The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
A GREAT BUSH CHASE
A GREAT BUSH CHASE
The forest chase from Whakamara terminating near Taiporohenui was the most arduous duty of the whole campaign. The pursuing column was commanded by Major Kepa; it was the first time in the history of the wars that European officers and men volunteered to serve under a Maori officer. Kepa's reputation for skill, energy, and bravery was so high that the pakeha troops willingly offered for the service when volunteers were required for the flying column. Kepa's force was about two hundred and fifty strong, consisting of his Wanganui Contingent, the Arawa-Ngapuhi Corps (No. 8 Division Armed Constabulary), under Captain Porter, and sixty white Armed Constabulary of various divisions under Captains H. W. Northcroft and Watt. Sergeant Mailing and eight scouts of the Corps of Guides accompanied the column. The advance-guard numbered twenty-five Maoris, some of whom were Wanganui and some Arawa, with Porter and native officers. The noted bushman and scout Tom Adamson marched with the advance.
On the afternoon of the first day's chase (18th March) the Hauhau rear-guard laid an ambush for the pursuers in a deep, densely wooded gorge. The concealed enemy let the advance-guard pass through and opened fire from both sides on the main body of the Armed Constabulary and the Wanganui Contingent. Kepa and his men, however, attacked swiftly and determinedly, and the advance-guard turning about, the Hauhaus were taken in flank and dispersed. They retreated so quickly after delivering their fire that only one was killed. This was the last attempt at resistance made by Titokowaru's followers.
The country traversed, trackless and densely wooded, was dissected with many gullies and gorges, one of which was many hundreds of feet in depth. This great ravine was encountered when the foremost pursuers, including Captain Northcroft and the most active of his bushmen-soldiers, were close upon their foes. It was so narrow that the rifles were sighted for only 200 yards when the Constabulary were firing at the Maori rearguard laboriously climbing up the opposite side. The force had to descend to the bottom of this defile, through which a small stream ran, and the traverse was so difficult that it took the men from noon—the hour when they were engaging the enemy across the gulch—until 8 o'clock at night to reach the top of the cliff on the other side. The two forces camped that night only about three-quarters of a mile from each other.
Captain H. W. Northcroft, N.Z.C.
Captain Northcroft began his military career at the age of sixteen years as a guide to the Imperial troops in Taranaki in 1860. He gained a commission in 1864, and served throughout the Maori campaigns with great distinction. He was awarded the New Zealand Cross in recognition of repeated acts of bravery, particularly his devotion to mortally wounded comrades at Pungarehu and Tirotiro-moana, Taranaki, in 1866. (See page 149 and Appendices.) For many years after the wars he was a Stipendiary Magistrate, and after his retirement from the Bench he was for some time New Zealand Government Resident at Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
A veteran of the Arawa section of the advance-guard, Pirika Hohepa, of Rotorua, thus described some of the incidents in the bush pursuit:—
“The force to which I belonged, the Arawa and Ngapuhi Division of the Armed Constabulary, was always called upon to lead the column in any dangerous work in the bush, and it became a saying among us that although we were Number Eight Division on parade we were always Number One when we were moving into action against the enemy. Before we started out on the forest chase there was a meeting of the Arawa committee in a wharepuni at Whakamara, and at this council it was stated that Colonel Whitmore had given direction to decapitate all prisoners taken and bring in the heads. [This, of course, was a misconstruction of Whitmore's statement.] We followed the fugitives through the forest. On the top of a hill we came suddenly upon a man and two women and some children resting. When the man saw us he ran and crouched down between the two root-buttresses of a pukatea tree. One of our Maoris shot him and he fell. A European [Tom Adamson, Major Kemp's pakeha-Maori] rushed forward, and, lifting up the fallen man's head, he stretched the neck across one of the root-flanges of the tree, and snatching out a short-handled tomahawk from his belt just behind his right hip he chopped the Hauhau's head off. This was not fair to the man who shot the Maori; the European bushman, however, kept the head, and actually obtained a reward for it from the Colonel. The Maori thus killed and beheaded was Matangi-o-Rupe, a chief of the Ngati-Ruanui. Further along the forest-track one of our Government Maoris shot and decapitated Pinoka, another Taranaki warrior. Those were the only rebel heads I actually saw taken on that expedition, but other Maoris, I know, were killed and beheaded.
“The heads of the slain Hauhaus were dried and preserved in the olden Maori fashion, and I shall describe to you what I saw. It was the Ngati-Hau, the Wanganui tribe, who carried out this page 301 process; we Arawa did not take part, but we crowded round to watch the tohunga, or expert, at his work. The tohunga who carried out the process of pakipaki-upoko was an old man named Teoti, from the high country near Tongariro. He had dug a hole in the ground and in it made an oven (hangi) with stones on which he placed wood. When the wood was mostly consumed he raked the burning sticks away and left the red-hot stones. Above this glowing oven the head was placed on the end of a stick, and flax mats and other garments were heaped closely over all to retain the heat. From time to time the old man removed the coverings to smooth the skin down and wipe off the moisture. The intense heat made the skin very white (kiritea), like the complexion of a European, and this showed up the tattoo-lines prominently. The process was repeated with the other heads, and old Teoti really made a very good job of it!”
The column divided when Titokowaru's followers were found to have scattered into small parties and the pursuers' food-supplies were exhausted, and the Constabulary and Kepa's division marched independently for the open country, finally emerging near Taiporohenui. Colonel Whitmore had encamped at that place, and the officers reported their operations in the forest and the final dispersal of the Hauhaus. The Wanganui warriors and two of the white bushmen, Tom Adamson and Donald Sutherland, brought in their flax kits of heads. Eleven Hauhaus had been decapitated, and the Maoris came up in a body to Whitmore's tent and poured in head after head on the floor, to the amazement of the Colonel, who had forgotten all about his promise of a reward, and who, in any case, had not intended his words to be interpreted so literally. “Na, Witimoa, to upoko!” (“There, Whitmore, are your heads!”) exclaimed the hunters of men as they turned out their ghastly trophies of the chase. The Europeans did not deliver their heads in such unceremonious fashion; nevertheless, a tally was kept and all were paid for, mostly in orders for clothes and other necessaries. Whitmore at once issued orders that no more heads must be taken. However, the Wanganui men did not get another chance.
In a note on these incidents of the chase Captain Christopher Maling, who in 1869 was sergeant in charge of the Corps of Guides, wrote: “The whole matter of the head-hunting was due to a misunderstanding on Major Kepa's part. I was present when the heads were brought in to Colonel Whitmore. We had just arrived, having come by a different track to that taken by Kepa, and I was telling the Colonel about the barbarity of the thing. He told me that he had never authorized anything of the sort. He said he had told Kepa that the Governor had authorized a reward of £1000 for the capture of Titokowaru, and that he page 302 would recommend a reward of a small sum for prisoners captured. This was for the purpose of getting information, as the Hauhaus were breaking away in hapus and it was desirable to find out their various destinations. He was perfectly amazed when he saw those heads brought in.”