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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter LX. — The Taupo Campaign—continued. — Searching for Te Kooti. Skirmish at Tapapa. Capture of Eighty Horses and Considerable Loot

Chapter LX.
The Taupo Campaigncontinued.
Searching for Te Kooti. Skirmish at Tapapa. Capture of Eighty Horses and Considerable Loot.

Our Taupo force had now a series of marches and counter-marches before them in order to find the whereabouts of the enemy, who were so well served by their scouts that they had little or no difficulty in avoiding us. A description of one of these expeditions will serve for the whole, and save the reader much dry iteration. The column started from Papakai on the evening of the 22nd October, for a night march round the base of Mount Tongariro; the whole of this district is intersected by swamps and ravines page 322difficult to cross even in daylight, and by night productive of many tumbles and much bad language; for on a night march it is usual to move in Indian file, each man holding on to or following the coat-tails of the man in front; and should he happen to fall into a ravine, there would in all probability be four or five armed men on the top of him in a moment. At daylight the colonel found himself enveloped in a dense fog, on the edge of the forest where Te Kooti was supposed to be. Thus far, everything was favourable, but about an hour after daylight it began to rain in a manner peculiar to Taupo, defying macintoshes and all the arts of man; creating intense discomfort, particularly as the force had the unpleasant prospect before them of some hours' march in the bush, and a soaking wet camp at night, tents not being included in the impedimenta of the force. Traces of small parties of the enemy were found, but nothing to lead to the belief that the main body of the Hauhaus were in the neighbourhood. After eighteen hours' marching McDonnell called a halt, and the column camped, wet, tired, and hungry. Luckily, there were Maories present who, if they have not fire at their finger's end always ready (like their great mythical ancestor, Mahuika), yet manage to produce it in a marvellously short space of time, and the men were soon warm, if not dry. On the following morning the column resumed its march through the still pouring rain, turning their steps homeward, having given up the search for Te Kooti. En route they fell in with and captured one of the worst of his band, an escaped Chatham Islander named Tawhana, a son of the turbulent old chief, Rangihiroa, who was killed at Petane. The prisoner was questioned by McDonnell as to Te Kooti's whereabouts, but nothing was elicited from him but lies; for, ignoring the fact that he was personally known to all the Napier tribes present, he denied his identity, and expressed great surprise that any one of the name of Te Kooti had ever existed. Up to this point he had done pretty well, but when he went on to page 323state that he had just come from Pipiriki, on the Wanganui river, and had seen two steamers there, the whole column were struck with admiration at his inventive powers. Strange to say, he was not shot; the grandeur of his imagination had saved him. It was a pity his memory had not been quickened and the question put à la Maori, as in a case I once witnessed, where it had the desired effect. A prisoner was taken who had a short memory; he sat on the ground in the centre of a ring of stern faces, perhaps all the sterner that the captive was so childlike and bland his judges were really puzzled. Suddenly, a mere boy said in a very matter-of-fact tone, "I am going to shoot that man, so get out of the line of fire." A general scatter was the consequence. The captive's face got very anxious as the boy levelled his rifle, and every breath was held; three times was the rifle levelled, with the apparent intention of hitting the man in the eyes. The captive, after gazing steadily at his executioner for a second or two, became unable to stand the strain on his nerves, and covered his face with his hands; suddenly the hammer fell, and, to the astonishment of every one, the cap only exploded. The captive gave a convulsive start, and the boy, after some uncomplimentary remarks to his gun, put on another cap, saying he would have better luck next time; but his victim's nerves had already given way, and he intimated his readiness to speak the truth in future. It was not until after he had given the information required that he was told the boy had only been playing with him, the charge in his gun having been previously withdrawn. On arrival at the camp, McDonnell ordered the Ngatikahungunu tribes to return to their homes at Napier, as he felt himself strong enough without them to destroy Te Kooti if he could find him, and was very glad to get rid of this troublesome and disobedient part of his heterogeneous force. Some further time was spent in useless marching, before it was discovered that Te Kooti had retired to the king's country, where he was at the present time safe, it page 324not being considered advisable to risk an embroglio with Waikato; for to have done this would immediately have placed in Te Kooti's hands the whole of the Waikato and Ngatimainapoto tribes, which would have pleased the ruffian vastly. The potatoes, which had hitherto formed the chief food of the force, failed altogether, and McDonnell, finding it inrpossible to keep his men together, reluctantly sent back the Wanganuis to their own country, where Kepa's presence was urgently required, Topia Turoa, the great ancestral chief of the tribe, having sent him word to the effect that he had a message of great importance from the king, which he would only divulge in Kepa's presence. The solution of this mystery was anxiously looked for; when it came, it was so far satisfactory that Waikato had withdrawn their protection from Te Kooti, and had requested Topia to join Kepa in hunting this band of murderers out of the Maori king's district. Nothing could be more desirable, for the chief had never forgotten Hona's death; and instant preparation was made, so that by the 13th December 600 men under the two chiefs started from Pipiriki on their journey up the river to Taumarunui (Te Mamaku's pah), where they expected to find the enemy, as that turbulent old warrior had joined the Hauhaus. They met him eventually at Maraekowhai with most of his tribe, and the usual war-dances being gone through, the old chief coolly ordered Topia to return; this was promptly refused, and in such a manner as to leave no room for mistake in the intention of our war party. Mamaku understood the case, and he not only submitted with a good grace, but became friendly at once, supplying the Taua with food, and even informed them that Te Kooti was at Makokomiko, about thirty miles further on; at the same time he sent a message to Te Kooti, telling him to escape while he could, as the Wanganuis were on his trail. On the same day an envoy from the king arrived at Maraekowhai with a letter to Topia, approving of his march, and urging him to go on. The page 325fact was that Waikato was in a state of alarm, lest Te Kooti should go to Te Kuiti and do as be threatened—make his own laws. Te Kooti, however, took Mamaku's advice, and left Taupo and Tuhua, and on the 12th of January he turned up at Patatere, where he was joined by Hakaraia, Mahi te Ngaru and the Ngatiraukawa.

There is, perhaps, nothing more astonishing in Te Kooti's career, than the power he possessed over the minds of his fellow-Maories. Occasionally successful in his raids, yet invariably beaten in fair fight, he could, nevertheless, persuade or frighten any tribe into joining him. After the hardships and losses during the Poverty Bay campaign, where not less than one hundred and fifty of his men were killed, the Uriweras joined him readily to attack Whakatane; and although they lost twenty men, and were driven back to their own country, yet it did not prevent them from again coming to his assistance at Mohaka, and following him on to Taupo, where they were again beaten in three successive fights, losing upwards of fifty men, and literally hunted out of the district. Yet no sooner had Te Kooti reached Patatere, than a portion of the Ngaiterangi and Ngatiraukawa were ready and anxious to share his fortunes. Kepa soon found that Te Kooti had left the district, and wrote at once to McDonnell, requesting him to follow up and join him at Waimahana; Kepa then sent back 200 of his men, to guard the river against a reported movement on the part of Titokowaru, while he pushed forward to Tapapa. On the 20th of January the two columns met. McDonnell had now 600 men under him, and he lost no time in commencing operations. On the 24th, the force reached Tapapa. Henare Te Pukuatua had the advance, composed of Arawas, and during the march rushed a village, capturing three men and killing another who refused to surrender; they proved to be an advanced picket of Te Kooti's, whose presence was now ascertained. The force now camped for the night. McDonnell, intending to attack the Hauhaus' position at early dawn, detached page 326Kepa with 200 men to march round the left of the Hauhau pah, so as to be ready to take them in the rear, while he attacked in front. In the morning a thick fog obscured the whole country, hiding objects only a few yards distant; and McDonnell delayed the march until the fog lifted. Well it was that he did so, for, as the men stood to their arms, a heavy volley was fired from the bush only a short distance off, and the camp was attacked by Te Kooti at the head of 200 men. Had the morning been fine, the main body of our men would have been absent, and the few left in charge would undoubtedly have been killed. For some minutes our men laid down and reserved their fire, as it was nearly impossible to say where the enemy were; but as the fog lifted, the position of our own men could be sufficiently seen to avoid firing into one another, and a few volleys drove the enemy back. Topia and his Wanganuis followed them for some distance; unfortunately, Kepa was absent, or a much more vigorous pursuit would have ensued. The enemy only lost five men killed and probably twice that number wounded. Our loss was nearly equal, being three killed and five wounded. Meanwhile, Kepa had not been idle; on the previous evening he had reached the position assigned to him, and seeing the Hauhaus advancing, as he thought, to meet him, they descended into a deep ravine, and he awaited their attack the whole night; but as it did not come, and hearing the firing at Tapapa in the morning, he at once understood the movement of the enemy, and turned the tables on them by at once charging into Te Kooti's pah. The garrison (few in number) fired a volley and bolted, leaving a considerable amount of loot, and, better still, eighty horses, sixty of which were captured, and the remainder shot. The horses were a very serious loss to Te Kooti, as with them he could at any moment escape with his Chatham Islanders, whereas without them he was liable to be cut off, as he nearly was at Kaiteriria a few days after. Te Kooti now concealed himself with his usual ability, and for some page 327days our scouts searched in vain for his trail. On the 30th, McDonnell sent Kepa and Topia with a strong force to ascertain his whereabouts, while he marched in a different direction with the same intention; on his advanced guard reaching the village of Kuranui, they received a volley from the Hauhaus. McDonnell hastened up with the main body, and found his men in possession of the village, the inhabitants having taken to the bush. While the men halted, they were again fired upon from the top of a cliff some 500 yards off, which had been scouted only an hour previously. Up to this time, it was doubtful whether it was Te Kooti's men, or the inhabitants of the village, who had fired upon us; but later in the day, our scouts captured four men in a village about two miles distant, and they gave the important information that Te Kooti, with 200 men, was in the bush on the range above the village. It being too late to attack that day, Kepa and his men were left at Kuranui to watch the place, while McDonnell and his men returned to Tapapa. On the following morning, Kepa and Lieutenant Preece, with 350 men, entered the bush at the place from which the enemy had fired the day before, and found the top of the range rifle-pitted but deserted; about two miles further on, a large deserted camp was also found, which had evidently been occupied the day previous; and here the tracks branched, one towards Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, the other to Tapapa, and it seemed evident by the foot-marks the main body had taken the latter route. Kepa and his men followed up, and hearing voices a-head sent out scouts, who saw four men, and fired on them, though without effect; but one of them, in his hurry to escape, ran right into our main body and was captured. Prevarication with the Wanganuis would have been dangerous, so the prisoner gave his name as Te Harawira, of Ngaiterangi, and further informed Kepa that Te Kooti and his men had taken the other track leading to Tauranga. This caused a general right-about face, and our men followed the other track vigorously for page 328some miles, when voices were again heard. This time our scouts were more successful, and succeeded in shooting a chief of Kereopa's tribe, who was well armed with rifle and revolver. The line of the enemy's retreat had now been ascertained, and Kepa would have followed up to the end, but that he had left camp without food, and as he could not possibly undertake a bush march of three or four days under such circumstances, he was again compelled to return to camp.