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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter LI. — Campaign Against the Uriwera Tribe—continued. — Ruatahuna. Death of Captain Travers. Major Roberts' Column

Chapter LI.
Campaign Against the Uriwera Tribecontinued.
Ruatahuna. Death of Captain Travers. Major Roberts' Column.

About noon the force arrived in front of Tatahoata. This fortification was built on an open plateau, with the main bush on its right front, the Whakatane river six hundred yards distant on its left, and a deep creek, with high scrub on its banks, in rear; the pah was garrisoned by about sixty men, and forty more were posted in a small bush commanding their right flank. Colonel Fraser and his division, supported by the Ngaitai tribe, were ordered to skirmish between the pah and the main bush, which was held by the enemy; the left sub-division of No. 1, supported by No. 4, were to engage these men, while the remainder pushed round to the rear of the pah; No. 2 Armed Constabulary and the Whakatohea tribe were to skirmish page 279across the open ground in front of the palisades, and get as near as possible; the third party, consisting of No. 8 Armed Constabulary and the Ngatipukeko tribe, were ordered to work round the left of the pah, through the scrub above the Whakatane river, and, if possible, to communicate with Colonel Fraser in rear. This disposition, had it succeeded, would have cut off the enemy's retreat, and rendered their destruction certain; the weak point was, that it pre-supposed the Uriwera remaining in their pah until the arrangements were complete, whereas the wily savages did not do so. While the several divisions were taking up their appointed positions rapidly and in good order, some one ordered the retire to be sounded; the men retired, and the Hauhaus, taking advantage of the circumstance, opened a heavy fire at close quarters, killing and wounding several men. Colonel St. John discovered the blunder in time, and ordered No. 8 to continue their flank march, and the enemy finding that they were likely to be cut off, abandoned the pah. Meanwhile Captain Travers had not been idle with his detachment on the right; he had cleared the Hauhaus out of the bush, but at the sacrifice of his own life, for he held the mistaken idea that an officer should never take cover.

During the skirmish he was continually asked to do so by his men, but refused, and his last words were, "You cannot say I have not done my duty, boys." Only one dead Hauhau was found after the fight, and it is probable that their loss was small, as they had the advantage of good cover, while most of our men had to advance across tolerably open ground; our loss was not large considering the work done, being only four killed and six wounded. That evening, the right column under Colonel Whitmore arrived in sight of Tatahoata; the colonel, attended by a few guides, arrived in camp that night, but left his men camped two miles away. Considering the difficulties of the country, and that it had never before been traversed by our forces, and was therefore unknown, it speaks highly page 280for Colonel Whitmore's dispositions that the two columns should reach their destination (Ruatahuna) on the same day. At the same time, in Maori warfare nothing is gained by accurate marching, for either column was sufficiently strong itself to have borne down all opposition; and Maori warfare is generally in too Parthian a style to admit of successful attacks in rear, while engaged in front by a portion of the same force. Retreat is too easy in a rough country to so lightly armed and active an enemy.

The right column under Major Roberts was composed of a mixed force of armed constabulary and Arawas, the latter under their own chiefs. Colonel Whitmore accompanied this party, as he feared complications might arise among the various tribes bearing the name of Arawa, each of whom was jealous of the others, while all were in a state of funk at the prospect of penetrating the fastnesses of the Uriwera. Such being the case, Mr. Clark, Civil Commissioner, whose influence was paramount with these tribes, accompanied the colonel. The column marched from Te Matata, by way of Kokohinau and the Rangitaike river, on the 4th of May, 1869; about noon on the 6th, they arrived in the Whaiiti valley, and advanced to attack Te Harema pah, unseen by the enemy, who expected the force by another route. Ngatipikiao, under the chief Pokia, led the way, and for a wonder behaved well—rather too much so, for without giving the main body time to get into position, they charged into the pah, killed five men, and took the women and children (sixty in number) prisoners. Many escaped in consequence of the rashness of Ngatipikiao, but the main body of the Hauhau fighting men were guarding the Tapiri track, by which route they supposed the Pakehas would come. They were led to this belief by the fact that Heruiwi was occupied by Captain Moorsom and his Bay of Plenty Cavalry.

The Arawas, satisfied with their performance, declined to go farther that day, so Colonel Whitmore gave in, and camped the force in the valley. On the 7th they again page 281refused to march; and the colonel, seeing that his plans were likely to be frustrated, ordered Major Roberts with No. 6 Armed Constabulary, and the guides as advanced guard, to continue the march. The chief Pokia, who evidently wished to establish a character, proceeded with the column, and, thanks to the influence and exertions of Mr. Clark, the whole tribe followed. The track, as is usual in this abominable country, led up the bed of a creek, which had to be crossed and recrossed nearly fifty times. The guides under Captain Swindley led the way cautiously; for theirs was a work of danger, it being more than possible that they would fall victims to an ambuscade. After some hours' marching, the enemy, who had chosen their position well, opened fire, killing one and wounding two of the guides. The main body came up quickly to their assistance, and after a smart skirmish the enemy retired. Hemi, the man who was killed, was a Waikato native, and a man of proved courage; he had been for years guide to the imperial troops in Taranaki, and was mainly instrumental in saving the lives of Lieutenant Cox and a party of the 57th Regiment after the disastrous affair of Ahuahu. The column halted for the night close to the battle-ground. During the darkness, the Arawa began to compare notes as to their ultimate chance of success; the majority declared they would go no further in such a wild, unhallowed country, where the Hauhau kicks were so much more plentiful than Government half-pence.

In the nick of time Pokia came to the front, combated their arguments and calmed their fears, by offering to take the lead with his tribe of Ngatipikiao, provided Colonel Whitmore would allow him to fire into suspicious places as he advanced. This was a truly gallant offer, for in the bush the Arawas were as the newest of new chums. The colonel willingly agreed to Pokia's proposition, as there was nothing to be gained now by a silent advance, convincing proof that the enemy were in front of them on the track having been received.

On the following day, the wounded men were sent back page 282to Ahikereru under escort, and the column proceeded; the track led over successive ranges, very tiring to heavily laden men, and early in the afternoon they reached the last ridge overlooking the Ruatahuna valley, and at least 1500 feet above it. A good view was here obtained of the Tatahoata pah; a large number of men could be seen in and around it, and the colonel justly concluded that Colonel St. John was in possession. Not so the Arawa, their fears magnified our men into Te Kooti and hundreds of followers; but the march was resumed, the descent was long and steep, and it was quite dark before the column reached the valley where they were ordered to camp. The colonel, energetic to the last, taking a few men of the guides and a bugler, started to visit Tatahoata, to the great alarm of our native allies, who could not believe that Colonel St. John had taken the place. When within a short distance of the pah the bugler was ordered to sound a call, and was promptly answered by an unmistakable British cheer, which removed all doubts. On the 9th, foraging and scouting parties were sent out in different directions to find traces of the enemy, and, if possible, food, for the rations were nearly consumed, and the men were threatened with horseflesh, a prospect not looked forward to with satisfaction by the European portion of the force.