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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XLVI. — Operations Against Titokowaru. — Fort Lyon Ambush at the Peach Grove: Massacre of Sergeant Menzies and Six Men

Chapter XLVI.
Operations Against Titokowaru.
Fort Lyon Ambush at the Peach Grove: Massacre of Sergeant Menzies and Six Men.

After the fall of Ngatapa, Colonel Whitmore returned to Wanganui, and resumed operations against Titokowaru with his usual energy. The various divisions of the armed constabulary were pushed forward, and on the 21st of January Colonel Lyon occupied the high ground on the page 256right bank of the Kai-iwi stream, over which he had already thrown a rough bridge, and hastily fortified the position, to form a depôt if required. A few days later Colonel Whitmore arrived in camp, and after reconnoitring the country decided to advance by the Inland road on the following morning. Close to Fort Lyon this road entered a bush gorge, of so dangerous a nature that if held by an enemy it would have been impossible to force a passage. Of this Colonel Whitmore was perfectly aware, and sent forward Major Kepa and his Wanganuis that evening, to work round through the bush and take possession of the opposite end of the gorge. Later in the evening five European scouts went out on a similar errand, under the guidance of a settler who held land in the vicinity. They were instructed to scout about the gorge, and ascertain, if possible, whether the enemy were in possession. About grey dawn the camp was alarmed by a volley, and turned out in time to see the five scouts running from the bush, pursued by a large number of Hauhaus, who succeeded in overtaking one of them (McKenzie), and tomahawked him in sight of the whole camp, before his comrades could render him assistance. The settler who led them was also wounded. By this time the camp was under arms, and a smart skirmish took place for a few moments, during which we lost another man, the enemy retiring rapidly, but without loss. It was a most fortunate circumstance for the force that our scouts had discovered the ambush, which the enemy had laid on either side of the ravine through which the road ran. Had the discovery been delayed one half-hour, Nos. 3 and 6 Divisions would have marched into the very centre of their enemies, and have been shot down without the smallest chance of retaliation. Immediate advantage was taken of the Hauhaus' retreat. Four divisions of armed constabulary followed up, passed the gorge, and took up a position about two miles beyond. Here the force concentrated and on the 2nd of February advanced upon Tauranga-a-heka pah, of which the main body of the Hauhaus held possession.

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Three divisions of the constabulary skirmished across the open ground in front of the pah, and took cover under a long line of bank and ditch; sufficiently near to the enemy to be able to exchange rather strong repartee between the occasional volleys. This position was held all night, as it was intended to surround the pah on the following morning; but just before dawn the Hauhau fire stopped, and our men no longer received answers to their challenges. The divisions waited anxiously for daybreak, when Constable Black of No. 1 Armed Constabulary volunteered to reconnoitre the pah: he jumped over the bank and walked coolly up to the palisades, climbed up, and found that the enemy had gone away during the night. This pah, like that at Moturoa, was beautifully built; the casemates would have held 500 men, and could only have been taken by mining, or by starving the garrison. Instant pursuit was ordered, and while the Europeans followed the track leading to the Weraroa, Kepa and twelve of his men followed the Hauhau trail through the bush to the Karaka Flat, where he suddenly found himself in the midst of the enemy's rearguard. Fortunately for Kepa, the enemy could not fire for fear of shooting each other, so this brave little band fired a volley into the thickest of their foes, then clubbed their rifles, and broke through the ring, leaving one of their own men and three of the enemy dead behind them. The firing brought up No. 3 Division, just arrived at the Weraroa. They crossed the deep ravine separating the two plateaus, and while deploying on the Karaka received a volley which wounded three men; the fire was returned, and Te Ritemona, a chief of Ngaruahine, killed. This satisfied the Hauhaus, who continued their retreat across the Waitotara, leaving behind them the headless body of Hori Raukawa, who had been killed when Kepa was surrounded. On the 4th, the force was employed in searching for the enemy, but failed to find them. On the following day 200 men marched to Moturoa, under the impression that Titokowaru had re-occupied that stronghold; but it was page 258not so, it had evidently not been visited since the fight on the 7th of November. The bodies of those men who had been left on the field that day, or rather what was left of them, for they had been treated in the same manner as at Te Ngutu, were collected, brought away, and burnt in one high pyre. On the return of the force to the Weraroa, intelligence was received that two settlers, Messrs. Brewer and Williams, who had gone out to look for cattle, were missing; it was concluded as a matter of course that they had been waylaid and killed, but to the great delight of everyone in camp, they turned up that night, and reported that they had been chased by the Hauhaus, and had only escaped by hiding in the bush until it was dark. From this it was evident that the wily foe were still lurking in the neighbourhood, and a week later the force received a strong confirmation of the fact. Colonels Fraser and Herrick, and Major Cumming, while visiting the camp at the Karaka, were informed that there were quantities of peaches on the other side of the Waitotara river; the two latter wished to go and get them, but Colonel Fraser demurred, objecting to walk up the steep hill.

Sergeant Menzies, of No. 2 Division, hearing the discussion, volunteered to go for the peaches. After obtaining Colonel McDonnell's permission, he took nine men and crossed the river in a small canoe. They were quietly gathering the fruit, unconscious of the presence of an enemy, when a volley was fired at them. None were hit; they seized their rifles, and instead of making a stand under the shelter of the river-bank, they foolishly tried to get into the canoe. The enemy, seventy strong, took advantage of this, and lining the river-bank, shot them down one by one. No. 2 Division, hearing the firing, rushed to the rescue, but too late; they recovered the canoe, and, crossing, found Sergeant Menzies frightfully tomahawked, his left leg having been cut off and taken away. Another man was found who had succeeded in swimming the river, and had been shot through the head just as he landed. Of the ten men, seven were page 259killed and one wounded. This unfortunate affair cast a gloom over the whole camp, but it also taught the men a useful lesson, though at the expense of seven lives. The Hauhaus, elated by their success, tried another ambush on the following day, but without result. The Arawas of. No. 8 Division fell back in confusion, but Kepa and his Wanganuis charged through them, and the enemy saved themselves by a precipitate retreat, and their knowledge of the ground.