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Incidents of The Maori War

Chapter X

page 203

Chapter X.

The New Zealand spring—Expedition to the Kaihihi river—Preparation for assaulting three pahs—Sap up to the principal one—The enemy retreats—Captain Pasley, R.E., wounded —Waikatos arrive to assist Wiremu Kingi—A challenge to fight—Troops advance to Mahoetahi, under General Pratt, C.B. and Colonel Mould, C.R.E.—Successful action —The casualties—Maori peculiarities on making prisoners —Excellent behaviour of the troops—Officers noticed for their gallantry.

In the month of October the New Zealand landscape is in all the beauty and freshness of the spring; the sides of the hills of volcanic origin, lately red or bare of vegetation, now assume a green vesture. In the ravines where trees abound, and where the rich notes of the tooi, or parson-bird, are heard, the clematis showers its clusters of white stars from the topmost boughs of the shrub it patronises; the clianthus hangs its crimson "parrot-bill flowers," kowai ngutu kaka, under its fringed leaves, or as the yellow kowai enlivens the clumps of foliage by the margin of some page 204shaded stream, while the long leaves of the valuable flax plant flash in the sun, and the breeze waves the graceful leaves of the tree fern, or rustles in the tufted spikes of the cabbage palm.

A group of bushy black-haired and tattoed Maories in their shaggy mats from neck to knee, or folded in their red or white blankets, may be resting in the shade, or cooking a frugal meal of tuna and kumara, eels and sweet potatoes.

In riding over the fern-covered plains, the horse's hoof crushes plants which give out refreshing odours, and the ti bush is cheerful with its sprinkling of snowy blossoms; flies with bright blue bodies appear, and black and white butterfles flit around; the air is of a delicious temperature; there is no plague of insects; light clouds pass overhead, or partially veil the distant mountain ranges. Water, the landscape's eye, to enliven these prospects, and reflect their charms, is seldom wanting, and all seemed formed for enjoyment by a benificent Providence, man's evil passions alone marring occasionally these scenes of a terrestial paradise. Though the reign of peace page 205and the diffusion of universal happiness may not be far distant, yet till that blessed day arrives there must be soldiers, and if of the right stamp they will, like the Philistines, "quit themselves like men."

It was in the beginning of October then, the finest time for military operations, clear and cool, and the ground drying up, that the expedition to the Kaihihi was undertaken by General Pratt. Its object was to attack three strong pahs named Puketakiriki, Orongomahangai and Mataiaio, held by the insurgent Maories of the Taranaki tribe, who had been so active in the work of devastation. Two of these pahs were on the right, and one on the left bank of the Kaihihi river, and eighteen miles from New Plymouth.

The strength of the expedition was 1,043 rank and file. Captain Strover commanded the Royal Artillery, Colonel Mould the Royal Engineers, Major Hutchins the detachment, 12th Regiment; Captain Hare, the detachment, 40th Regiment; Captain Strange, the detachment, 65th Regiment; Captain Beauchamp Seymour; the Naval page 206Brigade; the Militia were under Captain and Adjutant Stapp; the Mounted Escort under Captain Desvœux, and one hundred and fifty friendly natives under Mr. Parris. With bullock drivers and servants the force looked formidable; and the guns consisted of one 68-pounder, and three 24lb. howitzers; fifty carts were laden with ammunition, camp equipage, and baggage; the steamer "Wonga Wonga" also going down the coast with spare ammunition.

The march to the south, through a very difficult country for wheels, was facilitated materially by the Royal Engineers, who preceded the column, levelled and filled up inequalities in the road, repaired bridges and worked most effectually. The first camp on the 9th October was at the Timaru river, Tataramaika; next day the tents were struck at half-past four, a.m., and the friendly natives were moved to the front as a reconnoitring party. The country consisted of table-land intersected with wooded gullies, and on the sea-shore lofty cliffs.

By eight o'clock on the morning of the 10th October, the force had arrived within page 207three quarters of a mile of the pahs, and the camp was pitched and intrenchments thrown up for its defence. The approaches to the pahs were next reconnoitred. The party which proceeded to the left found high fern and a gully impracticable for artillery, and it was fired upon from rifle pits in the bush; the fire was returned. The right party found open ground near the pahs.

General Pratt had arranged with Colonel Mould, Royal Engineers, second in command, to approach these pahs with a sap, to avoid the loss of life which resulted from a different course adopted in former wars. Accordingly at six A.M. on the 11th, a working party of two hundred and fifty-eight officers and men, carrying tools and gabions, and covered by a guard of one hundred and sixty-one officers and men, advanced in extended order, and with the necessary supports, to cover the working party, which commenced to throw up a parallel within two hundred and fifty yards of the Orongomahangai pah. This was done without interruption from the natives, who seemed at a loss what to make of the operations. At nine o'clock the guns were sent from the page 208camp. At eleven the enemy commenced a heavy fire, and at twelve the guns replied to it. The pah was covered with green flax, and the shot seemed to make little impression on it.

A fire from the enemy in the bush on the left front of the parallel occasioned some casualties. At night-fall the firing ceased on both sides, the parallel was perfected and traverses made for the protection of the guns. At six P.M. the day working party was relieved by seventy-five men, with a detachment of Royal Engineers, the whole in charge of Captain Mould, R.E., who commenced a sap towards the pah and which was continued during the night. At six o'clock next morning the flying sap was rapidly pushed a head and widened, and defiladed under cover of a mantlette or screen, (a bullet proof blind between two wheels.) A strong skirmishing party was now also moved up, and a howitzer advanced to play on an angle of the pah, and a bag of powder was prepared to blow up part of the stockade, when after a shell and a charge of cannister had been thrown into a small breach which had been made in the palisading, the assaulting party moved up, and the enemy not relishing page 209this mode of attack, evacuated the pah which was immediately taken possession of.

The pah was found to be very strong with rifle pits and covered passages, there was plenty of potatoes inside which the troops made use of. The General, with Colonel Carey, Dep.-Adj.-Gen. now crossed the river and directed Mataiaio to be attacked, which was rushed with fifty men of the 65th and some friendly natives, and was abandoned by the enemy.

An advance with infantry and guns was now made on Puketakariki which was placed on an eminence about three hundred yards from the first pah, a few shells were thrown into it, and the pah was entered and found evacuated; the pah was strong and also full of potatoes.

Between the first and second pah the enemy had formed a line of rifle pits, thinking that the troops would advance in that way; if they had and the sap had not been made, a heavy loss of life must have been the consequence. The pah was covered with green flax, impenetrable to musketry and even offering resistance to round shot.

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At Mataiaio was an under-ground hospital for the wounded from the first pah, and many bloody evidences were observed of the enemy's loss. Between the first and second pah the rifle pits were most skilfully contrived, and long ropes of flax from them enabled the defenders to swing over the precipice to the bed of the Kaihihi, and thus escape.

These pahs had the usual two rows of palisading; Orongomahangai had also behind its interior, rifle pits, a mound of earth seemingly of some former pah, as there were trees on it. The projectiles produced small effect on the stockade, bar shot might produce a better effect than spherical balls, and if fired in the prolongation of a face; but howitzers are useful to search rifle pits, if used with small charges and good elevation.

It was Colonel Mould's opinion that similar strong positions, which cannot be completely invested, and from which there are means of escape, inaccessible to troops, may hold out for a limited time and be evacuated before matters come to an extremity, but that pahs in an open country will be invariably left on the approach of a hostile British force.

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The natives must have seen, from the nature of the operations at the Kaihihi river, that it was impossible to hold out against a systemized attack, and thus the attack on these positions had a wholesome effect.

The conduct of the troops of all arms was excellent, the Royal Navy, Regulars, and Militia vying with each other in the field and the trenches. The field-officers in the trenches, Lieutenant-Colonel Sillery, Deputy-quarter-master-general, and Major Hutchins, 12th regiment, took a most active and untiring part in the operations, both in respect of judiciously posting the guards of the trenches, and urging on the working parties.

Among the casualties were Captain Pasley, R, E. severely wounded, also an excellent soldier, Sergeant Howell, R.E. From some dispatches received by General Pratt from the Governor, relating to a threatened attack on Auckland, he marched back to New Plymouth, the force having had four days of very hard work.

The want of intelligence of the strength and the designs of the enemy was a serious evil, during the war no reliable information could be obtained from the friendly natives. A force page 212of Waikatos proceeding to join the Ngatiawas, who had asked for assistance from the Waikatos and placed themselves under the Moari King's flag, it was uncertain whether this contingent amounted to one hundred or one thousand warriors; yet there were active and intelligent officers in the native department, among whom were Mr. Charon, a French gentleman, Mr. Turton and Mr. Drummond Hay, the son of an old and valued friend, Mr. E. W. A. Drummond Hay, late Consul-General at Morocco. Substantial advantages were now gained over the Waikatos who first arrived in the Taranaki, without affording them time to strengthen the position they had taken up; General Pratt with a combined force of Regulars, Militia and Naval Brigade attacked them, and defeated them with heavy loss.

On the evening of the 5th November information reached General Pratt at New Plymouth from Mr. Drummond Hay, that the Waikatos had crossed the Waitara river in force to join Wiremu Kingi, and that possibly next morning they would be in the neighbourhood of Mahoetahi. It was accordingly arranged that a force from New Plymouth and another page 213from the camp at the Waitara should march, so as to join at half-past eight o'clock in the morning at Mahoetahi, eight miles from New Plymouth.

The Waikato chief Wateni had previously sent this insulting letter to Mr. Parris of the Native Department.

To Mr. Parris.

Friend.—I have heard your word, come to fight me, that is very good; come inland, and let us meet each other; fish fight at sea, come inland, and stand on our feet; make haste, make haste, don't prolong it, that is all I have to say to you, make haste!

From Wateni Taiporutu.
From Torokuru.
From all the chiefs of Ngatihau and Waikato.

Before four o'clock A.M. on the 6th November, the carts were filled at New Plymouth with warlike stores, and two 24lb. howitzers were prepared to start at five A.M. with the force which then commenced its march. Besides the officers of the General's Staff, there page 214were Captain Strover, one sergeant and twelve men of the Royal Artillery; Captain Mould and ten men, Royal Engineers; Major Hutchins, two officers, and eighty-four men of the 12th regiment; Colonel Leslie, six officers and one hundred and sixty-eight men, of the 40th regiment; Captain Turner, four officers and two hundred and twenty-three men of the 65th regiment; Major Herbert, six officers and one hundred and twenty men of the Militia and Rifle Volunteers; Captain Desœux, and twenty men of the Mounted Volunteers; Dr. Mouat, C.B., V.C. at the head of the Medical Staff. The Waitara column, under Colonel Mould, R.E., had with it, Major Nelson, 40th, who led as second in command, Captain Bowdler, 40th, one Staff officer (Whelan) eight subalterns, and three hundred and five Artillery, 40th and 65th, with a howitzer.

The day was fine, the dew had laid the dust on the road, it was a beautiful morning of the southern summer.

The Bell Block was reached at six o'clock; at the descent to the Mangoraka river* the guns were ordered to the front, skirmishers page 215of the 65th were thrown out, and the Mahoetahi pah was seen at the distance of a mile and a half over the scrub and fern. The Mangoraka stream was forded, and in silence the troops advanced towards the pah on its hill to the left of the Devon road; the Mahoetahi pah was old, enclosed some wharres or huts, but the position was a commanding one and afforded considerable cover to the enemy, who opened a rapid fire on the troops as soon as they came within range, and the wounded were passed to the rear.

The General now dismounted and ordered the guns into position; whilst the enemy fired briskly from a gully on their right, Major Herbert was directed to skirmish to the left, which was done by his men through high fern and a deep swamp. Great guns and small arms were now freely employed against the pah, and after this had been continued for some time, and the ammunition and camp equipage being now mostly over the river, the Militia was ordered to seize a hill in advance on the left and occupy it; this was effected. A portion of the 65th was then directed to fix bayonets and storm the pah in front, the Mi-page 216litia being ordered to do the same on the left flank of it, this was done by both in the most gallant manner. The stormers, with whom was the General, ran up the ascent on which the pah stood, under a rapid fire from the Maories; a close combat ensued, and several of the men fell mortally wounded, among whom were Mr. Brown and Mr. Edgecombe of Taranaki.

Captain Atkinson, of the Militia, kept up a smart fire from the hill on the left; inside the pah the natives still continued to occupy the wharres from behind which they wounded Col. Sillery, Dep.-quarter-master-general, with a ball through his side, and Capt. Turner, a ball passing through the mouth of the latter and flattening against the jaw. Eight and left of the pah the fight continued for two hours, the 12th and 40th regiments having succeeded in bringing up the ammunition, camp equipage, &c., extended the right of the line, throwing it forward. Lieutenant Urquhart, present at almost every affair during the war, with the Light Company, 65th, was skirmishing, also some friendly natives on the extreme right, when Colonel Mould's column came into action from the Waitara camp.

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Colonel Mould had received his orders at half-past twelve, midnight, and marched at seven, a.m., and took his way by the road of the Prophets (Tamati Teitos) pah.

Some native scouts were observed on the sand hills near the mouth of the Waiongona; a halt took place to observe them, but as there seemed to be no native force in that direction the march was resumed.

After the column had proceeded half a mile from the Waiongona mouth, heavy firing was heard at Mahoetahi, on which Colonel Mould pushed on with all due precaution until he came in sight of the pah, the west end of which was observed to be in possession of the troops, whilst the east end together with the swamp was held by the Waikatos.

The advanced guard, under Lieutenant Talbot, was now directed to occupy a furze hedge on the Devon road north of the pah, on which the enemy were seen to leave the hill and cluster in the swamp; Lieutenant Macnaughten with the howitzer was then ordered to the front, and two rounds of spherical case were thrown into the Maories; immediately after the second of these fatal missiles had exploded, page 218they ran from their cover. The 65th detachment at the same time rushing from the hedge assisted to harass the Waikatos in the irretreat; Colonel Mould then giving orders to Major Nelson to advance with the howitzer and the remainder of the column to a wooded knoll in a direction transverse to the line of the enemy's retreat, joined and reported himself to General Pratt. Lieutenant Urquhart took the flying Maories in rear, shells were also thrown after them, and the retreat became a complete rout in the direction of Kairau, the Maories throwing away their arms and ammunition into the fern.

A stout Maori in the swamp was attacked by Lieutenant Urquhart's servant, who was grasped by the Waikato, pushed under water and would have been drowned, if another man, a volunteer, had not come to the rescue with his rifle and killed the Maori.

The friendly natives now proceeded with carts to collect the bodies of the slain of the enemy, among whom the shell and cannister of Captain Strover's guns had done great execution. Thirty-one bodies were brought out and laid on the ground, among which appeared page 219that of the Chief Wateni, who had sent the letter, previously quoted, to Mr. Parris. The bodies of three chiefs were put on carts for interment in town, several wounded prisoners were also sent in on carts and cared for in the hospital.

When the bodies of the slain Maories were collected from the road and the fern, and many had ran a long distance before they dropped dead, they presented the appearance of a particularly powerful set of men—even gigantic like life-guards' men, and what was remarkable, shewing also high breeding, their skins were of a bright orange colour. One could not help regretting that such fine men were thus become clods of the valley; they were laid among, and covered with some wild mint till they were decently interred.

The Maories were armed with well finished English rifles and double barrelled fowling pieces, and were able to keep up a continuous fire, whilst their powers of concealment were wonderful. On a chief was found a valuable green stone iki, or God, and a dead Maori grasped a rifle of the 40th regiment, and had fourteen rifle cartridges in his pouch.

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One of the Maories found in the fern feigned dead, and required some good shakes to make him shew signs of life.

Taking a pah is viewed as a small matter by the natives, unless dead bodies fall into the hands of the victors, and about this there could be no question at the action of Mahoetahi.

It may be mentioned here that when a Maori wants to surrender and begs for his life, he hands his meré or club with the handle towards his captor, or presenting the butt of his musket, this was done at Mahoetahi; and it was said that Lieutenant Brooks at Puketakauere might have been spared, if he had presented his sword hilt instead of the point, when he was surrounded by Maories in the swamp, where he lost his life.

The British loss at Mahoetahi was four killed, two officers and thirteen men wounded.

General Pratt pursued the flying enemy with a portion of the 12th, 40th and 65th regiments, and with two guns; crossing the Waiongona river, he swept round by Ngatiparima and Puketakauere, and rejoined the force at Mahoetahi, where leaving Colonel Mould page 221with three hundred men to occupy the position, the rest of the troops returned to New Plymouth and the Waitara camp, after a long, arduous and hot day's work.

The troops behaved with great energy throughout, Artillery, Engineers, Line, Royal Marine, Artillery of the Naval Brigade, Militia and Volunteers. The charge of the 65th and the Militia up the steep to the pah was very gallant and conspicuous.

Among the officers of the staff particularly noticed were Lieutenant-Colonel Sillery, Deputy-Quarter-Master-General, (wounded); Dr. James Mouatt C.B., V.C., Deputy-Inspector- General of Hospitals; Lieut.-Colonel Carey, Deputy-Adjutant-General; H. Bartlett Esq., Assistant-Commissary-General; Lieutenant Forster, A.D.C. and Lieutenant King, Militia A.D.C. and the following officers commanding corps, viz. Captain Strover, R. A., Captain Mould, R.E., Major Hutchins, 12th regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Leslie, 40th Regiment, Captain Turner, 65th regiment, (severely wounded); Major Herbert who led the Militia into the pah, and Lieutenant Urquhart distinguished by his usual courage and daring.

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Colonel Mould, who conducted the Waitara column, contributed most materially to the success of the day, he led his troops to the point of action with equal judgment and ability. The officers under him particularly noticed, were Major Nelson and Captain Bowdler, 40th; Lieutenant Talbot, 65th; Lieutenant Macnaughten, R.A.; Lieutenant Morris, R.M. Artillery; and Ensign Whelan, 40th, Staff officer.

The services of the gentlemen of the Native Department, Mr. Drummond Hay and Mr. Parris were of the greatest importance.

* 'Mango,' a shark, 'raka,' entangled.