Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs
6 — Nineteenth-Century Fortifications
In the earliest periods of the New Zealand Wars (1840s, 1850s), the troops used were the regular British soldiery, 'Imperial' forces. Later in the wars (mid 1860s), as the costs increased, the supply of soldiery was made the responsibility of the New Zealand government, the 'Colonial' forces. Eventually, in the late 1860s and 1870s, the military activity came to be more of a policing role, with the creation of the Armed Constabulary. The majority of the surviving European fortifications belong to the latter, Colonial, period from about 1865 to 1880; fortifications were maintained for use up until the 1880s. Māori supporters of the government of the day were not uncommon. Up to the mid-1860s, loyalist 'Queenite' forces were in action and, later, paid kūpapa were used with the Armed Constabulary.
It has been stated by James Belich, amongst others, that nineteenth-century Māori fortifications, and the tactics based on them, were in some ways superior to the European forces' use of such techniques. Belich argues that the adaptation of the unique pre-European style of fortification to gun-fighting was an outstanding piece of innovation; and that the underestimation of this phenomenon led to many European losses. In his view, the British military engineers were so impressed by these fortifications—'the modern pā'—that they drew them meticulously and that they were used subsequently as models for First World War trench fortifications. He also argues that Māori made potent use of fortifications in drawing forward British troops into positions of relative weakness, where the British would lose materiel and men, and the will to fight. 1
Belich's overall thesis is revisionist; he makes selective use of sources deriding the British effort, e.g., the views of the colonists at New Plymouth on the use of saps at Pukerangiora in 1861. 2 The tactics at Pukerangiora were the result of the offensive failures in the Bay of Islands in 1845, more than a decade earlier. Then, both troops and Māori were equipped with muskets. Infantry practice was in the same form as that of the land wars of eighteenth-century Europe. Substantial formed bodies of troops, artillery and cavalry were usually placed on the field in a complex composition, with different types of forces and flanking arrangements used in succession. The forces faced each other across relatively open ground, although tactical advantage might have been sought in cover or high ground on any particular field. The attacker's object was to break or outflank the defensive line. Such a formed body of troops was deployed at Ohaeawai in 1845, and is illustrated in page 84 its battlefield setting in chapter 7.
The fear of loss of foot soldiers was a strong consideration in the minds of British commanding officers, contrary to popular stereotype. They refused to assault fortifications where a flanking movement (around the fortification) would serve to attain the ultimate territorial goal. However, in the early engagements in the Bay of Islands, with significant weaknesses in artillery and a degree of tactical confusion, direct assaults did take place with disastrous consequences for the British at Puketutu and Ohaeawai. Assaults on the earthwork fortifications or heavy wooden stockades in New Zealand were in most cases disastrous. British army practice did not change fast enough, at least not in Northland in the 1840s. After the northern wars of 1845, the British army in England conducted experiments on how to demolish such stockades. They found that charges placed underground at the foot of the stockade, concentrating the destructive effect, were the best. The logical way to emplace such charges was by sapping, digging a trench towards the fortification, and not mounting an assault by troops until the palisade was demolished.
Of more long-term consequence as the New Zealand Wars unfolded was the change in small-arms manufacturing, away from muskets to breach-loading, mass-produced rifles of far superior accuracy, range and rate of fire. In the British army, muskets began to be replaced by rifles in the course of the Crimean War (commenced 1854). 3 By the mid-1860s the United States Civil War had also offered the European armies telling lessons in the defensive strength of rifle trenches, a development which meant the end of relatively formal advances of infantry across open ground. The advantage now lay too much with an entrenched defender, as the appalling casualties of the Civil War were making plain. 4 Attacking forces advanced in loose screens, taking advantage of natural hollows for protection, and in close work against single positions the use of offensive earthworks such as saps was common. By the 1860s, then, many lessons had been learnt from the earlier Northland experience, and more importantly the subsequent development in the use of ground troops of the Crimean and Civil Wars.
The New Zealand Colonial or British Imperial forces were on the whole on the offensive, and their losses were of tactical significance only. They could hardly be expected to manifest much earthworks innovation in the offensive role. Fortifications were designed to protect supply lines and bases or otherwise to protect property page 85 and citizens against attacks from behind the forward European fighting line. In the later phases, fortifications were used as a screen at the loosely defined frontier of European settlement, central defended places in military farm settlements. Moreover, European defensive positions in New Zealand were not expected to be subject to shelling or mortar attack. This form of attack was almost exclusively the preserve of Imperial forces, and one with which Māori defenders rapidly became familiar from the earliest engagements in the Bay of Islands. Their tactical response within fortifications was the obvious one of digging down.
Māori gained no strategic advantage from a defensive system argued by Belich to be superior to European knowledge of the time. Setting this puzzle aside, it has to be recognised that British and Colonial troOps did not lack the drive to push an engagement forward. In the final analysis, the British and colonial forces were better organised and better supplied, which as Belich recognises is the ultimate factor in the strategic view of the New Zealand Wars. To argue otherwise is to drive oneself into a nest of paradoxes where all the battles are won by Māori, and yet the war is lost.
European fortifications tend to follow a regular pattern which can be more or less complex depending on the size of the force, the extent and complexity of the tactical and strategic situation, and the time available to make the fortification. The field situation of any particular fortification is complex, and many combinations of defensive feature and tactical compromise were needed in practice. The key point is that fortifications were designed to offer a good field of fire to the defending forces, while at the same time protecting them from the fire of the attacking force. The typical European fortification of the period was the redoubt. This was a square or rectangle of ditch and bank forming a defended perimeter. The ditch was external to the bank. From the base of the ditch to the top of the bank was as much as 6 m. The defenders stood behind the bank to fire, not in the ditch. The ditch was designed solely to prevent a rush of attackers into the fortification. In opposite corners, 'flanking angles' were built. These were an extension of the corner built out into the line of the perimeter ditch and bank. From it defenders could safely fire into any attackers who might have gathered in the ditch. Any single redoubt needed only two flanking angles, on opposite corners, because they were designed to cover the fire along the two trenches at right angles to each other.
The angles were designed to be out in the line of the trench, so that defenders could fire into the attacking forces gathered in the perimeter trenches for a final assault. An example of the use of flanking angles is Thacker's redoubt built in 1865 in south Taranaki. If a redoubt was more than about 40 m square, flanking angles were not recommended. In these cases, bastions were formed at intervals along the wall. These were projections through and forward of the line of the trench, serving a similar function to the flanking angle, and were not uncommon in the larger Māori entrenchments also. 5
Blockhouses were sometimes built by British or Colonial forces. These were fortified houses constructed of solid timbers or with double walls filled with gravel. The defenders would fire out through loopholes. Blockhouses were sometimes built at the 'flanking angle' of a redoubt, i.e., they were the flanking defence, with two rare examples surviving in the Manaia Redoubt, Taranaki. Stockades were another form of fortification that may be associated with defensive ditches and banks. A stockade consisted of heavy squared timbers placed adjacent to each other in a trench. The trench was backfilled forming a solid timber barrier, again with holes for the defenders to fire through.
Such formal fortifications were not lived in permanently. They were too small. If they were in a forward position away from existing settlements, the defenders typically lived in small huts dug into an adjacent hillside. In the phases of 'pacification' from the late 1860s, semi-permanent fortifications were built in tactically useful positions where there was good farmland. Former soldiers were allocated this land on the understanding that they would stay to defend it in the local fortification if need arose. Such practice was followed in Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, although the farmland could not be properly used at first because of the poor transport routes to the remote towns. 6
A comment should be made about the European's offensive use of earthworks. The digging of trenches towards defended positions—saps—was not an innovation in New Zealand but established European military practice. Saps had of course been in use many centuries earlier in the European theatres and were an established form of siegecraft, but the techniques were re-learnt in the dawning of the era of accurate and massed rifle fire. 7page break
Thacker's and Inman's Redoubts, built during Cameron's South Taranaki campaigns of 1865-66
Inman's Redoubt [above] lies on the north side of the Manawapou River, Thacker's [below] on the south. Each site is about 45 m across. The rectangular defensive perimeters have flanking angles at opposing corners. At the head of the scarps of the natural terraces are hut sites, linked by a formerly roofed trench to the fortification. Near Thacker's redoubt other possible hut sites show on the flat as slight rectangles of raised bank. On the far right is a small circular ditch, about 6 m across. This is a potato clamp, probably associated with the period the fortification was occupied. The double trench running up the photograph is a hedged double ditch and bank fence, cutting into and hence postdating the fortification. An early road runs across the photograph.
It served the obvious purpose of protecting attacking forces from concentrated fire from the defensive positions. Saps also commonly had returns built along their length, because the line of the sap was inevitably oriented towards the defensive position and subject to enfilading fire. The walls were maintained in good condition by placing fascines (bundles of sticks) against them. The front of the sap was usually protected by gabions, elaborate wickerwork or bundled manuka rollers pushed in front of the advancing face, allowing the diggers to remain semi-erect in the course of their work. In New Zealand, examples of saps still surviving are at Ngatapa, inland East Coast, where they were used against a strong defensive position of Te Kooti Arikirangi's, and at Pukerangiora, another strong defended position, inland on the Waitara River, Taranaki. These fortifications are illustrated in the relevant regional chapters.
Pre-European fortifications had been located and built for immediate tactical advantage in the defence of a hapū and possibly its land; they were a defence against raiding practices by opposing parties of equal strength, not necessarily parties intent on territorial expansion.
From the 1820s muskets were keenly sought by Māori, and supplied by whalers and flax-traders. Muskets were used in a traditional pattern of fighting between tribes. The northern tribes had more muskets because they controlled access to the principal trading anchorages which were mainly in the north, particularly the Bay of Islands. Taua from there, from Ngā Puhi in particular, moved south down the North Island, inflicting severe losses on tribes in most regions except in places on the southern East Coast where accommodations with Ngāti Porou, Tūhoe and at times Ngāti Kahungūnu were made. 8 Smaller parties drawn mainly from the northern regions also moved throughout the North and South Islands. On the North Island's west coast, there was a subsequent movement of people from the Waikato into Taranaki, mainly Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa, and from Taranaki into the Wellington and Cook Straits region, mainly Te Atiawa, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Toa. In these events, the Mōkau River, a major route from inland Waikato to Taranaki, was the site of major fighting between Ngāti Maniapoto (from the southern Waikato) and Ngāti Tama (from north Taranaki). On the East Coast, there was also intertribal fighting between Ngāti Porou and Whānau a Apanui, Tūhoe and Ngāti Kahungūnu, and Tūhoe and Whakatohea. 9
The comparative lack of historical documentation means that Māori fortifications of the nineteenth century are not always easy to date precisely. They were used over a great span of time, from the 1810s, when they were used in fighting between Māori groups, to 1881 (at Waiu on the Central Volcanic Plateau). Fortifications from the earliest period, the 'musket wars' (about 1810-1840), are sometimes difficult to distinguish from those of the earlier pre-European era. For example, Mātakitaki, near Pirongia in the central Waikato, attacked by Ngā Puhi under Hongi Hika in 1822 with much loss of life, 10 is not dissimilar to pre-European pā in similar settings, i.e., on a point created by the joining of two rivers. Māori adapted pre-European sites and an existing fortification was used if it was tactically acceptable.
Māori fortifications tended to be sited away from the traditional ridge locations for both tactical and strategic reasons. Tactically, the curve of a ridge at its crest means that attacking forces could readily creep up towards the defences without the defenders seeing them. Secondly, a defender's raised head and shoulders above the fortification was clearly exposed, on the skyline, to be shot at. As a rule, then, nineteenth-century Māori fortifications are not found on steep ridges but on broadly sloping ground or on the flat. This is a general rule only, however. Fortifications were also built, or pre-European ones remodelled, on hills. Pre-European fortified sites were also sometimes constructed on flat land, and are sometimes confused with their nineteenth-century counterparts. 11
The first stage of modification of pre-European pā, prevailing on sites on flat land in the 1820s and 1830s, was the addition of trenches or gun pits forward or immediately to the rear of the older ditch. I have observed such modifications in pā in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Such earthworks were probably coupled with rearrangements of the palisading. These features tend to get broken down by stock into an archaeological feature of amorphous plan, and are difficult to recognise. We see the final developments of this technique in the contemporary sketches of the fortifications of 1845 in the Bay of Islands, and it is also readily recognised from the aerial photograph of Ruapekapeka. (These fortifications were purpose-built at the time; they were not adaptations of pre-European pā.) Overall, the distinction between pre-European sites, on the one hand, and sites strictly of early nineteenth-century origin, on the other, is not easy to draw. However, it is generally easy to distinguish most mid and late nineteenth-century fortifications. 12 Their positions are also documented on maps and in the written record.
Te Wehengaiti rifle trenches, near Lake Rotoaira, Tongariro region
The rifle trenches were built by Tūwharetoa, probably for Te Kooti Arikirangi, in 1869. They form a distinct closed defensive perimeter but are more visible on the right of the photograph. The enclosed area is about 35 m across. The rifle trenches have been set on the edge of a low rise, but avoid skyline exposure and at the same time retain a good field of fire. The informal layout and the pronounced use of returns (the zigzag pattern) are characteristic of Maori fortifications. This photograph was taken after the trenches had been excavated and restored in the early 1970s.
Mātakitaki, Waikato: a pre-European and gunfighter pā, site of a major defeat of Ngāti Maniapoto by Ngā Puhi in 1822
The site lies on the long tongue of land at the confluence of the Mangapiko (right) and Waipā Rivers, central Waikato basin. Ngā Puhi at this time had the advantage of exclusive possession of guns. They had arrived at this point deep in the Waikato without opposition. The pā relies to a great extent on the river and its banks for defence. It has been segmented in several parts, with the central defended perimeter around the first part of the point which is above flood level. On purely archaeological grounds, the defences are difficult to distinguish as being clearly of nineteenth-century origin. The pā complex is some 400 m long and the view is to the north-east.
In the western Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Taranaki, 'redoubts', comprising a knot of rifle trenches with long, interlinking sections between them, were thrown up over very extensive areas. Rangiriri and Pāterangi are examples where the objective was to prevent European incursion on to Māori territory. However, the tactical need to prevent outflanking movements was paramount and these complex fortifications simply did not serve that purpose. At Pāterangi, Māori failed in their strategic objective without any significant engagement at the major fortification itself. 15 There, some seven redoubts, each quite complex, linked by 2 km of rifle trenches arranged in a roughly pentagonal plan, were built. This elaborate structure was designed to secure the important ridge-line routes from the rapids at Te Rore on the Waipā River (restricting the movement of armoured boats further up the river) into the central and southern Waikato. 16 The ridges were tactically important because the surrounding ground was generally swampy and apparently impassable to heavily armed troops moving in regular formations. However, this was the Waikato Māori's first experience of significant troop movements over land, and they seemed to have misjudged the British response. The British troops outflanked (aided by a local guide), literally by miles, the fortified complex on the ridge and the only significant engagement was at Waiari, a pre-European pā, on a loop in the Mangapiko River. A redoubt was built subsequently to protect the river crossing here. 17
I found these locations readily when I flew over the southern Waikato in August 1991, but conditions were overcast. Waiari, the pā mentioned by Cowan, showed clearly, as did the redoubt by the river crossing. In the vertical aerial photograph used here, taken in oblique light in June 1943, the positions of some of the main fortifications can just be detected as indistinct humps in the ground surface near the upper edge of the steep slopes above the former swamps. The contemporary maps of Pāterangi 18 do not exactly fit the topography of the aerial photograph, and the schematic sketch shown adjusts both the available plans. 19
Elsewhere, Māori sites were informally constructed: an irregular perimeter rifle trench and breastwork with sunken house pits within. If the trench is inside, this contrasts with pre-European practice and fairly unambiguously defines the site as nineteenth-century in origin. The defenders would stand or kneel in the trench and fire over the bank. If the trench is outside, the site may be easily confused with pre-European styles of fortification on river flats. A rifle trench is just that: a trench in which defenders stood or knelt firing out. Because the trenches or combination of trench and banks are designed to enclose a single line of people, they are relatively narrow and shallow compared with the wide, deep ditches and banks of the traditional pre-European style of fortification. (Even this criterion, however, is not readily applicable in regions such as the East Coast where ditches of all ages are usually narrow.) This type of fortification is particularly common in areas which were suitable only for relatively mobile, lightly armed attacking forces such as those that operated in the eastern Bay of Plenty, the Urewera and the East Coast. Here the topography and the isolation were such that the campaigns were essentially policing in massed force, using kūpapa or the Armed Constabulary, rather than regular military operations.
Another feature of both Māori and European rifle trenches, remembering that Māori built mainly rifle trenches, is the presence of irregularities in the line of the trench. The line may consist of linked single pits; there may be a maze-type effect in their arrangement; or there may be short earth walls or changes of direction (returns) in the line of the trench. These all served the purpose of preventing an attacker from entering the line of the trench, or flanking the fortification from the outside, and firing indiscriminately along the line of it. This was 'enfilading fire', a devastating practice for the defenders, but sometimes also for the attacking force. Troops in a position to apply enfilading fire could hardly fail to hit someone, or several people, provided the general line of fire was accurate. This is precisely the type of fire that the flanking angles of the European fortification were designed to offer the defenders. An example of a Māori fortification created by a simple perimeter rifle trench with many returns is Te Wehengaiti, near Lake Rotoaira. 20
Vertical aerial photograph taken in 1943 of sites in the vicinity of Pāterangi. The Pāterangi fortifications occupied the fairly flat areas on the highest ground to the north of the photograph. The British forces had landed from the Waipa River at Te Rore some 5 km to the north-west. The Maori fortifications were placed across the broad ridge to bar access to the principal Maori (i.e., Kingite) settlement of Rangiāowhia some 15 km to the south-east. The line of the principal road crossing diagonally from left to right on this photograph is the same as that of the Maori cart road from Te Rore to Rangiāowhia. The British forces ultimately outflanked the Maori position to the south. A redoubt was then built in the middle of the original fortification, and served to protect the road which remained in use.
An oblique view of Waiari, the pre-European pā on the Mangapiko River, at which the British forces met some opposition in the earlier stages of the movement on Pāterangi. The redoubt was constructed after the fighting to control the river crossing here. Not far from it, under leafless Robinia trees, is a European redoubt, built to control a ford on the river.
Contemporary photograph of the rifle trenches at Pāterangi
This view shows the size of the defensive works. A major fortification, one of five linked by the rifle trenches, stands forward of the rifle trench at right. The photograph appears to be of part of the flanking defences of the south-eastern part of the main ridge, and the view is to the south.
In summary, in the nineteenth century there was no simple change in Māori fortification with the advent of muskets. The principal changes were the adaptation of the old ditches to use as breastworks or rifle trenches, the addition of pits forward and rear of the ditches, the use of padding screens (under which fire was directed) forward of the breastwork, the use of solid stockades forward or in rear of the breastwork and, finally, the adaptation of pits within the pā against the effects of shell and mortar fire. This pattern of fortification is clear enough in a few surviving examples, notably Ruapekapeka in the Bay of Islands and Pukerangiora in Taranaki, but as a rule the elaborate Māori fortifications of the New Zealand Wars have not survived into the period when aerial photography can be used. Later, in the lightly armed conflicts of the late 1860s, Māori fortifications are more in the form of simple perimeter trenches and breastworks.
European fortifications survive in some numbers, partly because they had continuing use in the Armed Constabulary era. The period of the New Zealand Wars (1845-1872) was marked by a distinct change in the efficacy of weapons, largely denied to Māori until the successful raids on European settlements of the late 1860s, coupled with British military recognition that formed, tactical troop-movements in the open against entrenchments were impossible. This era saw the passing of the eighteenth-century 'Napoleonic' traditions of troop handling, and the advent in all European armies and theatres (including the United States) of the techniques of infantry warfare stalemated in the trenches that so marked the early twentieth century. That change cannot have been modelled on a response to Māori adaptations of warfare with the gun, but arises from wider causes, particularly the lessons provided by the later phases of the American Civil War.page breakpage break
1 Belich (1986: 291-310).
2 Belich (1986: 113-116).
3 Bowden (1991: 14-22).
4 Catton (1966: 166-167).
5 Buist (1968: 166).
6 Sorrenson (1981: 174,184).
7 Chandler (1974:128 and elsewhere); Catton (1966:166-167); Pugsley (1991, pers. comm.).
8 S.P. Smith (1910a: 470-476).
9 S.P. Smith (1910a, b).
10 S.P. Smith (1910a: 224-238); Phillips (1989:176-178); Kelly (1949: 356-367).
11 For example, in Hawke's Bay by Blake-Palmer (1947).
12 Narratives of the various campaigns are in Cowan (1983); Belich (1986).
13 Sorrenson (1981: 182). The general chronology is Bay of Islands (muskets, 1845), Crimean War (first extensive use of rifles by infantry, 1853-1856) (Bowden, 1991), the Waikato campaigns (1861-1863), and the American Civil War (1861-1865) in which there was extensive use of rifles and rifle trenches.
14 Plans in Cowan (1983, Vol. 1: 34-87).
15 Cowan (1983, Vol. 1: 340-349).
16 Cowan (1983, Vol. 1: 342).
17 Cowan (1983, Vol. 1: 146-149).
18 See the map by Captain E. Brooke, R.E. (Alexander Turnbull Library negative number F29376/1/2); also a sketch corrected by Cowan (1983: Vol. 1, 343) from Brooke.
19 Brooke probably made a circuit of the defences, perhaps using a compass, and failed to close his survey line by some distance.
20 Newman (1988: 124-126).
21 Smart (1961); a qualified view is O. Wilson (1961).