The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
Chapter 18: CAPTURE OF PURAKU PA, TARUKENGA
Chapter 18: CAPTURE OF PURAKU PA, TARUKENGA
IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE Arawa repulse of the Waikato Hauhaus at Te Koutu (17th March, 1867) news reached Rotorua that the main war-party under Kihitu had occupied and was fortifying a position at Puraku, a short distance from Tarukenga, on the edge of the wooded ranges west of Rotorua Lake. This place was close to Parahaki, the scene in 1835 of the murder of Hunga by Haerehuka, a tragedy which led to the invasion of the Lakes country by the great warrior Te Waharoa and his Ngati-Haua. Now history was repeating itself in this attack by the Waikato tribes after a lapse of thirty years, but in this later instance the assailants were destined never to set foot on the shores of the famous lake or to reach the palisades or their hereditary foemen's fort. The Kingites established themselves comfortably in their eyrie at Puraku (called also Ahiria, or “Assyria”), whence they could overlook the whole basin of Rotorua, posted as they were on its lofty rim. They hoisted their curiously designed war-flags on a niu pole within the walls, and day and night the camp resounded with the solemn music of their Pai-marire chants.
This fortification at Puraku was first built by the local disaffected tribes, the Ngati-Tura and others, and a small section of Ngati-Rangiwewehi. Ensign Gilbert Mair, who was at the time stationed at Rotorua, repeatedly scouted out alone to the lofty north-west spur of Ngongotaha Mountain—the wooded height called Te Tuahu-a-te-Atua (“The Altar of the God”), famous in Arawa fairy folk-lore—and from that post watched the Hauhaus hard at work digging their trenches and erecting their stockade. Then, after the fighting in rear of Tauranga, when the Waikato, Ngati-Raukawa, and other rebel tribes came out of the Piri-Rakau bush country and concentrated for an attack on Rotorua, they took up their quarters with Ngati-Tura and occupied and strengthened the pa. Mair's daring scouting exploit, when he went into the forest from Tauranga and found the large rebel force had moved out from Poripori southward, had the result of arousing the authorities to a sense of Rotorua's imminent danger, page 167 and a Government column was hurried off to the Lakes via Maketu. On the 20th March Major (afterwards Lieut.-Colonel) T. McDonnell and Major St. John arrived with the 1st Waikato Regiment of Militia. The loyal Arawa co-operated with the troops in the skirmishing which followed.
The principal operation was the attack and capture of Puraku. There was a preliminary reconnaissance in force when the pa was temporarily abandoned; it was partly destroyed by the force. Then, at the end of March, the full strength of the European and Maori force marched up the valley of Waiteti Stream, working past the northern spur of Ngongotaha Mountain to the ferncovered terraces and the bush ranges above. Gilbert Mair was detailed to take a hundred men of the Ngati-Pikiao and Ngati-Manawa Tribes and make a long detour to the right in order to work round into the forest in rear of the pa, which was a few hundred yards from the bush. The scheme was to surround the pa on the forest side, the main body meanwhile keeping the enemy busy on the front facing the lake, then to attack and drive the garrison into the cordon in rear.
Mair, realizing the broken and difficult nature of the country, asked his superior to allow four hours in which to complete the task allotted him. However, he was only given two hours. Mair moved off quickly with his hundred Ngati-Pikiao, accompanied by Ensign Dean Pitt and Sergeant-Major David White (who was killed in 1869 at Te Paripari, on the Whakatane River). As he had anticipated, he had not gone very far before he was confronted by a series of precipitous defiles, the deep gorges Te Uhi and Manurewa, and other rocky gulches. “In the pursuit which followed the fight the Arawa had to go nearly a mile at one of these places,” he narrated, “to find a place where they could cross the gorge, so steep were the cliffs.”
The force pushed on with the utmost speed, but the two hours allowed were quite insufficient to allow Mair time to cut off the retreat. Meanwhile a heavy fire was opened on the pa by five or six hundred rifles and guns, a fire so heavy that the Hauhaus realized their position was hopeless. It was possible now to form an idea of the strength of the Hauhau position, garrisoned by several hundred warriors, whose double-barrel guns and muskets flashed fire from beneath the outer stockade. The pa stood on a gentle eminence on the open fern land which sloped down from the forested and gully-bitten plateau (over which the Waikato-Rotorua Railway now runs) to the valley of the Ngongotaha. It was commanded by higher ground on the west, but the interior of the pa seemed well protected by a strong palisading; moreover, as was afterwards discovered, every whare in the fort was rendered bullet-proof by being built close up against the inner stockade and page 168 by the device of heaping up the earth over its dug-in sides and its thatched roofing. The fort was roughly oblong except for a large bastion on its northern side, a salient designed to command the Rotorua—Waikato track which wound up through the valley immediately under this aspect of the defences. A tall niu rose above the stockade near from the north-western angle; it had a topmast and yard like a ship's mast, and from the yardarm and masthead halliards flew the Kingite flags. On the north, east, and west sides were waharoa, or gateways, closed by solid slabs of timber. Between the two lines of stockade, a few feet apart, was a skilful trench system with traverses and covered ways. On the western and southern sides were fern-covered gullies, hillocks, and ridges, trending to the forest; on the north and east were cultivations and fruit-groves, the food-gardens of the Ngati-Tura hapu, most of whom had joined the Hauhaus in the pa—the only section of the Arawa nation, besides a portion of Ngati-Rangiwewehi, who showed any sympathy with Hauhauism.
Mr. Mair gradually worked round the right flank towards the rear of the pa under great difficulties owing to the broken terrain. He detailed a party of his Maoris under two young chiefs, Hemana (nephew of Major Pokiha Taranui, of Maketu) and Hohapeta te Whanarere, to push on quickly to the eastward and take up a post commanding a deep gorge which the escaping Hauhaus would have to cross. Mair then ran down a fern spur with the rest of his men in order to seize a mound which commanded the pa on the west; here was a sentry's rifle-pit. Just as he was in the act of mounting this low hill, his advance was stayed by an incident characteristic of the heroism and devotion which so often marked the Maori warrior.
A tall, tattooed man, in a white shirt and waist-mat, emerged from the west gateway of the pa and advanced to meet the white officer. He wore a hamanu or cartridge-belt with boxes across his shoulders, and another buckled around his middle, feathers in hair, double-barrel gun in hand. He walked with a deliberate jauntiness across the short fern towards Mair. Halting when within about fifteen paces of his antagonist, he grounded his gun-butt and, placing his hands across the muzzle of the tupara, he gazed fixedly with stern defiance straight into Mair's eyes. Ensign Pitt and Sergeant-Major White were just behind Mair. Two of the young Arawa—Whakatau was one—ran up and, dropping to the knee, levelled their guns at the Hauhau.
“Kauaka!” said Mair; “kauaka!” (“Don't!”) gesturing to his men not to fire.
The Maori spoke. “He aha,” he asked, “ta koutou i haere mai ai ki te whakaoho ia matou, i te iwi Kawanatanga?” (“Why do you come here to alarm us, who are a tribe of the Government?”)page 169
“No Waikato tenei ope” (“This war-party is from Waikato”), replied Mair.
“He horihori!” (“It is false!”) declared the Hauhau.
This cool and impudent attitude for the moment puzzled Mair, to whom the thought occurred that possibly the garrison consisted largely of Ngati-Rangiwewehi, an Arawa clan who had been in rebellion but now were known to be anxious to join the side of the Queen and make amends for this disaffection.
There was a further interchange of words, but Mair now perceived that the Hauhau's daring intervention was only a device for gaining a little precious time to enable his people to escape.
A few moments more and the Ngati-Pikiao would have gained this mound which commanded the pa. The unknown warrior's bold action, however, had given his comrades two or three minutes' grace, and they were quickly racing out of the pa for the forest and the gorges under the heavy fire of the Militia force. in which Mair's men now joined. As for the tattooed hero of this episode, he bounded like lightning to the side of the trail, page 170 and in an instant he was out of sight in the fern that masked a little trough of a valley just to the south of the pa stockade. Miraculously he escaped; a little later he was seen—conspicuous by reason of his white shirt—running over a spur 600 yards to the south. His devotion undoubtedly enabled many scores of his comrades to escape.
Now came the pursuit of the enemy, flying for their lives through the gorges and forests. The Arawa, lightly costumed for the bush, took up the chase of their hereditary enemies, the Waikato and Ngati-Haua, with great zest. Yet here entered in an illustration of that clan-fellowship which so often operated to save a hostile tribe. Puraku was within the territory of Ngati-Tura, a subtribe of the Arawa, and the lake-side people were closely connected by ties of kinship with these dwellers on the ranges. Ngati-Tura had thrown in their fortunes with the Waikato ope, and their men, or most of them, were within the pa when the attack was delivered. Probably they had no great sympathy with the Hauhaus, but expediency dictated their temporary alliance with the invading ope. When the pa was evacuated, most of these Ngati-Tura, instead of flying to the forest, concealed themselves in the high fern which densely filled the little valley and covered the ridges immediately to the south of the stockade. In this valley seven or eight of the Hauhaus were shot as they ran, but the canny Ngati-Tura escaped by lying quietly in the fern until the chase had passed on. No doubt they would have been discovered had the Arawa from Rotorua takahi'd, or trodden down, the fern, as was the practice in cases of the kind, but the Government's brown allies carefully refrained from doing so, knowing doubtless that some of their unfortunate kinsmen lay trembling there.
As Ensign Mair and Sergeant-Major White stood near the palisade just after the mêlée that followed the capture of the pa they saw a tall naked Hauhau, his brown skin shining in the sun, running up the side of a little hill, to the southward of the pa. Both threw up their rifles for a shot. “Sight for 600 yards,” suggested White. They fired together, and the Maori fell. When the body was examined afterwards it was found that one of the bullets had struck him just behind the base of the neck, killing him on the instant. He was a young man; his name, as was ascertained, was Tu-Wairua.
The main body of the fugitives took flight up a long, narrow gorge, a deep gulch which the present railway-line crosses about two miles on the Waikato side of Tarukenga. Hemana and his party, holding this gorge, killed several men, and one or two more were shot dead or severely wounded at various points on the line of flight. In all, the Hauhaus lost eleven men killed, and had page 171 many wounded. Hemana and his men had great difficulty in following up the swiftly-flying foes owing to the rough character of the country; in order to cross the gorge they were compelled to travel along its brink a long distance before they found a practicable place of descent, and then they had to lower themselves down by aka vines. The train traveller to-day may gain a fleeting idea of the formidable obstacles presented to troops, even the mobile and lightly-clad Maori, by observing from his carriage-window the numerous sudden gullies on the plateau between Mamaku and Tarukenga. They formed an impediment to the flying enemy, too, but the Hauhaus had the advantage of having been over the ground recently.
Up the straight sides of some of these gulches the Hauhaus clambered by means of the trailing aka vines, some as thick as ships' hawsers. Hemana was so hot in chase of one man that the two, fugitive and pursuer, were on the same aka together. The Hauhau, struggling desperately upward, was caught by his foeman, who gripped him in his arms, and in the struggle they either lost their hold of the aka or the tree-vine gave way under the strain, with the result that the two warriors came down by the run to the bottom of the gully, where Hemana killed his man.
The Hauhau leader, Kihitu, was shot through the hips, and was carried off the battlefield by his men. He lived to reach his home, but died from his wounds about a year later. Many others of the enemy were wounded. Not a man among either the Arawa or the Militia was hit. Had the Hauhaus remained to fight it out, Puraku might have become another Orakau, but they were quick to realize that they were in a trap from which only prompt flight would save them, and so they did not offer the fight that might have been expected from their numbers. Their fire from the pa was feeble in comparison with that of the attackers, and only a few returned the shots of their pursuers in the chase.
Rotorua was never again invaded by the Kingites, and enjoyed immunity from raids until Te Kooti attacked it in 1870, when he sustained a decisive defeat at the hands of Mair and his lakesmen. For his services in the Poripori scouting episode and in the actions at Te Koutu and Puraku Mair was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
When the Government forces inspected this captured pa they found it a marvel of Maori military engineering ingenuity, and even to-day its trenches with traverses and flanking bastions remain almost intact, a monument which should not be obliterated. The double palisading was destroyed by the Arawa, but they fortunately did not take the trouble to fill in the entrenchments. There were two strong palisades, the pekerangi on the outside of the trench and the kiri-tangata (“the warrior's skin”) immediately page 172 inside. These stockades had been constructed of totara timber hauled from the near-by forest by the sledge-track which wound up past the pa. The trench was about 3 feet wide with a depth of 5 feet. The interior of the work measured 80 paces in length by 45 paces at the widest part, and this space was largely occupied by low huts thatched with kaponga fern-tree fronds, the sides and eaves well protected by being earthed up for several feet. The earth floors of these huts were dug in a foot or two below the level of the marae outside, a feature which gave their occupants additional safety. The trench, with its numerous traverses and covered ways, was essentially the same as our soldiers' trenches in France and Flanders in the Great War, but in one detail there was a difference. The pakeha engineer throws out the earth from the trench in front of his ditch in order to form a low parapet; the Maori cast the earth on the inner side, his rear, lest the bullets of the enemy, striking the loose, soft soil, should throw dirt in his eyes, confuse his aim, and perhaps temporarily blind him. The dug-out soil also formed a parepare, or parapet, on the outer side of the main line of palisading, close against the back of which the bullet-proof whares were built. On the marae, the open space or parade-ground, stood the niu, around which the Hauhaus marched chanting their Pai-marire service. There was a low, roughly built railing, a Hauhau altarrail around the foot of the mast; within this tapu space stood the tohunga, the priest of the war-party, who slowly revolved about the pole, leading the chantings.
On the 9th December, 1918, the author explored this Hauhau fortification in company with Captain Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C., who pointed out the scenes of the fight in which he led the Ngati-Pikiao contingent. Puraku is easily reached by walking along the railway-track for a mile and a quarter from Tarukenga, crossing the Manurewa Gorge, until a white-painted railway-gate is seen on the left; thence, entering on the fern- and tutu-grown slopes on the Ngongotaha or eastern side of the line, a walk of 200 yards down the fern slopes in the direction of some pine-trees that mark a deserted dwelling brings one to the pa. There are no bold walls or maioro to mark the spot, but the fern-grown mounds which were once the earthed-up sides of whares remain in places 3 feet or 4 feet above the general level of the ground. The palisades have vanished, except for one or two burnt butts of tatara timber. The sites of the three gateways, the principal one on the western side, may still plainly be traced. Except at these gateways and at places where the covered ways ran, the deep narrow ditch of the Hauhau trench is continuous about the roughly rectangular pa. Its sides, in places, are as cleanly cut as if they were delved out but yesterday: this is where the scaling of moss which accumulated upon the fern-protected walls has fallen off. The trench is in most places 4 feet deep, somewhat shallower than its original dimension, but the wonder page 173 is that more than fifty years have left the work in so perfect a state of preservation.
The Maori engineer was careful to guard against enfilading-fire, hence the continuous line of the trench is broken by a man-high traverse every few yards. On the northern side, where the ground falls steeply to the old track through the fern—the front attacked by the white section of the force—there is a strong flanking bastion projecting about 25 feet from the main work.
Relics of the Hauhau war-party were still to be found within and about these fern-hidden ditches and mounds when we paced the lines and sketched the entrenchments—a broken gun-barrel of large bore, apparently an old Tower musket; broken iron cooking-pots, and fragments of human bone, memento mori of Kihitu's warriors.
Puraku stands on Crown land, a portion of the Okoheriki Block, purchased from the Maoris. The pa should be preserved from destruction in the course of settlement, the fate that has overtaken so many fortifications of great historic value. It is the best existing example of Maori skill in entrenchment in the wars of the “sixties.”
Captain Mair wrote (11th April, 1919): “The hero in that fine episode when the warrior came out of Puraku pa and parleyed with me to gain time was Te Matai Paruhi. He was a member of the Marukukenga hapu of Tapuika, who live near Te Puke. He died some years ago.”