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The Long White Cloud

Chapter XVI — Tupara1 Against Enfield

page 200

Chapter XVI
Tupara1 Against Enfield

The hills like giants at a hunting lay,
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay.

IN 1860 the Taranaki settlement was growing to be what it now is—a very pleasant corner of the earth. Curving round the seashore under the lofty, lonely, symmetrical cone of Egmont, it is a green land of soft air and many streams. After long delays and much hope deferred, the colonists—mostly English of the south-west counties—had begun to prosper and to line the coast with their little homesteads standing among peach orchards, grassy fields, and sometimes a garden gay with the flowers of old Devon. Upon this quiet little realm the Maori swept down, and the labour of twenty years went up in smoke. The open country was abandoned; the settlers took refuge in their town, New Plymouth. Some 600 of their women and children were shipped off to Nelson; about twice as many more who could not be induced to leave stayed huddled up in the little town, and the necessity of keeping a strong force in the place to defend them from a sudden dash by the Maori hampered the conduct of the campaign. Martial law was proclaimed—destined not to be withdrawn for five years. After a time the town was protected by redoubts and a line of entrenchment. Crowded and ill-drained, it became as unhealthy as uncomfortable. Whereas for sixteen months before the war there had not been a funeral in the district, they were now seen almost daily. On the alarm of some fancied Maori attack, noisy panics would break out, and the shrieks of women and cries of children embarrassed husbands and brothers on whom they called for help, and page 201 whose duty as militiamen took them to their posts. The militia of settlers, numbering between four and five hundred, were soon but a minor portion of the defenders of the settlement. When fighting was seen to be inevitable, the Government sent for aid to Australia, and drew thence all the Imperial soldiers that could be spared. The Colony of Victoria, generous in the emergency, lent New Zealand the colonial sloop-of-war Victoria, and allowed the vessel not only to transport troops across the Tasman Sea, but to serve for many months off the Taranaki coast, asking payment for nothing except her steaming coal. By the end of the year there were some 3,000 Europeans in arms at the scene of operations, and they probably outnumbered several times over the fluctuating forces of the natives. The fighting was limited to the strip of sea-coast bounded by the Waitara on the north and the Tataraimaka plain on the south, with the town of New Plymouth lying about midway between. The coast was open and surf-beaten, the land seamed by ravines or “gulleys,” down which the rainfall of Egmont streamed to the shore. Near the sea the soil was—except in the settlers' clearings—covered with tough bracken from two to six feet high and with other troublesome growths. Inland the great forest, mantling the volcano's flanks, and spreading its harassing network like a far-stretching spider's web, checked European movements. From the first the English officers in command in this awkward country made up their minds that their men could do nothing in the meshes of the bush, and they clung to the more open strip with a caution and a profound respect for native prowess which epithets can hardly exaggerate, and which tended to intensify the self-esteem of the Maori, never the least self-confident of warriors. A war carried on in such a theatre and in such a temper was likely to drag. There was plenty of fighting, mostly desultory. The Maori started out of the bush or the bracken to plunder, to cut off stragglers, or to fight, and disappeared again when luck was against them. Thirteen tiresome months saw much marching and counter-marching, frequent displays of courage—more courage than co-operation sometimes—one or two defeats, and several rather barren successes. For the first eight months the advantage inclined to the insurgents. After that their overweening conceit of their Waikato contingent enabled page 202 our superior strength to assert itself. The Maori, for all their courage and knowledge of the country, were neither clever guerillas nor good marksmen. Their tribal wars had always been affairs of sieges or hand-to-hand encounters. Half the skill displayed by them in entrenching, half the pluck they showed behind stockades, had they been devoted to harassing our soldiers on the march or to loose skirmishing by means of jungle ambuscades, might, if backed by reasonably straight shooting, have trebled our losses and difficulties.

Early in the war we did none too well in an attack upon a hill pa at Waireka, a few miles south of New Plymouth. Colonel Murray was sent out from the town with some 300 troops and militia to take it, and at the same time to bring in some families of settlers who had stuck to their farms, and who, if we may believe one of them, did not want to be interfered with. The militia were sent by one route, the troops took another. The Maori watched the arrangements from the hills, let the militia cross two difficult ravines, and then occupied these, cutting off the Taranaki contingent. The militia officers, however, kept their men together, and passed the day exchanging shots with their enemy and waiting for Colonel Murray to make a diversion by assailing Waireka. This, however, Colonel Murray did not do. He sent Lieutenant Urquhart and thirty men to clear the ravines aforesaid, and give the militiamen a chance of retreat. But when the latter, still expecting him to attack the pa, did not retire, he rather coolly withdrew Urquhart's party and retraced his steps to the town, alleging that his orders had been not to go into the bush, and, in any case, to return by dusk. Great was the excitement amongst the wives, children, and friends of the settlers away in the fight when the soldiers returned without them, and when one terrified woman, who clutched at an officer's arm and asked their whereabouts, got for answer, “My good woman, I don't know!” Loud was the joy when by the light of the moon the militiamen were at length seen marching in. They had been rescued without knowing it by Captain Cracroft and a party of sixty bluejackets from H.M.S. Niger. These, meeting Colonel Murray in his retreat, and hearing of the plight of the colonial force, pushed on in gallant indignation, and in the dusk of the evening made that assault upon the pa page 203 which the colonel had somehow not made during the day. Climbing the hill, the sailors chanced upon a party of natives, whom they chased before them pell-mell. Reaching the stockade at the heels of the fugitives, the bluejackets gave each other “a back” and scrambled over the palisades, hot to win the £10 promised by the captain to the first man to pull down the Maori flag. The defenders from their rifle-pits cut at their feet with tomahawks, wounding several nastily; but in a few minutes the scuffle was over, and the Niger's people returned victorious to New Plymouth in high spirits. Moreover, their feat caused the main body of the natives to withdraw from the ravines, thus releasing the endangered militia. Among these, Captain Harry Atkinson—in after years the Colony's Premier and best debater—had played the man. Our loss had been small—that of the natives some fifty killed and wounded.

Month followed month, and still the settlers were pent up and the province infested by the marauding Taranaki, Ngatiawa, and Ngatiruanui Maori, and by sympathizers from Waikato, who, after planting their crops, had taken their guns and come over to New Plymouth to enjoy the sport of shooting Pakeha. The farms and homes of the devastated settlement lay a plundered wreck, and the owners complained bitterly of the dawdling and timidity of the Imperial officers, who on their side accused the settlers of unreason in refusing to remove their families, of insolence to native allies and prisoners, of want of discipline, and of such selfish greed for compensation from Government that they would let their cattle be captured by natives rather than sell them to the commissariat. On the other hand, the natives were far from a happy family. The Waikato had not forgotten that they had been aforetime the conquerors of the Province, now the scene of war, that the Ngatiawa and Taranaki had been their slaves, and that Wiremu Kingi had fled to Cook's Straits to escape their raids. They swaggered among their old foes and servants, and ostentatiously disregarded their advice, much to our advantage.

In June we were defeated at Puké-te-kauere on the Waitara. Three detachments were sent to surround and storm a pa standing in the fork of a Y made by the junction of two swampy ravines. The plan broke down; the assailants went astray in the rough country and had to retreat; Lieutenant Brooks page 204 and thirty men were killed and thirty-four wounded. The Maori loss was little or nothing.

In August General Pratt came on the scene from Australia. He proceeded to destroy the plantations and to attack the pa of the insurgents. He certainly took many positions. Yet so long and laborious were his approaches by sapping, so abundant his precautions, that in no case did the natives stay to be caught in their defences. They evacuated them at the last moment, leaving the empty premises to us. Once, however, with an undue contempt for the British soldier, a contingent, newly arrived from the Waikato, occupied a dilapidated pa at Mahoe-tahi on the road from New Plymouth to Waitara. Their chief, Tai Porutu, sent a laconic letter challenging the troops to come and fight. “Make haste; don't prolong it! Make haste!” ran the epistle. Promptly he was taken at his word. Two columns marched on Mahoe-tahi from New Plymouth and Waitara respectively. Though the old pa was weak, the approaches to it were difficult, and had the Maori waylaid the assailants on the road, they might have won. But at the favourable moment Tai Porutu was at breakfast and would not stir. He paid for his meal with his life. Caught between the 65th regiment and the militia, the Maori were between two fires. Driven out of their pa, they tried to make a stand behind it in swamp and scrub. Half a dozen well-directed shells sent them scampering thence to be pursued for three miles. They lost over 100, amongst whom were several chiefs. Our killed and wounded were but 22. Here again Captain Atkinson distinguished himself. Not only did he handle his men well, but a prominent warrior fell by his hand.

This was in November 1860. For five months General Pratt, in the face of much grumbling, went slowly on sapping and building redoubts. He always reached his empty goal; but the spectacle of British forces worming their way underground and sheltering themselves behind earthworks against the fire of a few score or hundred invisible savages who had neither artillery nor long-range rifles was not calculated to impress the public imagination.

On the 23rd January, 1861, our respectful prudence again tempted the Maori to rashness. They tried a daybreak attack on one of the general's redoubts. But, though they had crept page 205 into the ditch without discovery, and, scrambling thence, swarmed over the parapet with such resolution that they even gripped the bayonets of the soldiers with their hands, they were attacked, in the flank and rear, by parties running up to the rescue from neighbouring redoubts, and fled headlong, leaving fifty killed and wounded behind. In March hostilities were stopped after a not too brilliant year, in which our casualties in fighting had been 228, beside certain settlers cut off by marauders. Thompson, the king-maker, coming down from the Waikato, negotiated a truce. There seemed yet a fair hope of peace. Governor Browne had indeed issued a bellicose manifesto proclaiming his intention of stamping out the King Movement. But before this could provoke a general war, Governor Browne was recalled and Sir George Grey sent back from the Cape to save the position. Moreover, the Stafford Ministry, which headed the war party amongst colonists, fell in 1862, and Sir William Fox, the friend of peace, became Premier.

For eighteen months Grey and his Premier laboured for peace. They tried to conciliate the Kingite chiefs, who would not, for a long time, meet the Governor. They withdrew Governor Browne's manifesto. They offered the natives local self-government. At length the Governor even made up his mind to give back the Waitara land. But a curse seemed to cling to those unlucky acres. The proclamation of restitution was somehow delayed, and meanwhile Grey sent troops to resume possession of another Taranaki block, that of Tatarai-make, which fairly belonged to the settlers, but on which Maori were quatting. Under orders from the King natives, the Ngatiruanui retaliated by surprising and killing a party of soldiers, and the position in the province became at once hopeless. The war beginning again there in 1863 smouldered on for more than three long and wearisome years.

The main interest soon shifted from Taranaki. In the Waikato, relations with the King's tribes were drifting from bad to worse. Grey had been called in too late. His mana was no longer the influence it had been ten years before. His diplomatic advances and offers of local government were met with sheer sulkiness. The semi-comic incident of Sir John Gorst's newspaper skirmish at Te Awamutu did no good. Gorst page 206 was stationed there as Commissioner by the Government, as an agent of peace and conciliation. In his charge was an industrial school. It was in the heart of the King Country. The King's advisers must needs have an organ—a broad-sheet called the Hokioi, a word which may be paraphrased by Phœnix. With unquestionable courage, Gorst, acting on Grey's orders, issued a sheet in opposition, entitled Te Pihoihoi Mokémoké, or The Lonely Lark. Fierce was the encounter of the rival birds. The Lark out-argued the Phœnix. But the truculent Kingites had their own way of dealing with lèe majesté. They descended on the printing-house, and carried off the press and type of Te Pihoihoi Mokémoké. The press they afterwards sent back to Auckland; of the type, it is said, they ultimately made bullets. Gorst, ordered to quit the King Country, refused to budge without instructions. The Maori gave him three weeks to get them and depart, and very luckily for him Grey sent them.

The Governor pushed on a military road from Auckland to the Waikato frontier—a doubtful piece of policy, as it irritated the natives, and the Waikato country, as experience afterwards showed, could be best invaded with the help of river steamers. The steamers were not, however, procured at that stage. About the same time as the Gorst incident in the Upper Waikato, the Government tried to build a police-station and barracks on a plot of land belonging to a friendly native lower down the river. The King natives, however, forbade the erection, and, when the work went on, a party of them paddled down, seized the materials and threw them into the stream.

It was now clear that war was coming. The utmost anxiety prevailed in Auckland, which was only forty miles from the frontier and exposed to attack both from sea and land. Moreover, some hundreds of natives, living quite close to the town, had arms, and were ascertained to be in communication with the Waikato. The Governor attempted to disarm them, but the plan was not well carried out, and most of them escaped with their weapons to the King Country. The choice of the Government then lay between attacking and being attacked. They learned, beyond a doubt, that the Waikato were planning a march on Auckland, and in a letter written by Thompson about this time he stated this, and said that in the event page 207 of an assault the unarmed people would not be spared. By the middle of the year 1863, however, a strong force was concentrated on the border, just where the Waikato River, turning from its long northward course, abruptly bends west-ward towards the sea. No less than twelve Imperial Regiments were now in New Zealand, and their commander. General Sir Duncan Cameron, a Crimean veteran, gained a success of some note in Taranaki. He was a brave, methodical soldier, destitute of originality, nimbleness, or knowledge of the country or of savage warfare. In July the invasion of the Waikato was ordered. On the very day before our men advanced, the Maori had begun what they meant to be their march to Auckland, and the two forces at once came into collision. In a sharp fight at Koheroa the natives were driven from their entrenchments with some loss, and any forward movement on their part was effectually stopped. But, thanks to what seemed to the colonists infuriating slowness, the advance up the Waikato was not begun until the latter part of October, and the conquest of the country not completed until February.

To understand the cause of this impatience on the part of the onlookers, it should be mentioned that our forces were now, as usual in the Maori wars, altogether overwhelming. The highest estimate of the fighting men of the King tribes is two thousand. As against this, General Cameron had ultimately rather more than ten thousand Imperial troops in the Dominion to draw upon. In addition to that, the colonial militia and volunteers were gradually recruited until they numbered nearly as many. About half of these were, at any rate after a short time, quite as effectual as the regulars for the peculiar guerilla war which was being waged. In armament there was no comparison between the two sides. The Pakeha had Enfield rifles and a good supply of artillery. The Maori were armed with old Tower muskets and shot-guns, and were badly off both for powder and bullets, while, as already said, they were not at all good marksmen. Their artillery consisted of two or three old ship's guns, from which salutes might have been fired without extreme danger to their gunners. If the war in the Waikato, and its off-shoot the fighting in the Bay of Plenty, had been in thick forest and a mountainous country, the disparity of numbers and equipment might have been counter- page 208 balanced. But the Waikato country was flat or undulating, clothed in fern and with only patches of forest. A first-class high road—the river—ran right through it. The sturdy resistance of the natives was due first to their splendid courage and skilful use of rifle-pits and earthworks, and in the second place to our want of dash and tactical resource. Clever as the Maori engineers were, bravely as the Brown warriors defended their entrenchments, their positions ought to have been nothing more than traps for them, seeing how overwhelming was the White force. The explanation of this lies in the Maori habit of taking up their positions without either provisions or water. A greatly superior enemy, therefore, had only to surround them. They then, in the course of two or three days at the outside, had either to surrender at discretion or try the desperate course of breaking through the hostile lines.

General Cameron preferred the more slap-dash course of taking entrenchments by assault. A stubborn fight took place at Rangiriri, where the Maori made a stand on a neck of land between the lake and the Waikato River. Assaulted on two sides, they were quickly driven from all their pits and earthworks except one large central redoubt. Three times our men were sent at this, and three times, despite a fine display of courage, they were flung back with loss. The bravest soldier cannot—without wings—surmount a bank which rises eighteen feet sheer from the bottom of a broad ditch. This was seen next day. The attack ceased at nightfall. During the dark hours the redoubt's defenders yelled defiance, but next morning they surrendered, and, marching out, a hundred and eighty-three laid down their arms. Our loss was one hundred and thirty-two killed and wounded; the Maori loss was fifty killed, wounded unknown. By January, General Cameron had passed beyond Ngaruawahia, the village which had been the Maori King's headquarters, and which stood at the fine river-junction where the brown, sluggish Waipa loses its name and waters in the light-green volume of the swifter Waikato. Twice the English beat the enemy in the triangle between the rivers. A third encounter was signalized by the most heroic incident in the Colony's history. Some three hundred Maori were shut up in entrenchments at a place called Orakau.
Black and white photograph of a Maori Male


Black and white photograph of a Maori Officer


page 209 Without food, except a few raw potatoes; without water; pounded at by our artillery, and under a hail of rifle bullets and hand grenades; unsuccessfully assaulted no less than five times—they held out for three days, though completely surrounded. General Cameron humanely sent a flag of truce inviting them to surrender honourably. To this they made the ever-famous reply, “Enough! We fight right on, for ever!” (Heoi ano! Ka whawhai tonu, aké, aké, aké.) Then the General offered to let the women come out, and the answer was, “The women will fight as well as we.” At length, on the afternoon of the third day, the garrison assembling in a body charged at quick march right through the English lines, fairly jumping (according to one account) over the heads of the men of the Fortieth Regiment as they lay behind a bank. So unexpected and amazing was their charge that they would have got away with but slight loss had they not, when outside the lines, been headed and confronted by a force of colonial rangers and cavalry. Half of them fell; the remainder, including the celebrated war-chief Rewi, got clear away. The earthworks and the victory remained with us, but the glory of the engagement lay with those whose message of “Aké, aké, aké,” will never be forgotten in New Zealand.

The country round the middle and lower Waikato was now in our hands, and the King natives were driven to the country about its upper waters. They were not followed. It was decided to attack the Tauranga tribe, which had been aiding them. Tauranga lies on the Bay of Plenty, about forty miles to the east of the Waikato. It was in the campaign which now took place there that there occurred the noted repulse at the Gate Pa. The Maori, entrenched on a narrow neck of land between two swamps, were invested by our forces both in the front and rear. We were, as usual, immensely the stronger in numbers. Our officers, non-commissioned officers, and drummers by themselves almost equalled the garrison. After a heavy though not always very accurate bombardment, General Cameron decided to storm the works. The attacking parties of soldiers and sailors charged well enough and entered the front of the defences, and the Maori, hopeless and endeavouring to escape, found themselves shut in by the troops in their rear. Turning, however, with the courage of despair, they flung page 210 themselves on the assailants of their front. These, seized with an extraordinary panic, ran in confusion, breaking from their officers and sweeping away their supports. The assault was completely repulsed, and was not renewed. In the night the defenders escaped through the swamps, leaving us the empty pa. Their loss was slight. Ours was one hundred and eleven, and amongst the killed were ten good officers. As a defeat it was worse than Ohaeawai, for that had been solely due to a commander's error of judgment.

The blow stung the English officers and men deeply, and they speedily avenged it. Hearing that the Tauranga warriors were entrenching themselves at Te Ranga, Colonel Greer promptly marched thither, caught them before they had completed their works, and charging into the rifle-pits with the bayonet, completely routed the Maori. The temper of the attacking force may be judged from the fact that out of the Maori loss of one hundred and forty-five no less than one hundred and twenty-three were killed or died of wounds. The blow was decisive, and the Tauranga tribe at once submitted.

1 Tupara (two-barrel), the Maori name for the short double-barrelled guns which were their handiest weapons against us in bush warfare.