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Henry Ancrum: A Tale of the Last War in New Zealand, Volume 1

Chapter XII

page 210

Chapter XII.

About the period when, as we have mentioned, the General and a considerable portion of the army returned from Taranaki, stirring events had been taking place in the Waikato country; the turbulent natives of that district had been guilty of several offences of a rebellious character, amongst which was the forcibly taking possession of and floating down the river Waikato a quantity of timber, sent up by government to erect a police barrack at the "Ia," the printing and publishing a seditious newspaper, called the Hokioi, the sending several threatening page 211letters to the Governor, and lastly the attack by a party of about eighty or a hundred Maories under command of a chief named Aporo, on "Te Awamutu," whence they carried off in triumph the printing-press belonging to government, with which the government agent was promulgating Te Pihoihoi Moke Moke, a rival newspaper to the Hokioi.

After this little occurrence there was a pause, the dark skin and the white man were face to face, but each hesitated to strike the first blow; still it was evident that the Maori was preparing for war. With other races, once the bones of their ancestors are deposited in the earth the place may remain sacred, but the bones themselves are not disturbed; with the Maori it is otherwise, he wishes to have the sacred relics of his ancestors always with him wherever his tribe may be located. Accord-page 212ingly it was found that the natives in the neighbourhood of Onehunga had removed the bones of their ancestors, buried at the foot of the hill of Mangarei opposite that town, and carried them to what they considered would be a safer resting-place in the Waikato district, far away, as they thought, from the intrusion of Europeans, an imagination which they were destined very soon to find was a mistake.

Reports also began to be circulated, which subsequent evidence proved to be founded on fact, that a secret and terrible plot existed amongst the Maories to exterminate, or at any rate drive away from New Zealand, the whole of the white population. The alarm became general in the outlying districts. The settlers at Mauku, Waiuku, and Raglan, sent their wives and families into Auckland for safety. The first class of the militia, consisting page 213of young unmarried men, was called out for drill, and many volunteer companies were also formed and trained.

About this time an event occurred which, although at first sight it might appear to be unimportant, yet was eventually destined to bring on hostilities sooner than might otherwise have been the case. It is the custom of the Maories (as indeed it has been of almost all uncivilized nations) to communicate intelligence by means of lighting signal fires on the tops of mountains or high grounds; indeed the Maori carries this system further, and attaches a light to the end of a long pole, which he waves in the night air in such a manner as to communicate information to his friends and allies on the distant hills or across the deep rivers and marshes of this very inaccessible country.

Now it so happened that the 2nd of page 214July was set apart as a holiday and day of rejoicing in honour of the marriage of the Prince of Wales. After dark many of the principal buildings in Auckland were illuminated, and large bonfires were lighted on the summits of the principal hills round about the city in further celebration of the joyful event. The Maories beheld these fires, and imagined that the pakehas (foreigners) had divined their murderous intentions, and that the kindling of the bonfires was the signal for a sudden invasion of the Waikato. Filled with this idea they hurried on their preparations, and resolved to forestall by some days the date on which they had originally determined to attack us. But there still remained some amongst the Maories in whom the recollection of benefits received was not altogether dead, and who felt some com-page 215punction at leaving us to our fate, without giving us any intimation of the blow that was to be struck, and so between the 3rd and 8th July, the government received many warnings from natives, all of them couched in more or less ambiguous language, after the fashion of Lord Mount-eagle's famous letter concerning the Gunpowder Plot, but all of them pointing unmistakeably to the fact that the natives did entertain the design of attacking their European fellow-subjects in this province, and that immediately. Under these circumstances the Governor and the General determined to take the initiative by concentrating the army on the Maungatawhiri river, and accordingly, on Thursday the 9th July, 1863, the troops commenced their march from Auckland and other places in order to assemble on the banks of that river.

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The morning of the 9th July broke wild and stormily, the wind surged and roared round the hill on which the barracks of Fort Britomart are situated, with a fury rarely to be witnessed except in New Zealand; the rain fell in torrents, flooding the barrack-square, and sending various little rivulets dancing and bounding down the steep sides of the hill on their way to the neighbouring ocean.

Henry Ancrum was awakened by a light being placed close to his eyes by his Irish servant, who informed him that "Shure he thought his honour was awake an hour ago, and that the warning bugle had sounded for parade, and the regiment would be falling in in a few minutes," No time was to be lost, so up he jumped and dressed himself hastily. The very small amount of baggage which any officer under the rank of a field officer was allowed to page 217carry in New Zealand—namely, one hundred pounds in weight—had been packed and ready long ago, so he had nothing to do when dressed but join his company, which was just assembling on parade. The men were dressed in their loose great-coats, with their belts inside them, and the scene possessed rather a picturesque appearance as seen by the dim light of the early morning. Some of the men standing in groups waiting the time to fall in, others trying to shelter themselves as long us possible from the pelting rain under the lee of the barracks, and numerous figures appearing from all sides out of the darkness as they approached the rendezvous. But soon the bugle sounded the "fall in," and the apparently confused mass subsided at once into a dim, dark, silent column of companies.

Not a sound was heard. How different the scene to what we generally see at a page 218parade or review in England. Here our troops turn out in their gayest uniforms. Their regimental colours flutter in the breeze, the bands play their most melodious tunes, and, glory of glories, perhaps there is a regiment of Dragoons or of Lancers (those most gorgeous and holiday of all soldiers) to enliven the appearance of everything. To crown all, there may be a general with a brilliant staff. But at the parade on which we are now gazing there was nothing of all this. There was no general, there was no staff, there were no Dragoons, there were no Lancers, there were no gay uniforms, there was no music, for the band was not to accompany the regiment into the field. There were not even colours, for it was considered that in the desultory warfare in which the troops would be engaged, they would only be in the way. What was there then? Simply a dark column of page 219soldiers, motionless on top of a hill, drenched by the pitiless storm. Such is the difference between work and play!

A few words from the Colonel, and the silent column is in motion. Company follows company in fours till it assumes the appearance of a long black snake winding out of the barrack gate furthest from the town; and opposite to the portion of ground called the Demesne, where the government house was to have been built, it turns to its right along the road to Otahuhu, and the welcome command "march at ease" is given, when the soldier may enjoy his pipe and his talk, or a song if he wishes it; but on this occasion the pipe had it all its own way, for the rain still fell heavily, and the wind still blew, and every smoker knows what a comfort even a clay pipe can be under such circumstances.

Shortly after leaving Auckland you pass page 220a very pretty graveyard in a valley on the left hand side, where the ground slopes down in a succession of grassy knolls interspersed with trees, towards a noisy brawling brook, which flows at its bottom; then you pass some detached houses, each situated in its own grounds like a miniature park. After this the country for some miles does not possess much interest. It is entirely without trees, rather flat, and in parts stony and barren, and the small fields surrounded with stone walls, remind the traveller of many parts of Ireland. On the right may he seen the Port of Onehunga, which in fact may be called the western port of Auckland, as it will be some day, for at this point the Waitemata, or Bay of Auckland, on the east, is only separated by some five miles of land from the Bay of Onehunga on the west of the northern island of New Zealand.

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After the column had passed the place where the road branches off to Onehunga, the day began to clear, the rain ceased, the heavy masses of cloud gradually cleared away, and the bright sun shone and glittered on the rippling waters of the numerous bays which appeared on the right of the line of march. The men stepped out briskly. A soldier is always eager to throw off any depressing influence. Some of them sang songs, in which a large number would join in chorus; others told stories, always a favourite method of beguiling the tedium of the line of march, and so in a comparatively short time the column wound its way up to the cantonment of Otahuhu. Here it was found that in consequence of the departure of other troops for the front, there would be plenty of room for the men in the wooden huts, which resemble those at Aldershot, and page 222so they were comfortably lodged for the night.

The cantonment of Otahuhu is situated close to the village of the same name, which was originally chiefly settled by placing a colony of armed pensioners there, and granting to each of them a piece of land, on condition of his residing on it. The policy of this proceeding will be at once apparent, when it is mentioned that the river Tamaki, or rather the arm of sea called Tamaki, from the eastern coast of New Zealand, here nearly touches the waters of the sea on the western coast, thereby forming a natural barrier, which can be easily defended, and is called the "line of the Tamaki." The distance from this point to Auckland is nine miles, and the block of land is of considerable breadth. Now by placing the military settlers at the Tamaki end, the whole of this land was page 223rendered safe for the occupation of civilian settlers, and was accordingly soon filled up.

On the day after the troops arrived at Otahuhu, they marched to the village of Drury, about twelve or thirteen miles, and were encamped there for the night, and started next morning at daylight for the Queen's Redoubt.

About two miles from Drury there is a place called "Shepherd's Bush," after the man who first settled there. On arriving at this place a sight met the eyes of the advanced guard such as is fortunately seldom seen in these days of civilization. There, close to the roadside, lay an old man, of about eighty years of age, quite dead, his long white hair and beard dabbled in blood, his body stripped, gashed, and mutilated, in the usual manner adopted by the savage Maori. A few yards further on page 224lay a handsome boy, only fourteen years of age, also dead; he had evidently begged hard for mercy: his hands and arms had been raised to try and defend his head from the dreadful tomahawk, they were all gashed and cut, the right arm nearly severed from the body, but all in vain; he had prayed to those to whom mercy was unknown; the dreadful blow had fallen, and severed his young life from the world in which he had lived so short a time.

The harmless old man of eighty and the child of fourteen had gone out in pursuit of their peaceful occupation, to erect a fence on their farm in the woods. They were not soldiers, they had no arms, they could offer no resistance, and yet they were ruthlessly murdered!

Oh, gentlemen who make eloquent speeches at Exeter Hall—oh, admirers of the "Noble Savage," can even you defend page 225a murder like this, and not only this murder, but that of many other peaceful settlers destroyed in a similar manner? Perhaps you will say, the Maori was fighting for his country; but this was not the case, not a shot had as yet been fired on either side, and no steps whatever had been taken by the government against the Maories, except assembling troops and issuing a proclamation, although the conspiracy by the latter against, not only the government, but all the white inhabitants of New Zealand, had been discovered. Besides, the Maori in New Zealand is as free, perhaps freer, than the white man. He is often rich in land, in horses, and in cattle, and he can do what he likes with his own. No one is allowed to interfere with him; in fact, in many parts of the country, the Maori can obtain justice against the white man, but the page 226white man can often not obtain justice against the Maori.

And here we may remark, that there is one consideration which must force itself on every reflecting mind, which is, that the benevolent gentlemen who take the Maori and the negro under their especial protection, never seem to attach the slightest value to the lives of the soldiers and settlers which are often sacrificed to the policy they recommend; for it is notorious that all savage nations attribute undue leniency on the part of an enemy to fear of themselves, and that firm and decided action in repressing an outbreak like the one in New Zealand, will eventually save, not only the lives of soldiers and settlers, but actually those of many of the natives themselves, who finding war hopeless, would be deterred from joining in it.

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A few miles after passing Shepherd's Bush, the country becomes densely wooded, and the excellent military road ascends to a high plateau, along which it proceeds, occasionally ascending and descending until it reaches the extremely steep sides of a mountain called Razorback, from its extreme narrowness, almost sharpness, at top.

On reaching the summit, a beautiful scene burst upon their view. Immediately in front, the road descended down the steep side of the mountain, till, at the bottom of the first descent, it was crossed by a brawling stream; on the left was a wood of the tallest forest trees, dark, solemn, and impervious, and throwing long shadows over the road. On the right, spur after spur descended from the mountain clothed with feathery trees, and bathed and steeped in the morning sunlight, save where, ever and page 228anon, some passing cloud would throw a flitting shadow over the scene, which made the surrounding brightness seem more bright, till at length the plain was reached with its tall ferns waving in the breeze, and far far away in the dim distance, could be faintly seen the Queen's Redoubt, the Maungatawhiri Creek, and the broad Waikato River.

Henry Ancrum, who was on the rearguard, had an excellent opportunity of viewing the scene in all its beauty, as he had to halt for some time until the whole of the column had cleared the defile. When he reached the summit, his regiment was nearly at the bottom of the descent and, as the road wound hither and thither, it assumed the appearance of a long undulating red line; behind it came a convoy of stores and ammunition, carried by the military train and carts of the country, the page 229latter in picturesque confusion, and guarded by soldiers here and there, who seemed like little red dots on the landscape, whilst above him on the left of the road hung the stockade of Razorback, the small but formidable guardian of the pass; but soon the wavy red line disappeared in the dark sombre wood, like some fiery serpent retiring to its den; the military train were next swallowed up; and last of all, the country carts with their noisy hallooing drivers and cracking whips were lost to view, and silence settled on the scene, not the silence of English woods, broken by the song of birds, or the noise made by the movement of animals amongst the brushwood, no—absolute silence, still, dead, unbroken silence — silence that might be felt. For in the New Zealand woods there is no animal save the rat, and he makes no noise. There are no birds save rarely a page 230little creature, something like a water-wagtail, to whom song is unknown; or still more rarely a soaring hawk.

Henry Ancrum had been gazing down from the edge of the steep hill on the prospect before him, till he had become lost in a sort of day dream; the "sudden solitude" startled him. He turned to rejoin his men, and soon the rear-guard was following the main body towards Queen's Redoubt, where they arrived in the afternoon, and encamped for the night.