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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter XII. — Speedy and Triumphant Conclusion of The Maori War

page 85

Chapter XII.
Speedy and Triumphant Conclusion of The Maori War.

"Unbounded courage and compassion joined,
Tempering each other in the victor's mind,
Alternately proclaim him good and great,
And make the hero and the man complete."

When, five months after the repulse at Ohaewai, Captain Grey arrived to take over the Government of New Zealand, assistance was coming to the colony from many quarters. From India, from China, and from Australia, ships of war had been sent with men and military material. The money and munitions of war which he himself had forwarded from South Australia were especially useful. He found everything in confusion—finance, Government, military, natives, settlers. It would hardly be possible to imagine a more tangled skein than that which the new Governor was called upon to unwind. In addition to the disasters which had already been made public in England, were the reverses which our arms had sustained at Okaihau and Ohaewai, with the consequent increase of confidence among the disaffected Maoris, and dismay and confusion of the few and scattered European settlers.

No time was lost in regrets or ceremonies. In a few days Grey had decided as to the course to be taken. With the treasure brought from South Australia he called in, and partly paid, the debentures issued by Captain Fitzroy. These were payable at a fixed date, bearing interest at six per cent., and amounted to £37,000. He put a stop to the sale of firearms to the Maoris, in the face of a page 86bitter opposition, and after a desperate struggle in the Council by an Order. When Grey left in 1854 this was repealed, and the natives then bought the arms with which our people were slaughtered in the great wars. He also prohibited the purchase of native land by private individuals.' He organised a body of native armed police, under European officers. He entered into negociations with friendly chiefs, with a view to appoint them magistrates under the Crown, at small salaries. He arranged with Waka Nene, who was in command of the friendly natives, that all his fighting men should receive regular rations. He publicly broke off negociations with Heke and Kawiti until they should ask for peace and forgiveness. He issued a proclamation to the natives, warning them that he should treat as hostile those tribes which did not render him assistance when it was in their power. Within a week of his arrival in the colony he had proceeded in the Elphinstone to the Bay of Islands. Within five days of his landing at Auckland he had written and transmitted to Lord Stanley a despatch, in which he described the state of affairs then existing, and the measures which he intended to adopt.

He saw at once that the native mind had become impressed with the superior prowess and skill of their own race. The old belief in the superiority of the white man, rudely shaken by the conflict at Wairau, further weakened by the sack of Kororareka and the repulse at Okaihau, had been for the time destroyed by the slaughter and defeat of the English at Ohaewai. In New Zealand there were at that time at least one hundred and twenty thousand Maoris, while the European residents numbered only from ten thousand to twelve thousand, scattered over distant settlements, without means of co-operation for defence. The natives were a race born for military undertakings, and, in some of the characteristics of soldiers, unsurpassed by any people on earth. The Europeans were untrained to military service, unaccustomed to the use of arms, and eminently wishful for a life of peace and quiet.

Although the disaffected natives were yet in a minority, their numbers had rapidly increased with the successes of Heke and Kawiti, and Grey saw that he must strike an immediate and successful blow. One or two more defeats would ensure the destruction of page 87the infant colony and the expulsion of the Europeans from New Zealand or their destruction in it.

The speed and energy which the new Governor exhibited in the measures which have been already detailed suffered no abatement in his subsequent proceedings. Ohaewai had been abandoned by Hone Heke, and a new pah, still more strongly fortified and in an almost impregnable position, had been built at Ruapekapeka (The Bat's Nest). At this point, strong as it appeared, Grey determined to deliver a blow which should be felt throughout both islands. Heke himself had been wounded in a skirmish with Waka Nene's people, and was stationed at Kaikohe, twenty miles from Ruapekapeka, of which strong fortress Kawiti was in command.

Within five weeks of his arrival in the colony, the Governor put eleven hundred men in motion against the Maoris at the Bat's Nest. A camp was formed near the Kawakawa river, and the troops were set to work on making that first military necessity, a practicable road to the scene of intended operations. Macquarie, a friendly chief, was despatched to hold Heke in check, in case he should attempt to advance from Kaikohe to relieve Ruapekapeka.

In a fortnight the road was completed sufficiently to enable the men to draw the guns on carts to the front, and the siege commenced. Within the pah Kawiti raised his flag. Frequent sorties were made by the Maoris, but they were repulsed and driven back on every occasion. Meanwhile the artillery which had been brought by the new road was playing continuously upon the palisading of the pah. So strong and ingenious were the fortifications that ten days elapsed before any apparent effect was produced by the cannon shot of the besiegers. During this time the wily old chief Kawiti and his people used every means to provoke a repetition of the assault which had proved so fatal at Ohaewai. The natives, however, had not here to deal with an impulsive military officer who undervalued the strength of the place he was attacking and the courage of the men who defended it. They were opposed now by a man who had learnt patience in a good school, whose courage was always cool, and who was determined to succeed in the task which he had set himself to perform. A letter from Sir Everard Home, written early in January, 1846, to Captain Grey, then at Ruapekapeka, gives a graphic description of Kawiti pressed page 88for want of water in his pah, and of the old Maori women fetching it.

In another letter, written in the preceding month, Sir Everard exhibits a fine scorn for any difficulties of government save those involved in the native war. "You know," he writes, "that all New Zealand depends upon the result of the work now in hand. Never mind the debentures, but come here as soon as you can. Come."

On the 10th January, 1846, two small breaches were seen. On the 11th (Sunday), the garrison, anxious at once to celebrate Divine service (for they were Christian natives), and to be safe from the missiles of war, retired from the interior of the pah to a slight valley in its rear. Waka Nene's brother, Wi Waka, noticing the silence within the pah, and hearing the sound of hymns, immediately surmised what had taken place. Communicating his belief to the Governor and Sir Everard Home, an assault was at once ordered. The pah was entered. The Maori garrison, rushing back, met the troops; a smart hand-to-hand fight took place. Outnumbered and outgeneralled, the Maoris were completely defeated.

At a loss of twelve killed and thirty-one wounded the Bat's Nest was taken, and Hone Heke's power and prestige destroyed. So well had Macquarrie performed his duty, tbat Heke had been unable to reach Ruapekapeka till the eventful Sunday, during the time of the conflict, and then only with sixty followers. The fighting chief was too late. His men were swept away among the defeated garrison, and he and Kawiti made head no more. A complete record or the Maori loss was not attainable, but it was severe. Bravely following gallant leaders, they did all that men could do; but discipline, arms, and numbers were against them.

Military visitors to the great Exhibition in 1851 were struck by the ingenuity and strength displayed in a model of a Maori pah, made and exhibited by Colonel Balneavis. That model was roughly taken from the pah at Ruapekapeka. Even yet the student of military fortification finds his interest awakened by another model of the same fortress, presented by Colonel Wynyard to the United Service Museum.

The blow had been fairly delivered. Its importance and weight were fully appreciated by the Maoris. They confessed themselves page 89beaten. Within a fortnight the Governor's trusted ally, Waka Nene, came to Auckland, whither Grey, with most of the troops, had returned, bringing a letter from Kawiti requesting peace.

Waka Nene, wise in council as he was brave in war, supported the request made by his grim old foeman; and, equally generous as he was wise and brave, voluntarily offered to forego the claims which he and his people might allege to land taken from their beaten enemies.

With sincere pleasure and gratitude the Governor acceded to the prayer for peace set forth in Kawiti's letter. The noble unselfishness displayed by Waka Nene give him unqualified delight. Determined to meet these native chiefs in their own spirit of frankness and generosity, he immediately issued a proclamation, stating that the chiefs having submitted themselves to the Queen's authority, the war was ended. Pardon was granted to all who had been in arms. They were to return to their kaingas, cultivate the ground, fish in the rivers and sea, and live at peace.

Once only did the Governor and Heke meet. In 1848, when visiting the Waimate, the Governor met the redoubtable chief at the hospitable board of the Rev. Mr. Burrows. They talked together cordially, but the flagstaff was not alluded to, nor were the names of Okaihau, Kororareka, Ohaewai, or Ruapekapeka mentioned. They, however, corresponded, and Heke, by will, left his lands to Governor Grey. It is needless to say that the Governor gave his rights to Heke's relatives.

Two years afterwards Heke, still a young man, fell a victim to consumption. After his defeat at Ruapekapeka he became despondent as to the future of his people. He saw them, as he said, "as in a vision, drying up as a river when there is no rain." When sinking into his last slumber, he spoke pathetically of that time, not far distant, when the missionaries would ring their bells for the Maoris, but there would be none to answer.

Kawiti lived four years longer than his comrade. He was a very old man, being upwards of seventy when, on that fatal Sunday morning, he had led his intrepid followers in the attempt to recapture the Bat's Nest.

Two months had not yet passed since Captain Grey's arrival in New Zealand, but the whole aspect of affairs was changed. The page 90war which threatened the extinction of the infant colony was brought to an abrupt and triumphant ending; the prestige of the European was again established; terms of peace, neither derogatory to the Crown nor to the natives, were agreed upon; while the strength and weight of the new Governor's hand was felt and acknowledged by all the tribes. They believed, also, that while it was the hand of a strong ruler, it was the hand of a faithful friend.

This successful termination of the war, coupled with reforms and remedial measures adopted in regard to finance, the purchase of native lands, the sale of firearms, and the organization of a native police force, placed the colony in a condition at once safe and hopeful. The trust which Her Majesty's Government had so generously placed in Captain Grey had been abundantly justified. Colonists were jubilant; the natives filled with admiration of the skill, promptitude, and kindness of the new Governor.

When the despatches recording the transactions of his first eight weeks' Governorship of New Zealand reached London, Her Majesty's Ministers, as well as the public press, spoke loudly in approval. Even the most sanguine friends of Captain Grey—men who, like Lord Glenelg and Sir James Stephen, had watched his course with unmingled pleasure—had not dared to hope that such swift success would have crowned his first efforts to restore peace, order, and safety to such a scene of confusion and danger as New Zealand presented.