The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
THE FIGHT AT OTAUTU
THE FIGHT AT OTAUTU
Early in March of 1869 Titokowaru had established himself in a bush camp at Otautu, on the left (east) bank of the Patea, about ten miles by the river route from the heads.
Here he gathered most of his people together, but did not fortify the village, which stood on a small area of level ground close to a steep declivity some 200 feet above the river. A party sallying out from here lay in wait on the sandhills at the mouth of the Whenuakura River and attacked (10th March) a dray convoy under Lieutenant and Quartermaster Hunter on the way to Patea. The attack was repulsed without loss to the small Government party. On the following day Colonel Whitmore established himself at Patea, and thus once more occupied the positions abandoned after the disaster at Moturoa in November, 1868.
On the night of the 12th March he marched to attack Titokowaru, whose camp at Otautu the scouts had at last located. Two columns of European and native troops were employed on this expedition. The right wing, four hundred strong, which Whitmore commanded, took the trail up the left bank of the Patea, while Lieut.-Colonel St. John took the other, numbering two hundred, along the right or west side of the river by a rough track. It was a very dark night, and as early morning approached a dense fog enveloped the forest and the river, shrouding from sight every sign of the sleeping camp. No. 8 Division was leading, with No. 1 in support; the advance necessarily was in single file. Suddenly a Hauhau sentry was surprised half asleep under a flax-bush. Ben Biddle, one of the best of the Armed Constabulary page 295 scouts, was the first to see the scout, and was about to tomahawk him without noise when an officer stopped him, saying it was an Arawa. The movements of the force alarmed the Hauhau, who was fired on but escaped, and in a moment the slumbering camp was in commotion. The village could not be seen, but as Whitmore rushed up his men through the fog he found his force under fire from invisible musketeers. The camp was not palisaded or otherwise protected, but the Hauhaus found perfect cover at the edge of the small plateau, where the ground dipped suddenly in a ravine to the Patea flowing far below. Sheltered by the dip of the ground they swept the clearing; some of them, too, fired from the lowermost branches of the rata trees. Most of them fired from a lower level than the attackers, and the majority of the Government men shot were hit in the head.
This singular battle in the fog developed rather seriously for Whitmore's force, for man after man fell dead or wounded, while the enemy was invisible. Meanwhile the women and children and the non-combatants of Titokowaru's band were escaping down the wooded ravine to the bank of the Patea, and to give them time to retreat to a place of safety the warriors fought a determined action, with all the odds in their favour, until the fog began to lift. Captain Gascoyne, with No. 1 Division, observed that the pall of vapour was becoming less dense, and suggested to Colonel Whitmore that No. 6 should be advanced on to the somewhat lower ground on the right, which would flank the enemy. This was done, and after a quarter of an hour's further skirmishing and an advance at the double the Hauhau rear-guard withdrew rapidly down through the bush to cover the retreat of their people. St. John's column on the other side of the Patea was not of any use in intercepting the flight of the enemy, who, hearing some volleys fired by the left wing near Otoia, struck off inland, and, as customary, scattered into parties. The Government force lost six men in the engagement, besides twelve wounded. Among the mortally wounded was a young half-caste lad, Arthur Gundry, brother of Captain Gundry of No. 8 Division. The Maori loss was slight. Tu-Patea te Rongo, who fought in the engagement, states that only one Hauhau was shot at Otautu, a man named Muhumuhu, from the Waikato. Kepa, however, overtook and killed two or three of the less swift-footed on the retreat. The fighting-men crossed the river and joined the non-combatants, and, travelling deep into the forest, moved on in the direction of Whakamara, a large settlement of former days some ten miles to the north-west.
The Hauhaus had made a plucky resistance at Otautu, favoured by the fog, to save their women and children. They only relinquished the fight when their ammunition was exhausted. page 296 As for the Armed Constabulary, a veteran non-commissioned officer of No. 2 Division says: “It was splendid to see the way the boys in blue went at it that day. Our recruits by this time were getting well up in their work and were beginning to understand the tactics of bush skirmishing.”
At Whakamara Village, on an open clearing within the bush, near a fortified position, Titokowaru's half-starved followers found many pigs and other food supplies, but were not long left in peace. Whitmore sent out his native contingents scouting, and Kepa on the 16th reported that he had discovered the Hauhaus at Whakamara. Lieut.-Colonel Lyon at once marched direct for the place with about three hundred Constabulary and Maoris, travelling by night across a rough country with numerous deep gorges. Whitmore meanwhile moved round with some mounted men by way of Mokoia, whence a horse-track led to Whakamara. A mounted Hauhau scout, Tutange Waionui, who was riding back along the track for a swag of blankets he had left, discovered the approach of the advance-party through the high fern and galloped off firing his revolver to give the alarm. Titokowaru and his whole force immediately abandoned their camp without attempting a defence. Kimble Bent and some of his companions, “racing like wild pigs before the hunters,” as he described it, made no halt in their flight till they found themselves in an old refuge-place, Rimatoto, near the left bank of the Tangahoe, which here runs in a deep gorge. The main body also presently reached Rimatoto after a severe forced march, with Kepa's force relentlessly on their heels.
The Whakamara pa was built on a narrow neck of high land with a flat in front and in rear and deep gullies on either flank. The Hauhaus were camped on the rear flat near some peachgroves when the attack was delivered. It was to Whakamara that many of the natives retired after their defeat at Te Ngaio (Kakaramea) in 1865, and it was a gathering-place of the Hauhaus in the period 1866–68. Here the expedition under Whitmore found a tall Pai-marire flagstaff, probably the largest pole of worship ever erected by the natives. Tu-Patea te Rongo, of Taumaha, Patea, says:—
Mr. William Wallace, ex-sergeant No. 2 Division Armed Constabulary, says:—
“We cut this niu down when we captured Whakamara in 1869. We had seen the flags flying on it from a great distance off long before the fight. It was the tallest niu mast I have ever seen. It was a great pity, I think, that it was destroyed.”