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Taranaki: A Tale of the War

Chapter VII

page 40

Chapter VII.

“The wandering mariner whose eye explores
The wealthiest isles, the most enchanting shores,
Views not a realm so bountiful and fair,
Nor breathes the spirit of a purer air.
Here woman reigns: the mother, daughter, wife,
Strew with fresh flowers the narrow path of life:
In the clear heaven of her delightful eye
An angel-guard of loves and graces lie.”

J. Montgomery.

Thus, as in the preceding chapter, wrote Captain St. Pierre. And certainly, if his continued attention to the fair ladies of Glenfairy spoke the feelings of his heart, there was little doubt of the impression made on him. No clouds seemed to darken the horizon of his wishes in this respect. A welcome and an honoured guest in his uncle's house, he was courteously received everywhere. Besides having received a liberal education—a graduate of Oxford—he had taken his degree as a Bachelor of Medicine; but not fancying the profession, he had obtained a Commission in the Line. During nine years' service he had acquired a fund of general knowledge, which, added to a pleasing address, made him a general favourite. (He had also distinguished himself repeatedly page 41 both in the Crimea and afterwards during the Indian Mutiny.) It was not to be wondered at, therefore, that as he daily continued his visits to Glenfairy, Fanny Wellman could recive his marked attention without a certain feeling of reciprocation to a devotion so apparent.

'Tis true that, although this intimacy was at first admitted and approved of, yet as there were some who spoke unkindly of him and of his profession in general, as being comprised of men whose feelings—blunted by a contact with the world—sought more the éclat of a conquest over the trusting heart, than the more firm affection of truth and constancy, instilled into the mind of the anxious mother these opinions, and made her alarmed for the peace of mind of her child, whom, she could not hide from herself, was already devotedly attached to the young soldier. Circumstances, however, seemed to combine to prevent her having an explanation with him previous to his departure and return to his regiment. Thus the unkind and disparaging expressions from one or two who watched the growing intimacy with jaundiced eyes, served only to increase her embarrassment and the unhappiness of her daughter, to whom she had communicated her opinions; thus also it happened that Captain St. Pierre, being of a most sensitive nature, took alarm, and felt deeply hurt by the estrangement daily increasing in the conduct and manner of the family of Glenfairy towards him. In vain did Mary rally her cousin, in vain also did she seek page 42 the confidence of her friend. On the one hand, the vile aspersions so industriously and secretly spread against the soldier made all unhappy at Glenfairy; on the other hand, the sudden change thus produced made him shun a closer intimacy, and avoid an explanation, a thousand times on his lips to unfold. On both sides was the opportunity lost, and every meeting made both more unhappy and more estranged. Thus time flitted by, and the hour of his departure drew near. He resolved, however, ere he went to know his fate; and, dissembling as well as he could his anxious feelings, he besought his cousin to join him in a walk to Glenfairy, that he might meet Miss Wellman once more ere he left for India. Fortune seemed even in this last attempt against him. No opportunity occurred during the walk, when, as he was about to return in despair, Fanny entered the drawing-room alone, and he, seizing the chance, followed as if to say farewell. Taking her hand he thus addressed her:—

“I have long sought for this moment; forgive me now if I fail to tell you all I feel, or how I have loved you. Tell me why, ere I leave you, this sad estrangement? Tell me how it is that you, whom I deemed as deeply attached to me, should have grown so cold and distant? Do not now permit me to leave this country, where I have been so happy and so blest in knowing and loving you, miserable and unhappy; for in very truth I love you deeply and most truly.”

At his first address Fanny evidently was deeply dis- page 43 tressed and pained, but, as he spoke, gradually a deep blush overspread her face, and sinking on the sofa near, she burst into tears, as Mary's voice called him to come. Leaning over her he said farewell; but she raised her head, and with a fond sweet smile replied:—

“I have loved you long and will do so for ever.” One kiss on that fair brow, and he was gone.

Happy now were the feelings of both. True they had parted; but full trust was restored—the sad cloud was dispelled, and he now knew that he was truly loved in return. As he turned homewards with Mary St. Pierre, this happiness made him confidential, and he told her how he had loved and won. Committing to her trust this bright secret of his life, he told her he would soon return with a longer leave from India, sell out, and claim her friend as his bride.

Great was the delight of the true-hearted girl. Scarce had they arrived at the Retreat ere Charles met them, who informed Herbert that the steamer was in the Bay, and was to depart in a few hours. A few hasty messages of his truth and constancy—a kind but sad farewell—and he had left his uncle's house and sailed from Taranaki.

The following day, as Fanny rose to bless the morn in the hope of seeing Herbert once more, and have all doubt and pain removed, the sad face of Mary, visiting her at this early hour, told its painful story, and ere a word was spoken the friends wept on each other's neck for the absent one, now so doubly dear to both.

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One of the messages entrusted to Mary was, that now, having learnt that there was some cause for the estrangement—by the ill spoken of him—their secret should be kept inviolable, in order that he might with greater pleasure prove his truth on his return, and confound the aspersions cast against his character. Mary would be his friend and confidante, and receive notice of all his movements and intentions.

When Mrs. Wellman met the girls at breakfast the traces of tears were still evident, and chiding Mary for her folly in weeping for one she deemed unworthy of her, though her own heart was sad, she considered it more prudent to advise that his name be no more mentioned amongst them; believing the tales against him were true, and that time would cure her daughter of her grief. Little did she know how that grief was tempered with joy from the hasty confidence established between them at the moment of his farewell.

The year 1859 passed away, and well pleased was Mrs. Wellman to see Fanny mix in all the gaieties of Christmas as of old, and already she imagined the soldier was forgotten. The new year, however, soon brought other cares, and unexpected causes of alarm and grief. The insurrection of the native tribes was spoken of, and the signs of their rising became apparent. The settlers petitioned for more troops to defend and protect them from the threatened outbreak. The militia were called out and volunteers enrolled, and the dread of an onslaught from the savage Maoris was rife amongst them.

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The months of January and February thus were passed in a state of great excitement; but early in March the storm burst suddenly upon them.

In the task we have undertaken to give a sketch of the war in the Province of Taranaki, by a story of the incidents in the life of one or two families there; it would take up too much space to enter into full detail of the war in all its operations, or even to record the despatches before us. To give an insight, however, into its progress we purpose to give certain extracts from those despatches, and, to keep up the interest of our story, shew how the war affected those of whom we write.

Thus, then, we quote from the Despatch of the Governor to the Duke of Newcastle, dated 22nd March, 1860:—

“The unsettled state of the tribes both North and South of that district, and the continuance of the King Movement, led me to think it necessary to take every possible precaution to prevent bloodshed, the consequence of which it would be impossible to foresee.

“Private letters are full of surmises and alarms, and talk of a war of races; but I do not put faith in them, or anticipate any real opposition, when the Chief Wm. King sees that I am determined not to permit him to defy Her Majesty's Government.

“I now turn to what is in my opinion the real question at issue. The Maoris have seen with alarm the numerical increase of the Europeans, and recog- page 46 nise with bitterness of heart their own decrease. It is in vain to suggest precautions which might be adopted, and which would (under God's providence) probably arrest or diminish this decrease; they connect their own decline with our ascendency; they talk and think of themselves as a race dying out; and the King Movement, and the Land League, are only practical results of this feeling. The old savages, of whom there are still many, remind their hearers that the decrease of their nation commenced with the arrival of the Europeans, and they have a firm superstition that we are in some way connected with it.

“From the best information I can obtain, I am led to believe that the present is an exceedingly critical time; the progress of civilization, which I have watched and reported with so much satisfaction, and the increased community of interest between the races—especially in the North—has alarmed the chiefs and others who cling to a distinct nationality, and has led to extensive combinations on these grounds against what they term foreign dominion.”

Our readers will excuse us if we also quote an extract from a Memorandum at this period, written by the Minister for Native Affairs, Mr. Richmond, at the request and for the information of the General Assembly, and which gives as concise and clear a view of the matter as could be obtained from any source:—

“That a war between Natives and Settlers would be of a most merciless character is probable, from the approbation which many of the Waikato Natives ex- page 47 press of the murders of defenceless settlers perpetrated by the Taranaki and Ngatiruanui Tribes. These people have shown that they are still savages, as rapacious and bloodthirsty as their forefathers. May it not be justly feared that in a contest with the settlers the impressions produced on the Natives by forty years of Christian teaching would be obliterated? Former wars had a chivalrous character which cannot be looked for in the impending struggle.

“The Colonists, as a body, are in no degree responsible, directly, or through their representatives, for the existing state of affairs. They have never had the direction of Native policy. Nor have they dictated, or even suggested, the acts of the Imperial Government in its relations with the Natives. But they approve of the stand made by His Excellency in the Taranaki case, and are naturally willing, as their present attitude proves, to risk life itself in the maintenance of the Queen's authority over the islands of New Zealand.

“At the same time it is evident that the resources of so small a community are unequal to sustain, unaided, a prolonged war with the Aborigines.” Industrial pursuits would be brought to a stand-still. Under continued pressure the better part of the population would drain off to neighbouring Colonies—their places being supplied by lawless and desperate men from both shores of the Pacific. The Colony, in a word, would be ruined. Nor would the Natives themselves fare better. The contending forces would page 48 be nearly matched, and the weak cannot afford to be merciful. All modes of warfare would be deemed legitimate against a savage foe; and though the Maoris might for a time gain the ascendant, their ultimate extermination would be a matter of certainty.

“Justice, therefore, and humanity require, that England should freely recognize the onerous duties cast upon her by the Colonization of New Zealand. To avert calamities such as seem to impend, it is indispensable to place at the disposal of the Governor a Military and Naval force, adequate to support him in a policy of equal justice to the two races which have been placed by Providence in a relation to each other so singular and difficult.

“(Signed) C. W. Richmond.”

As mentioned before, the militia were called out, and as both Mr. Wellman and Mr. St. Pierre obtained commissions for their sons, Charles and Walter were present in most of the engagements, marches, and expeditions which we will have occasion to detail.

The first act of hostility occurred at Waitara, on the 19th March, 1860, and is thus described by Colonel Gold:—

“We passed the pah, which was about one and a quarter miles' distance from this, leaving it 200 yards to our left, and took up a position suitable for Artillery, having the Mounted Volunteers on the extreme right, to threaten the line of retreat of the enemy, and the Infantry, part extended and part in companies, to protect the guns, I then sent a summons to the Natives page 49 to surrender, by Mr. Parris, whose services have been very valuable throughout; he speedily returned, and reported that the rebels would neither read nor receive it.

“The guns and rockets now opened upon the pah at about 750 yards. In half an hour I moved to the right to batter another face at shorter range, when the Natives opened fire upon us. I again took the same direction, and fired at about 300 yards. Having made considerable havoc on this side, and a swamp debarring our further progress, I took ground to the left, when a rash but daring movement of the Volunteer horsemen occurred towards the pah. A heavy an well sustained fire was then opened upon us from two faces, on which occasion Mr. Sartin of the Mounted Volunteers, and two privates, 65th Regiment, were dangerously wounded; one of the latter, private William Corbett, I regret to say, is since dead. The enemy's musketry was silenced by the guns, and I continued the movement as far as the road on which we advanced in the morning, 200 yards from the pah, where we should have commenced operations at first, had it not been necessary to make a show of turning the rebels' flank, ere I summoned them to surrender.”

Thus commenced hostilities in Taranaki. On the following morning they were resumed by a brisk fire from the forces and by a cannonade from the guns, when, on a breach being effected, the pah was rushed and taken at the point of the bayonet, but found to be deserted. In this engagement our two young friends page 50 made their debût in arms, and elicited the commendation of their commanding officer for their steadiness and coolness under fire, which was kept up very briskly during the afternoon from the pah.