The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)
THE RETREAT TO TE NGAERE AND THE WAITARA
THE RETREAT TO TE NGAERE AND THE WAITARA
Titokowaru's power was finally broken. He never fought again; and no doubt the ruthless methods of Kepa's men struck terror into the hearts of his people. He was without food and ammunition, and some women who were taken prisoner on the bush chase described the sore straits to which the fugitives had been reduced. One woman had died from exhaustion on the flight from Whakamara, and her body was concealed in a hollow rata tree. [The skeleton was found there long after the war.] The women prisoners gave the information that Titokowaru was retreating on the Ngaere, the great swamp in the heart of the forest country eastward of the Whakaahurangi track leading from Ketemarae to North Taranaki. Whitmore consulted Kepa regarding the line of pursuit, and on his advice moved the force on across the open country to Keteonetea and entered the bush at that point, crossing the Mangemange Stream and marching on the Ngaere by way of Tirotiro-moana.
It was seen, on reaching the edge of the far-stretching morass, that Titokowaru's reported refuge was secure from any sudden attack and was very difficult to reach. The Maori camp, a sanctuary of old for the Ngati-Tupaea and other tribes in time of war was on a long peninsula, practically an island, extending into the middle of the deepest part of the raupo and flax fenland. Whitmore's advanced force, cautiously reconnoitring the swamp under cover of the bush along its edge, found that at the narrowest part a quarter of a mile or more of quaking and treacherous bog, threaded by a deep sluggish stream—the source of the Mangemange River, which flows into the Tangahoe near Otapawa—separated the mainland from the islanded village in the centre of the swamp.
Whitmore keeping his men carefully concealed from the view of the enemy, set the force to work making fascine hurdles, formed of long saplings and cross-pieces interlaced with supplejack and aka vines, for the purpose of crossing the swamp near a point where there was a large eel-weir. The troops were enjoined to keep as silent as possible; no fires were permitted to be lighted by day and only very small ones at night under cover of the forest. The Maoris could be heard speaking and shouting in the kainga, unsuspicious of their enemy's presence.page 303
By the night of the 24th March all was ready for the crossing. Fifty light-going Wanganui and Arawa Maoris were sent across first, and the force then quietly laid the fascines in a line over the swamp, and all crossed the quivering bog in safety and silence before daylight in the morning. Leaving Lieut-Colonel Lyon with some of the Constabulary to hold the bridge-head and cover the retreat in case of need, Colonel Whitmore pushed on through the belt of bush between the swamp and the Maori kainga. The surprise would have been complete and Titokowaru and seventy of his men who were in the camp would have been compelled to fight or to surrender, but at the moment when an attack was about to be made the advance was observed by some of the natives, and several called a welcome to the troops, while to Whitmore's annoyance and embarrassment, two Wanganui friendly chiefs and Mr. Booth, R.M., were discovered among the people of the village. Mr. Booth had called on the people to surrender, and his unnecessary intervention and the duplicity of some of the Wanganui men saved Titokowaru. While Whitmore was vainly endeavouring to discover the truth from the natives, who declared that the Hauhau leader had left the kainga three days previously, scores of men, women, and children were seen escaping into the bush and the swamp on the other side of the settlement clearing. As it was thought these were neutrals, no order to fire was given. Too late it was discovered that Titokowaru and most of his warriors had once more eluded the Government force.
A pursuit was ordered, but the Hauhaus had a long start, and it was impossible to overtake them. They retreated northward at their utmost speed, and, abandoning their own district altogether, travelled through the almost trackless forests and over the ranges to the Upper Waitara. There Titokowaru found secure sanctuary at last in the territory of the Ngati-Maru tribe. He established himself at the Kawau pa, on a long tongue of level land with steep banks in a sweeping bend of the Waitara. At the Kawau and other kaingas in its neighbourhood he remained until the year 1875, when part of the Ngati-Maru country was purchased by the Government. Kimble Bent and about forty other fugitives had broken off from the main body after the operations at Whakamara and had found shelter in the depths of the forest at Ruku-moana, on the Upper Patea. There they remained until they heard that the dreaded Kepa and his Wanganui head-hunters were still scouring the forests, and with the utmost caution they set out for the Ngati-Maru territory. The journey occupied two days; the country traversed was the wildest and most broken part of Taranaki. They did not dare to light a fire on the march, and wherever possible they walked in running water in order to conceal their trail.page 304
Colonel Whitmore, after the fiasco at Te Ngaere, considered it unnecessary to trouble much further about Titokowaru, whose power for rebellion was definitely broken. A company of Ngati-Porou natives had arrived from the East Coast, and these he left at Waihi Redoubt to patrol the country and intercept any parties attempting to return.
Lieut.-Colonel Lyon was given command of the South Taranaki district, with headquarters at Patea. Taking most of the Constabulary, Whitmore then transferred his activities to the Bay of Plenty. One column under Lieut.-Colonel St. John marched to New Plymouth by way of the Whakaahurangi track, on the east side of Mount Egmont, the route traversed by General Chute in 1866. The left wing marched to Opunake and embarked in the Government steamer “Sturt” for Onehunga via Waitara, the S.S. “St. Kilda” taking the other part of the force.