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Incidents of The Maori War

Chapter XI

page 223

Chapter XI.

Doubtful policy with regard to employing Natives to fight against Natives—The Governor expects that Auckland will be attacked—It is reinforced—Escape of young Bishop—More devastations—Head quarters, 2nd battalion, 14th regiment arrives—The death of young Sartin—Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi, the King-maker—Maori laws—A Militia difficulty—Matarikoriko pah—An expedition to attack it—The Rev. Mr. Wilson's services—A redoubt commenced—The action at Kairau—The Maories object to fight on Sunday—Evacuate Matarikoriko—The Prophet dreams a dream—An amusing incident.

Though we had native allies at Mahoetahi, and distinguished by badges from the others, yet their employment in action against their brethren admits of a question. They are supposed to have no quarrel with them, nor any very great liking for us, they might be active in securing the arms of the slain, to use them against us themselves, or to dispose of to the enemy, and with all our precaution they might be fired on by our people in mistake. It is true they were very useful in detecting am-page 224buscades, in procuring and cutting firewood, building wharrés, &c., and in this way their presence with a force may be useful, but the fighting should be perhaps confined to the white soldiers alone.

In the beginning of November, his Excellency the Governor, from the accounts he received of a threatened attack on Auckland, sent to the Taranaki for some men of the 40th and 65th regiments, which occasioned the General to act on the defensive merely, till reinforcements, the head-quarters of the 14th regiment, arrived.

At Waiwakaho bridge near New Plymouth, a young man, named Bishop, was walking about his father's farm, accompanied by a Maori boy, when he was fired upon by a party of Waikatos in ambush, he was shot in the wrist and groin, dropped his gun and with his attendant escaped.

The natives began to erect pahs near the Waitara, as traps to entice the soldiers within the range of numerous flanking rifle pits. Incendiary fires of settlers' houses, and the general destruction of property went on as before about the Bell Block, &c.

page 225

As the five hundred men of the head-quarters 2nd Battalion, 14th regiment, landed from the steam-ship "Robert Lowe," by means of the man-of-war boats, after a quick passage of eighty-two days, it was remarked in the newspapers, that they were "a most creditable body of British soldiers, fine young fellows in the full flush of youth and health, and with all the ground-work of a first rate service corps." The band was strong and good, and the new description of drums were noticed, a third of the depth of the old ones, also the new, small and handsome description of colours, seen here for the first time. Much anxiety was removed in Auckland when the first portion of the 14th arrived, and thanks were offered in some of the churches on the occasion.

The four hundred men, 40th and 65th, sent to garrison Auckland from the Taranaki, now returned to the seat of war.

On the 4th December another victim of imprudent daring fell. Two young men, named Sartin and Northcote, were searching for a lost bullock on horseback; at the Henui river, Taranaki, a volley was fired at them from the page 226bush, Sartin fell, and immediately after a party of natives ran from behind a furze hedge and tomahawked him. Northcote escaped and brought the news to town. A party of the 12th, with Militia and Volunteers, went to recover the body which had received three bullets in the back and side, and was hacked about the head and legs. Sartin's brother was previously killed at the L pah.

It was understood that seven parties of the natives were out, round New Plymouth, to carry on a guerilla warfare.

About this time, his Excellency the Governor received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies an approval of the measures he had adopted, with regard to hostilities with the natives.

The proceedings of Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi,* chief of the Ngatihaua of the Waikato river, should here be noticed. He was, as I said, one of the most influential men among the natives, and long considered a friend of the Pakeha and of peace. Son of a great warrior, Te Waharoa, he was brought up by the church page 227missionaries, and was remarkable for his intelligence, and his desire for self-improvement. After long thought and deliberation, he originated the King movement, set up Te Whero Whero as king, and was considered the Také, or originator, of the Maori kingdom.

It is said that expressing to a white man one day his admiration of the manner of administrating justice among the Pakeha, the other replied "E tomo koe i raro i aku huha" "your path is through (underneath) my thighs" pointing to oppression and slavery. The proud spirit of Tarapipipi took fire at this, as it was told in Maori circles, and he lost all confidence in the Government.

A singular document from the new King Matatuera and Wiremu Tamihana was promulgated about the beginning of December, it professed a desire to promote peace about the Waikato river, to put an end to plunder and to let the Europeans, already settled there, remain without molestation. "If a Maori were killed by a European," it said, "he was to be searched out and killed for the Maori, and no other man sacrificed. The same if a European was killed by a Maori, one man to die for this page 228and not many as was the custom. These are the laws we have made with respect to Taranaki and the Waikatos going to fight there, it is not wrong our fighting there because it is clear for right (for the land question?) for the Pakeha and Maori to fight there. Respecting the Maories going to Auckland, it has been tapued (made sacred), there shall be no fighting there."

This I clearly understood from the zealous missionary in the Waikato, Archdeacon Maunsell, when I went on a mission towards the Waikato country to inspect the stockades at Drury and Papakura. "Auckland is tapued as long as you don't send soldiers this way."

Another wing of the 14th arrived by the "Boanerges," in command of Major Dwyer, K.M., K.L.H. and three hundred men were sent to Wellington under him, and two hundred to Napier under Captain Barnes; one hundred more were afterwards sent there, Captain Vivian's company, which arrived by the "Savilla."

Another expedition from New Plymouth was now being arranged to proceed towards the Waitara; to accompany it, eighty Militia page 229and Volunteers were detailed, but as only forty-seven mustered next morning, through some misunderstanding, the men having on previous occasions turned out with alacrity and done good service, Colonel Carey, the Deputy- Adjutant-General supplied the place of the eighty men with troops taken from the town guards.

Some columns in the meantime went out against the natives, driving off and shooting cattle about the Bell Block. Major Hutchins, 12th regiment, commanded on these occasions, Captain Buck, late 65th and now of the 14th, was also actively engaged.

The strong and elevated ground at Matarikoriko near the Waitara river and east of Puketakauere, had been well stockaded by the enemy's two pahs being thrown into one like a wide spread letter V. By some, it was believed to be a trap to lead the troops up to the stockade, whilst they would be shot by a flanking as well as a direct fire from rifle trenches. On approaching Matarikoriko from the west, the tops of trees suddenly appearing at one's feet shewed a deep intervening ravine.

Trees seen in this way in New Zealand with page 230the sun shining on their burnished leaves, those of the karaka especially, have a most brilliant effect; on the outskirts of the woods in December, the delicate white convolvulus shews its flowers and heart-shaped leaves among the grey rocks in a most attractive manner, the flax displays its claw-like orange flowers from their lofty stems, and along the roads red and white double roses cluster in the wildest profusion.

An expedition started to reduce Matarikoriko on the 28th December at an early hour, under the command of General Pratt. It consisted of twenty rank and file Royal Artillery, and two 24-pounder howitzers under Captain Strover; Colonel Mould, commanding Royal Engineer, had with him, Captain Mould, Lieutenant Warburton, two sergeants and twenty-seven Royal Engineers; of the 12th regiment, there were besides officers, Captain Miller's company of eighty-six men; Colonel Wyatt had ten officers and three hundred and twenty-two of the 65th; of the Naval Brigade, Lieutenant Wood had under him Midshipman Horne and twenty-four men. Lieutenant Talbot, 65th, and thirty men joined from the Bell page 231Block; eleven mounted Volunteers were under Captain Desvœux, men of the 12th. regiment supplied the place of the Militia and Volunteers as previously noticed. The 40th at the Waitara camp and Commodore Seymour (Commodore Loring having now left the colony) with some of the Naval Brigade co-operated from that quarter.

The expedition reached the Waitara camp, and the Reverend Mr. Wilson, a bold and energetic clergyman, rode towards Matarikoriko to confer with the natives, and to get them to agree not to massacre prisoners. He used to ride fearlessly between the town and the Waitara, displaying merely his white handkerchief on his staff.

On the evening of Friday the 28th December, one thousand men were ordered to be in readiness to start from the Waitara camp at 3 a.m., on Saturday. Accordingly the troops under General Pratt, with a long line of carts, with ammunition and provisions, with two 24-lb. howitzers and two 12-pounder guns marched and reached the site of Kairau pah, previously destroyed in September.

Passing the block-house constructed at page 232Puketakauere, the skirmishers of the 40th were then sent to the right and left of the road; but their progress through the fern and scrub was exceedingly difficult and tedious, as it was generally on a level with the mens' shoulders, and in places seven and ten feet high, so that a roan on horseback was covered by it, and he could only see daylight overhead. Beyond Kairau the enemy appeared moving in the fern, the black heads shewed themselves, and then a dropping fire commenced.

General Pratt having determined whilst attempting to reduce the strong Matarikoriko pah on its commanding position, to entrench the troops, the Royal Engineers traced out redoubt No. 1 at the site of the old Kairau pah. The interior perimeter of the redoubt was two hundred and sixty yards, the area 2560 square yards, and it was capable of containing four hundred and fifty men with four guns. Its distance from Matarikoriko was 1100 yards.

No. 1 Redoubt was planned by Colonel Mould, and executed by Captain Mould with Royal Engineers and working parties, raising the parapets with earth and cut fern in layers, page 233which last binds the loose earth in a wonderful manner, as we afterwards observed, and allowing of perpendicular parapets difficult to scale, and not the usual sloping parapets.

The Naval Brigade under Commodore Seymour, and the 12th detachment under Captain Miller, a brave and meritorious officer, had charge of the right flank, to keep that clear, whilst the 40th and 65th were thrown out on the left towards the strong position of Matarikoriko, with its long stockade and rifle trenches, overlooking the Waitara and the surrounding plain.

The enemy advancing through the fern fired incessantly to interrupt the working parties at the redoubt, and were answered by the troops.

Rifle bullets, plug shot, and musket balls "pinged" and whistled through the air, whilst the artillery under Captain Strover, and Lieutenant Macnaughten, sent round shot and shell in the direction of the Matarikoriko pah, by which the palisading was observed to be damaged. At one time the enemy came so close, that picks and spades were thrown down, and the working parties used their page 234rifles. At noon, the firing went on fast and furious; then the invisible foe fired from their rifle pits, and subsequently made a movement towards the right, which was repelled by the Naval Brigade and 12th regiment, Mr. Scott, R.N., throwing shells among the enemy with effect. The fire slackened in the afternoon, but was resumed at dusk, and without interrupting the work. Our troops firing about 70,000 rounds of rifle ammunition, and one hundred and twenty shell and case shot. The British casualties amounted to twenty-three killed and wounded.

The redoubt being raised sufficiently high to afford protection, was occupied first by the 40th regiment; the Naval Brigade, 12th and 65th were retired to the rear of the redoubt, and the General and staff, also the ambulances with the killed and wounded, went to the Waitara camp. Platforms were laid on the left face of the redoubt, and two 8-inch guns mounted there to breach Matarikoriko, and the parapets were heightened in parts, so that the interior of the redoubt might be more thoroughly defiladed from the enemy's fire.

Till four o'clock on Sunday morning the page 235enemy's fire continued, when it suddenly ceased, and by the time the General returned to the front, a white flag was flying from the enemy's pah.

The General now asked the Rev. Mr. Wilson to communicate with the Maories, and ascertain their intentions. Mr. Wilson, always ready to be of use, learned from the Maories that it was their wish not to desecrate the Sabbath by blood. The skirmishers were accordingly not thrown out, but the troops were massed in rear of the redoubt, which was being completed.

The Maories, in full confidence of our good faith, came out of their pah in considerable numbers, also showed themselves on a breast-work to the right, and in advance of it, whilst our people unmolested gathered potatoes below. For some years past, among the Maories, the Ra tapu, or sacred day, has been observed by them as one on which they can lay in supplies, but not fight.

In the afternoon of Sunday, a soldier in search of a forage cap he had lost in the affair of the previous day, "the action of Kairau," came on an abandoned rifle pit, then one more, page 236and in the bottom of one he found a tomahawk. He reported what he had seen to Colonel Wyatt, who now occupied the redoubt with a party of the 65th.

On Monday morning, Colonel Wyatt and Commodore Seymour, with parties of blue jackets, proceeded cautiously towards Matarikoriko, expecting momentarily volleys from the flanking rifle trenches; none were fired. The Colonel got to the flag-staff first, and had the honour of hoisting a British ensign with which he had provided himself. The Commodore not expecting this, had taken the matter more leisurely.

Matarikoriko was found to be exceedingly strong, full of rifle pits connected by passages, and affording escape into the dense bush in the rear. A dream was said to have been the occasion of its unexpected abandonment. A chief wishing to continue the defence, was told by the Maori prophet that he had dreamt he had seen the chief in the hands of the Pakeha, and on board ship, and that this was a bad omen.

Some of the rifle trenches outside of Matarikoriko were thirty-two, seventy-four, one hundred and four, seventy-three, and one page 237hundred and seventy-eight paces in length. That the enemy had sustained on Saturday a heavy loss, was evident from the blood-stained trenches.

During the fight of the 29th, the General moved about, directing wherever required; his Adjutant-General, Carey, received a shot across his breast, tearing open his coat. Dr. Neill, 65th, received balls through his cap and trousers. An amusing incident occurred during the Kairau action. The gunner, R.N., left in charge of the Puketakauere block-house, imagining that the skirmishers were running short of ammunition, put a quantity in a wheel barrow with a couple of spades, and set out from the block-house with four shipmates, with their rifles, having previously locked in the rest of his party in the block-house, in order that they might defend their post to the last extremity. He was met in the fern by an officer, who asked him what he was doing? He said, "Taking ammunition to the skirmishers;" if attacked on the way he meant to throw up cover with the spades, and he and his messmates to defend themselves with their rifles behind it, till they could move on with their wheel-barrow.

* William Thompson, why should he not have retained his native name though baptised? viz., Tarapipipi. The other two are corruptions of his new name.