Whitmore gave credence to this strange tale, and returned to Turanga, where he made arrangements to transport his men back to Wanganui, under the comforting impression that the Hauhaus would no longer trouble the bay. No. 6 Division of the armed constabulary were sent on board the Sturt, en route for the west coast; but, as good luck would have it, Captain Fairchild was not on board, so the Sturt objected, and knocked a small hole in her bottom; where-page 247upon No. 6 were again landed. Looking at these orders by the light of after events, it seems a somewhat hasty conclusion to arrive at, that because there were large fires at Ngatapa, therefore the-constabulary were no longer required in the bay. The real state of the case was, that the Hauhaus, anticipating the return of the Government forces, were clearing and burning all the scrub in front of their parapets, so as to destroy all cover.

No. 6 Division were landed only just in time, for Te Kooti, well served by his scouts, was aware of Colonel Whitmore's retreat, from Patutahi, and raided down upon the Arai and Pipiwhakau bush, where they murdered Mr. Fergusson, young Wylie, and a friendly Maori. Colonel Whitmore received news of the raid, and marched at once to cut off their retreat. This he did not succeed in doing, but he did come up with their rear-guard, and exchanged shots, with the result of one servant killed and a man wounded. Captain Newland, who had been sent out the previous night with sixteen troopers to ascertain the presence of the enemy, came suddenly on Te Kooti's advanced guard; and if this officer had had fifty men with him, instead of sixteen, the war with Te Kooti would probaby have been finished that day, as Te Kooti was between two fires, Colonel Whitmore being close on his rear.

As it was, Newland had some difficulty in escaping through the high fern, and Te Kooti got safely back to Ngatapa, having had decidedly the best of the affair. On the 24th of December, Colonel Whitmore commenced his march to Ngatapa.

While pushing forward from Patutahi to Fort St. John, the Arawa division captured two of the enemy's spies, and shot them. On the 27th the force occupied a high ridge in front of Ngatapa, and about a mile distant from that place. Here the colonel received information that Rapata, who had just landed with 370 men, refused to march to his assistance. The report was untrue, for Rapata, although seriously ill, was nevertheless advancing slowly. He was page 248much annoyed by the repeated messages from Whitmore to hurry up, and particularly so by the last, which was to the effect that, if he did not come soon, Whitmore would take the place without him. Rapata replied, "Very well. I have tried, and have failed; it is his turn now;" and immediately ordered his men to camp for the day. Next morning, Whitmore came in person, having been previously advised not to bounce Rapata, and all would be well. The chiefs first words were, "Have you taken the place?" "No," said the colonel, "I want you with me." "Very good," replied the other; "I will be with you to-morrow morning."

At the Wharekopai stream the Ngatiporou halted, and, dividing into four parties, had a great war-dance to make certain that all was right. No one fell during the dance, consequently all was considered propitious, and they reached Fort Richmond that night. The position of Ngatapa was naturally a very strong one:—-a high conical peak rising abruptly from a mass of bush hills to a height of 2000 feet. The face towards Fort Richmond sloped up gradually to the summit; but on the right and left the slope was very steep, yet hardly a precipice, except at the spot where the enemy eventually escaped. There the side of the hill had slipped away, and left a precipice about twenty feet high, and below that for fifty feet the footing was very precarious, if obtainable. The ground in rear of the Hauhau pah narrowed into a razor-back ridge, down which a track led, which was available for retreat, with the help of rope ladders to descend the rock terraces. The front slope of the position was defended by three lines of earth-and-fern-built parapets, with ditches in front in the European style. These parapets abutted at either end on the steep scarped slopes before mentioned; the outer, or first line, was about two hundred and fifty yards long and about seven feet high; the second line was shorter as the peak contracted; and the third was a most formidable work, nearly fourteen feet high, with sand-bag loop-holes to enable the defenders to fire in safety. Each line was connected with the next, by page 249covered ways; and altogether it was what it looked—a most imposing fortification, with its parapets rising on the steep slope, one above the other. On the 31st, the whole force marched at daybreak to a conical hill on the same ridge as the pah, but separated from it by a deep ravine, the two positions being about seven hundred yards apart. This place was called the Crow's Nest, and slightly fortified as a base of operations. The following morning the Arawa division and Ngatiporou, under Captains Gundry and Porter, pushed up the hill to commence operations. Advancing quietly and cautiously, they came upon a party of the enemy on the edge of the cleared ground (some distance from the pah), who were engaged in carrying water. Our men opened fire upon them, drove them back to the pah, and took possession of the only water obtainable. Flying rifle-pits were now commenced, and carried to within a hundred yards of the enemy's first line. Rapata then sent to Whitmore for reinforcements, and No. 7 Division were sent up. These men threw up a long line of trenches, parallel to the enemy's works; and the artillery having, with great exertion, brought up a mortar, opened a vertical fire of shells with great effect. The shells had to be carried on men's backs for about three miles, over some terrific ravines.

Colonel Fraser, with 100 armed constabulary, and 100 Ngatiporou under Hotene, were now sent round the right flank to cut off the enemy's retreat in rear; and a long line of Ngatiporou, with No. 6 Division of the armed constabulary under Major Roberts, connected the two parties, forming a line 700 yards long. Thus, all chance of escape appeared to be cut off, for every point was guarded except the small piece of cliff before mentioned, which was about seventy yards in length, and situated between Rapata in front and Colonel Fraser in rear. This place was considered too steep to admit of the enemy's escape, and was, moreover, exposed to a flanking fire from either party. Scarcely had these dispositions been completed when it page 250commenced to rain, and continued for some days, increasing the hardships of the siege considerably, as the men were obliged to live in the rifle-pits, which were soon filled with mud. For some days a very heavy fire was kept up on both sides. On the 2nd of J anuary Captain Brown, No. 7 Division, was shot dead; and, on the 3rd, Captain Capel, of the same corps, was wounded. Some of Colonel Fraser's men in rear had very hot work. A few of them, under Captain Swindley, had climbed the precipitous razor-backed ridge in rear of the pah, and formed rifle-pits, under the rock terraces that formed the summit of Ngatapa. This movement cooped the enemy up in their pah, and so alarmed them that they made several desperate efforts to dislodge our men. In one of these attempts Mikora, the Hauhau chief, was badly wounded. Our men held the terrace rifle-pits with the most stubborn courage, losing several good men, among others the Maori Serjeant Heteraka. Constables Biddle and Black have since received the New Zealand Cross of Valour, for their intrepid conduct on this occasion. On the 4th, Rapata, after consulting with Colonel Whitmore, determined to storm the outer line of parapets. For this purpose he told off fifty picked men, and sent them down into the ravine, with directions to scale the cliff immediately under the end of the first parapet. This was a work of both danger and difficulty, for the cliff was steep and gravelly, affording but little foothold. To make matters worse, the Hauhaus, seeing that something was going on, crowded to the end of the trench, and fired down, wounding five of the stormers. To do this the Hauhaus had to expose themselves, and they suffered severely by the fire of the coverers. Finally, Ngatiporou succeeded in climbing up under the outer face of the parapet, which they cut through with their spades, and opened a raking fire up the trench—cleared it, and took possession of the first line of defence.

Eight of the enemy were killed in this smart affair, and we had the same number of casualties. A sap was now commenced from this base towards the second line, and page 251carried on all through, the night; with the intention of blowing up the parapet and storming the main work next morning. The enemy's fire was now very heavy and well directed. At one spot, where a shell had partially breached the wall, an officer had stationed himself to fire at anything that darkened the aperture. This evidently inconvenienced the enemy, and they retaliated in kind. A Ngatiporou passing the sap was shot dead; and while the do'ctor was examining his wound another passed, and met the same fate, both being shot through the head. Meanwhile, the storming party, 200 strong, sat in the trenches waiting for daylight. About 2 a.m. a woman in the pah called out to her relations among the Ngatiporou that Te Kooti had escaped. The Maories feared that this was a trap to lead them into the pah, and called to the woman to come out to them; but she was equally cautious, and would not move, until she was certain of the presence of some chief, who would be answerable for her safety. Finally she recognised the voice of old Wikiriwhi, and came out. Her tale that all the Hauhaus had escaped, and that only the wounded, women, and children, were left, was not believed at first; but as day dawned our men advanced cautiously, and found that her words were true enough.

On taking possession of Ngatapa several wounded men were found, and quickly disposed of by Ngatiporou. One young girl, badly wounded, was about to be killed by these people, when an Arawa native threw his arms round her, and saved her for the time being. But when the doctor had seen, and pronounced her case incurable, the benevolent Maori lost all interest in her fate, and, after covering her with a blanket, and giving her a biscuit and a panikin of water, went his way rejoicing. Some of the Poverty Bay settlers afterwards promised to carry her out; but, for some reason or other, they neglected to do so, and she was finally found by Rapata, and he out of compassion ordered her to be shot.