The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)
THE MAUKU AND Patumahoe districts, contiguous to Pukekohe and extending to the southern tidal waters of the Manukau Harbour, are attractive to-day with the twin charms of natural landscape beauty and the improvements made by the farmers' hands during more than sixty years of settlement. Even before the Waikato War the Mauku, first settled in 1856, was a fairly-well-peopled locality, when the site of the present Town of Pukekohe was still a forest of puriri and rimu. The branch railway-line from Pukekohe to Waiuku passes within a short distance of the pretty, antique-featured building upon which the war-history of Mauku is centred. The Church of St. Bride's is of an eye-pleasing design that belongs to many of the churches planted by the pioneers, whose first care, after establishing their homes, was to set up a place of worship in their midst. Built of totara, its shingled roof dark with age, its spire lifting above the tree-tops, it stands picture-like on a green knoll in the midst of its little churchyard. Walk round its walls and count the rifle loopholes in its sides—narrow slits that remined one that the place was once a fort as well as a church. There are fifty-four of those rifle-slits, now neatly plugged with timber or covered with tin and painted over. The cruciform design of the building exactly lent itself to fortification, and gave the defenders the necessary flanking bastions. When the Mauku men erected their stockade of split logs, small whole tree-trunks and heavy slabs, 10 feet high, they planted the timbers alongside one another close up against the walls of the buildings. The openings for rifle-fire were cut through walls and stockade; the garrison therefore could point their long Enfields through the double defence. These loopholes, at regular intervals all round the church, at about 5 feet from the floor, are 9 inches in length vertically by about 3 inches in width; the cuts in the palisade were necessarily a little wider to give the rifles play.
At the tidal river-landing, about a mile distant to the west, stood the Mauku stockade, a small iron-roofed structure defended page 297 by a wall of upright logs. This stood at the spot where cutters from Onehunga landed stores for the local forces.
The first alarm of a racial war occurred in October, 1860, when a Maori of the Ngati-Tamaoho Tribe named Eriata was found shot dead in the bush at Patumahoe. The natives imagined he had been murdered by a European, and a war-party of Waikato and Ngati-Haua came down in canoes to Te Purapura to investigate the matter. Wiremu Tamehana accompanied them to exercise a restraining influence, for the chiefs of the war-party had declared that if it were true that a pakeha had killed the Maori they would begin a war. Possibly war would have been precipitated but for the intervention of Bishop Selwyn and Archdeacon Maunsell, who met Tamehana and the taua and persuaded the force to return. Mr. Donald McLean and Mr. Rogan, of the Native Department, also went to investigate the matter and met the Patumahoe people. The conclusion arrived at was that the Maori had accidentally shot himself.
It was Mr. Daniel H. Lusk (afterwards Major Lusk), a surveyor by profession—he had helped to lay out the City of Christchurch in 1851—and owner of a bush farm in the district, who was chiefly instrumental in forming the Forest Rifle Volunteers. Mr. Lusk had been in New Zealand since 1849; he was a frontiersman of the best kind, energetic and observant, used to the bush, and endowed with a natural gift of leadership. To him more than to any other settler-soldier the credit was due of placing the district west of the Great South Road in a state of defence. He had organized local Volunteer crops during the first Taranaki War. When that campaign ended in returned to store. However, Mr. Lusk was firmly of opinion 1861 many settlers imagined that fighting had definitely ceased in New Zealand, and most of the rifles at the Mauku were that there would be war in the Auckland District, and early in 1863 he was the principal means of forming three companies of Forest Rifles—one at Mauku, one at Waiuku, and one at Pukekohe East.
After a sketch by G. Norbury, 1863]
St. Bride's Church, Mauku, with Stockade, 1863
The tent encampment is that of the right wing of the Movable Column, usually called the Flying Column, consisting of Imperial troops and Militia, engaged in patrol duty on the flanks of the Great South Road.
It was the maiden fight of the Rangers and Mauku Rifles. The guerilla veteran Von Tempsky in his journal gave high praise to some of the settler-soldiers. Lusk he described as “a man of consummate judgment about Maori warfare.” In the height of the skirmish he found time to admire the sang froid of the Mauku men: “There are some cool hands amongst those Mauku Rifles. There are big Wheeler and little Wheeler, and Kelahan, watching the Maoris like cats; they have holes through their coats, but none through their skins as yet. Lusk is cool and collected, keeping the men together.” The best marksmen were Jackson and Hay, both crack shots.
This was one of the first fights in the war conducted after the traditional manner of North American Indian warfare, skirmishing from tree to tree. For some time after this skirmish the Forest Rangers remained at Mauku, making the fortified church their headquarters and scouring the bush.*