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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

A Christmas Fight

page 142

A Christmas Fight.

There was war in the air in the mid-'sixties in Old Wairoa. That is, the war clouds hovered over Arcadian Wairoa, and began to settle down lower and lower as the months sped on towards the close of 1865. The lands of the Maoris were fast passing into the hands of the Pakehas, chiefly as a result of the piling up of huge store bills. The Maori leaders adopted a war-like attitude, and the Pakehas treated the Maoris with scant courtesy—indeed, there was a most uncharitable attitude taken up then both by the military and civilians. It was a very common thing to refer to them as "niggers," and it is difficult to discover any more opprobrious epithet to apply, for the Maori is not a "nigger" in any sense of the term but a true Aryan, as we are—and detractors of the Maori should not forget the kinship. The war rumours grew, and no one in Wairoa seemed to know for certain whether the Maoris would remain quiescent or strike for freedom from Pakeha rule and aggression. In 1885, however, the military authorities thought it a wise policy to get ready for war. Several redoubts were built about the town—one near Murrae Street, on the river bank commanding Te Uhi, or Kurupakiaka Pa, another on the present County Council office site, the third being near the southern approach of the old bridge. One of these was garrisoned by Imperial troops, but they were never sent into action. The other redoubts were garrisoned by the Hawkes Bay Military Settlers, and those from Taranaki. The potential enemy forces were congregated in page 143the Maru Maru area under Te Waru. This man had not long before suffered defeat at Orakau and he felt the loss of his mana (influence) very keenly, and was glad of a chance to embark on a war that might bring about his rehabilitation. He had another good supporter in Anaru Matete, and the combined force was stated to be 800 strong, but that was, probably, an exaggeration. The weather was beautiful, the sun shone brightly and the millions of birds sang in the bush surrounding Wairoa. There was an air of the coming Christmas season abroad also, but instead of "Peace on earth, Goodwill to men," it was for a drama of death that both sides were preparing. It was Christmas Eve that the first advance against the Maoris began with a force comprising 150 Europeans and the same number of loyal Natives. The force was under the command of Major James Fraser, Captain Hussey (of Taranaki), Major Biggs and Captain St. George. The advance in the direction of Maru Maru was hampered by the absence of roads, and the country was traversed by innumerable creeks, marshes and steep spurs, and it was no enjoyable Christmas outing, for the men had to scramble into and out of these creeks, dripping wet, and still go forward in the night. On rising a long ridge daylight seemed near at hand, and great difficulty was experienced in preventing the loyal Maoris from opening fire at an impossible range. Soon Christmas Day dawned, and the order went to the Taranaki men to open out. Then a rooster of the pa was heard to crow, as if he were the harbinger of the day. A dim view in the morning page 144mist was had of the village of O-Maru-hakake. A volley from our advance guard—then a lull of preparation, the only sound being the clicking of the weapons of death; then the order to open fire on a village near the scrub-covered flat on the right bank of the Manga-a-ruhe creek; then ensued a race between the Taranakis, the loyals, and the Military Settlers as to who should get in first. The enemy after firing several volleys began to retire, firing as they went, and as Captain Hussey faced round to call on his men, his back was to the foe, and a rifle-bullet from one of the whares laid him dead and a Maori named Christie (son of Rawinia Apatu, mentioned elsewhere) met a similar fate. Captain Hussey was a daring, but imprudent, officer, for he went into action wearing a white helmet, as if inviting the Maoris to get him, and the killing of a toa (leader) was to them a victory. He was attended on either side by Dr. Mathew Scott and Private R. J. Deighton, and just gave one lurch forward after exclaiming, "I've got it, Dick." The men passed on and cleared the village where some hot work took place, resulting in considerable enemy loss. On the return of the Taranakis from the pursuit great was their grief at the loss of their gallant officer, and they buried him with all the honours they could give him not far from the scene of the Christmas fight.