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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter V. — Progress of the Hauhau Religion. — Ahu Ahu and Sentry Hill

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Chapter V.
Progress of the Hauhau Religion.
Ahu Ahu and Sentry Hill.

The Hauhaus came into collision with, the Europeans for the first time at Taranaki, in April, 1864. Detachments of the 57th Regiment and military settlers 100 strong, under command of Captains Lloyd and Page, were foraging and destroying crops at Ahu Ahu on the Kaitake ranges; the main body had finished work, and with piled arms awaited the return of Lieutenant Cox, 57th Regiment, who, with a small party, was destroying maize on the hillside. Suddenly a large body of the enemy rushed out of the fern and scrub with a terrific yell, firing as they advanced. The military settlers had been enrolled only a few weeks, many of them bad never fired a shot, and their rifles were so clogged with oil that they would not go off; the few men who had seen service were new to Maori warfare, with its ambuscades, yells, &c.; the natural result was that both soldiers and settlers were thrown into confusion, and after a little desultory firing something very like a stampede ensued. Captain Lloyd stood his ground and was killed fighting bravely; Lieutenant Cox with a handful of men escaped by taking to the bush; and Captain Page, with ten or twelve men who stood by him, got into high fern and made his way through it to the Poutuku redoubt. Our loss was seven men killed and twelve wounded, the enemy had four killed. Lieutenant Cox and his party, guided by a Maori scout, reached the town of Taranaki and gave the alarm. The Bush Rangers, under Major Atkinson, always ready, were ordered to the scene of action, and reached the place in an incredibly short space of time; they found that the heads of those killed had been cut off and carried away.

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This act of barbarity was new in Maori warfare, and not understood at the time. Several men were missing, and as it was quite possible that they might be hiding in the thick fern, the officer commanding the Bush Rangers had the 57th regimental call sounded; the missing ones responded, and were brought out, all more or less severely wounded. They stated that the enemy rushed upon them barking like dogs, and seemed to have no fear of death. Little was then known of the new religion, but the settlers soon found that this unusual daring was the result of a fanatical belief in their invulnerability. The word Hauhau was certainly a most useful one, if it had only half the virtue attributed to it by the prophets.

Suppose, for instance, that an enemy was in the act of firing at you, you simply had to turn the palm of your hand towards him, raising it quickly over your head, at the same time saying "Hau, Hau," and the bullet would fly over your head. I cannot say that I have ever tried it or seen it tried; but many veracious cannibals have assured me that it is a fact. The word "hau" is pronounced very abruptly, so as to sound almost like the bark of a dog.

The fight at Ahu Ahu had a great effect upon the fanatics; they had beaten the Pakeha, and were confirmed in the belief that they were the chosen people, but more important still were the revelations received after the action. The heads of the slain had been cut off as trophies, lest other unbelieving tribes should doubt their success; after being duly exhibited they were buried, but the angel Gabriel appeared to Te Ua and ordered him to exhume and preserve Captain Lloyd's head in the Maori fashion, after which it was to be carried through all the tribes in New Zealand as a medium of communication between man and God. The order was obeyed, and the head, probably out of gratitude, spoke to Te Ua, saying, "You are the chief prophet of Pai Marire; Matene and Hepanaia page 29will be your disciples." The head also informed the high priest that all true believers should be called Pai Marire, and that legions of angels awaited the time when, the head having visited all the tribes, a general outbreak would take place and the Pakeha be annihilated by the assistance of these angels, after which a knowledge of all languages and of all the arts and sciences would be bestowed upon the Pai Marire. This account must appear utterly absurd to the European mind, yet it was to the Maori a belief in defence of which he was prepared to die; the supposed instructions were admirably conceived, and reflect great credit upon Te Ua. Had the head with its attendant train of madmen travelled peaceably through the North Island, carefully abstaining from hostility towards those tribes professing friendship to the Europeans, all would eventually have been converted, and in that case the outbreak, when it came, would have been so formidable that the utmost efforts of the Government would hardly have arrested its course. Luckily for us, the sub-prophets Hepanaia and Matene, Kereopa and Patara, were men of ferocious character, too impatient to await the appointed time, and so the death-knell of Pai Marire was sounded.

The first among the prophets to achieve notoriety was Hepanaia. The Pai Marire had been preached throughout the Taranaki and Ngatiruanui country, and there were hundreds of zealous converts ready and anxious to strike for their land and religion; they only required a leader, and one was at hand in the person of Hepanaia. This prophet was not a prudent man by any means, but his courage was undeniable, there was therefore the less reason why he should have selected the fort at Sentry Hill as the point of attack; there were many other posts in the district comparatively easy to assault, the prophet however disdained small mercies and selected the hill. This position was garrisoned by a detachment fifty strong of the 57th Regiment, under Major Short, and was for-page 30tified with revetted parapet, and in place of a ditch the steep hillsides were scarped to the foot of the parapet, making a steep face to escalade more than twenty feet high; thus the garrison were secure from any assault unprovided with scaling-ladders. The enemy's plans were that 200 of the Ngatiawa tribe should make a false attack just before dawn, with the object of drawing the attention of the garrison from the real movement, which would be carried on during the uproar. This party, 300 strong, were under Hepanaia and Parengi Kingi of Taranaki, and Tamati Oraukawa and Titokowaru of Ngatiruanui. On the 1st of May, 1864, the attack took place; shortly after daylight the garrison were roused by the yells and stamping of the war-dance. Major Shortt paraded his men, and ordered them to lie down under the parapet with the view of deceiving the enemy. A few minutes after the last sound of the dance had died away, the taua (war party) were seen advancing to the attack in close column of fours, evidently careless of our fire, or they would have retained the loose, open, and effective style of attack generally used by the Maori, and of late years by European armies; they had waited in vain for the false attack, for Ngatiawa, disliking the general appearance of the redoubt, had gone home. Hepanaia therefore resolved to attack without them, and gave the word; when about 300 yards from the scarp the Hauhaus halted, as if suspicious of the silent and apparently unoccupied fort. Their hesitation was only for a moment, the next instant they were swarming up the steep hillside, only to be swept back by a storm of bullets and shells from the cohorn mortars. A Maori who was present described it thus: "As we charged, the soldiers opened fire;. it was a hailstorm, and the four front ranks went down to a man. For a few seconds we halted in doubt, but old Tamati led us on to take revenge for his two sons just killed; we made another rush and met the same fate. This was too much; we all ran away, dragging off what killed and wounded we could. The prophet was killed; he was a page 31humbug." The retreat was only just made in time, for shortly after Colonel Butler, 57th Regiment, arrived on the field with reinforcements from Manutahi, too late to assist his comrades, but in time to collect the killed and wounded; thirty-three dead bodies were buried, and one severely wounded prisoner taken into hospital. The bodies found did not by any means convey a correct idea of the Hauhau loss; several men were carried off by their relatives during the retreat, and for months bodies were found in the fern and scrub where they had been left. Among the leaders, Parengi Kingi, Hepanaia, and Manahi were killed, and Titokowaru lost an eye; the total loss of the enemy was estimated at seventy, but the Maories never admitted having more than fifty-two killed, and they are probably correct.