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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 65

The Last War with the Natives

page 74

The Last War with the Natives.

The West Coast of the North Island has a history of a very stirring kind—such as sometimes happens to a new country. The early settlers had to contend with a native element of a very superior order, not wanting either in intelligence or ability, and the ingenuity of his fortifications led to many serious losses on the part of the Queen's troops and colonial forces in days gone by.

The coast was desolated by war with the natives in 1845, and settlement retarded in every way, indeed, at one time it seemed as if the settlers would be driven out of New Zealand altogether. But time has a good deal altered the Maori, it has given him a taste for the good things of civilized life; he has blankets in place of the picturesque flax mat he once wore, and lie clothes himself in European garments. His hospitality is unbounded, it is nothing out of the way for a tribe to impoverish themselves for a lengthened period in order to entertain their friends, and when a visit is paid by one tribe to another the amount of good things: (according to Maori ideas) provided is out of all proportion to the resources of the entertainers. Recently, at the sitting of the Land Court, Wanganui, one tribe, or portion of a tribe, entertained another one, and the gifts were laid outside the Court-house railings, and consisted of bags of flour, potatoes, dried fish (chiefly shark), kits of pigeons, blankets, quilts, rugs, and tobacco, all heaped up to the height of about three feet, the whole could not have been less than thirty feet in length and probably three feet deep; and to crown the whole, here and there in places were cleft sticks with bunches of bank notes placed in the clefts fluttering about; in front was a Maori, dressed in a new rug, reciting something in Maori in a monotone, which, I was told, was a speech in praise of the good tilings provided.

page 75

The close of the year 1864 witnessed the failure of Major- General Cameron's campaign on the West Coast of this island. That 6000 British soldiers should have been employed in constructing redoubts to shelter in, and which they did, and little else, because their hands were so tied down by orders that they were not allowed to go more than three hundred yards outside their intrenchments, nor to fire upon the natives, unless first fired upon; whilst unoffending settlers were shot down, families massacred, peaceable messengers waylaid, shot and mutilated, and convoys plundered almost with impunity—while the general and the Colonial Government quarrelled. It is of little use now to inquire into with whom the fault lay; the knowledge, however, remains of the failure and the expense to the country. In 1864, the rebel natives, known as Hau-haus, menaced the whole of the West Coast, from the Rangitikei River to New Plymouth. Wanganui was saved by the gallant stand made by the friendly natives under Haimona, Hemi Napi, Kerete Rimi and Mete Kingi (the last mentioned chief, who rejoiced in the title of general, and whose remains were interred quite recently at Putiki with all the grand ceremonial of a public military funeral), at Moutoa, an island in the Wanganui River, about 64 miles from the town of Wanganui. The details of the [unclear: fight] between native tribes are not interesting, therefore, on the present occasion they are omitted, but the engagement was of sufficient importance to justify the erection of a monument in front of the Court-house, Wanganui, with the inscription which reads as follows:—"To the memory of those brave men who fell at Moutoa, 14th May, 1864, in defence of law and order against [unclear: fanaticism] and barbarism, this monument is erected by the Province of Wellington. 14th September, 1865, Isaac Earl Featherston, Superintendent."

At the end of 1864, the position was this: we had a large lmperial force withdrawn, and the issue left in the hands of a small body of men, of whom it may be said that they threw away tradition, and, like their forefathers, attacked the foe however and wherever they could get at him, and the result was, to demonstrate the utter uselessness of advancing larger bodies of men in military formation against a foe who, nine cases out of ten, were invisible. Bush fighting requires rough and ready expedients, and to the Maori, who is naturally an engineer of a high order, who constructs a redoubt on the most inaccessible piece of ground he can find, surrounds it with rifle pits, traps of all descriptions, a natural [unclear: Cheraux] di trise of timber, which is always ready to his hand, digs a ditch round it, and takes advantage of every bit of cover for shelter; for troops to approach such a fortification without an attack in detail, and without such precautions as the troops under General Chute did, is to invite a certain and a most ignominious page 76 defeat, and when we take into consideration that the whole of the land between New Plymouth and Foxton presents unusually good features for defence, we can readily imagine the difficulties the Imperial forces had to encounter.

On 30th December, 1865, a force of about 400 men, consisting of:—32 Royal Artillery, 106 H.M. 14th Regiment, and the Native Contingent under Major (now Colonel McDonnell) about 200, to which was added the Transport Corps. At Wereroa, the Forest Rangers, under Major Von Tempsky, numbering 45 men, joined them. A day or two after, the Native Contingent was reinforced, and the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Regiment, numbering about 135, were added to the force; on January 3rd, 1866, they crossed the Waitotara River, and, led by the Native Contingent, they stormed and captured the village and pah of Ohinemutu. On the following morning the force paraded, under General Chute, and attacked Okotuku. The following account of the fight is from an eye witness:—

"The ascent to the pah is steep and wooded. The top of the ridge is comparatively level, and forms an entire plantation of potatoes, kumeras, and taro, neatly sub-divided by ornamental fences of curved supplejack running along the paths, looking more the handiwork of some young maiden than that of a cannibal Hau hau. The forest that fringes the precipitous sides overtop the sides of the plateau, and the whole kainga is formed of two elongated squares at right angles to one another, in the farthest of which the whares (pronounced whar-rés. Anglice—houses) were said to be situated.

The Native Contingent skirmished along the fringe of the forest, availing themselves of the numberless stumps in the plantation, and fired away with that zest that all noisy people delight in, their European officers, as usual doing all the pushing work. The Rangers came next on the scene and forged along the edge of the plantation to get towards the rear of the pah or palisading, which was just visible in the farthest corner, whence a heavy fire was kept up by the Hau-haus. In the meantime, the 14th Regiment, under Captain Vivian, was ordered to advance and charge, which they did in gallant style, and presently the whole force was inside the pah only to find it evacuated by the enemy. The loss on our part was four wounded, all of the 14th Regiment. The capture of this stronghold was of immense gain to the force as it broke up a band of murderers who had quite lately murdered several Europeans.

On the 6th January, a detachment of 200 men of the 18th Royal Irish, under Major Roche, joined, and Putahi, a fortified position, from which the rebel flag had floated ever since the first arrival of the troops, fell. Such was the strength and inaccessible nature of the position that a few hundred resolute men might have held it page 77 against all comers. But the English forces were now commanded by a man who knew how to handle them, and they dashed at the pah without sound of bugle, and the Hau-hau flag was hauled down by Michael Coffey, of the 14th Regiment. Captains Johnstone and Pilmer and Major Von Tempsky were amongst the first to enter the pah.

Amongst the loot in the pah was discovered a book, written in Maori, which recorded the proceedings of a recent meeting, with a resolution to the effect that the town and settlement of Wanganui should be attacked on the 6th January. Hidden in the stream running along the base of the hill was a whaleboat, lost some months previously from the steamer Gundagai.

On the 15th January Ketemarae was taken. This was one of the oldest and most venerated Maori settlements in New Zealand, and one for which the natives had a great reverence, it being situated at a converging point for several roads, and also being a central point for the dissemination of news throughout the island. This pah was rifle-pitted, palisaded, and deeply entrenched, and had to be advanced upon through a dense bush. The stockade was ornamented by high posts, carved in true Maori style. A few shells, however, soon made an opening, and our troops rushed in with a cheer, and the place was won. In a few minutes it was a scene of blazing ruins.

On the 18th January Otapawa, hitherto considered impregnable by the natives, was stormed, captured, and burnt. This pah consisted of a strong palisade between two ditches, with underground communication between them; on either flank, ditches and [unclear: earthworks], with traverses and rifle pits.

And now commenced the most extraordinary undertaking of the whole war—the march of General Chute from Ketemarae to New Plymouth, round the eastward of Mount Egmont. The little [unclear: army] consisted of 424 men of all ranks, of whom 54 were Forest Rangers, and 68 Native Contingent. The transport consisted of 67 pack and 24 riding horses. General Chute led in front, accompanied by the following staff:—Colonel Carey, Lieutenant-Colonel Gamble, Major Pitt, Captain Leach, D. C. G. Strickland, H. Gibbs (head of the medical department), and Dr. Featherston, Superintendent of the Province of Wellington. Each man carried his swag, consisting of great coat, water-proof sheet and blanket, and the head of the Commissariat Department managed to carry with him about five days provisions for all but the Native Contingent, who insisted upon having the whole of theirs issued to them before starting. The entrance to the forest was a broad [unclear: try] track, which led through a succession of plantations, with several whares in them. Fences, whares, and everything [unclear: combustible] were burnt as the force moved from one place to page 78 another. The order of march was generally as follows:—Native Contingent and Forest Rangers in front with the guides, who cut down the underwood on each side of the road as they marched along, and the advanced guard followed, well supplied with tomahawks, bill-hooks, axes and spades. The first day the force marched 9½ miles, and encountered a few Hau-haus, three of whom were shot by the Native Contingent. A girl was taken prisoner, who informed the party they had been three days in the bush, and were coming to ask for arms and ammunition. On approaching the head of the Patea River the undergrowth became dense and difficult of passage; the supplejack, which formed a network, thickly interlaced, had to be cleared away. The river was crossed between 12 and 1 p.m., and the force halted to allow the baggage to come up, which arrived about 3 p.m.; they then marched about three miles further, cutting their way through no less than thirteen gullies. The next day the force started at 7.30 a.m., after a good breakfast, the Forest Rangers forming the advance guard and leading the column. They cut a passable road with great difficulty, bridging swamps and gullies, and often having to go round some immense fallen tree, and making use of the gigantic tree fern to secure a foothold for the horses, the huge leaves of which being the most easily secured. At 3.30 p.m. they halted on the banks of the Makatawa River, which is clear, shallow, and about seventy feet wide. The third day Mr. Strickland issued, in addition to the rations for the Europeans, 68 rations for the Native Contingent, who, with their usual improvidence, had only brought with them a portion of that issued to them before starting. The soldiers had taken kindly to this existence in the forest; their General had discarded pipeclay and red tape and they entered with zest into the free and easy life of the bushman. The absence of the sun did not affect their spirits, although the sky was leaden overhead, and rain threatened; the men rose to the occasion, and while everything around was depressing and gloomy, songs were sung, merry tales related, and many a joke cracked. On the 20th of January, Ensign Churchward, of the 14th Regiment, and several men of the force, climbed some tall trees and obtained a view of the mountain; it bore then S.W. This information was of great use to the General, as he was without any means of ascertaining his distance from Taranaki, and his guides, who had only been over the ground once before, about two years previously, and had said they were only nine miles distant from Mataitawa, and which this information confirmed. When the column halted at mid-day, the last of the rations were issued. They had passed over this day a march of eleven and a half miles, and this eleven miles consisted of seven rivers and fifteen gullies, covered with brushwood and undergrowth of every description, so well known, to those acquainted with the page 79 New Zealand bush. Before the pack horses arrived D. A. C. G. Price volunteered to start that night for supplies to Maitatawa. Captain Leach, Ensign McDonnell (commanding the Native Contingent), with ten of his natives, also volunteered, and with little or no provision for the journey, and with no track through the forest, save what they could cut or fell, through the darkness, over gullies, in the drenching rain, they steadily pushed until Mr. Price was so thoroughly exhausted that he had to be laid down under a tree with the last wet half biscuit, while they pushed forward; and when daylight broke only five miles had been accomplished, but by ten o'clock in the morning they reached their destination, after accomplishing one of the most heroic tasks of the war, and the provisions, so badly wanted, were promptly sent into the bush by Colonel Ware, C.B., and reached the force, who had camped that night without food—wet, cold, but with undiminished spirits.

The morning of the 22nd broke gloomy. Underfoot was a quagmire above, the constant rain. The Native Contingent had dispersed. The horses were so fatigued, having had no feed in the shape of oats for two days, and during that time had crossed more than forty gullies and rivers. It was necessary they should have rest, and so a halt was ordered. Some of the horses were killed, and soup, steaks, and roasts revived the spirits of the force so much that merriment resounded round every fire. In the meantime, Major Von Tempsky had followed on the tracks of the volunteer party, and met Ensign McDonnell returning, who [unclear: reported] that relief parties, laden with supplies, were advancing; [unclear: and] a few hours later Captain Leach arrived leading parties of the [unclear: grd] and 68th, under Lieutenant Palmer, laden with biscuits and [unclear: groceries].

On the 23rd a fresh start was made, and two fat bullocks, rum, and groceries were encountered after a few miles had been traversed. Henceforth provisions were plentiful, but it was not until 10.30 a.m. on the 25th that the force reached Mataitawa, and [unclear: halted] for a few hours in the sunshine to refresh themselves after their wet march through the bush. The same night the column marched to within three miles of the town of New Plymouth.

On the 26th January General Chute's successes were known in New Plymouth, and when he entered the town on the 27th, under a triumphal arch, and amidst great rejoicings, he was met by the Superintendent of Taranaki, the Hon. H. Richmond, and an address presented to him. The soldiers were not forgotten, and were feasted by the grateful colonists, who were ever ready to help, with purse or hand, the Imperial forces, and who, now this little force had accomplished so much, seemed as if they could not do half enough in acknowledgment of the conspicuous bravery and perseverance of this march. General Chute did not delay, but page 80 rapidly moved on, reaching, by 3 p.m., Oakura, and camped for the night. Oakura was then a strong redoubt overhanging the sea, and at one time was in the hands of the Maoris—a truly formidable position.

On the 29th, the column reached Warea, a redoubt built upon the site of an old native fishing village, and occupied by 170 men of the 43rd Light Infantry.

On the morning of the 1st February, the General moved out of camp with a force of 450 men of all ranks to attack Waikoko, a strongly fortified position about six miles inland. So early had General Chute moved out of camp, that by daybreak he was close on the enemy's position; and so rapidly were the force thrown into skirmishing order and advanced, that the Hau-haus were driven into the bush, their pah and whares in flames, one half their number killed, and the rest in flight. The whole action did not occupy long, and after destroying the cultivations of the natives, the force returned to camp. The next day the result of the action became apparent, the natives coming in in droves and taking the oath of allegiance—even the Hau-hau prophet giving himself up. He would have been sacrificed had it not been for the firmness of General Chute and Dr. Featherston, who were determined that his life should not be sacrificed.

On the 6th, Meri Meri was attacked and destroyed by Colonel Butler. The main body, under General Chute, reached Patea on that date. General Chute, in his despatch to Sir George Grey, the Governor of the colony, mentioned especially Major McDonnell and his brother, Ensign McDonnell, also the chiefs Hori Kingi, Kemp, and Haimona, and also the gallant Von Tempsky. Thus General Chute accomplished, with a force of 500 men, a march round Mount Egmont, which General Cameron had declined to face with 6,882 men.

In 1866 the Hau-haus again became troublesome, and Lieutenant-Colonel McDonnell, who was in command at Patea, had some brisk fighting up and down the coast, the principal actions being: August 1st, capture of Pokaikai, a number of bush fights until September, when Pungarehu was attacked and taken. Twenty-three of the Hau-haus were killed, nine taken prisoners, and a quantity of guns and ammunition taken; then followed the capture of Te Umu.

In 1868 the natives again resumed hostilities, this time Tito-kowaru and other chiefs began to harrass the settlers, and on the 1st August, 300 men, under Lieutenant-Colonel McDonnell and Major Von Tempsky, second in command, attacked Te Ngutu-o-te-manu pah, which was captured, and the enemy driven out. Unfortunately, this stronghold was abandoned and immediately re-occupied by Titokowaru, and afterwards made so strong that page 81 when it became necessary to again attack it, our troops were repelled and the gallant Von Tempsky killed.

Post after post was abandoned by order of the Defence Office; farms were burned, and settlers murdered. Colonel Whitmore came into the district, and Colonel McDonnell, from various reasons, resigned his command, after placing 400 Wanganui natives in a strong redoubt on the site of the old Wereroa Pah, taken by Sir George Grey and the colonial forces in 1865. When Colonel Whitmore took over the command, this redoubt was abandoned, and an attack was made on Titokowaru's position at Moturoa, at the edge of the bush. This resulted in the defeat and [unclear: cut] of the attacking party, who were pursued nearly to the Wairoa township. Titokowaru was left master of the situation, [unclear: and], reinforced by the Ngarauru tribe, crossed Waitotara, and [unclear: entrenched] themselves at Taurangaika, where they made a strong pah. Colonel Whitmore then went to Poverty Bay, after the [unclear: massacre] at that place by Te Kooti. Titokowaru burnt and [unclear: ravaged] up to the Kai Iwi stream, and declared his intention of attacking Wanganui, which was unprotected, the garrison at [unclear: Wereroa] having been withdrawn, after a gallant defence under Captain W. Powell. On hearing of this, Colonel McDonnell collected 160 natives to protect the town, and marched to Kai Iwi. They kept the enemy in check, and Titokowaru's scouting parties [unclear: retreated] to Taurangaika. On Colonel Whitmore's return from Poverty Bay, he attacked this position and shelled it, but the [unclear: enemy] decamped during the night. They were followed up to [unclear: Waitotara], when a skirmish ensued. The enemy now retreated to [unclear: the] Ngatimaru country, near the White Cliffs. During this retreat [unclear: to] or three small skirmishes took place, and at Te Ngaire, [unclear: through] a blunder for which Colonel Whitmore was not responsible, [unclear: the] enemy made good their retreat to the Ngatimaru. Small parties of the enemy left in the Patea District surrendered to Major Noake, and were sent to Otago. This ended the disturbances [unclear: in] this coast. The Ngarauru tribe gave in, and went to dwell with the friendly natives at Hiruharama, on the Wanganui River, who became responsible for their good behaviour.

The friendly natives who volunteered to protect the town of Wanganui afterwards received from the Government a sum of money, as a reward for their services so rendered.