The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)
Chapter 22: Operations at Kairau and Huirangi
Chapter 22: Operations at Kairau and Huirangi
THE DEFEAT AT Mahoetahi, so far from crushing the Maori spirit, hardened up the fighting-fibre of Wiremu Kingi's northern allies. Reinforcements from Ngati-Maniapoto and Waikato came marching down the coast, and the story of the losses in the Mahoetahi marsh set the warrior soul athirst for revenge. Those who had lost relatives sallied out on scouting expeditions, laying ambuscades and cutting off European stragglers. Several pakeha settlers out seeking cattle or horses were shot and tomahawked within a short distance of New Plymouth during the summer of 1860–61. At this time the garrison of Taranaki had been reduced by several hundreds of Imperial troops, who were considered necessary for the protection of Auckland, owing to an alarm of coming hostilities with Waikato. By December, 1860, the Maori belligerents had constructed a series of field fortifications on the plateau bounding the Waitara River on the south (left bank), and garrisoned these works with considerably over a thousand men. Kairau and Huirangi were the principal defences—skilfully engineered lines of rifle-pits, trenches, and covered ways, their flanks resting on the thickly wooded gullies that dissected the edges of the tableland. These works barred the way inland to the historic hill pa, Puke-rangiora, high above the Waitara. A new system of fortifications on the front of this ancient stronghold was named Te Arei (“The Barrier”), and was designed as the citadel of the Atiawa.
Major-General Pratt took the field once more towards the end of December, when he concentrated a force of a thousand strong on the Waitara. Heavy artillery suitable for siege operations had been obtained from Auckland and from several of the ships of war, and with this battering-train Pratt moved from Waitara towards the Kairau forts on the 29th December. The first operation was the reduction of the stockaded trenched pa at Mata-rikoriko (“Winking Eyes”), a short distance inland of Puke-ta-kauere and somewhat nearer the Waitara River. The column numbered nine hundred men of all arms, with four guns. When the force reached the site of the old Kairau page 202 pa (destroyed on the 11th September), about 1,100 yards from Mata-rikoriko, a large redoubt was commenced for the accommodation of five hundred men. This redoubt was intended as a depot for the attack on the pa, and also for a movement against Huirangi. Working-parties of one hundred and fifty men were employed, under a brisk fire nearly all day from well-masked rifle-pits on the edge of a deep wooded gully about 150 yards from the redoubt. The garrison had a sleepless night, for the natives kept up a fire, with little intermission, until daylight next morning. On the 30th December the Royal Engineers and the rest of the working-parties raised and improved the parapets, formed firing-steps, and made barbettes and platforms for the guns. Two 8-inch guns were mounted on the left face of the redoubt, pointing towards Mata-rikoriko. The firing on both sides was exceedingly heavy. It was estimated that the British troops expended 70,000 rounds of rifle ammunition in less than twenty-four hours, besides about 120 rounds of shot and shell. On the morning of the 31st the pa was found to have been evacuated during the night, and it was quickly occupied by two companies of the 65th under Colonel Wyatt. The British lost three killed and twenty wounded. The Maoris, so far as is known, had six killed. A number of the 56th Regiment remained in occupation of Mata-rikoriko.
This episode was soon followed by a general advance upon the Huirangi works and Te Arei. The operations now developed into the most extensive field-engineering works ever undertaken by British troops in New Zealand. Major-General Pratt was a disciple of the slow, sure, and safe method of warfare; he did not believe in wasting lives in dashing assaults when the objective could be obtained less swiftly, but with less expenditure of manpower, by means of pick and shovel and artillery. Pratt exposed himself to much criticism, and his leisurely approach even excited the ridicule of his antagonists in Te Arei, who, however, came at last to realize the certainty of defeat by the inexorable sap, the covering redoubts, and the pounding artillery. The advance upon Huirangi and then upon Te Arei was enlivened by many skirmishes, which at times became sharp engagements involving hundreds of rifles. The work of the Royal Engineers, with the troops of the line pressed into the role of sappers and miners, was, however, the great feature of the move across the plains of Kairau and Huirangi. These operations were directed by Colonel T. R. Mould, R.E., the designer of numerous redoubts and blockhouses in Taranaki and Waikato.
From a drawing by Lieutenant H. S. Bates (65th Regt.), 1861]
The Mata-rikoriko Stockade
On the 14th January Major-General Pratt with a force of between six hundred and seven hundred men—12th, 14th, 40th, and 65th detachments, and a Naval Brigade—marched from page 204 Waitara towards Huirangi, and came under a heavy fire from the Maoris, who had manned their rifle-pits and trenches between Kairau and Huirangi. The guns from the Kairau (No. 1 Redoubt) and the rifles of the troops replied briskly, and under fire the Royal Engineers, with working-details, commenced the construction of a redoubt (No. 2) about 500 yards on the right front of the Kairau Redoubt. This work was 26 yards square inside the parapet, which was 7 feet high and averaged 6 feet in thickness. Banquettes were formed and a barbette raised for the howitzer on the right-front salient angle. The redoubt, finished in eleven hours, was garrisoned by one hundred and twenty men, with artillery.
On the 18th January the General moved out again to the front with a force a thousand strong, and under an all-day fire from the Maori rifle-pits a third redoubt was begun to cover the British advance towards Huirangi. This field-work, soon to become celebrated for a daring attack made by the Kingites, was built about 400 yards to the left front of No. 2. It consisted when complete of three squares closely placed en echelon; the middle redoubt was 30 yards each way inside the parapet. The parapets of all these works were made with earth and fern in alternate layers, after the Maori manner. Two howitzers were mounted in the main redoubt, and an 8-inch gun on the front face of the right wing. A garrison of about three hundred men, including the headquarters of the 40th Regiment under Colonel Lesile, was placed in No. 3.
While the General was steadily making his way across the Kairau plateau, the Taranaki and Ngati-Ruanui Tribes on the southern section of the coast dug themselves in very strongly on the hills at Waireka, and completely barred the roads by a remarkably skilful system of trenches, rifle-pits, and stockaded pas. Several expeditions from New Plymouth during the summer of 1861 engaged the natives at Waireka Hill, Burton's Hill, and the vicinity of Omata, but without serious casualties on either side. The Rifle Volunteers and Militia, under Herbert, Stapp, and Atkinson, were conspicuously useful in the trying work of patrols and reconnaissances until the end of the war. One affair, though not an official expedition, demonstrated the pluck and coolness of the Volunteers. Fourteen young men, under Sergeant E. Hollis, were gathering peaches one Sunday morning (3rd March, 1861) at Brooklands (now Mr. Newton King's property), near the town, when they were ambuscaded by about double their number of Maoris, who gave them a volley from the cover of a ditch and hedge at very close range. Volunteer Edward Messenger, brother of Ensign W. B. Messenger, was shot dead, and a comrade, W. Smart, severely wounded. The lads returned the fire, recovered their comrade's body and arms, and kept off the Maoris until assistance arrived from the town.