The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 10: THE EXPEDITION TO OPOTIKI
Chapter 10: THE EXPEDITION TO OPOTIKI
A PUNITIVE FORCE was despatched from Wanganui and Wellington to Opotiki early in September, 1865, to conduct operations against the murderers of Mr. Volkner. This expedition consisted of two companies of the Taranaki Military Settlers, two companies of Wanganui and Patea Rangers, a troop of the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, and the Wanganui Native Contingent. There was also a company of men from Waikato under Captain George. The strength of the force was about five hundred men, and Major Brassey, the Indian veteran who had distinguished himself at Pipiriki, was in command. The transports which conveyed the expedition up the coast were the steamers “Stormbird,” “Ladybird,” and “Ahuriri.” At Hicks Bay, East Cape, on the 7th September, they were joined by H.M.S. “Brisk,” and by the small steamer “Huntress” as a tender for the landing at Opotiki. At 10 o'clock on the morning of the 8th September the fleet arrived off the Opotiki bar, and preparations were made to land the force. The Patea Rangers, about fifty strong, and Nos. 8 and 10 Companies of Military Settlers were transferred to the “Huntress.” The little steamer crossed the bar, but grounded on a sandbank, and with the ebbing of the tide she heeled over, with her decks towards the shore. Captain Levy, the coast trader who had been prominent in the episodes at Opotiki earlier in the year, had come up from Wellington with the expedition as pilot and interpreter, and he was at the wheel of the “Huntress” when she took the ground. The Hauhaus on the shore opened fire at long range, but did little damage. An over-confident Pai-marire prophet, strong in his fanatic faith, walked deliberately across the tidal flat to the edge of the channel within close range of the “Huntress,” reciting his incantations and making magic passes with his hands. The old priest took his seat on a log regardless of the heavy fire opened on him, which quickly stretched him dead. When the “Huntress's” men at last got ashore they found he had received eighteen bullets.page 107
With some difficulty the small force at last landed on the sandhills opposite the large settlement of Pa-kowhai, the site of the present town of Opotiki. The Maoris, in strong force, opened fire from the left bank. The Patea Rangers (who were accompanied by Captain Von Tempsky as a volunteer) occupied the dunes directly opposite the settlement and resisted strong sorties of the Hauhaus. The north-east wind strengthened to a gale, and the position of the small landing force was extremely uncomfortable. The gale sent the loose sand flying in clouds, and eight men of the Rangers contracted a kind of sandy blight in the eyes as the result. One of the veteran Rangers recalls a curious remedy adopted for this eye trouble: “We had our ears pierced as a cure for it.”
* H.M.S. “Brisk” was a steam-corvette, armed with a 68-pounder solid-shot gun on a traversing-carriage mounted in the bow; fourteen 32-pounders of 34 cwt. each, seven on each broadside; a 45 cwt. 32-pounder mounted abaft the mizzenmast (on wooden carriage) to fire on either quarter or right astern. The ship's compliment was 190 officers and men. The “Brisk” was a full-rigged ship with very small coal-capacity, so she nearly always moved about under sail. Her screw propeller, when not in use, was disconnected and hoisted up to the level of the upper deck by stout tackles.
In 1853–54, in the war with Russia, the “Brisk” was sent up to the White Sea with the corvette “Miranda,” also afterwards on the New Zealand Station, and the “Eurydice,” and she shared in the blockade of Archangel. Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge was then a midshipman in the corvette.
For some weeks thereafter the expedition remained in Opotiki, skirmishing occasionally, and revelling in the abundance of food in the captured settlements. The Whakatohea people were celebrated for their skill in wood-carving, and the alluvial plain of Opotiki was covered with well-built villages containing many beautifully decorated houses. The valley was rich in food crops and in groves of peach-trees. The force was plentifully rationed out of the abundance of meat and poultry, and the kumara and potatoes and other vegetables which the fields and gardens of the Whakatane produced. The Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry were mounted on looted Maori horses, and had the satisfaction presently, of engaging in a cavalry charge on the open plain.page 110
Major Brassey took possession of the murdered missionary's church, which he entrenched and converted into a redoubt. The stores and camp equipment were placed in the church, and the force camped round it. The Patea Rangers, probably the hardiest veterans of the expedition, camped by themselves. They were proficient in the art of food-foraging, and on the march they outdistanced most of the other corps, particularly the less practised men of the 1st Waikato Militia under Major (afterwards Colonel) St. John. The Rangers were always ready on the instant for any emergency. Wherever they camped a rallying-post was appointed, and in the event of an alarm, at the call “Turn out, Rangers!” they ran to their post, belted and armed. They did not wait to fall in in parade order, but as soon as the officer in charge had a dozen or so about him he dashed off, leaving one man at the rallying-point to give the direction taken. The company of the Wanganui Rangers was another competent workmanlike body, armed like the others with carbine and revolver. Their commander was Captain Ross, who was killed at the Turuturu-mokai Redoubt, Taranaki, in 1868.
The Hauhau hapus of the Whakatohea fortified themselves between four and five miles up the valley, on the end of a low spur which abutted on the plain near the eastern side of the entrance to the Waioeka Gorge. The entrenchment consisted of three redoubts close to each other on knolls or terraces, one in rear of the other; two of these works were surrounded by palisading. On the flat below, where the road winds round the foot of the ridge, stood the niu flagpole. This fortification was called Te Puia pa. A short distance farther up the valley, and closely overlooking Waioeka River from the east, was the hill fort Opekerau. Hira te Popo's village—the present headquarters of Hira's people, the Ngati-Ira Tribe—was at its foot. The Native Contingent and Captain Nelson George's Forest Rangers skirmished close up to the Puia pa. In one of the expeditions after cattle Captain John Percy, commanding the cavalry, was severely wounded, near the Puia ridge.
On the 4th October a force under Major McDonnell advanced to the attack of the stockaded pa which the Hauhaus had just built at a spot called Te Tarata, on the right (east) bank of the Waioeka River, some four miles from the Opotiki settlement. The terrain here, the Kiorekino plain, is perfectly level; it is now covered with beautiful well-tilled farms. The first report that the natives had built a fort on the Kiorekino levels was brought into headquarters by several mounted men of the Native Contingent; in the meantime McDonnell made a preliminary attack on the pa and came under a very hot fire, from which there was little cover. The Patea Rangers dashed off page 111 to the scene immediately the news reached the camp. The Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry troop was soon in the saddle, and passed the Rangers at the gallop. The first of the Rangers to reach the scene of action were Sergeant (now Captain) J. R. Rushton and his inseparable comrade Corporal David White (later Lieutenant), who was killed on the Upper Whakatane in 1869. Taking cover in some flax bushes in front of the pa, they were busy sniping at the Hauhaus when the rest of the force came skirmishing up. The troops surrounded the pa on three sides—the steep bank of the river, 20 feet high, was on the other flank, the west. A piece of artillery was brought out from Opotiki, a 6-pounder gun from the steamer “Huntress,” manned by a crew of bluejackets. It was emplaced commanding the pa at close range and loaded with chain-shot and old iron. The fort was a hastily-built double stockade, consisting largely of whanake (cabbage-tree) trunks set in closely between posts of heavy timber; inside were the trenches and rifle-pits, connected with each other and well traversed.
The attack on Te Tarata quickly roused the garrison of Te Puia pa to action and assistance; the places were in plain view of each other and about three-quarters of a mile apart. Reinforcements from the Otara side, on the eastern flank of the plain, and from the triple entrenchments of Te Puia, after a Pai-marire service round their niu, came skirmishing across the plain to make a diversion in favour of their friends. They were met and engaged by the troop of cavalry, who charged through them and killed or wounded about a score.
Describing this engagement, one of the few cavalry charges made in the Maori wars, a veteran of the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, Mr. William Wallace, of Hawera, gave the following narrative:—
“Our small troop engaged in the skirmish on the fern flat at Kiorekino numbered twenty-two, under Lieutenant McPherson (afterwards Captain). Late in the afternoon, just as we were getting ready to skirmish up with the foot troops, it was observed that a party of Hauhaus had left the Puia pa and was advancing quickly across the plain towards us. We could see them marching round their niu pole on the flat below the pa, the preliminary to their dash down to relieve their comrades in Te Tarata. Some of our men had dismounted for the attack on the river-bank stockade. The cavalry method then was to work in formation of threes, not fours as now; it was right, left, and centre, and when working dismounted the centre man had to hold the horses. The order was given to mount and charge the Maori reinforcements. There was a slight dip in the ground between us and the Hauhaus, and they did not see us page 112 until we were pretty close on them. With drawn swords we galloped into them and caught them in the short fern, and we killed or severely wounded twenty—nearly a Maori apiece for us. One of our big troopers, Hogan, gave them the point of his sword and ran through three in succession. Others cut at them with the sabre, but the point was the best. I saw one of our troopers, armed with a curved sword or scimitar (most of us had the straight cavalry sword) cutting away at a Maori, but not making much impression, as the sword was so blunt. Another man, Maxwell, whose horse was hit, went flying in one direction and his horse in another, and he was left on the ground. His horse went bolting on ahead, and one Maori escaped by hanging to its bridle as it galloped off. It did not stop until it reached the foot of the spur near the niu, and there it dropped dead from two bullet-wounds. A fine big warrior with a great bushy beard who was lying wounded in the fern made an attempt to rise to fire the second barrel of his tupara lying near him, but a trooper—Maxwell, I think—reached it first and shot the owner dead with it. We were among those Maoris for a few crowded moments, swords slashing and thrusting, and guns and revolvers popping. The Maoris dodged in all directions. One daring fellow grappled one of our men and nearly pulled him off his horse. The trooper was trying ineffectually to fire his Tranter revolver, but only kept pulling the cocking-trigger, forgetting in his hurry to press the firing-trigger. [The Tranter, unlike the Colt, was cocked by a second trigger, below the chamber and outside the firing-trigger guard.]
“It was wonderful,” continued the veteran cavalryman, “to see the way the Maoris parried the sword-cuts. We found one gun afterwards which was hacked across the stock and up the middle of the heel of the butt; the man who used it had parried two sword-cuts in quick succession. Our troops could have done more execution if we had wheeled about at once after the charge and gone through the Maoris again, but we were not quick enough. Just after the fight I saw a Maori lying wounded on the field, and I went to a waterhole and brought him some water in my forage-cap, and I handed him over to the Wanganui Maoris, who took care of him.”
After the charge Farrier-Sergeant Duff brought in a lad of the Whakatohea Tribe whose skull had been cleft open with a sword. This youth, Paoro Taia, recovered, and was living in 1921.
Taking advantage of the low bushes, the flax clumps, and other vegetation around Te Tarata pa on the river-bank, McDonnell's force (Rangers, Military Settlers, and Native Contingent) kept up a heavy and accurate fire until well on in the page 113 night. A Maori chief in the pa called out, about 8 o'clock in the evening, asking what terms would be given if the garrison surrendered. McDonnell's answer was that the surrender must be unconditional; the men concerned in the murder of Mr. Volkner would be tried; the others would simply be prisoners of war. The Hauhaus requested an hour's truce to consider the question of surrendering. This was granted them, and “Cease fire” was ordered. The defenders, however, did not all employ themselves in accordance with the conditions of the temporary truce. The Rangers and other attackers were by this time lying within 10 yards of the outer palisade. It was a moonlight night, and Sergeant Rushton, intently watching the pa, exclaimed to his comrade White, “They're cutting the lashings!” Some of the Hauhaus were chopping away at the aka vines used to fasten the horizontal rails to the uprights of the stockade, close to the gateway. Next moment some shots were fired from the pa, killing two men. A cloud passed over the moon, and down came a long section of the palisade, thrown outward upon the Rangers by the garrison to confuse the attacking-party and facilitate a retreat. There was an instant heavy rush of desperate Maoris, firing their double-barrel guns right and left as they charged out for liberty. Leaping down over the fallen portion of the war-fence, they met the Rangers hand-to-hand. The rangers first gave them the contents of their carbines and then used their revolvers. One big Maori pitched right over Private William Kelly's head as he fell in the act of charging out. Carbine and tomahawk clashed. It was hot work for a few moments; when it was over sixteen Maoris lay dead, close to the stockade. Most of the shooting by the Rangers in the mêlée was done with their Dean-Adams revolvers. In the midst of it all the 6-pounder from the “Huntress” was fired, very badly aimed, right over the slight dip in which the Rangers were posted. “The chain and old iron with which it had been loaded,” narrates a veteran of the corps, “made a terrific screeching as they flew over our heads; this was just after the escaping Maoris had given us their first volley.”
The Maoris dashed for the cover of a small watercourse and across the Waioeka River. Heavy volley firing was directed on the river-crossing, and several Hauhaus were killed as they swam or waded to the west bank. The pa so suddenly evacuated was occupied, and next morning the Maori dead were buried in their own trenches. The day's casualties for the Whakatohea, Ngai-Tama, and other Hauhaus engaged were about thirty-five killed and at least an equal number wounded. The Government force lost three killed; one of these, Private Tom Brown, of the Patea Rangers, received a bullet through page 114 the forehead as he lay with his carbine at his shoulder about to fire. On the morning after this battle the whole force, under Major Stapp (who had been placed in command soon after the arrival of the troops at Opotiki), advanced to the attack of the threefold redoubt at Te Puia, but the Hauhaus abandoned the place without waiting for the assault. They took to the high broken country in rear, and thence fell back on new strongholds in the Waioeka Gorge.*
Intermittent skirmishing continued in the Opotiki district until November of 1865. The cavalry were useful in reconnoitring and foraging expeditions in the open country, and the Rangers and Native Contingent actively scouted the approaches to the plain and the river-bed avenues to the mountainous forest country in rear. The capture of the pas at Te Tarata and Te Puia convinced most of the Whakatohea that it was useless to oppose the occupation of the Opotiki Valley, and in October the Ngati-Rua hapu of the tribe, numbering over two hundred, came in and surrendered to Major Stapp. Ngati-Ira, of Waioeka, under Hira Te Popo, remained hostile.
* One of the Maori survivors of the fighting at Te Puia and Kiorekino is the venerable tattooed warrior Netana Whakaari, now living at Waimana. Netana was one of the Hauhaus in Te Puia, and he was engaged in the skirmishing on the Kiorekino plain when the cavalry charge was made. He narrates that a bullet furrowed the top of his head.
The site of the Tarata pa, on the Kiorekino flat, can still be traced. The spot is on a terrace on the east bank of the willow-fringed Waioeka River, four miles from Opotiki Town. A few hundred yards from it, on Mr. W. T. Pile's farm, between the homestead and the main road to Waioeka, is the battle-ground of Kiorekino, where the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry charged into the Hauhau reinforcements. On this farm also stood the niu flagstaff round which the people of Kiorekino marched in their Pai-marire services.
A mile farther on, near the entrance to the Waioeka Gorge, and close to the east bank of the river, are the grass-grown ruins of the Waioeka Redoubt. This was an outpost of the Opotiki district in 1866–70, when Tamaikowha and his band of Ngai-Tama and Urewera Hauhaus were on the war-path. A hundred yards from the redoubt is the pretty native kainga of Opekerau, among its peach-trees on a terrace at the foot of the old hill fort of the same name. The Ngati-Ira hapu here are all staunch disciples of the Ringa-tu religion, the offshoot of Pai-marire.
McDonnell's advanced guard, passing along a narrow bush-track, suddenly encountered Kereopa and his bodyguard. The prophet escaped into the bush, but five of his men were shot. Meanwhile Captain Newland had rushed the village, killing three men and taking several prisoners. The Hauhaus here were the Urewera and Ngai-Tama.
This well-executed attack and other guerrilla activities of the force, chiefly in the Waioeka Gorge, produced the surrender of many of the Hauhaus. Among those who came in was the chief Mokomoko, afterwards hanged in Auckland. Major Mair came in with many prisoners who had been captured at Te Teko, and eighteen Hauhaus were sent to Auckland for trial. In November the Native Contingent returned to the West Coast for the campaign under General Chute; the second battalion of the 1st Waikato Militia, with some Military Settlers, remained in occupation of Opotiki.
One of the expeditions carried out by the Patea and Wanganui Rangers, the Ngati-Hau (Native Contingent), and other corps was a forced march to the Waimana Valley in search of Kereopa, who was known to be in shelter among the Ngati-Tama of that rugged bush district. Captain J. R. Rushton describes this expedition as follows:—
“We marched along the coast to Ohiwa Harbour, and there branched off from the beach and went up through Kutarere. Thence we crossed over the range into the valley of the Waimana and divided our force. The Patea Rangers and Ngati-Hau followed up the branch creek Pae-tawa; the rest, under Captain Ross (Wanganui Rangers), followed up the course of the Waimana River. At 2 o'clock in the morning we Patea Rangers were in a narrow gorge wading up the stream. Major McDonnell, the commanding officer, asked me and Winiata Pakoro, the little Ngati-Hau warrior, to scout on ahead. Towards daylight we came to a place where the stream branched. We took the creek to the left and then ascended a spur on the right. We found a track leading over the range. I said to Winiata, ‘Me ata haere taua, ka kino te haere pearsquo; (‘Let us go slowly; the track may be dangerousrsquo;). ‘No,rsquo; replied Winiata, a very impulsive little warrior, ‘let us hurry on.rsquo; He went up the spur; I followed him, and we looked down through the bush on the top and saw a niu flagstaff and the huts of a small village directly below. This, we found afterwards, was a place called Te Kuwini. Winiata did not hesitate, but rushed down ahead of me, and we charged through an opening in the palisade into the pa, and across the page 116 open space towards the whares. The Maoris, thinking a large force was upon them, began to retreat, and my little comrade kept up a hot fire on the running Hauhaus. Not wanting to be caught like a rat in a trap, I slung my revolver by its lanyard to my wrist, and got my back up against a post at the gate of the pa with my carbine ready. I kept my eye on a small hut 8 yards or 10 yards to my left. The door opened, and a tall tattooed warrior with a rifle in his right hand came out, rubbing his eyes with his left. I called out, levelling my carbine, lsquo;Drop your gun, and I'll save your life.rsquo; The Maori tried to put a cap on his gun. lsquo;You're a dead man now,rsquo; I said, and fired, aiming for his breast. Just as I fired, he swerved quick as lightning, but the bullet struck him in the shoulder, and he fell. Just then our force came dashing down the hill to the pa. I had to stand over my wounded man to save his life, as the Ngati-Hau wanted to kill him. Winiata wounded Te Whiu, a young Hauhau. (Te Whiu afterwards turned to the Government side and was chiefly instrumental in the capture of Kereopa in 1871.) Te Kuwini was a small place—there were only about twenty Maoris in the pa. The spot is about four miles above the present township of Waimana.”
Desultory skirmishing continued in the hinterland of Opotiki during 1866 and 1867; several settlers and others were killed, and there were numerous expeditions up the Waioeka and Waimana valleys. The Patea Rangers, who took a particularly active share in the scouting and fighting, were in Opotiki nine months, returning to the West Coast at the end of May, 1866. This very competent little corps was broken up in 1866, through the niggardly treatment of the men by the Government in regard to their grants of land for military services; but many of the good fighters in the corps joined other bodies of volunteers, and their courage and experience in bush fighting made them valuable officers and non-commissioned officers.