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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XLVII. — Operations Against Titokowaru—continued. — Murder of the Rev. Mr. Whitely, Lieutenant and Mrs. Gascoigne and Three Children. Skirmish at Otauto on the Patea River. Attack on Te Ngaihere

Chapter XLVII.
Operations Against Titokowarucontinued.
Murder of the Rev. Mr. Whitely, Lieutenant and Mrs. Gascoigne and Three Children. Skirmish at Otauto on the Patea River. Attack on Te Ngaihere.

On the 20th, intelligence reached Colonel Whitmore that the Rev. Mr. Whitely, Lieutenant Gascoigne, Mrs. Gascoigne, and three children had been murdered at the White Cliffs, north of Taranaki, by the chief Wetere, and his Ngatinaniapotos. No motive for this diabolical act has ever been assigned, and it can only be supposed to have originated in an outburst of fanaticism on the part of the king (Tawhiao), as both Wetere and Reihana accused him of having instigated the outrage.

The Rev. Mr. Whitely was about the last man in New Zealand whom the Maories ought to have murdered, for he was one of their sincerest friends. He was not one of those missionaries who, because they sympathise with the Maori, think it necessary to abuse their own country-men, and he was respected accordingly; for a Maori is ever suspicious of those whose zeal leads them to decry their own kindred.

This crime placed the colonel in a difficulty by forcing him to send 100 men to Taranaki, as a protection page 260against any further outbreak on that side; but it did not prevent his carrying on the pursuit of Titokowaru. Up to the 7th of March, the force was employed searching the Upper Waitotara for the enemy; but without effect. Maoribuilt stretchers were found, showing that they had several casualties, and in one village the Arawas disinterred a body, that had evidently been shot only a short time previously. On the 8th, Colonel St. John, commanding at Patea, reported Titokowaru and his force in the neighbourhood of the Putahi and New Taranaki. Colonel Whitmore started in pursuit, but not soon enough to stop the enemy laying an ambuscade on the sea cliffs at the mouth of the Whenuakura, and attacking the baggage convoy; had the execution been as bold as the design, they must have met with great success, as the officer in charge of the convoy, Lieutenant Hunter, had but few men, and some of them behaved badly. Yet so feeble was the Hauhau attack, that he beat them off without losing a man. By this time the scouts had ascertained that the enemy were at Otauto, a village on the left bank of the Patea river; and on the evening of the 12th, two columns under Colonels St. John and Whitmore started to attack the position. The left, under St. John, 200 strong, marched up the right bank of the Patea, and occupied Otoia and the fords of the river, so as to cut off retreat in that direction; while Colonel Whitmore with 400 men proceeded up the left bank to attack Otauto. The morning was very misty, and our leading men almost stumbled over the advanced picket of the Hauhaus, who fired and retreated on their main body, rousing them to a sense of their danger. The divisions were at once deployed into line and pushed forward, but they found themselves exposed to so heavy a fire from the enemy, rendered invisible by the mist, that they were compelled to halt, and lie down until the fog lifted. After about half an hour's heavy firing, which did but little harm, objects became clearer, and Kepa reported that the enemy's camp was within a few yards. A general charge page 261was ordered and the enemy retreated, closely followed by the Wanganuis, who returned about noon, having killed two or three stragglers and captured two women.

On the first alarm the enemy had abandoned their camp, which was pitched on the edge of a deep ravine, and had taken cover just under the edge of the plateau, in a position evidently chosen beforehand, whence their fire could sweep the ground all round the camp, without the smallest danger to themselves. Had not our men halted and taken cover when they did, our loss would have been serious, as the enemy, covered by the mist, would have continued their fire until our men had almost touched them, while we, unconscious of the deep ravine, would have fired over their heads. As it was, we had six killed and twelve wounded, whereas the enemy did not lose more than three men during the fight. On the 16th, Kepa, who had been some days scouring the country, sent word that he had found the enemy in force at Te Whakamaru. Colonel Lyon, who was then in command of the column, pushed forward and joined Kepa on the evening of the 17th, and the whole lay in ambush within a few hundred yards of their foes, waiting for daylight. The plan of attack agreed upon was that Kepa, with the Wanganuis and the Arawas, should make a long detour, and take up a position in rear of the Hauhaus, while Colonel Lyon with the Europeans attacked them at first dawn of day. Could this plan have been carried out, it must have resulted in the extermination of the enemy; but their good fortune helped them on this as on other occasions.

During the night, Titokowaru and other chiefs could be heard speaking to their people, lamenting their losses at Otauto, and disputing as to the route by which the retreat should be continued. While this was going on, a mounted scout, whom we afterwards heard was Katene, came from the enemy, and rode through the advanced guard without seeing them; but unfortunately discovered the main body, page 262and galloped back firing his revolver. Our men, knowing that their chance was gone, hurried forward to the attack, and found that the chief who two months before had threatened to drive the Pakeha into the sea, and who really believed he could do it, had bolted ignominiously. Again Kepa started in pursuit, with a picked force of Wanganui, Arawa, and Europeans. The enemy were found very much scattered, as though they apprehended pursuit. Three men who had taken shelter in the trees were shot, and three women captured, and brought into camp, where they gave the important information that the Hauhaus were retreating on Te Ngaihere, that almost mythical stronghold of which everyone had heard something, but which no one had seen.

Te Ngaihere is situated about sixteen miles inland of Keteonetea, and is a large island in the centre of a broad quaking swamp, the narrowest portion of which is four hundred yards across. In former times, the Ngatitupaea tribe, after meeting reverses in the field, would retreat to this natural fortress, where they were perfectly safe from pursuit. It is quite probable that the swamp was deeper and more impassable in those days, for though difficult and even dangerous of passage, it does not offer insuperable obstacles at the present time. Of this fact Colonel Whitmore was not aware, and proceeded under the impression that the dangers were as great as formerly. The force marched from Keteonetea on the 20th, and camped near Tirotiromoana, and on the evening of the following day reached Te Ngaihere. It was necessary to devise some means of crossing the swamp, and Colonel Whitmore, seldom at a loss, ordered the whole force to employ themselves in making supplejack hurdles, fifteen feet long and four feet wide, sufficient to cover four hundred yards of swamp. So well and silently was this work carried out, that the hurdles were all finished, carried to the swamp, and laid across it, by the evening of the 24th, and this without page 263alarming the enemy, who had not the slightest idea that the force was in their immediate vicinity. At 4 a.m. on the 25th the column began to cross; it was easy work for the first hundred, but before the last man had passed, the fibrous quaking surface had sunk under the pressure, and the men were up to their knees in muddy water. Leaving Colonel Lyon to hold the tete-de-pont in case of retreat being necessary, Colonel Whitrnore pushed forward, and having partially surrounded the kainga before dawn, he felt certain of success. So close were the men to the enemy before they were discovered, that they heard one of the Hauhaus say, "Soon this evil man" (Titokowaru) "will cause the Wanganuis to come down upon us at night, and destroy us." The people of this village had no great love for Titoko, and had refused to join him. Their astonishment on discovering our men was most amusing; some ran away, while others ran towards us, giving us welcome, and the Wanganuis called out to our men not to fire, as their chiefs Aperaniko and Kawana Paipai were among the people of the village. Men, women, and children were seen escaping across the swamp within fifty yards of our line, and no order was given to fire, as Colonel Whitmore was under the impression that they belonged to the Ngatitupaea, whereas they were really Titokowaru's tribe. When the fugitives had gained a fair start, Takarangi, chief of Te Ngaihere, came forward to welcome Colonel Whitmore, and explained that the people who had run away belonged to the Araukuku tribe, who were afraid to trust themselves with the Pakeha.

The colonel had never heard of these people, and did not know that they were rank Hauhaus, who, under the direction of Titoko, had been engaged in every action against us, and had lost their leading chief Kaake at Te Ngutu o te manu. When at last he was made acquainted with the state of affairs, the enemy had got a long start, and it was too late to overtake them. Takarangi admitted page 264afterwards that there were ten of Titoko's men in the kainga, but that he had been afraid to say so. The failure of this ably conceived and well executed plan must be attributed entirely to the Wanganui tribe, in their anxiety to save their near relatives, the Ngatitupaea, and to pay off an old debt of gratitude to Titokowaru.

This debt had been incurred nearly forty years before, when the Ngatipehi of Taupo, 200 strong, under Te Whakarau and Tauteka, made a raid upon the Waitotara tribe; at first they were successful, but delayed their return march so long, that they allowed the tribes of Taranaki Nagtiruanui and the Pakakohi to muster to the number of 1100 men. This strong war party found the Taupo tribe entrenched at the Patoka pah, an immediate attack was made, and the result was that very few of Ngatipehi escaped. Only one man was spared by the victors, and that man happened to be a Wanganui, and a near relation of the chief Pehi Turoa. He was saved by the father of Titokowaru.