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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter LVII. — The Taupo Campaign—continued. — Colonel McDonnell Assumes Command. Skirmish at Te Pononga

Chapter LVII.
The Taupo Campaigncontinued.
Colonel McDonnell Assumes Command. Skirmish at Te Pononga.

On the 6th of September, 1869, Colonel McDonnell arrived in Napier, overland from Wanganui viâ the Patea-Taupo country, and after a short interview with Mr. Ormond (Government agent), returned to Patea, with the intention of taking command of the Maories under Renata Kawepo and Hare Tauteka. With these men he would cross the Rangipo desert at the foot of Ruapehu, and place Te Kooti (now at Rotoaira) between two fires, as Colonel Herrick was advancing from the north by way of Tokanu, on Lake Taupo.

On the 8th, Henare Tomoana, with 140 men of his own and Paora Hapi's tribe, started from Runanga, and reached Tauranga on Lake Taupo next morning. Hardly had they unsaddled their horses, when the sentries observed a large body of men advancing towards their position with flags flying, evidently with the intention of attacking Henare's forces. Paora Hapi, ever ready to fight, tried to induce the Napier men to sally out of the old pah and engage the enemy on the open plain; but they had not the dash of the Taupo men, and preferred to throw up hasty rifle-pits in the old tumble-down pah, and to leave their horses, 120 in number, to be taken by Te Kooti. The Hauhaus advanced steadily, throwing forward the flanks of their long line of page 305skirmishers, surrounded the pah on three sides, the fourth was secured by the lake.

As in most Maori engagements, very little dash was seen on either side, hut a heavy fire was kept up throughout the day, and towards evening, Te Kooti, finding the garrison of the pah nearly as numerous as his own force, and better armed, withdrew his men, having had three killed.

Henare lost all his horses, and had three men wounded; on the following day the attack was renewed, and a few more of our men were wounded, after which the Hauhaus withdrew in the same aimless manner. While this skirmish was in progress, Colonel Herrick was at Runanga with No. 2 and the mounted division of the armed constabulary, and marched with the latter so soon as he heard of the affair. On the 12th, Colonel McDonnell, with seventy men of the Patea force, took possession of Rotoaira, which had been abandoned by the enemy, and scouted towards Tokanu. Here he found the Hauhaus in force, and shots were exchanged; but as the colonel's force was not one-fifth of the enemy's, he wisely abstained from attacking, and returned to Rotoaira, where he built a pah for the greater safety of his small force. On the following day the Wanganui chief Wirihana arrived with the remainder of the Patea force. Scouts were sent out, and it was found that Te Kooti had abandoned Tokanu, and was retreating in the direction of Moerangi. No time was lost in taking possession of this strategical position, and on the 16th, McDonnell and Herrick, with the men under their respective commands, met at Tokanu.

On the following day, Hare Tauteka reported that four of his scouts were missing, and was in great grief, as his prophetess declared that they had been killed by Te Kooti, consequently there could be no doubt about the matter. Such a prophetess! hag was written in every line of her face; with a son still more dreadful to behold, for he was a victim to the Taupo leprosy, or Ngeringeri, and was literally dying inch by inch, or more correctly joint by joint.

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Nevertheless the old lady was strong in prophecy, not m the Delphic line, but good, strong, outspoken assertions.

On the 19th, Captain McDonnell arrived from Wanganui, and reported himself as the advanced guard of seventy Maories, under Kepa; he also stated that some semi-friendly Hauhaus had informed him that four scouts had been murdered by Te Kooti, and their bodies thrown into a swamp. Colonel McDonnell had the place searched, and their remains were found, literally cut to pieces; after this practical proof of her powers, the old prophetess walked about with an air that defies description, but something resembling that of an Irish gentleman at Donnybrook fair. McDonnell had incautiously expressed some doubt as to her powers, but as he thoroughly understood the value of a well trained prophetess, he sent for her, and was converted to such an extent, that all her after prophecies were in the interests of the force, and sounded strangely like McDonnell's own opinions. Towards the end of the campaign her visions were rather wild, but she held her own against the opposition seer (Henare Tomoana's), and denounced him as an impostor. Hare Tauteka, a very pleasant specimen of the Maori Rangatira, was much cut up at the death of his four scouts, an account of which was afterwards heard from a prisoner. They had taken up their position in a bush near one of the frontier villages, and being short of food, had gone to the kainga to get potatoes; it was late when they reached the place, so they decided to sleep in one of the whares, thinking they would be safe for one night. But it was not to be; they had been watched from the ranges by two parties of the enemy, each forty strong, and seeing the scouts enter the whare, they descended from their position and surrounded the hut. The four doomed men were asleep, and had fastened their guns to the centre pillar of the whare; this was perceived by the enemy, who peered through the chinks of the door, and by the light of the fire took in the whole situation. In a moment they bad burst open the door, page 307seized the arms, and secured the men; they were dragged outside before Te Kooti, who offered to spare their lives if they would join his band, but to this offer they gave a decided refusal. In the morning they were brought out and offered the same terms, which they again refused. Te Kooti then ordered their execution, and they were chopped to pieces and thrown into the swamp.

An account which there is every reason to believe true, is related of one of these men (a Waikato); he was a chief of some note, and at the time referred to was a staunch supporter of the king movement. At one of the many meetings held by his party, he gave his opinion as follows: "If the Pakeha attack us, and we intend to win, we must not run from our pits directly they charge; so listen all of you, if in our first engagement I see a man run away, I will shoot him." He kept his word, for at Kohiroa, when Sir Duncan Cameron led the 14th Regiment to the charge, a man near the chief rose to retire, and he shot him dead. There was some difference of opinion among the Waikatos about this deed, but as the victim was a man of no consequence, the affair died out. The chief, however, declared, that if they persisted in running away, it was useless fighting, and that they had better give in at once. Such being his opinion, he declared he would make an example of the next runaway; he was as good as his word, for at Rangiaohia he shot another, but this time it was a man of rank, whose relations made such a fuss, that the chief was banished from Waikato. He joined his connections in Taupo, and opposed the king party as warmly as he had formerly supported them; but, outcast as he was from his tribe, Te Kooti did not help his cause by killing him, for Waikato had not forgotten his existence. The weather at this period was unusually severe, bad even for Taupo; continued heavy rain, and consequently floods all over the country, prevented the supplies of biscuit and groceries being sent up from Runanga. Luckily there was plenty of meat and potatoes, or the force would have fared page 308badly, for all through this campaign they never received on an average two days' rations of biscuit and groceries per week.

The men now occupied both Rotoaira and Tokanu, Colonel McDonnell being at the former place. On the 24th of September, an orderly, who had been sent with despatches to Tokanu, returned and reported that he had been fired upon by an ambuscade of the enemy and forced to return.

The friendly natives refused to believe this story, and on the following morning, Colonel McDonnell rode out with twelve troopers to scout the place; when near Tokanu, they were fired upon by the Hauhaus, who had taken up a position on the spurs of the range commanding the track.

The colonel and his troopers galloped past them, and met the Taupo natives from Tokanu, under Captain St. George and Lieutenant Preece, who, alarmed at the firing, were hurrying to the attack. The colonel dismounted and joined them. The enemy were in possession of all the high ground above the camp to the crest of the hill, which was densely wooded; and at the point where the track entered the bush, the enemy had thrown up a long line of rifle-pits. The spurs of the ranges were now thronged by the enemy, who advanced with loud cries to the attack; but, after some sharp skirmishing, our Maories, led by their European officers, charged and drove them back on their supports so quickly, that the killed and wounded were left in our hands. One of the latter, a tall savage, who had been shot in the knee, was asked by a chief whether he had been at the Poverty Bay massacre, or at the death of the four scouts. "At both," he replied; and some hours after, Hohepa might still have been seen flourishing about with this man's head. The enemy now rallied, and charged down the spurs, but McDonnell ordered his men to lie close, and wait for the enemy at close quarters; they did so, and gave them a volley that sent them flying to the bush in page 309disorder. Te Kooti was here in person, and made a stand at the rifle-pits on the edge of the bush, but to no purpose, for Lieutenant Preece, at the head of the Taupo men, took them with a rush, and the enemy broke and fled down the wooded range, leaving most of their killed and wounded behind them. The latter were soon despatched, for Colonel McDonnell was not a man likely to spare scoundrels who openly boasted of having participated in the Poverty Bay massacre; in fact, there has never been an officer in New Zealand with less of the maudlin sentimentality, known as Exeter Hallism, than he. In this fight, called Te Pononga by the Maories, the enemy had 250 men engaged, and left seven bodies on the field; our strength was about the same, and our loss two killed and four wounded. This skirmish, apparently small in its results, was in reality of very great importance; for in the first place, it lost Te Kooti his prestige among the inland tribes, be having been beaten in a position chosen by himself, and by an exclusively Maori force of barely equal strength; secondly, it decided Rewi as to his future line of conduct, for had we been beaten, there can be no doubt that the powerful tribe of Ngatimaniapoto, always inimical to us, would have thrown in their lot with Te Kooti. This would simply have meant 600 fighting men of a superior class turned loose upon the northern boundary of Taranaki, and upon the Waikato plains.

But Te Pononga turned the scale in our favour, and Rewi returned to Waikato, where he expressed his opinion openly that Te Kooti was an impostor.