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Incidents of The Maori War

Chapter XIII

page 254

Chapter XIII.

Fever at New Plymouth—Missionaries confer with the enemy —Rifle pits at Huirangi—Escape of Commodore Seymour —Effects of the long range at Omata—Should crops be destroyed—Banks of the Waitara—Moderate allowances—Colonel Warre, C.B. and Major Logan, 57th, arrive—Lieut.-Col. Young and Major Herbert skirmish at Omata —The enemy tries to hinder the sap—Conference of the Goveruor with Northern natives—The settlement of Taranaki before and during the war—The sap continued—Casualties in the 14th regiment—Dummies exhibited by the enemy—Sortie of the enemy, who destroy part of the sap—English writers on the war—Domestic evils—Attack on a party of Rifle volunteers—E. Messenger killed—The mortars and Armstrong guns arrive.

From the crowded state of some of the houses in New Plymouth, and the want of attention to the state of the back yards, fever of a low type still prevailed, and as had existed for several months past.

A respectable missionary, the Rev. Mr. Whately, received notes from some of the Maories at Waireka, asking him to visit them on a Sunday, he did so, and met thirty of page 255them in a gully there; they seemed to feel the losses they had sustained, yet shewed no symptoms of submission; and asked for another conference at Huirangi with Mr. Whately and Archdeacon Govett. They accordingly went there the following Friday, and met another set of natives who had not heard of the invitation by the first mentioned. These last seemed dejected, but as determined as ever on fighting, and said, "The only way for peace is for the Governor to take away his soldiers from the Waitara, and we will then go home."

The enemy's rifle pits, which extended a mile in length about Huirangi, and which had been reached by means of the sap, though narrow to avoid casualties from shot and shell, was admirably contrived for defence, and for enabling the Maories to escape from them. Some of the pits or trenches were straight, others curved. All were well traversed, with covered retreats to live in, and comfortably lined with fern.

Colonel Wyatt moved with his men from No. 1 to No. 6 redoubt, which was very strong, with bastions at the angles, a good page 256ditch, and a gun mounted on the bastion facing the peach avenue. Parties were employed felling the bush, and the fallen trees were removed with oxen. The sap could not prevent more house burning and cattle driving by the Maories.

One afternoon the garrison of No. 6 stood to their arms in consequence of shots fired from some wharrés, or huts, in the bush on the right. It was afterwards found that Commodore Seymour had been walking a little way ahead of the sap, and thinking no Maories were near, when a volley was fired at him from an ambuscade twenty yards off, he made a very narrow escape, and returned unscathed to the redoubt.

A remarkable instance of the powers of the Enfield rifle occurred at the Omata blockhouse about this time. Lieutenant Chevalier, 65th, saw on the Waireka hill, upwards of 2,000 yards distant, a party of natives, the sight was elevated for the apparent distance, and, unknown to the marksman at the time, two shots took effect. The wounded Maories fell by unseen and noiseless means, no report being heard.

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On the 12th of February, Captain Richards, of the 40th, was wounded in front of Te Arei pah during a skirmish, also several of the men. About a dozen acres of maize and potatoes were destroyed on the banks of the Waitara. Opinions may differ on this head; destruction of food is provoking, to use it is quite legitimate in war time. Harass your enemy in every possible way say some, but to exasperate him, doubtless prolongs the war.

The banks of the Waitara are here very beautiful, it winds gracefully round steep banks clothed with noble trees, among which numerous tree ferns wave their coronets of fringed leaves. Deep and silent in some places, and in others shallow, the river flowed and rushed over a pebbly bed. The flat ground on the left bank, where was the cultivation, was surrounded by a remarkable bend of the stream; and higher up were the white cliffs, apparently about three hundred feet high, down which the Ngatiawas were forced to take the fatal plunge in 1832. I was quite fascinated when afterwards sketching this portion of the Waitara, and hope to page 258see its beauties skilfully handled some day on canvass by an eminent artist.

A native cemetery, the graves enclosed with palings, was seen on the edge of a cliff, and at the head of one was this inscription on a board,

1858, Onga

Ko te tohu tenei o Renere. No te ra o Akuhata i mate ai.

"Sacred to the Memory of Renere, who died on the 16th August, 1858."

The Maories had a semi-circle of rifle pits from the river in front of Te Arei, or Haperona's pah, and away to the right on the hills, the sap was advancing towards the pah which was disturbed at night by an occasional shot from No. 7 Redoubt.

Matters became now so critical at New Plymouth, the inhabitants nightly expecting a rush from the natives, that His Excellency the Governor was memorialized to come from Auckland to see the state of affairs, and adopt precautions for the security of the people; he was soon afterwards in the Taranaki. Previous to this, when he was absent at the Bay of Islands, as senior officer I became Deputy-Governor, and my chief adviser was page 259the Honourable Mr. Whitaker, the Attorney-General, a gentlemen of well known ability and a valuable public officer. The Prime Minister, the Honourable Mr. Stafford, Colonial Secretary, was at this time absent in the south; for five years he had held his high office, and had zealously fulfilled his arduous duties.

It will not be considered that I received too much of the public money for the four offices I held at once, viz:

Deputy-Governor, commanding the troops in the province of Auckland, nearly three thousand Regulars, Militia, Volunteers (horse and foot) and Coast Guards, commanding the Head-quarters 2.14th regiment, and acting Deputy-Quartermaster-General (boarding all ships with soldiers or stores on board, and dispatching them to the seat of war) besides being President of a general court-martial, when I state that five shillings a day of colonial allowance, the same my junior ensign received, was all my extra pay; but I was not expected to entertain!

Major Logan, with the remaining companies of the 57th arrived, and was dispatched to the Taranaki. Colonel Warre, C.B., command-page 260ing the regiment, and lately acting Military Secretary in India, subsequently arrived and went to the Taranaki. He returned to Auckland, after which I accomplished what I had long desired, namely, proceeded to the seat of war.

The Ngatiruanies went on burning and destroying as much property as they could. The horizon was frequently lighted up at night by the blaze of settlers' houses, and among other losses sustained, was that of Mr. Bayley's flour mill, erected at the cost of £1000. With the buildings, £2000 worth in all were destroyed within two miles of town. Parties were sent out to look for the enemy, but it was very difficult to get a shot at them.

The bragging and low language of a bad class of Europeans was a source of great annoyance to General Pratt, they told the friendly natives that the war was to be on the whole Maori race, and that all would lose their land, thus causing great uneasiness and disaffection.

On the 23rd of February, a convoy with provisions left New Plymouth for Omata, under the command of Major Herbert, and page 261consisting of men of the 57th, 65th, Militia, and Rifle Volunteers with a howitzer; after reaching the stockade, arms were piled outside, when a volley was fired at the convoy from the hill above Major Lloyd's farm, seven hundred and fifty yards off, which took effect and wounded severely a 57th man. The soldiers fell in immediately, returned a brisk fire, and the howitzer threw shells; this dislodged the natives, who retreated towards the beach, they were followed By Major Herbert and his men in skirmishing order, and the hill taken possession of where there was the site of an old pah.

A part of the force was thrown out towards the Waireka gully, and skirmished with the natives who were in great force in the broken ground and flax bushes. The firing being heard in town, Lieutenant-Colonel Young, 65th, was dispatched with a reinforcement and ammunition, he halted at the hill, and then determined to go along the road and carry the pahs on the Waireka hill; he took the howitzer, and had skirmishing parties on two sides of his advance; the enemy fired volleys which were promptly replied to. Some casualties page 262occurred among the troops, whose further advance towards the Waireka was stopped by an order from town to return, which order was reluctantly complied with.

Heavy rain interrupted and delayed the sap, somewhat, towards Te Arei pah, and occasioned much discomfort to officers and men, though all worked well and zealously. The enemy commenced firing early in the morning, the sap being a source of great annoyance to them, and they looked after the work with attention, and the coverers, who lost men. Marksmen of the 40th were selected to keep watch, and fire over the parapets. Every time a shell was thrown, the Maories set up a shout of defiance, and called out, "Hawhe Pakeha! Hawhe ngahoia!" "Come on Pakeha! Come on soldiers!" &c. They had some imitation bugles of cows' horns, with which they mimicked our calls, and kept our people on the alert night and day. They had also dummies, or a dark head of hair on the top of a stick, appearing ever and anon from a rifle pit, and fired at at first. The General and staff constantly came to the front, to mark and watch the progress of the sap.

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At one of the conferences the Governor had with the chief in the north of the island, in February, they were anxious he should relax the law which prohibited the sale of spirits to natives, and it was replied that the restriction of which they complained was imposed to prevent the Maories becoming victims to the too free use of intoxicating liquors. Other aboriginal races in many parts of the world had suffered greater loss from the excessive use of spirits, than from the casualties of war and other calamities; that the object of the Government was to preserve the natives of New Zealand from such a fate. It was true the law was different as regards Europeans, but they were more accustomed to the use of spirits, and which to natives were much more fatal. His Excellency disabused their minds with regard to the foolish reports which had been spread both by Europeans and natives, that, at the end of the war in Taranaki other tribes would be attacked, and their lands taken from them, nothing of the kind was ever thought of or intended, it was desired that Pakehas and Maories should live in peace as a united people under the protection of the page 264British Government; the natives adopting habits of order, using wholesome food, being better housed, improving their condition, and referring disputes and differences to the courts of law.

Before the war, and before I visited the Taranaki, comfort and plenty prevailed throughout that settlement, the bulk of the people were in good circumstances and steadily thriving, there was food in plenty for man and beast, farm-houses studded the face of the country, horses, cattle and sheep were observed in numbers on the pastures, carts with produce passed along the roads, a healthy population were fully employed, and most of them settled on and cultivating their own land.

But when I saw the Taranaki, this picture was quite reversed. The grand and imposing features of the landscape remained, the snow capped mountains, the great forests and the extensive plains; but the enemy was lurking in the bush not far off, the land was desolate, the scourge of war had passed over it, "the hedges were broken clown, and the wild boar had entered on the fruitful vineyard." I saw page 265blackened ruins, chimneys standing without walls, the pastures from which the flocks and herds had been driven off, weeds abounding, roads deep in mud and uncared for, the people driven from the country, some killed, others fallen from sickness arising from discomfort, want, anxiety and overcrowding in the town, and many families in Nelson despairing of ever re-establishing themselves in the beautiful and inviting Taranaki.

It is true a few benefited by the war, by the commissariat expenditure; contractors for transport and for supplies, the keepers of public-houses and some store keepers, but the prosperity of the latter would be short lived without a country population, and a weekly market well attended.

The duties of militia men were no doubt irksome, and they had to clothe and board themselves, the remuneration was one shilling and three pence a day, with an allowance of bread, meat, fuel and light. Some young men liked a roving life of excitement for a time, though it might unsteady them for sober pursuits ever after, but the bulk of the settlers in coming to New Zealand, and some of them page 266twenty years in Taranaki, intended to use the ploughshare and shepherd's crook, and not the sword and rifle when they came across the wide ocean from their distant native land. For those who were not interested in a continuance of the war, deep sympathy should be felt, for the bereavements and misfortunes were very heavy in the Taranaki.

After the completion of No. 7 Redoubt on the 16th of January, a single sap well defiladed from the enemy's position, and with traverses at intervals to secure it from an oblique plunging fire, was commenced and was carried on with occasional interruptions from the weather, and a heavy fire from the enemy. On the 24th of January, it was necessary to change its direction, and to resort to the double sap. Four hundred and thirty-two yards were completed in the above period, after sixty-five yards more it was deemed advisable to execute a short demi-parallel to the left, to afford cover to men protecting the further advance of the sap.

The Maories did their best to interrupt the progress of the sap, by firing from the rifle pits, some of which on the left, and over-looking page 267the Waitara, contrived to prevent an advance; these were taken possession of. The cohorns rained an iron shower upon the Maories on every favourable opportunity, and disturbed their aim. Two men of the 14th were wounded, and Lieutenant Kenrick Hill, 14th, was struck in the breast with a ball. The Maories directed a good deal of their fire at the head of the sap where the artillery worked the cohorn mortars. Three men of the 12th and 40th were wounded, but the great sap rollers were steadily advanced, and the double lines of gabions planted behind them and filled with earth, amidst the sharp 'ping' of the Maorie bullets.

The fire was at short range, and the Maories were on elevated ground, if they had exposed themselves more from their pits, the casualties on both sides would have been greater, and the enemy might have taken better aim. In order to get lead, it is supposed, they occasionally exhibited, in different places, the dummy, the shaggy figure on a stick, and which for some time drew a shower of bullets.

At night the troops retired into the redoubts, and the head of the sap was not guarded, aspage 268it was supposed the enemy would not venture into it, but on the night of the 26th of February at half-past ten o'clock, a wild yell accompanied with the blowing of horns from the head of the sap, attracted the attention of the nearest sentries, and the troops in No. 6 and 7 stood to their arms expecting an attack. A fire was seen to light-up the head of the sap, a gun loaded with grape was discharged at this, and a volley from the 40th delivered, then all was quiet. In the morning the cause of this fire was discovered; the enemy had crept quietly to the sap, had destroyed the whole of the double sap, more or less injured about one hundred and thirty yards of the single sap, and the whole of the demi-parallel, moving away into the pah three heavy sap rollers, and forty to fifty gabions, and before retiring burning some of the latter in the sap, which was the first intimation that the enemy had given of their secret and successful movement.

The three following days were occupied in repairing damages; the enemy briskly firing all the while, and exhibiting in triumph the sap rollers in front of their stockade. A redoubt, No. 8, sixteen yards square, was then page 269constructed to contain a night guard of eighty men taken from No. 7 Redoubt. Haperona, the fighting captain of the Ngatiawas, afterwards pointed out from what corner of the pah he sat and fired continually.

By the papers received at this time from England, the usual comments were made as to the length of time occupied in this war, and the money it would cost; the difficulties presented by the country did not seem to be taken into account, they could not be known to writers at a distance, but when I saw that the Waitara district became more and more broken, as the troops pushed their operations from the coast, and remembering what I had experienced of former contests in Burma, in Africa, &c., wars usually lasting two years, I made up my mind to the conflict continuing several months more in the Taranaki, or in Maori territory somewhere.

In March, the spirits of the militia were elevated by the announcement that the pay of privates would be raised to two shillings and sixpence a day, and of corporals and sergeants to three shillings, and three shillings and sixpence; also that clothing, of whichpage 270they stood much in need, would be supplied at an early day. Major Herbert did his best for the militia under his command, and carefully attended to their interests.

Some of the enemy now came over under the influence of whakamomori, or vexation, quarrels among themselves; and a woman came over also under whakamomori, possibly her husband had taken a younger wife, then

"What blows and what scratches,
'Tis no longer a match, but a bundle of matches."

Another fatal instance of rashness occurred, fourteen young rifle volunteers started on Sunday morning the 3rd of March, for Mr. W. Walker's farm, to gather peaches. Not finding any there, they were occupied in getting some at Brooklands, the late beautifully kept place of Captain King, R.A., a mile from New Plymouth, when they were aroused by a shot fired from the farther end of the orchard, where two of their number were; wondering at the cause of this, it was quickly followed by a volley from thirty natives, hidden in a ditch with a hedge, behind the trees, by this Mr. W. Smart was severely page 271wounded in the back; the volunteers returned the volley; W. Smart fired likewise though wounded, and then made for the gap, by which they entered the orchard, when the Maories fired again; Mr. E. Messenger, a first class rifleman, fell shot through the heart as he turned to fire. The volunteers then halted to recover the body of Messenger, one of them was sent into town for assistance, the others took cover behind a gate and a few yards of hedge. The natives now thinking the party had retreated, advanced to secure Messenger's rifle and pouch; the first man who came on, wore the blue serge shirt and tin badge of a friendly native; seeing the party at the gate, he fired both barrels of his piece; he was retreating when he was shot dead, a second also was struck, and the rest disappeared. Lieutenant Baillie, 65th, and a small party of soldiers and friendly natives now came up, and poor Messenger's body was taken into town.

Though the above party of young men had disobeyed orders, and gone beyond the limits, and were attacked by double their own num-page 272ber, yet they showed good courage, and retired skirmishing, and did not abandon the body of their fallen comrade.

The ship 'Norwood' now arrived at Auckland with Captain Mercer's battery of seven Armstrong guns, and two hundred and twenty artillery men, seven of whom (mutineers) had during the voyage refused to obey a simple order, (for all hands to show their kits), and threatened to throw the captain overboard; there was a leaven of mutiny in this battery from East India Company's Europeans, which infected for a time the service, but which was rapidly got rid of. The 'Norwood' mutineers were secured in Fort Britomart, and they were afterwards tried and severely punished. The rest of the battery did good service under a most excellent and hard working commander.