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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter L. — Campaign Against the Uriwera Tribe—continued. — Te Kooti Attacks Whakatane. Taking of Ahikereru. Death of Lieutenant White. Doings of Colonel St. John's Column

Chapter L.
Campaign Against the Uriwera Tribecontinued.
Te Kooti Attacks Whakatane. Taking of Ahikereru. Death of Lieutenant White. Doings of Colonel St. John's Column.

On the 19th, the force reached the Matata, after a most fatiguing march over heavy sand, and one-half the men were crippled by the new boots they had purchased in Tauranga. Whether Te Kooti had foreseen this combined attack or not, it is impossible to say, but he certainly anticipated it, by striking one of those rapid blows for which he is so famous. On the 18th of March, a kokiri of 100 men, under the Taupo chief Wirihana, and directed by Te Kooti, attacked the settlement of Whakatane. The leader was one of the first men killed; he was shot at the mill by an old Frenchman (Jean Garraud), who made a vigorous defence, killing two men before he was tomahawked. The large pah was next attacked, but the Hauhaus were beaten off with heavy loss, and the enemy retired to the cover of a large whare, and commenced to sap. After two days' work they succeeded in reaching the palisades; and Ngatipukeko (the occupants of the pah), having expended their ammunition, lost their two page 273chiefs Hori Tunui and Heremaia Tautere, besides five men, three women, and two children, called a truce with Te Kooti, and agreed to surrender the pah that evening. Te Kooti, on his part, was only too glad to terminate affairs in this manner, for he had lost nearly twenty men.

After concluding negotiations with the large pah, the Hauhaus crossed the river to attack a smaller fortification on the opposite bank, and sacked and burnt the stores of Messrs. Simpkin and Milburne. When Ngatipukeko saw Te Kooti safe across the river, they quietly left their pah and escaped in the direction of Te Matata; for some time their retreat was not noticed, but on being discovered they were pursued so closely, that many would have been killed had not Major Mair appeared on the scene. That officer had received information of the attack, and was advancing with a strong party of Europeans and Arawa. Te Kooti, unwilling to try conclusions on the open ground, fell back to a strong position among the hills, where he awaited our attack. He had then about 200 men of various tribes under his command, Uriwera, Whakatohea, and Chatham Islanders, so superior as fighting men to the Arawa, that Major Mair decided not to attack until further reinforced. On the 12th, a skirmish between the enemy and a small reconnoitring party ensued; but as usual, where Maories alone are engaged, without loss. On the 15th a forward movement was made, and it was then found that Te Kooti had retired inland, and carried off the people of the Paharakeke village, numbering about fifty, men, women, and children. That same evening, reinforcements of the Arawa arrived, and raised Mair's force to 450. Next morning they started in pursuit, and found the trail leading in the direction of Tauaroa; our advanced guard reached that place on the 18th, and found the enemy there in force.

During the evening, a deserter from Te Kooti arrived in camp, and gave the information that there were 100 men in Tauaroa, besides the Paharakeke and Patuherehere page 274people; and that sixty mounted Hauhaus had gone to Motumako, to take prisoners the Ngatimanawa tribe, who lived there. Major Mair sent a messenger at once to hurry up the main body, and as they arrived, assigned to each tribe a position, to prevent the enemy's escape during the night.

It was now getting dark, and the chief Pokia declined to take up his post; in vain Major Mair urged that Te Kooti might escape. The chief admitted the probability, but declined to move until daylight. Wi Marsh's people and the Ngatiwhakaaue took up their position; Ngatipukeko refused to go nearer than five hundred yards, and Ngatirangitihi, who knew the place well, not only refused to act as guides, but disappeared altogether during the night. Under such circumstances it is not astonishing that Te Kooti again escaped. About 9 p.m. the mounted Hauhaus returned from Motumako, and a skirmish ensued between them and Wi Marsh's people; during the confusion which ensued, Te Kooti probably effected his escape, for about midnight it was discovered that the pah was empty. In the morning, the dead body of a Maori was found in the rifle-pits of the pah; he had been taken prisoner the day before; his hands were tied, and his head cut to pieces. Shortly after daybreak, Te Kooti's rearguard might be seen ascending the high range leading to Ahikereru. But the Arawa refused to pursue, showing the same intense dread of the Uriwera that they afterwards exhibited when with Colonel Whitmore. Peraniko, chief of Ngatimanawa, succeeded in escaping from the Hauhaus, and reported that it was Te Kooti's intention to make raids on the Bay of Plenty settlements; and that in the event of the Uriwera joining him, he would attack either Wairoa or Mohaka. Major Mair, after his experience of the Arawa, took the wise course of disbanding this braggart but useless tribe, and awaited the arrival of Colonel Whitmore and his Europeans, of whose advent he had received notice. On the 21st of April, the Sturt and St. Kilda arrived with page 275Nos. 1 and 2 Divisions of the armed constabulary, to join Colonel St. John's column at Whakatane, and as these men had the hardest fighting during the campaign, their doings shall take precedence of the others. On the 22nd, No. 1 Division Armed Constabulary marched to Oporiau, and No. 2 occupied the mill at Whakatane, ready toreceive the stores expected by there turn trip of the Sturt, which arrived on the 1st of May, with provisions and ammunition.

On the following day, the column assembled at Oporiau, and each man received sixty rounds of extra ammunition, and five days' rations, for the march to that terra incognita, Ruatahuna. On the 4th, the column, consisting of the following companies,
No. 1 Division Armed Constabulary108 men of all ranks.
No. 2 Division Armed Constabulary97 men of all ranks.
No. 4 Division Armed Constabulary23 men of all ranks.
No. 8 Division Armed Constabulary7
Native Contingent180
In all425 men,
commenced their march into the enemy's country. Two doctors accompanied the column, and the friendly natives carried some spare ammunition and two days' supply of very bad bacon.

After a long and tedious march of twenty miles up the bed of the Whakatane, during which the men crossed this strong stream twenty-eight times, the force camped for the night at Tunanui.

On the following day, the march was of the same description, and the men camped at Waikere Whenua. Up to this time no sign of the enemy's presence was visible. On the 6th, the column started at 6 a.m., and about noon had gained the top of a high hill, from which the Hauhau village of Omaratangi could be seen. While the men were resting, and Colonel St. John was reconnoitring the position, the report of a gun was heard in the village, and page 276the column supposed themselves discovered, but such was not the case; Colonel St. John, however, gave orders for an immediate advance and attack. So steep was the range on which the force stood, that they appeared quite close to the village, but the winding track took some time to descend. The guides, led by Lieutenant White, and the handful of Ngapuhi, composing No. 8, under Captain Gundry, dashed into the village, completely surprising it. Six men, two women, and a child were killed in the confusion, and several women taken prisoners, our only casualty being Lieutenant White, who was slightly wounded. The real work now commenced in earnest, for the Uriwera, delighting in ambuscades, and enraged at their loss at Omaratangi, would be certain to retaliate in the difficult country lying between them and Ruatahuna. The force camped for the night in the captured village, and resumed their march on the following morning, continuing up the bed of the Whakatane. Lieutenant White and his scouts led the way cautiously, knowing that they would be ambushed before long; and while in the act of crossing the river, about two miles from camp, the volley came. White fell, mortally wounded, in the water, and a constable of No. 8 was severely wounded. The enemy were established in a strong position on the opposite bank, commanding the ford, which it was impossible to cross until they were dislodged. To attain this object, Colonel St. John ordered No. 1 Division to advance up the river, cross at another ford, and, if possible, cut off the ambuscade. No. 1 were smart in their movements, but when they had arrived at the spot indicated, the enemy had decamped to a safe distance on the range above. Here the brave Lieutenant White received a soldier's grave, and of him it may be safely said, that no better man ever fought in New Zealand. Meanwhile, the Hauhaus had taken up a position on the range over which the track led, and amused themselves by firing volleys at the burial parties, wounding two of the native contingent, one page 277mortally. The column moved forward to attack this position, a very nasty one, for the track led through high fern and wound up the steep face of the hill. So rough was the ground, that it was hardly possible to show a front of more than two men, a formation very trying to the leading files.

A party was therefore detached to turn the enemy's left, and outflank the rifle-pits on the ridge, which completely commanded the track. The whole face of the hill was covered with dense fern and scrub, and towards the top there was bush, affording splendid cover to the defenders. After allowing sufficient time for the flanking party to get into position, the main body received orders to advance, and dashing up the steep slope, entered the pits, which they found deserted; two or three stand of arms had been left behind by the enemy in their hurry. After a short halt, the column pushed forward to Te Whenuanui's pah, about three miles distant. It was a tumble-down sort of affair, erected on a spur near the bush, and, like all the Uriwera pahs, evidently not meant for defence, for they never dreamt that we should have the temerity to attack them in their own mountain land. When within eight hundred yards, the enemy opened a harmless fire, and the colonel, having examined the place through his field-glass, ordered Colonel Fraser, with No. 1 Division and some Maories, to work round the left of the pah, while Nos. 2 and 8, under Sub-Inspector Scannell, took the same movement on the right; at the same time he gave instructions that on reaching certain points, a general charge should be made by the two divisions. Fraser's course could be traced until he entered the bush; but the right attack was lost sight of at once, their line of advance being up one of the many mountain streams with which this region abounds. The centre, under St. John, were about to advance, when Fraser's men were seen to rush out of the bush, and make for a clearing about two hundred yards from and completely commanding the pah.

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This premature movement alarmed the enemy for their safety, and they hastily evacuated the place and fled to the bush, before the right attack could get into position. The force camped here for the night, fires were lighted, and the men had just made themselves comfortable, when the sentries reported the enemy in force on the edge of the bush; the men turned out in great excitement, and a few shots had been fired, when the intrusive enemy was discovered to be a sub-division of No. 2, who, in some unaccountable manner, had lost their way during the attack. Early on the morning of the 8th, some of the enemy were observed on the edge of the forest, and one of them was shot by a friendly native; he proved to be the husband of a woman captured at Omaratangi. After breakfast the reserve bacon was served out, and the column marched for Ruatahuna.