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The Story Of Gate Pa, April 29th, 1864

The Attack Commences

page 14

The Attack Commences.

At daybreak on the 29th, fire was opened on the enemy's position, and continued without intermission till noon, when a 6-pounder Armstrong field piece, having been taken across the swamp and placed in position on a high ridge, completely enfiladed the enemy's left defences, crumpling them up to the small redoubt on the crest of the hill aforesaid. Up to that time our fire had been directed at the flagstaff on a rise 60 yards in the rear, and not having been effectual, the range was shortened and all guns concentrated on the right hand corner of the main citadel. At times our fire was rather wild, but the practice of the 24-pounder howitzers, 8-inch mortars, and 6-inch cohorns, under Captain Smith, R.A., was admirable, and the continuous rain, converting the light soil of the defences into mud, the slender fences were soon demolished. About 3 p.m. the 110 pounder ceased firing, having expended 100 rounds. Later on a considerable body of the enemy attempted to escape on their extreme right, but the 68th extended, and supported by Lieutenant Hotham's Naval Brigade, they were driven back with considerable loss. At 4 p.m. the assaulting column of 150 men of the 43rd., under Colonel Booth, and the same number of the Naval Brigade led by Commander Hay, H.M.S. “Harrier,” formed up on our extreme right, where the contour of the ground sheltered it from the fire of the small redoubt. At the same time the 170 men of the 70th under Major Ryan marched to the right under cover of batteries, and lay concealed in the fern to keep down the enemy's fire, with instructions to later on follow the stormers into the breach. The 300 of the 43rd, seamen and marines under Captain C. F. Hamilton, H.M.S. “Esk,” comprised the reserve, which was also to follow into the works.

The covering party in the fern were only 100 yards from the Pa. The signal—a rocket—having been fired, the storming party, four abreast, (two soldiers and two sailors), with their officers at the flanks, at once, with hurrahs and cheers, rushed at the double toward the breach. The two companies of the 70th then opened up a tremendous fire, and the 68th, with answering cheers, closed up at the rear with heavy fire. In a few minutes, the storming party, gallantly led by their officers, was in the centre of the Pa. The natives, falling back and endeavouring to escape at their rear, were driven in by the tremendous fire of the 68th, and being between two fires which must have inflicted losses on friend and foe alike, the natives sought shelter in their covered ways, traverses and underground shelters, from whence they opened a severe fire on our troops. At this time the enemy from their extreme right, were seen jumping and leaping as they rushed to attack our forces. It was now almost dark, and most of the officers had fallen; page 15 the assaulting column supports and reserves were all crowded into a small space, and appeared to have lost control, and a panic ensued, caused, it is said, by a subaltern calling out:—”My God, here they come in thousands!” Others again say the order “Retire! Retire!” was given. But whatever the cause, the disordered mass, instead of holding on to the earthworks already won, retreated, despite the heroic efforts of their gallant officers, who freely sacrificed their lives in their vain attempts to stem the panic.

General Cameron, from the nearest and most exposed point, with all his staff, believed the position had been won, and immediately ordered up the supports, led by Captain T. C. Hamilton and Captain (afterwards Commodore) Robert Jenkins (the latter though senior, having consented to serve under his junior officer). Captain Hamilton had only reached the second trench when he fell dead, and the whole force fell back outside, the enemy pursuing, and at the same time keeping up a severe cross fire from the detached small redoubt, thus taking a heavy toll of our men.

General Cameron, having rallied his men, threw up earthworks within a hundred yards of the enemy's position just about dark, and waited anxiously for daylight. Captain Jenkins and Dr. Manley were the last men to leave the Pa. Captain Jenkins had a very narrow escape through falling into a deep trench full of Maoris who were so tightly packed they could neither load their guns, nor use their long-handled tomahawks. Meanwhile he belaboured them viciously with his long heavy naval spying glass and uttered terrible yells, which quite unnerved them. The remains of the spyglass were returned to him after the fight.

At midnight, Major Greaves, creeping up to the works, reported that he believed the enemy had retired, and at 5 a.m. a sailor belonging to H.M.S. “Harrier” entered and found the place had been abandoned by the defenders, who had crept through the spaces between the lines of the 68th during the darkness.