Major-General Chute to Governor Sir George Grey, K.C.B.
I have the honour to report, for your Excellency's information, that on the 30th ultimo, the date on which the colonial troops your Excellency had acquainted me would be placed at my disposal were ready, I left Whanganui with a small field force, and encamped at Alexander's farm.
On the 31st the force marched to Wereroa, where we were detained for two days waiting for the Native Contingent, who, on the 1st January, were employed in capturing horses the property of rebels, thirty-two of which they secured; and on the 2nd, in preparing some particular food they declared to be absolutely necessary for the march.
On the 3rd instant, the field force, total strength as per margin,* moved across the Waitotara. I directed the Native Contingent to cross at Perikama, beneath and on the right flank of the post at Wereroa, and with the remainder of the force I made a diversion through the Waitotara Block, crossing by the ford near the mouth of the river. The Contingent having joined me on the main inland track, we marched towards Moturou, and encamped about a mile and a half from that village, situated at the edge of a dense forest, within which and about two miles from Moturou was the strongly fortified and formidable position of Okotuku, which I was informed was considered impregnable by the rebels, and there it was stated they had collected in considerable numbers. During the afternoon of the 3rd instant the Native Contingent, under Major McDonnell, proceeded to reconnoitre this position, and taking the rebels by surprise entered it without opposition: a few shots only were fired at them by the enemy's scouts. Having set fire to the whares outside the pa, the Contingent returned to camp.
* Royal Artillery: Officer, 1; sergeants, 2; rank and file, 30. Under command of Lieutenant Carre.
2nd Battalion 14th. Regiment: Officers, 8; sergeants, 11; drummers, 4; rank and file, 250. Under command of Lieut. Colonel Trevor.
Forest Rangers: Officers, 2; sergeants, 3; rank and file, 41. Under command of Major Von Tempsky.
Native Contingent (including Natives): Officers, 12; sergeants, 8; rank and file, 96. Kupapus, or Volunteer Natives: Rank and file, 150. Under command of Major McDonnell.
Total: Officers, 23; sergeants, 24; drummers, 4; rank and file. 567.
† 2nd Battalion 14th Regiment: Officers, 3; sergeants, 4; drummer, 1; rank and file, 100.
Forest Rangers: Officers, 2; rank and file, 33.
Native Contingent: Officers, 3; rank and file, 200.
Total: Officers, 8; sergeants, 4; drummer, 1; rank and file, 333,
I am much indebted to Major McDonnell and the Native Contingent for their services on this occasion. Dr. Featherston, Superintendent of this province, who accompanies the field force, was present at the assault on Okotuku, and I have every reason to be obliged to him for his assistance on all matters connected with the Natives.
Previous to my departure from Wereroa, I sent to the officers commanding at Patea, Manawapou, and Waingongoro, informing them that it was my intention to proceed northward by the inland track, pointing out the probability of the rebels retreating in that direction, and instructing them to patrol the country in the vicinity of the bush near their posts, with the view of intercepting and cutting them off. Colonel Warre, C.B., commander at Taranaki, has also been instructed, if possible, to clear his district of rebels, more particularly in the vicinity of his southern outposts, and to prevent their retreat to Mataitawa, should they take the road at the back of Mount Egmont.
On the 5th January, the Native Contingent desiring rest, the troops were occupied in destroying cultivations.
On the 6th January the force marched to the Whenuakura River, and encamped on some high land to the southward and front of the rebel stronghold of Putahi. I purposed attacking the pa at once, and had directed two hundred men from the Patea to advance on it at the same time from the side next the river, but the only information I was able to obtain regarding the tracks to it was so meagre that I was obliged to wait until the following day. On the evening of the 6th, while reconnoitring the position, a small party of the Native Contingent were fired upon by the enemy's scouts, resulting in a skirmish in which we had one man wounded.
Putahi is situated on a clearing about half a mile in diameter, on the top of a hill, rising abruptly on all sides from the river plain to the height of about 500 feet, and covered to the crest with dense bush. The usual approach is from the side on which we are encamped, and was one the rebels evidently anticipated we should attempt, having, as I was informed, erected stockades and other impediments in the bush to assist them in its defence—information which I found to be perfectly correct.
Knowing that by this route the pa could only be taken with the loss of many men, I decided in attacking it in rear, and, having succeeded at a late hour on the night of the 6th in obtaining the services of a guide with a tolerable knowledge of the country, I marched at 3 a m. on the morning of the 7th, with a force,* crossed a tributary of the Whenuakura by a bridge constructed the evening before, and passing over a plain, of about half a mile, ascended a steep spur, which brought us on an isolated plateau, lying to the left front of the pa, about two miles distant from it in a direct line. Descending this, the march may be described as one continued struggle through a dense primæval forest and bush, over ravines and gullies which could in most cases only be ascended and descended by the aid of supplejacks, and then only with great difficulty. The extreme distance to be traversed could not have exceeded four miles, but the obstacles and obstructions opposed to us made it a severe task of four hours.
* Royal Artillery: Officer, 1; sergeants, 2; rank and file, 28. Under Lieutenant Carre.
2nd Battalion 14th Regiment: Officers, 6; sergeants, 9; drummers, 3; rank and file, 204. Under Lieutenant-Colonel Trevor.
2nd Battalion 18th Regiment: Officers, 5; sergeants, 4; drummers, 2; rank and file, 89. Under Major Rocke.
50th Regiment: Officers, 4; sergeants, 4; drummers, 2; rank and file, 90. Under Captain C. Johnson.
Forest Kangers: Officers, 2; sergeants, 2; rank and file, 38. Under Major Von Tempsky.
Native Contingent, &c.: Officers (including Natives), 10; rank and file, 200. Under Major McDonnell.
Total: Officers, 28: sergeants, 21; drummers, 7; rank and file, 649.
The flagstaff, whares, &c., were all pulled down and burnt. The work of destruction being completed, and the formidable pa of Putahi, hitherto considered impregnable, on account of its inaccessibility, being levelled to the ground, I ordered the troops to march to camp. Their loss has probably been very severe, though sixteen bodies only were found in and around the pa. From information I have received, the garrison appears to have consisted of about two hundred rebels of the worst character.
I enclose a return of our casualties, by which your Excellency will observe we had one man killed and seven wounded. Amongst the latter, I am sorry to say, is Major McDonnell, who, as usual, was most active and zealous, not only in directing the march through the bush, but in pursuing the rebels in retreat. Where all have behaved so gallantly, it is difficult to select any names for favourable mention; but of the colonial forces I beg especially to bring to your Excellency's notice Major Von Tempsky, commanding Forest Rangers; Major McDonnell; commanding Native Contingent; as also Ensign McDonnell, of the same force.
I had directed Colonel Warre, C.B., to send one hundred men from the Patea to the right bank of the Whenuakura River, and to the right flank of the pa, in order to intercept rebels retreating by the inland route towards Kakaramea. I beg to forward a copy of this officer's report of the proceedings on the occasion.
I have, &c.,
His Excellency Sir George Grey, K.C.B., &c.