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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter LXI. — The Taupo Campaign—continued. — Te Kooti's Attack on Ohinemutu: Succeeds in Again Reaching the Uriwera Country

Chapter LXI.
The Taupo Campaigncontinued.
Te Kooti's Attack on Ohinemutu: Succeeds in Again Reaching the Uriwera Country.

Colonel McDonnell, thinking it possible that his wily foe might double back towards Tapapa, after leading the force on false scent, sent Kepa the following morning with orders to follow the trail of the previous day, and taking 100 men, the colonel himself made a long detour through the ranges to ascertain whether the enemy had returned. After a long and tedious march, the force camped in the forest. On the following morning the march was resumed, and they reached Tapapa in the afternoon without discovering any traces of Te Kooti. On his return, Colonel McDonnell found that 200 of the Arawas, under Lieutenant Mair, had arrived from Rotorua; this completely disarranged his plans, for he depended on these men guarding the tracks leading to the Kaingaroa plains, the only feasible line of retreat left open to the Hauhaus. Under these circumstances, Lieutenant Mair was ordered back with all speed; he left on the 3rd of February, and the correctness of McDonnell's views were borne out by the skirmish on the 12th at Rotorua. Meanwhile Kepa was following the page 329enemy in the direction of Tauranga, and the first night he camped, a long discussion took place as to the propriety of giving up this stern chase after a flying enemy. One of the principal chiefs tried hard to persuade the Wanganuis to return, but old Kawana Paipai, ever on the right side, sprang to his feet, and combated his arguments by declaring that men who feared a little hardship were cowards, and, pointing to Captain Morrison and thirty Europeans who accompanied them, said, "Even though you go back, these men will not." The Kawana was so personal in his remarks, that no one cared to contradict him, and the column proceeded on its dreary bush march. About midday, tracks were seen on the path that led in the direction of Tauranga, and soon after, articles of clothing, old muskets and other things, which showed Kepa that he was on the right track, and that the enemy were in a great hurry, travelling light. On the afternoon of the third day, our men reached a small kainga, on the edge of the bush; the fires were still alight in the whares, but although scouts were sent out, they failed to discover the enemy's presence. The march was at once resumed, now on a broad beaten track which was followed some distance, until traversed by a deep ravine, on the opposite side of which was open country, and a new earthwork could be seen about a mile distant, occupied by a large body of men, whether Europeans or natives, friendly or Hauhaus, it was impossible to say. While Captain Morrison and the chiefs were discussing the necessity of discovering who they were, the sound of musketry was heard and bullets flew in all directions. This lasted for half an hour, and ceased as suddenly as it began, to the relief of the Wanganuis, who could not possibly understand it, as no enemy could be seen engaging the men holding the redoubt, and it was equally evident it was not meant for them. To ascertain who the strangers were was a service of considerable danger, for, whether friendly or otherwise, they would be sure to fire on any scouts seen, but the thing had to be page 330done, and Captain. Morrison and forty men were sent out to do it. They crawled up to the redoubt in true Maori style, unseen by the supposed enemy, and, to their astonishment, found them to be a mixed force of Europeans and Maories under Colonel Fraser, whom they could distinctly see inside the redoubt. How he got there puzzled everyone, as he was supposed to be at Rotorua, guarding the passes to the Uriwera country; the only difficulty left was to make themselves known without being fired upon. Captain Morrison again undertook the duty, feeling assured he would not be taken for a Hauhau; but his bushranging costume had not entered into his consideration, and the sentry would have fired on him but for the intervention of Captain Withers. Colonel Fraser, it appeared, had marched from Rotorua to Tauranga viâ Maketu, and from thence to the position he then occupied. On the previous day he had fallen into an ambuscade of the enemy, and lost three men, one a European of the armed constabulary and two of his Arawa allies, the enemy retiring without loss. The ambush was laid at Paengaroa by forty of Te Kooti's men, who had waited until Colonel Fraser's leading files were within twenty yards before firing; and it is difficult to understand how so few men were hit. As usual, they retired before our men had recovered from the confusion which invariably attends an ambush. The fact that some of Te Kooti's scouts bad been seen in the neighbourhood explained the cause of the firing, for the Arawa dreaded Te Kooti, and wished to keep him at a distance.

Later in the day they captured an old man, and while the capturer was questioning him about Te Kooti, he was at the same time loading his rifle, with which (after obtaining all the information he required) he deliberately blew out his brains. No astonishment was expressed by the natives present, and the body was thrown into the bush; shortly after, another of the Arawas (who was probably suffering from ennui) dragged the body out, threw it into a hole, and made a fire on the top of it, the page 331remainder of the tribe being admiring spectators of the deed, this useless piece of barbarity being quite characteristic of the tribe. Kepa proposed immediate pursuit, but Colonel Fraser ordered him to wait until the following morning, when he would go with him. Had Kepa's advice been taken, they might have caught Te Kooti before he reached the Uriwera country, for which he was now making. Colonel Fraser and Kepa marched in pursuit next day, leaving Captain Morrison his detachment and the Arawas, with orders to hold the redoubt for that day, and then to follow up; but Colonel Fraser had hardly gone an hour, when the Arawas discovered they were not safe in so dangerous a place, and away they went, without the smallest compunction for the fate they believed awaited Captain Morrison and his thirty men. But their fears luckily were premature, as Te Kooti by this time was far on his way to Rotorua, en route for the Uriwera country.

On the morning of the 7th of May, a European named Louis Baker, a deserter from H.M.S. Rosario, who had joined Te Kooti, came into Ohinemutu and informed the natives that he had just escaped from Te Kooti, who was in the immediate neighbourhood, and who intended to attack Ohinemutu. This intelligence was immediately forwarded to Captain G. Mair, who happened to be close at hand with 200 men, and who, being uncertain when or where the attack would take place, made the best disposition of his force possible, by dividing his men so as to guard a long line of country, at the same time leaving each party in such a position that they could, at short notice, support each other. About noon Te Kooti showed himself, and very nearly surprised, and did fire upon, a party of Ngatiwhakaaue women, who were collecting food on the edge of the bush, but they fortunately escaped. Having failed in this cowardly attack, he then commenced to burn and destroy the houses and cultivations of the inhabitants, at the same time offering them terms of peace; and, strange to say, many of the Arawa chiefs were inclined to accept page 332them, notably Petera te Pukuatua, who tried to stop Captain Mair from attacking them, and there is little doubt that, had that officer not been present, Te Kooti would not only have escaped scot free, but would probably have deluded the Arawas into a belief of his sincerity, and performed the Mohaka massacre over again on a much larger scale. But as Captain Mair did not believe in his sincerity, but rather that it was a mere pretext to gain time for his retreat, brought up his young men at the double, and on reaching the top of the hill he saw that his suspicions were verified, as the Hauhaus were about two miles distant, retreating in the direction of Kaiteriria. A sharp run of half an hour brought the two parties in collision: the Hauhaus, nothing daunted, turned about to fight, and after some smart skirmishing which had given his women and baggage time to get a good start, they retired fighting. The fight was very unequal; the hard running had knocked up most of Mair's men, only thirty being present, and the enemy tried to take advantage of their superiority in numbers by making a second stand on the brow of a hill. Led by Peka and Kereopa, they charged most determinedly, clubbing their rifles as they came on; but Mair's men held their ground, and poured in such a steady fire that the enemy were driven back, leaving five of their number dead, after which the Hauhaus contented themselves with occasional firing, keeping up the same rapid retreat. When near Kaiteriria, the Tuhourangi and Ngatirangitihi tribes came up from the position they had occupied, but, instead of cutting off the enemy's retreat as they were expected to have done, they contented themselves with joining in the pursuit. The line of retreat was marked by an occasional dead Hauhau, and towards evening Peka, the half-caste, the greatest of ruffians and Te Kooti's best fighting man, was shot. Throughout the retreat he had been the leader of the rear-guard, and had fought manfully. He was the last man killed, for soon after the enemy reached the Tumunui bush, where they were safe, for it was now too dark to page 333follow on. It was afterwards discovered that the enemy continued their retreat all through the night, only stopping once to cook potatoes. Their loss was twelve killed, whereas our loss was slight—one killed and three wounded. On the following morning, Captain Mair tried hard to get the Arawas to follow up, hut without success, for, as usual, they thought they had done enough. Some days after, Captain Mair received information that Te Rangi Tahau (who, with thirty men, had left Te Kooti after Tapapa) was following up his leader; he went out with the intention of stopping him, and came across one of the enemy, who had been severely wounded on the 7th. Captain Mair would have saved him had not one of the Arawas recognised him as Timoti Te Kaka, Te Kooti's executioner at Mohaka, the man who killed women and children in the wool-shed; for such a wretch there was neither pity nor quarter, and a bullet put an end to his misery. Te Rangi Tahau was not intercepted, for he had changed his plans, and, separating himself from Te Kooti, took refuge with Te Hira, at Ohinemuri. After this period Te Kooti's star began to wane, and had it not been for the Uriweras, he would soon have been without men to do further mischief. The result of this campaign was creditable alike to the Government who planned it, and to the officer who carried it out, and may be briefly summed up in a few sentences. At the commencement of the campaign Te Kooti had been joined by the Taupo and Tuhua tribes; and Ngatimaniapoto, if not Waikato, awaited the issue, with every intention of joining. Topia Turoa and the fighting tribes of the Upper Wanganuis were neutral, but doubtful. Within five months, Te Kooti had been beaten in five fights, in which he had lost sixtynine men. Topia Turoa had thrown off his neutrality, and entered heart and soul against him. The Taupo and Tuhua tribes had been detached from their alliance with the archrebel, and the King party had been brought to approve of the campaign to such an extent that they not only allowed but approved of Kepa and Topia's march through their page 334boundaries. Te Kooti had certainly succeeded in reaching the Uriwera country, but accompanied only by a remnant of his Chatham Islanders, and the Uriweras, after the lesson they had received, would he hardly likely to be very friendly with him in the future. Our losses throughout the campaign were fifteen Maories and twelve Europeans killed, and twenty-one wounded (chiefly natives).