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Incidents of The Maori War

Chapter V

page 110

Chapter V.

A force ordered to relieve the Rev. Mr. Brown and Settlers at Omata—Plan of operations—Lieut.-Colonel Murray's column—Lieut. Blake, R.N. and Lieut. Urquhart, 65th regiment, detached from it—Skirmish with the enemy—Captain Cracroft, R.N. comes up to co-operate—Storms the Pah—Captain Brown's column engages the enemy on the Waireka stream—Details of the combat—Defeat of the Maories—The return of the columns to New Plymouth—Captain Cracroft shells the Werea Pah—Presentation of Maorie flag to his Excellency Governor Gore Browne, C.B.

On the 28th March, the force under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Murray, 65th Regiment, destined to relieve the Omata stockade, and to bring in the Reverend Mr. Brown, and the settlers congregated at his house, beyond the Omata village, five miles from town, was paraded at New Plymouth, and addressed in encouraging terms by His Excellency the Governor, who also explained the nature of their duties to the men, and page 111felt assured they would give a good account of themselves.

The force consisted of three officers, and twenty-five men, Royal Navy; four officers, and eighty-four rank and file 65th Regiment; Militia and Volunteers, one hundred and sixty. This was all that could be spared from the small garrison of New Plymouth.

The plan of operations was, that Captain C. Brown, in command of the Militia and Volunteers, should proceed by the beach, keeping the sea-coast, and pass in rear of the natives in their pah at the Waireka hill,* and endeavour to reach Mr. Brown's house; whilst Colonel Murray, with the sailors and the detachment, 65th Regiment, should proceed by the main road, with a view to dislodge the insurgents stated to be in position at the "Whaler's Gate" cross roads, to cut off the communication between Omata and the town. In the meantime, if Captain Brown succeeded in rescuing the families at Mr. Brown's, he was to rejoin Colonel Murray about the Whaler's Gate.

* Waireka, sweet water.

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On reaching the Whaler's Gate, Colonel Murray found the road clear, and no trace of natives anywhere near. Colonel Murray accordingly moved on leisurely with a view to sooner meeting Captain Brown's party returning with the settlers; but on reaching a hill a quarter of a mile from the Omata stockade, the sound of rapid firing about two miles off, and towards the sea, made it evident that the Militia, &c., were hotly engaged. Colonel Murray accordingly pushed on to the stockade, where he despatched Lieutenant Blake, Royal Navy, with his sailors, supported by a sub-division, (twenty-five men), of the Light Company, 65th Regiment, under Lieutenant Urquhart, with orders to proceed in a direct line across the country, to the assistance of Captain Brown's party; whilst Colonel Murray, with whom were Lieutenant Whitbread and Dr. White, continued along the main road with the remainder of the force, to a lane about a quarter of a mile beyond the stockade, and which leads from the road towards the sea. About half way down this lane, Colonel Murray turned his people into the fields, and page 113threw out skirmishers, intending also to proceed to the assistance of the Volunteers, &c. The insurgents, however, showed such a disposition to get round Colonel Murray's left, and to cut him off from the main road, that he was obliged to abandon his intention, and manoeuvre to prevent his flank being turned. A fire was kept up on the natives whenever they showed themselves. Stripped for fighting, they were running and stooping in a wooded ravine, into which rockets were thrown to dislodge them. Ultimately, Colonel Murray fell back on the lane, and took up a position to secure the main road. On seeing this, the enemy came on boldly, but were met with such a fire that they quickly retreated to cover.

Working with a very small force, threatened with being cut off, and having been directed by Colonel Gold to return before dark to the nearly defenceless town, Colonel Murray recalled Lieutenant Urquhart's party and Lieutenant Blake's, and continued to occupy his position until it became absolutely necessary to return; keeping up a frequent fire of rockets on the pah, and on any group of page 114natives who were observed. It became necessary, however, to detach Lieutenant Urquhart's party a second time to drive back the Maories, who were attempting to get up on the right between the Regulars and the Volunteers. Having accomplished what he was directed to do, Lieutenant Urquhart rejoined Colonel Murray. The steadiness and gallantry of officers and men of Colonel Murray's party were deserving of great praise; the able assistance of Lieutenant Blake was early lost, as he was severely wounded. Captain Brown was too far off to be personally communicated with; he seemed to have taken up a position in a gully. Colonel Murray then drew off his men to town and reported proceedings.

Captain Cracroft, R.N., by desire of His Excellency the Governor, had disembarked sixty officers and men of the "Niger" for the defence of the town; but an express coming in from Colonel Murray that his force was attacked, and ammunition required, Captain Cracroft started with his men, a 24-1b. rocket tube, and a full supply of ammunition, and in an hour was at the scene of action. page 115The officers under him were Lieutenant A. S. Villiers, Mr. W. W. Smith, Mr. S. Gassiot, Mr. Karslake, Dr. W. Patrick, and Mr. W. A. Hyde, Assistant Paymaster. The Volunteers from the Omata stockade were, F. Mace, E. and C. Messinger, who acted as guides.

Captain Cracroft's arrival was very opportune, the fight had continued some time, and loss had been sustained. Lieutenant Blake lay wounded in the chest. Besides the Maories fighting in the ravines, a body of them occupied the pah newly begun on the Waireka Hill, and a flag flew over it. Captain Cracroft after informing Colonel Murray of his presence, addressed his men, and told them he was determined to have the Maori flag before dark, and he offered ten pounds as a reward for the man who hauled it down.

The gallant sailors now advanced on the pah, and at eight hundred yards tried on it the effect of the rockets, and five or six were fired from the tube with precision; but as the night was now closing in on them, the sailors became impatient of the long range practice, a few men were left with the rocket tube, and the rest advancing under their gallant leader, page 116encountered the enemy outside the pah, who shot down two of the sailors. The word to charge was given, sailors and Maories mixed in combat, the latter giving way; the blue jackets rushed at the picketing and over it; the Maories got into the rifle pits, but were quickly dislodged with the bayonet and cutlass. The flag was hauled down by the coxswain Odgers; and Captain Cracroft, collecting his men, carried off his wounded, leaving many of the Maories hors de combat, and returned without a shot being fired after him.

Captain C. Brown, in command of the Militia and Volunteers, had marched from New Plymouth at half-past one P.M. He had with him, Captains Stapp and Atkinson, Lieutenants Mackechney, Mackellar, Hurst, and Hamerton; Second Lieutenants "Webster and Jonas, and Ensign Messinger, and one hundred and fifty rank and file. After a quick march of two hours by the beach, and past the Sugar-Loaf Islands, the stream Waireka was reached near its mouth. The insurgents by this time had discovered the column, and were seen running rapidly from the pah on the hill to page 117engage the Militia. A company of Volunteers, under Captain Atkinson, then pushed forward, and got on the high ground on the south of the Waireka, the enemy retiring before it; but as they appeared on both flanks, it was considered best to take up a position at Jury's farm where there was a house, stacks furze and rail fences. Captain Stapp took command here, and Captain Atkinson took up a position on he right rear to support Captain Stapp. Lieutenant Hurst then occupied the junction of two streams with his company, and was then directed by Captain Brown, who accompanied him, to engage the enemy in the bush of the Waireka gully, where they were swarming.

Lieutenant Blake's party of sailors coming up on the left, Lieutenant Hurst was next directed to turn his attention to the enemy on Captain Atkinson's left Having done some execution there, he passed over the gully to join Captain Stapp. The enemy had pieces of long range; the cover was made use of by direction of Captain Brown, who was joined there by Lieutenant Urquhart, and page 118his subdivision of the Light Company 65th Regiment; some stragglers of the Naval Brigade and Volunteers from the Omata stockade, under Lieutenant Anderson of the Militia, and Lieutenant MacNaughten, R.A.

Meanwhile the chattering of the musketry went on incessantly, diversified with the angry "whish" and burst of rockets, and the cries and yells of the combatants—it was a blood stirring affair. All co-operating, the natives were driven back into the cover of the gullies; but as it seemed to be their intention to cut off the Militia from the Omata stockade, by occupying the flax, Captain Brown requested Lieutenant Urquhart to give him a few men to assist him, which was done. A corporal and eight men of the 65th Regiment were given for this duty, when a signal of recall being twice made to Lieutenant Urquhart by Colonel Murray, he left and joined the colonel at the lane above mentioned.

When the natives saw Lieutenant Urquhart and the greater number of his men leave, they came out of their covers, ran along the open to the cover on the north side of the Waireka, page 119calling out, "kore! kore!" (they are defeated), but exposing themselves to the fire of Captain Atkinson, who dropped them in twos and threes about the ground, though casualties occurred also among the British.

Captain Brown now caused his killed and wounded to be carried to Captain Stapp's position, the best for cover, which was improved there by using sheaves of oats and fencing for breastworks. Captain Brown now became aware of the success of Captain Cracroft at the hill above, and which enabled him, now that the ammunition was nearly expended, to retire on the Omata stockade after dark. The men were accordingly told off in fours, and retired in order, first from one position and then from the next, falling back on the third; the small party, 65th, the sailors, and the party from the Omata stockade, who all did excellent service, retiring also. After a short rest at the stockade, where a reinforcement of twenty men was left, Captain Brown brought his column to town (where great anxiety was felt for them) after midnight, after a hard day's work, and their first fight, a successful one, as the enemy fied and abandoned their page 120position. A curious circumstance took place as they went south. Mr. Wellington Carrington was in his house on their line of retreat; he had married a Maori woman of high rank, and the Maories spared himself and his house because his son, whom they knew, was sent out to be seen by them.

Captain Brown praised the conduct of Captains Stapp and Atkinson, and acknowledged the good service rendered him by Lieutenant Urquhart, 65th Regiment, and his men. Private Inch, of the Volunteers, shot two of the enemy after he had received a wound in the chest, and all behaved in a very creditable manner under very dangerous and trying circumstances. The casualties on the side of the British at the Waireka action, were a sergeant of the Militia and a marine killed, Lieutenant Blake, R.N., Lieutenant Hamerton of the Volunteer Rifles, and fourteen men wounded of the soldiers, sailors, militia, and volunteers. The native loss was considerable, and the bodies were seen to be collected and placed on small low carts used in the Taranaki by white and brown men.

Dividing a small force to act, as in this case, page 121against an active enemy in a good position, is attended with great risk and danger. If in this instance the whole force 65th, sailors, militia and volunteers had gone direct to the Omata village, they probably would have had a skirmish with the enemy, but they might have brought in the settlers from Mr. Brown's house. These came in next day. On examining the ground afterwards, I was particularly struck with the strength of the position of the pah, and the easy manner of retreat in the rear. The view from the pah towards the Sugar Loaf Islands makes a picturesque sketch.

In compliance with the Governor's wish, on the 30th March Captain Cracroft proceeded to sea, and steered south for the Warea pah.* This double pah stood close to the beach at the mouth of a small stream, only navigable by canoes; the coast in the vicinity is fringed with rocks and reefs projecting a considerable distance to seaward, upon which the sea beats violently; the bottom is very foul. The ship was anchored by Mr. Veich, the master, as near as she could be brought to the pah,

* Warea, delayed.

page 122namely, about two thousand five hundred yards. The natives showed themselves in great numbers at the pah, and fired off muskets in defiance. Eire from the guns and 24-1b. rockets was opened on the pah, and considering the distance, good practice was made; shells and rockets falling inside the stockade and doing considerable damage. The natives disappeared, but as it was impossible to land on account of the surf, the "Niger" returned to her anchorage at New Plymouth, having done all that circumstances admitted.

On the 3rd April, the Maori flag captured at the Waireka hill by Captain Cracroft and his gallant "Nigers," was presented with due ceremony at Government House, Auckland, to His Excellency the Governor. Three companies of the Auckland Rifles were drawn up in line; the band of the 65th Regiment had played them into the domain, then played in the blue jackets, preceded by the flag. The devices on the flag were a representation of Mount Egmont of Taranaki, and the Sugar Loaf Islands, a bloody heart on the upper section, and the letters M. N., ("mate noa," page 123"till death,") on the lower. Captain Cracroft presented the flag on behalf of Ms ship's company, and the Governor received it graciously, with an appropriate speech in answer to Captain Cracroft; he complimented the sailors and the volunteers, brothers in arms in the Taranaki. We may add, they have the distinction to have been the first of the volunteers of these days to have been engaged with an enemy.