The War in New Zealand.
The Tauranga Campaign undertaken at request of General Cameron—Reasons for—Condition of Natives there—Unfortunate Repulse of our Troops at the Gate Pah—Successful affair at Te Ranga—Submission of Tauranga Natives.
With the evacuation of Maungatautari may be said to have ended the campaign in Waikato Proper. As the General had advanced he had left military posts behind him at intervals, so that the whole district from Auckland was now effectually held by our forces. Several of these posts were occupied by the Volunteer Settlers, who had been enlisted on terms which entitled them to grants of land, and who were now placed in partial possession of these allotments.
In recording the events of the Waikato campaign, I have so far confined myself entirely to a relation of the principal sieges (if they may be so page 107called) and engagements on the main line of operations. It would have been impossible, within any reasonable limits, to record all the skirmishes, the attacks on escorts or redoubts, the demolitions of homesteads, isolated murders of old men, women, and children, which occurred, chiefly in the rear of our forces, and to within 17 miles of the town of Auckland, during the first four months of hostilities. Some of the skirmishes were very gallant affairs, and well deserve to be recorded in detail, if it could have been done. But to have done so would only have distracted the attention of the reader from that main line of operations by which the rebels were driven back from their attempted invasion, and the country occupied.
* C. P. P. 1864, E. No. 2, pp. 13, 14.
* C. P. P. 1864, E. No. 2, p. 7.
For some weeks nothing material occurred. The troops were stationed on a block of land at Te Papa, belonging to the Church Missionary Society, and the few natives who had not gone to Waikato, from that side of the harbour, affected to be friendly. The temper of some of the tribes down the east coast was, however, said to be unfavourable, and the Ngatiporo and Ngatiawa were said to be preparing a force of 2,000 men to assist in any hostilities that might occur. They were kept in check by the friendly Arawa, at Maketu, about 16 miles from Tauranga, and at Matata about the same distance further south; strengthened at both places by small detachments of our troops. After the fall of Orakau, and evacuation of Maungatautari, at the page 111end of March, the Tauranga natives, accompanied by parties of Waikato, returned home, and began to threaten Colonel Greer's position at Te Papa. He asked General Cameron for reinforcements, which were sent, and the General himself moved his head-quarters to Tauranga.
On the 27th of April he reconnoitred the position of the rebels, where they had entrenched themselves at a distance of about three miles from Te Papa. Their defences were of the usual earth-work type, constructed on a neck of land which fell off into a swamp on either side. On the highest point of this neck, about fifty feet by a very gradual rise from the approach in front and rear, the Maories had constructed an oblong redoubt, about seventy yards wide by thirty deep, well palisaded and surrounded by a post and rail fence. The intervals between the side faces of the redoubt and the swamps were defended by lines of rifle-pits. The rifle-pits of the main redoubt were in three zigzag tiers, roofed with wattles and thatched with fern, and the eaves of the roofs so raised as to enable the garrison to fire out on their assailants. In some cases the page 112roofs were covered with earth. So long therefore as the assailants were before the works the defenders had everything in their favour; but when once the assailants should get inside, they had the advantage, because standing on the parapets and roofs of the inner trenches, the defenders could not show themselves without being exposed to the fire and bayonets of those above them. In fact the pah was a trap, in which, with ordinary precaution and courage, the rebels might have been taken to a man.
The number of natives in the works is believed not to have exceeded 300. The survivors asserted that their force was not more than 150. They were entirely without artillery, and there was no water in the pah. Our force consisted of 16 field officers, 20 captains, 35 subalterns, 8 staff, 94 sergeants, 42 drummers, and 1,480 rank and file. In fact the officers alone of our force amounted to nearly four-fifths of the entire strength of the enemy, while our total force (1,695) was at least five times as large as theirs. Besides these we had a battery of artillery, consisting of one 110-pr. Armstrong page 113gun, two 40-pr. Armstrongs, two 6-pr. Armstrongs, two 24-pr. howitzers, two 8-inch mortars and 6 cohorn mortars. Perhaps to this 'embarras de richesses' may be attributed the disastrous result which followed.
By able dispositions the pah was completely surrounded after dark on the evening of the 27th, the General remaining with his troops on the ground all night. The 68th Regiment had been cleverly manœuvred past the pah, and prevented escape from the rear. Detachments of the 43rd and 70th, and 371 men of the naval brigade, were placed in front. The Artillery was planted in four batteries at distances varying from 800 to 100 yards from the works. At 6.30 A.M. on the morning of the 28th February the. natives fired a volley at our skirmishers, and fire opened simultaneously from our four batteries. For the first two hours our fire was directed mainly at a flagstaff which was supposed to be in the redoubt, but which the natives, with their usual cunning, and trusting no doubt to our usual deficiency of that quality, had placed outside the pah 100 yards in the rear. This ruse, however, seems to have been page 114at last discovered, and a fire of shot and shell was poured into the redoubt, which, as I heard it said by one who was present, would "have smothered Sebastopol." Much of the fire, however, from the Armstrongs was extremely wild, and the huge 110-pr. and 40-pr. shells went booming and whizzing over the works for a distance of from 1,000 to 2,000 yards. When riding some months afterwards I saw many of them lying about unexploded.
During all this time, except twice at long intervals, the natives never fired a shot. Now and again a man would be seen shovelling up earth to repair a breach, and once a man hung up a blanket across the inner palisading where damaged by our fire. Imagine the position of the Maories lying still in their grass-roofed and wattled burrows excavated in the banks of their rifle-pits, listening hour after hour to the roar of the big guns and the hurtling sound of the projectiles, feeling the terrible concussions of the shells as they struck close by or just over them, or scattered in fragments and carrying death among them, with the certain conviction that page 115before night they would be assailed by the bayonets of an overwhelming force of trained soldiers. It must have required something more than a dogged disregard of death in untutored men, to enable them patiently to await their apparently inevitable end, amidst such a terrible scene.
* Despatches, C. P. P. 1864, E. 3, p. 60. Southern Cross Supplement for May, and private information of spectators.
The criticism of the colonists on this affair was that from the position of the pah, the facility and completeness with which it was surrounded by an overwhelming force, and the all-important fact that it contained no water, the rebels might easily have been forced into surrender, or compelled to fight outside. We ventured to imagine also that it could scarcely be consistent with the rules of military science to compose the assaulting column of two such discrepant branches of the service as an infantry regiment and a naval brigade, particularly when we had an ample force of one branch in the field. Rumour does allege that the final disaster was owing to a want of discipline on the part of one of the forces employed, and some stiff correspondence is said to have passed between officers of the two services on the subject, which, of course, however, has not been allowed to become an official record. This criticism received support by an event which happened shortly afterwards when the 43rd Regiment retrieved its character in the attack on Te page 119Ranga, an entrenchment in course of construction about three miles inland of the Gate pah. This occurred on the 21st June. Lieutenant-Colonel Greer, who had been left in command at Tauranga, hearing early in the morning that the rebels were entrenching themselves at Te Ranga, in a position almost exactly similar to that which they had occupied at the Gate pah, resolved on dislodging them before they had completed their works. He took with him a detachment of the 43rd and 68th regulars and 1st Waikato Regiment, and a small corps of colonial cavalry; and after a few enfilading rounds from a big gun, he ordered an assault, which was most gallantly effected with the bayonet, the 43rd leading, closely followed by the other detachments. The natives were caught in the trenches, and a hand-to-hand fight ensued; while those of the rebels who fled were followed and cut up by the cavalry. The engagement only lasted a few minutes. 109 dead bodies of the enemy were picked up and buried on the spot; 19 wounded rebels (of whom 12 died of their wounds), and 11 unhurt, were taken page 120prisoners. Our loss was only 8 killed and 39 wounded.*
* Despatches, C. P. P. 1864, E. 3, p. 76.
* I cannot refrain from noting the account of the Tauranga campaign given in a recent number of the Church Missionary Record, December, 1865, p. 389. "The war having exhausted itself in Waikato, now reached the eastern districts. The land of the natives was confiscated at Tauranga. They flew to arms, and sanguinary collisions ensued. The exasperation of the natives being extreme, very many of them cast off their Christianity, and embraced the Hau fanaticism, which promised speedy victory and vengeance on the Europeans. The first disastrous result was the murder of Mr. Volkner at Opotiki." This paragraph contains five statements, every one of which is untrue. 1. The war began on the east coast, while that in Waikato was at its height. 2. No confiscation whatever had either been made or talked of at Tauranga, and none was ever effected there till the campaign was entirely over. 3. The Maories who "rushed to arms" in consequence of this imaginary confiscation, had been already in arms, and fighting with the Queen's troops in Waikato, for many months before hostilities commenced at Tauranga. 4. The Hau Hau fanaticism did not commence its career at Taranaki till the war at Tauranga was nearly over; and when the survivors at the latter place submitted, it had not even reached them. 6. Mr. Volkner was not murdered by Tauranga natives, but by entirely distinct tribes, who had nothing to do with the Tauranga campaign, and who lived sixty or seventy miles off. The event happened nearly a year after the Tauranga affair.
The general effect, I fear the intent, of the paragraph is to create sympathy for the natives as a people forced into rebellion by the confiscation of their lands, and to excite a prejudice against the Colonial Government. It is not creditable to a respectable society like the Church Missionary Society, to circulate such misstatements, which are given in the narrative portion of their periodical with all the weight of editorial authority.