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

Chapter VII

page 95

Chapter VII.

We must now give a short account of the history of New Zealand, after it was last visited by Captain Cook.

About the year 1793, whaling ships began to visit the islands, and it was after this date that Europeans first began to settle in the country. Some of the sailors of the whaling vessels, attracted by the mildness of the climate, the idle life, and the attractions of the brown sex, deserted from their ships, and settled amongst the natives.

Then came trading vessels, some of page 96whose sailors also elected to stay in New Zealand; and finally many an escaped convict from Australia found shelter and concealment in these favoured islands. Eventually, settlers of a better description flocked to the country. And so much had the English population increased, that with a view to preserve order, it was considered necessary by the ministry of the day to establish some sort of government, and accordingly, in 1839, Captain Hobson of the Royal Navy received a commission as Consul and Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand, and the seat of government was fixed at Russell, in the Bay of Islands.

In 1840, the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed by a number of chiefs of the Northern Island, by which they acknowledged the supremacy of the Queen of England; but it is very doubtful whether they fully understood the nature of the page 97document they were signing. After this, in 1845, followed a war with the natives called, from the name of the principal chief against us, Heke's war, the particulars of which need not be entered into here; the results were not very decisive.

In the year 1851, a Constitution was given to New Zealand, and the islands divided into provinces, each with its superintendent and local administration.

About nine years after this period, that is to say in the year 1860, another war broke out in New Zealand, in the province of Taranaki. The Ngatiruanui tribe of that province, assisted by the warlike Waikatos, made an attack on the defenceless out-settlers, killing many of them, burning their houses, carrying off their cattle, and laying waste the whole country up to the very gates of New Plymouth, the capital of the province. So great was the danger, page 98that most of the wives and children of the settlers were sent away by sea to other places in New Zealand.

When reinforcements arrived, the enemy were driven back, but they still managed to retain some most formidable pahs, the strongest of which was that of Puke Rangiora.

Against these pahs the General commanding proceeded by the slow but generally sure method of the sap, but the progress made was for some time not very great, as the opposition offered by the Maories was of a most determined character; so determined, indeed, that our loss in killed and wounded amounted during this war to about two hundred officers and men.

We may here remark on the extraordinary effect which climate has upon races of men. If in the present day it were page 99required to raise an army in Europe for any expedition, we should not like to take our recruits from Greece, Naples, or Sicily, though the ancestors of these races once performed valorous deeds.

Again, if we were raising an army in the East, we should not employ the crafty and treacherous Malay of the southern islands, and yet it is from this very race that the Maori is descended. How is this? Why is the Maori so different from the Malay? Because the Maori has lived for generations in the best climate in the world, and thus acquired strength of body and vigour of mind.

All things come to an end, and so at last the sap was nearly finished, and the troops were preparing for the attack, when negotiations were entered into which ended in the natives being allowed to evacuate their well defended pahs and page 100return to their homes actually with their arms in their hands.

After this treaty we have nothing to chronicle until the war broke out in 1863, in which war Henry Ancrum was engaged.

The immediate cause of this war was the murder of a party of soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Tragett ? at a place called Okara, on their march from one of the detached redoubts to New Plymouth. This sad event took place on the 4th of May, 1863. On the next day a force was sent out from New Plymouth, which took up a position on the native land at Okara, and built a redoubt there; at the same time the Governor confiscated the block of land between Omata and Tataraimaka, on the beach of which the massacre had taken place. Despatches were also immediately sent to Auckland and other places; and about the 9th of May a force of page 101about 250 men, of different regiments, left Onehunga (which may be called the port of Auckland, on the western side of the north island) in a man-of-war for New Plymouth.

A portion of this force belonged to the same regiment as Henry Ancrum; and he suddenly received an order to proceed with it, and join the head-quarters of the corps, then encamped near that place.

The word encampment gives but a faint idea of the reality in New Zealand. When we speak of an encampment, we think of an encampment—say at Aldershot—where we can take a peep into an officer's tent, and see all kinds of luxuries: camp-bed-steads, chests of drawers, portable washing-stands, perhaps even—luxury of luxuries—a carpet. Alas! in New Zealand there were none of these things. It is a country page 102generally without roads, full of hills covered with fern, and occasionally with forests, through which you are lucky if you find even a Maori track sufficiently broad for one man to pass at a time, and interspersed with deep swamps.

Through such a country there was no chance of carrying any baggage, and so officers and men were much alike; they could take hardly anything with them, and generally on a march had only a great-coat and blanket folded over their shoulders, and a day's cooked provisions in their haversacks.

In the camp there would be three or four officers in one little bell-tent, with no furniture whatever. In place of the bed we have mentioned, there would be seen heaps of fern strewed upon the ground, and it was considered a capital plan to take your tent-pegs out of the little canvas bag which page 103held them, and stuffing it with fern, to use it as a pillow.

As to washing-basins, or anything of that kind, a bucket or the tin-case of a small cooking canteen, used in succession by the inmates of the tent, was considered all that could be desired.

With regard to the private soldiers, they were so closely packed in their little belltenta that the only way in which they could manage to sleep at night was by each man placing his feet against the pole of the tent, and his head towards the outer circumference, thereby forming a human circle radiating from the tentpole.

But they were not unhappy. It is true they slept (as I have already mentioned in the case of the officers) on fern, and sometimes very damp fern, and that their only possessions besides their blanket and great-page 104coat, were one spare shirt and one pair of socks, which they could carry wrapped up in the said great-coat or blanket; but their time was employed during the day in escort duties, bringing up provisions, ammunition, &c., and in occasional expeditions against the Maories; and at night the occupants of almost every tent would be engaged listening to some storyteller—of whom there are always a great number in every regiment—who would begin his marvellous narrative with—

"There was once a king in the north o Ireland;" or there was a "giant," or some equally distinguished person, and proceed to relate events the astounding nature of which would surprise even that most prolific novelist, Miss Braddon.