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Incidents of The Maori War

Chapter XVII

page 363

Chapter XVII.

The Military Road, New Zealand—Its use and value—March to occupy outposts at Pokeno Camp—Distribution of the Forces—The Maories jealous of the presence of the troops—Precautions against attack—Friendly relations established—Formation of the road—Nature of the duties —Amusements—Fishing—How to deal with boulders- Accidents—How to deal with natives—Their opinion of a road—The women protected—Pig killing—The knicker-bocker movement—Our flag staff—An obelisk proposed.

"You may call this sodgerin', but I calls it convicting',"* was the audible " aside" of a stout Linesman, as he shovelled the mud out of the new Military Road, whilst a small party of the Staff was passing to the front, near the " Fifth Bridge," and about to ascend the Razor-Back hill—the said Linesman in forage cap, blue jumper, or smock, and trowsers mudded to the knees. " You could not admire the country at this time," as a facetious officer remarked.

Yet this Military Road, about a dozen miles long, is a great achievement for the troops

* Convict's work.

page 364who made it through the " ten-mile bush," and over hills and deep gullies, which rendered Auckland, the capital of New Zealand, so liable to attack from the warlike tribes of the great Waikato River, distant from the city only thirty-seven miles.

His Excellency Sir George Gray, in futherance of his wise policy to bring about law and order in the valuable Northern island of New Zealand, without exterminating the fine race of natives, (and the fertile province of Taranaki being still desolate and a waste from the war of 1860-61), determined to employ the troops in the province of Auckland—like the Romans—in road making. Lieutenant—General Cameron ably and energetically seconded His Excellency's views. Accordingly in December, 1861, the head-quarters of the 2nd Battalion 14th Regiment, a detachment of the 12th Regiment, and some Royal Engineers, marched under my command from the Camp Otahuhu, passed Drury, and though drenched with heavy rain for three days, and mudded to the waist in the Maori track partly cleared of trees, passed through the forests of the Razor Back ridge, and established ourselves in a camp page 365on a plateau at Pokeno, near the native settlement of that name, and close to the Waikato. We thus occupied the outposts towards the Maori frontier. In rear, at Rhodes' Clearing, was a detachment of the 40th, under Lieutenant -Colonel Nelson, to keep up the communication with the head-quarters of that corps at Baird's Farm; then the 70th head-quarters were at Kerr's Farm, and the 65th in reserve next the head-quarters of General Cameron at Drury, with whom were Major Whitmore, M.S., and Major MacNeill, A.D.C.

The Royal Artillery, (Captain Watson commanding), were at Baird's Farm, and the Commissariat Transport Corps, (Mr. Bailie the Director), at Drury Farm. Brigadier Galloway was at Baird's Farm, a central position, where was also Lieutenant-Colonel Leslie, C.B., with the 40th; Colonel Chute commanded the 70th at Kerr's, Colonel Wyatt, C.B., the 65th at Drury; with me, as second in command at Pokeno Camp, was Lieutenant- Colonel Hutchins, of the 12th Regiment. Colonel Mould, C.B., C.R.E., was the Director of the road, and Colonel Gamble the Deputy Quarter-Master-General. Major Paul, Brigade page 366Major, Captains Urquhart and Greaves Deputy Assistant-Quarter-Masters-General, &c.

When the white rows of tents first appeared, surrounded by a semicircle of deep and entangled forest at Pokeno, they seemed to take the Maories by surprise, and large meetings were held up the Waikato at Paetai, to discuss whether or not the troops should be attacked and driven back, if possible. Some white men living among the natives, thinking there was a dangerous state of things up the river, fled, carrying their children and goods with them. Of course precautions were taken at Pokeno Camp to guard against surprise; there was a strong picquet of 100 men nightly paraded, and the arms and ammunition of the 800 men in camp were ready at hand and. stacked round the tent poles, and sentries at the angles of the camp, in sentry boxes of raupo or flags, shouted " All's well!" in fine and stormy nights and pelting rain " indifferently." The troops were told off in three bodies, one to extend round the tents with three supports, and the rest to run to the tents to be ready to strike them as soon as the natives opened fire from the bush; but page 367the Maories thought it as well to let the Pakeha soldiers alone.

If the Maori King's people had been mischievously inclined, they might have dashed down the river in two or three score war canoes, and occupied the bush, and poured some rattling vollies into our camp before they could be rushed at and fought, as was intended, in the forest itself.

Friendly relations were established with the neighbouring settlements, and a daily market instituted for the sale of pigs, peaches, and potatoes. Here the sturdy Maories—the older men with well tatoed faces, and bushy heads of black hair, wearing flax mats like their ancestors, blankets, or fringed kilts of checked shawl; the younger men in trowsers; the women with unadorned hair, and in short stuff petticoats, and tatoed lower lips—sat and bargained for their wares, All was conducted in good humour, and an officer, Lieutenant Bates, 65th, as native interpreter, inquired into disputed points.

At the Drury end of the line of road, the country was open, and no trees to fell; the road had there only to be formed, levelled, page 368then hogged in the centre to a height of nine inches from the water-tables or shallow drains at the sides. The total breadth of the road, between the fences, was one chain, or sixty-six feet: thirty of this was between the water-tables, and of this eighteen feet had to be metalled. Afterwards, it was found that twelve feet of metalling would suffice in the meantime. At first the troops did not suppose that stone-breaking, or metalling, was required: but merely clearing and forming the road would have left the work half done, and the whole line would have been impracticable from mud in the rains.

Seven miles of the line were through the forest of gigantic trees, interlaced with supple jack and thick undergrowth, over which waved the graceful tree-fern and nicau-palm: and the difficulties increased as the Razor-Back and Pokeno hills were approached. Here the axe, and saw, and hand-spikes to roll logs, pick-axes to root out the stumps, spades and shovels to level, gave occupation for the hot summer months, January, February, and March: April and May were stone-breaking months; in the latter, (the English November), page 369the troops were deluged with rain, and their shoes torn off their feet with the adhesive mud.

With all this there was but little grumbling among the men, though it was navvies' work; only an occasional ejaculation, such as appears at the head of this chapter, or rough jokes and taunts among themselves about shirking work. At first, one third of the men were kept in camp at Pokeno, the most exposed position, to guard against surprise; afterwards the whole were turned out to work, except the guard and defaulters under punishment. As to pay, the men got nine pence in addition to their shilling; piece work was sometimes given, and advantageously, and extra pay for extra work. Non-commissioned officers got one shilling extra, subalterns four shillings when on the works, and captains seven shillings. Medicos got nothing extra, and field-officers, though required to supervise constantly the labours on the line, received no extra allowance; perhaps they may be favourably considered hereafter, especially as they had no luxuries, and dwelt in bell tents the same as the private sentinels, and were told ever and anon by some unhappy mortals, page 370" You may not feel it now, but depend upon it with this sort of life you are sowing the seeds of rheumatism in your constitution."

During the day, in summer, a bell tent, with its single cloth, was uninhabitable for heat, and in the rains one lay sometimes shaking with cold, or was suddenly awoke with a wine-glass of water into one's eye from a flaw in the canvas. Thermometer at 33° in May and June of a morning, one could not then well sing, " Who so merry as we in camp?" Still there was health and appetite, and the sense of useful employment for the country to keep one " up to the mark."

The men worked seven hours daily, were turned out at an early hour to breakfast, told off into parties by the Engineers for cutting down trees, or road forming, stone breaking, &c., and marched off under their officers, by command of the captain of the day. From eight to twelve the work went on, cooks prepared the mid-day meal in the bush if the work was at a distance from the camps, at noon a "tot" of rum was administered, and the same in the evening. In the hot weather, two hours were devoted to eating and rest, page 371twelve to two, and the work was then resumed and continued till five, when the tired parties gladly returned to their tents. On Saturday there was a half holiday for washing clothes and cleaning arms, previous to marching order parade. On Sundays there was morning worship. The energetic Bishop Selwyn, and his excellent coadjutor, Bishop Patteson, of the Melanesian, or South Sea Mission; also Archdeacon Maunsel, for the Episcopalians; the Rev. Mr. Norrie, for the Presbyterians; and the Rev. Mr. Parsley for the Roman Catholics, officiating at the camps.

Bathing in ponds dammed up near the camps, was a great refreshment in the hot months. Skittles and quoits were not wanting for amusement, also foot races and jumping. The officers paid occasional visits to Auckland, though a long distance off, and sportsmen, off duty, got canoes and paddled up or down the broad and fast flowing Waikato River, which commencing far in the interior at the Taupo Lake, near the active volcano of Tongariro, and the far famed " boiling springs," passes through forest land, fertile plains, and by mountain ridges, till it page 372discharges into the Great Southern Ocean on the west coast: The latter part of the course of the Waikato, near the Pokeno camp, is exceedingly picturesque and Rhinelike. A specimen of auriferous quartz was found in a tributary, which caused some excitement in our Camp. Ducks of various kinds were bagged on the Waikato and on its tributary streams; the natives willingly engaged to assist in paddling at the utu, on payment of five shillings a day, and showed how eels could be caught by diving after them, or by grubbins for them with their hands in the sedgy banks, then killed with a bite behind the head, spitted, roasted without cleaning, and devoured. Sometimes half-a-dozen Maories would sit in a semicircle facing the bank, and up to their middles in water, while another would tramp the eels out of their holes; they were then dexterously caught as they passed between the legs and bodies of the watchful group.

It is supposed that in these volcanic regions, the clays of the rivers contain mineral substances which may be distasteful or injurious to other fish beside the slimy eel. But Sir page 373George Grey is a great acclimatiser, and is engaged in introducing not only quadrupeds and birds of all varieties into the New Zealand Islands, but has also undertaken fresh-water fishes. May every success attend him!

Latterly, on the Military Road, bullock drays and artillery carts would be seen busily conveying metal to various parts of the line, and men taking off the mud before the stones were spread, or forming culverts and side drains to carry off the surface water: others would be engaged blasting rocks where there was a quarry, and where the stones were scarce, (which was the case where the young soldiers of the 14th worked), the men would be observed painfully searching for boulders to break up, and standing up to their knees in a stream, groping in it with sleeves tucked up, the mud and water running past them!*

Sick men, whose cases were bad, were sent in the ambulance carts to Otahuhu hospital, others were treated in camp. Cold and wet

* A clever way to break up boulders with a few blows of the sledge was adopted; first burning a pile of sticks and roots over them, then, dashing on water, made the hardest, rocks brittle.

page 374occasioned illness, and there was some bowel complaints for a time in the hot weather from unripe peaches and melons; but the troops generally were healthy, and were well cared for by the surgeons in the hospital marquees. One man was killed by the fall of a tree, another fell from his horse, was dragged and killed on the road, a third was struck down by apoplexy, or the sun, though the precaution of white cap covers was employed. Nothing could save one from innumerable mosquitos and black flies in the woods in hot weather.

The benefit to the soldiers thus employed in road making, and practised in the use of the spade and pick, saw and axe, will be great, strengthening their bodies in the mean time, and preparing them to be useful settlers and farmers when they take their discharge in this colony, one of the most promising and healthy under the British Crown.

I take no credit for being able to deal agree-ably with Maories, for it had been my fortune to be placed on terms of intimacy with brown and black races from early life in the east and west and in Africa, and the same rules pre-page 375vail every where; if one is kind to natives they will be kind to you, if you frown on them they will reciprocate your scorn; children of the same great Father, they should ever be regarded as brethren, though often erring ones, the misfortune of their uprearing; yet we should study to develop their good qualities and do all the good to them in our power. This is our plain and simple duty.

When I first took charge at Pokeno I had a great talk with some of the chiefs, I said " We are directed to make a road through British land to the Waikato, and which road may be of great advantage both to the Maories and to the farmers, to enable produce, now carried on pack horses, to be brought to market with drays, and goods taken back on wheels. One man said "A small path is sufficient to let the Maori drive his pigs to market!"

I said to a chief, " I wish to protect your women from insults;" he said, " How is that to be done." I replied, " Don't let them wander about alone near our camp, let them have a male friend or relation always with them," and by pursuing this plan we had very little page 376trouble during the six months we were in the front.

We had one or two cases of pig killing which caused talks. A soldier had caught and secured what he chose to consider was a wild sow, and when it was claimed by a Maori, the soldier cut its throat. We held a court of inquiry about this, and the Maori proved his property in the sow, and that it had been one yielding him a revenue from its frequent litters. He claimed £10 for his "pet-pig." I got this reduced to £6 on condition of immediate payment. It was a considerable amount to stop from a man's pay and working money, but it had a good effect in stopping future liberties with Maori property.

I tried to introduce that valuable article of raiment, the knickerbockers, among the Maories, and gave away two pairs in which they could squat comfortably, whilst the trowser is tight and inconvenient to people not sitting on stools or chairs. One of the recipients of the garment, a wag probably, said, " I am very well below now, but see I am bare above," he wanted a jacket and vest also.

Some of the officers said " We must cut page 377down our flag-staff when we leave (a handsome mast which. Lieutenant and Quarter-Master Spry had cut for me in the neighbouring forest,) for the Maories are sure to cut it down as an insult, after we leave." I replied, " It must not be cut down, I am sure the Maories wont meddle with it if I give it in charge of the chief of Pokeno." I did so, and he said, " All I ask is that you will let me put my name along with yours on the flag-staff, and we will protect it."*

Besides the troops already enumerated, the head-quarters 57th Regiment were at New Plymouth, Taranaki, under Colonel Warre, C.B.; about the Waitara was a detachment of the 65th under Colonel Young; at Wanganui a detachment of the 57th under Major Longan, and detachments 14th at Wellington and Napier, under Majors Dwyer and Douglas; say 5,500 Regulars in all in the North Island.

The 40th, in July '62, garrisoned Auckland, also Royal Artillery. The camps were broken up, and 2,000 men marched back over the finished road to the huts at Otahuhu, leaving

* I carved on it this inscription: " Kia Whakakotahitia te Maori me te Pakeha." Let the Pakeha and the Maori be united.

page 378440 men in a redoubt or fortified camp near Waikato, and 60 men and two guns in a blockhouse commanded its navigation.

An obelisk, combined with a drinking fountain, and with suitable inscriptions in English, Maori, &c., had been proposed to commemorate the formation of the Military Road, which though costing say £2,000 a mile, has advanced the country at least twelve years, materially assisted in preparing it for settlement, and rendering the capital safe from hostile assaults from the Waikato.