Life in Early Poverty Bay
Under the Stars — Search for the Hau Hau Rebels — Mr. Goldsmith's Graphic Narrative
Under the Stars
Search for the Hau Hau Rebels
Mr. Goldsmith's Graphic Narrative.
Paparatu, Matawhero, Makaraka, Te Arai, Patutahi, Opou and Ngatapa are a few of the places whereat Mr. Robert Goldsmith participated in active service against the Hau Hau rebels who terrorised this district round 1868.
It was in 1848 his period of residence in this district began, and although he spent much of the early days up the East Coast, by far the greater part of his career has been lived in close proximity to the town On September 9 next, he will complete seventy-nine years of life in Poverty Bay.
Mr. Goldsmith's outstanding memories of the old days are, naturally, vivid mental pictures of the famous fighting times and, in the course of an interview, he re-lived some of those stirring days.
Arm Shattered at Paparatu
When word was received that Te Kooti and his band had landed from the Chathams at Whareongaonga, Colonel Whitmore went out with a force, which included Mr. Goldsmith, to intercept the Natives. Te Kooti made for Tiniroto en route to the Urewera country and it was at Paparatu that the opposing forces came into conflict. Colonel Whitmore came up with Te Kooti about 9 o'clock in the morning and immediately engaged him, the fight taking place in nills covered with bush. The Hau-Haus were on one side of a gully and the European force on the other, so that there was little scope for a straight-out encounter. The two forces took cover in the bush, each man finding the best shelter he could and keeping up a desultory fire whenever a target presented itself. Until darkness fell the engagement lasted, but, thereafter, Colonel Whitmore, who had by far the fewer number of troops, deemed it necessary to withdraw and Te Kooti continued his dash for the Urewera country.
It was in this fight that Mr. Goldsmith received a wound, the scar of which he bears to this day. He had taken cover behind some bushes, but exposed his left arm and a ball smashed through it at the elbow. A comrade saddled a horse for him and he rode back to Matawhero, where a temporary hospital had been set up in the small church—the first established church in Poverty Bay. After being tended there, he was sent down by boat to Napier and remained there until news of the terrible Massacre.
Assists to Avenge the Massacre
This awful disaster occurred, of course, after Te Kooti had returned from the Urewera country. Mr. Goldsmith was immediately very worried about the safety of his parents who had stayed behind in Gisborne, so he determined to return to the field of action at once, although his wound was still causing him much trouble, making his left arm useless. A boat was about to leave for Gisborne and he smuggled himself aboard, after being put ashore once, finally landing in Poverty Bay again within a week after the tragedy. Despite his wound, he immediately attached himself to the avenging mixed force of Europeans and friendly Natives, and was engaged mainly in despatch-carrying between the punitive force and headquarters in Gisborne
Surprised By Rebels
On one occasion Mr. Goldsmith and a friend were driving some cattle for the troops from Patutahi to the forces situated beyond Ngatapa. They had reached Ngatapa when they saw some Natives riding down a hill-side. “We didn't like the look of them at all,” continued Mr. Goldsmith, “but my friend said they couldn't be Hau-Haus since they had horses and we knew—or thought we did—that the enemy were all on foot. Nevertheless, we decided to be on the safe side and halted for a time, watching these strangers. They approached rapidly—too rapidly for our ease of mind—and so we took cover in the bush at a moment when they were hidden from us. Lying there concealed, we could hear them beating around in search for us. So close were they, for a time, that we could hear them talking and then knew for a fact that they were hostile. They moved some distance away and we took the chance of a dash for our lives in the direction of Patutahi. When we were sighted, the chase was on. The Hau-Haus were well mounted, having apparently captured some stray horses on the Flats.
Chance That Went Begging.
“We had a good lead and at any commanding point, on the top of a hill for instance, we fired a couple of shots at them to cool their ardour. They would approach these points cautiously, not knowing whether we were still waiting for them. Meantime we would be dashing down the hill-side increasing our lead.
“Following some distance behind us, when we set out from Patutahi, had been some ammunition carriers, friendly Natives. My friend and I came upon this party at a place called Puketoro and they immediately fell into a panic when we told them we were being closely followed by Hau-Haus. Our total number was greater than the enemy and as the latter were then coming down a valley, while we held a commanding position above the track where they would pass, there was an ideal situation for an attack, which was practically certain of success. But our ammunition carriers would have none of it. We argued vainly and I swung my horse in behind them to prevent them returning to Patutahi. But it was no good and a splendid chance to destroy or capture some of Te Kooti's men went begging simply throgh the carriers' timidity. Seeing our augmented forces, the Hau-Haus stopped and we returned unmolested to Patutahi.”
At this time, Mr Goldsmith stated, there was a military depot at Patutahi, with a good supply of ammunition and stores. The Hau-Haus came down from Ngatapa and the occupants of the depot left immediately without firing a shot. With no opposition, the rebels simply walked in and helped themselves, thus replenishing their scanty stocks of cartridges, using them, later, to shoot down the men who had been issued with these self-same munitions.
A Tight Corner
Choice of death by fire or by shooting was almost forced on Mr. Goldsmith and his mates in a small encounter with Hau-Haus. near Ngatapa. The rebels were on one side of a ridge and the Government troops on the other, the latter being steadily on the defensive against superior numbers. All over the ridge was a prolific growth of fern and, while hidden in this, the European force was page 147 comparatively safe. To get them into the open, the Hau-Haus fired the fern and the breeze earned the flames rapidly towards Mr. Goldsmith and his comrades. Fortunately, at intervals, the wind died down, for had it kept up steadily, the flames would have driven the hidden troops out of cover in short space. Every man, however, set to work making a firebreak, pulling up or hacking down the growth as fast as possible. Finally a swath of cleared ground lay athwart their position and this served to check the flames and also left a clear patch which the rebels would not risk crossing. A bout of desultory fighting lasted until nightfall, when Mr. Goldsmith and his companions beat a hasty retreat to the security of a comfortable camp some few miles away.
Shock Whilst Scouting.
On a scouting trip near Ngatapa, related Mr. Goldsmith, they had seen no signs of the Hau-Haus, despite warnings from friendly Natives that the enemy had come down from the hills. Proceeding to Patutahi, the scouts heard Natives talking on the other side of the river, but could not tell whether they were friendly or otherwise. Night came on and they camped at a redoubt situated on what is now Mr. Ewen Cameron's place at Makauri. During the dark hours, they again heard Natives talking, but could not run the risk of attracting their attention, for fear they should prove hostile. Morning came, the neighborhood appeared deserted and, after returning to Makaraka for the following night, they once more made their way out to the Ngatapa Flats. Still they had perceived no Natives who were definitely hostile, but they came on traces of a camp-fire. Back they came to Pukepuke in the Patutahi Valley. Mr. Goldsmith was some distance ahead of the rest of the party, when he noticed a number of Natives coming down a hill towards them. Extensive scouting had revealed no trace of the Hau-Haus and he, concluding these were some of the friendly Natives, took no notice of them. Mr. Goldsmith and this party gradually approached one another and when they were only two hundred yards away they suddenly discharged a volley at him.
A Hot Pursuit.
“It was a nasty shock,” commented Mr. Goldsmith, “but I didn't take long to get over it, you may be sure, and I cleared back up a hill towards our own men. There was too much excitement in it for my comfort and I can't understand yet how they missed me, for they kept up their shooting as I dashed up the hill-side and down the other side to safety. it was fortunate for our men that I did get away, for no others in the party knew the lay of the land about there. The Hau-Haus outnumbered us greatly and we were placed in an awkward position, being in a valley with a wide swamp at our rear. By coming to the hill-top, which they could have done with perfect safety, the enemy could have picked us off at leisure. Fortunately I knew an easy path along the edge of the swamp and so we galloped along this to the more open country at the bottom of the valley. When the Hau-Haus reached the hill-top, we were well away, but they wasted little time in setting out hotly after us.”
A Gallant Rescue
Mr. Goldsmith was rather diffident about relating an incident of this chase and passed it off with a few words. It appeared that one of the scouting party was mounted on a horse of indifferent quality and rapidly fell behind the others. Eventually his mount became completely “puffed” and came to a standstill. The Hau-Haus rapidly approached and none of his comrades would risk a dash back to rescue the unfortunate straggler. Mr. Goldsmith, who was up with the leaders, on noticing the man's plight, immediately checked his mount, turned and rode back to his assistance. Tearing along at full gallop, he called to his comrade (who had then dismounted and was running after the fleeing party) to be ready to jump. The rescuer swung his horse in a circle without checking the pace at all, came up by the dismounted man, gripped him, and half supporting him across his leg and page 148 halt-dragging him along the ground, carried him to a safe distance when the horse could slow down and the rescued man climb up behind his rescuer. Meantime the advancing Hau-Haus were emptying their rifles at the pair, but neither was touched. The rescued man's name was Campbell. It should be remembered that, at this time, Mr Goldsmith had only one sound arm.
Ropata's Clever Strategy
Two days after this narrow escape, Major Ropata arrived at Patutahi from Napier and Mr. Goldsmith joined his party as a scout, once more getting up to the firing-line. Leaving Patutahi, they set out for Ngatapa and had reached Makaretu, when they engaged a strong body of Hau-Haus. The enemy were caught in a valley with a deep creek at the bottom, so Major Ropata divided his party, sending a band of friendly Napier Natives, some seven or eight hundred, along one ridge, while he took up a position, with the remainder of his force, on the other. Caught between two fires, with no possibility of escape, the Hau Haus fought bravely despite rapidly-diminishing numbers. The Government troops gradually closed in and drove the rebels up the valley which narrowed down to an end in a clear space near the hill-top. When the retreating Natives reached the end of the cover, they had the choice of rushing out into the open to be shot down or of jumping into the deep creek at the side. Some made a dash for the open, but none won through Others jumped into the creek (which had a deep flow of water) and attempted to escape down stream. “They hadn't a chance in the world,” Mr. Goldsmith remarked reflectively, “and with some of them swimming and others breast-high in the water, we had no trouble in fixing them all.”
An Unfortunate Sequel.
This victory over the Hau-Haus had an unfortunate sequel. Before the engagement, Major Ropata had issued orders that no prisoners were to be taken. The Napier Natives had captured two men and, for some reason, did not wish to execute them. Major Ropata demanded that they be delivered to him, but the Napier men proved adamant. Thereupon the Major, whose own party consisted of only 70 or 80 as against ten times that number of Napier Natives, delivered an ultimatum that the latter could keep the two prisoners until next morning, but they would then have to be given up without fail. During that night, all the Napier “friendlies,” with their two prisoners, departed for Patutahi and were thence returned to Napier, taking no further part in the fighting. Their departure was a big loss to the Government forces.
Very shortly after this, on the same trip, Mr. Goldsmith participated in the attacks on the pa situated on Ngatapa hill. Many of the Hau Haus had retired to this strongly fortified post which was well guarded on all open sides by a series of rifl-epits outside the stout pallisade. All the brush and scrub had been cleared for a considerable distance around the pa and the attackers were thus fully exposed to the defenders' fire when advancing. Major Ropata, however, led an assault to the first line of rifle pits which were captured, but they had to relinquish this position during the night, owing to the supply of ammunition running out.
The Capture of Ngatapa.
The whole party then retired to Gisborne and were there fully equipped again. Large numbers of Europeans arrived from all parts of the country and again the pa at Ngatapa was besieged. On three sides, the pa was easy of approach and the attacking force set a cordon around to prevent any of the Hau-Haus escaping. The fourth side of the pallisade was on the edge of a precipitous cliff, about twenty feet high, with ti-tree growing profusely along the brink. This side was considered inaccessible either from within or without the pa and, consequently, the attackers placed no guard thereabouts
A number of assaults were made by Major Ropata and his men, the rifle-pits being captured, but the pa itself remaining in Hau-Hau hands. To shorten the siege, it was decided to page 149 blow up the defences and a tunnel from the rifle-pit was dug to below the stockade walls. A strong explosive charge was prepared and the time of the final discomfiture of the rebels was fixed for a certain morning
“But the Hau-Haus must have known something,” said Mr. Goldsmith with a smile, “for every one of the beggars cleared out of the pa that night. They slipped out the back way and got down the cliff by bending the ti-tree over and using it to lessen the distance of their fall. In the morning, it didn't take us long to find they had gone and so we captured the empty Ngatapa pa. Anyway we had our explosion and utterly destroyed the stronghold.”
Many of the escaping Natives were captured and they were dealt with very summarily They were made to dig their own graves and were then shot down as they stood on the edge. “It seems cold-blooded,” remarked Mr. Goldsmith, “but it was a necessary measure and these devils had committed cruelties which made any mercy impossible.
Fine Tribute to the Womenfolk.
“They were stirring times,” said Mr. Goldsmith, in conclusion, “and they were wonderful in some ways. Thoughts occasionally come to me of the days spent under the stars, waiting, breathlessly, at the sound of Native voices, to discover whether they wore those of friend or of foe. Life seemed of very little consequence and we thought little more of shooting down a Hau-Hau than a farmer does now of killing a fat sheep to supply his household. But one can only hope that New Zealand will never see such a state of things again. The greatest burden of it all was borne by the women, our wives and daughters, who sat by the fireside and thought of the absent ones who even then might have passed to death amidst the fern and shrub of some desolate hill-side.”
Sir C. A. Bettington,
formerly of Gisborne, who rescued the body of the Prince Imperial from the Zulus and received a knighthood.