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The Maori King

Chapter XVIII — The Outbreak of War

page 230

Chapter XVIII
The Outbreak of War

Notwithstanding the uproar in Waikato, so long as a shot had not actually been fired there was hope of averting the threatened war. The excitement had originated with the Governor's military movement on Tataraimaka: it was highly probable that the surrender of Waitara would be sufficient to allay the passions thus aroused, and to induce the Waikatos to undo their rash acts.

The Governor and the Colonial Ministry were still debating the Waitara question at Taranaki, when the messenger, sent by the Maories to Waikato, returned. Rewi's reply was reported to Government, and disbelieved. But its effects soon began to be apparent.

The road traversed by the escorts in conveying supplies to the redoubt at Tataraimaka, crossed over Maori land; and, at a place called Oakura, lay for a considerable distance along the sea-beach. On the night of Sunday, April 26th,1 more than three weeks after Tataraimaka had been occupied, an ambuscade was set by the Ngatiruanui and Taranaki tribes, to watch the beach, and shoot any European who might pass. The plot was discovered by a friendly native, who stationed himself at the Taranaki end of the dangerous passage, to warn European travellers. One officer, at least, owed his life to this man's precaution. It so happened that, during the time the ambuscade was

1 [Gorst was in New Plymouth from 27 April to 3 May, 1863, acting as F. D. Bell's secretary (New Zealand Revisited, p. 46 ff.). He helped to draft some of the ministerial minutes written to Grey at this time.]

page 231 set, no person came from Tataraimaka to the town. At length, at about nine o'clock on Monday morning, a messenger came down from the hills; the ambuscade broke up (no one knows why), and quitted the beach without blood being shed. The friendly native then left his post, went into the town of Taranaki, and told the whole story to the Government, offering to show the trodden ground, and half-extinguished camp-fires, as proofs of the truth of his tale. His account was received with the same incredulity as the report of Rewi's message. The Government had yet a third warning. On the road to Tataraimaka, there was a swampy stream, which drays could hardly cross in summer, and which would be impassable in winter. The military attempted to improve this ford, by throwing stones and gravel into the stream; but the Maories from the hills came down in the night and undid the whole work.

Still the infatuated Government, blind to the need of expedition, continued to debate the Waitara question. At last, the Colonial Ministers, after putting on record their opinions upon the original cause of quarrel at Waitara between Colonel Browne and Wiremu Kingi, and their view of the necessity of a public investigation, concluded, that as the terms on which they held office from the Assembly bound them to second the Governor's policy in native affairs, and as the Governor had the entire control of those British troops, without which no policy whatever could be carried into effect, they would acquiesce in the surrender of Waitara.1 No great haste was used in drawing the proclamation to announce that Waitara was given up, or to make known to the natives, in any other way, the resolution so tardily arrived at.

Before any proclamation was issued, and one week after the former ambuscade, a second was set on the sea-beach, in the same place, and under the same circumstances. On the morning of Monday, May 4th, exactly one month after the military occupation of Tataraimaka, two officers and seven men, marching along the sea-beach towards the town, were shot down by this ambush, and the Taranaki war was re-commenced.

It must be distinctly understood that this slaughter took place

1 [On 30 April they agreed to abandon part of the purchase (AJHR, 1863, E-2, pp. 13-14) and to acquiesce in Grey's decision with regard to the rest. They did not agree to abandon all of it until 4 May, after the Oakura ambush.]

page 232 before, not after, the surrender of Waitara. The act was strictly in accordance with what the Maories had said ever since the suspension of hostilities, two years before. Tataraimaka was held as a material guarantee for Waitara; and they had always declared, that an attempt to take the one without surrendering the other, would be resisted by war. The particular act by which they chose to begin the war must excite universal abhorrence; it was a savage act of savages, and was reprobated by all the better men among the Maories themselves. But the deed, though brutal, was not treacherous. Numerous warnings had been given of the intention to strike a blow: these were, unfortunately and culpably, disregarded by the authorities.

In spite of war having already broken out, the Governor still kept to his purpose of restoring Waitara. A proclamation was accordingly issued, stating that the Government would not proceed with the purchase. The troops were withdrawn from the redoubts at Waitara; and, at the same time, the block-houses which held the intervening native territory, claimed under Hapurona's treaty of peace, were silently surrendered, and the troops marched back within our own frontier. These acts, which, if done a week earlier, might have averted war, now only served to increase the contempt with which the Maories regarded us. A Mataitawa chief said: ‘When Governor Grey heard his men were killed at Oakura, his heart misgave him, and he said, “Now I must give up Waitara.”’ This sentiment was that of all. The conclusion of most persons upon the whole transaction will probably agree with the opinion of two very different men, at opposite ends of the earth.

The Duke of Newcastle says:—

‘It would have been better if the re-occupation of the Tataraimaka block, and the abandonment of the Waitara, had been effected at one and the same time.’1

Renata, a chief of Hawke's Bay, says:—

‘We can see clearly the error of our native tribes in slaying the Pakehas at Tataraimaka; but, at the same time, we cannot lose sight of the error of the Governor in not making known his decision respecting the Waitara at the proper time.’2

1 AJHR, 1863, E-2A.

2 Ibid., E-11. [Renata Tamakihikurangi.]

page 233

No time was lost in ascertaining the view which Waikato took of the Oakura slaughter. Intense excitement still prevailed among the natives of that district. A party of Ngatimaniapoto had set off to Taranaki, before hearing of the actual outbreak, with the design of attacking the troops occupying Waitara, and other Maori land. Rewi, Reihana, and the principal men, had remained behind, in order to create a diversion by descending in canoes to Te Ia, and making a raid against the settlers. To this scheme Patara, Te Paea, and the chiefs of Ngaruawahia, offered a most determined and successful resistance. Wi Tamihana and Ti Oriori openly expressed their entire disapprobation of the proceedings of Rewi and his people, and declared that the Ngatihaua would take no part in the impending conflict. Waikato was rent, for the first time since the Maori King was established, into two factions at open enmity—Ngatihaua and the chiefs of Waikato, on one side, advocating peace; Ngatimaniapoto and a few chiefs of Lower Waikato, on the other, advocating aggressive war.

All the Europeans—missionaries and traders alike—had been compelled to leave the district. The peace party urged and hastened their flight, avowing that, so long as Europeans remained, their Maori friends were in constant dread lest they should be cut off. Their property, as well as their lives, was respected; part was removed, and the rest lay unplundered. The Ngatimaniapoto insisted, however, that all the half-caste children should be seized, as belonging to their race, and carried out their proposal without waiting for the consent of anybody. Several children were thus torn from their European fathers; but I believe all were ultimately recovered, some by stratagem, and others restored by the natives themselves.

The chiefs of the King's Council admitted, that the government which they had attempted to establish had utterly failed. Patara said that it was he who first proposed to send the timber back from Te Kohekohe to Te Ia, but he never expected it would be the prelude to such scenes of violence. The Waikato chiefs, said he, were now ready to propose to the Governor that Waikato should be cut off from all communication with the Europeans until the Maories consented to submit to English law. He thought that the natives throughout the country would be so thoroughly miserable for want of the comforts and help page 234 they had hitherto enjoyed, that they would gladly submit to anything in order to recover them.

Matutaera himself was greatly vexed at all that the Ngatimaniapoto had done. He was particularly offended with their conduct to the missionaries, whom he tried to persuade to return, with the proposal to attack Te Ia, and with their talk of taking him away to live at Hangatiki.

The Ngatihaua had assembled in arms under their chiefs to resist the further progress of Rewi's schemes; while the Lower Waikatos, who abetted him, had gathered together at Rangiriri, and were busily employed in making a great ditch and rampart from the Waikato river to the Waikari lake, to repel the invasion of the Pakeha, which they supposed to be imminent. This was the work recently captured by General Cameron.

The following letter from Patara to Tamati Ngapora at Mangere, gives a good idea of the state of the Waikato district, and the opinion of the moderate or peace-party thereon:—

‘Ngaruawahia, April 27, 1863.

‘To Tamati.

‘Salutations to our brethren, our fathers, and the tribe. Probably the evil tidings of the doings of Ngatimaniapoto, in violently expelling Mr Gorst and trampling on the word of the King, have reached you. The present time is a time of darkness; it is impossible to guide matters aright. The Ngatihaua are leading on a straight road; but the tribes that do right are called “Queenites” by the Ngatimaniapoto; while of those that do wrong, it is said that they belong to the King. At the present time the burden of our affairs is very great. Potatau's words are altogether set at nought, and the word of any common man is by them considered right. They say that by their plans the King will be established: they have not kept one of Potatau's words, nor of his successor's. They say to the Pakehas living among them, whether missionaries or settlers, that if they acknowledge the sovereignty of the King, they will be allowed to remain, but that whoever declares himself a subject of the Queen will be expelled, although the land he lives on may be his own.

‘The Ngatimaniapoto are gone to occupy Waitara under Hikaka, Tikaokao, and many other Ngatimaniapoto chiefs: they have gone to drive away the soldiers who garrison Waitara. page 235 Perhaps the first mischief may not be at Tataraimaka; those at Waitara may be the most hasty to begin the war.

‘Rewi and the Urewara (an East-Coast tribe) have demanded that Te Ia should be given up to them, to do as they may think good. We said, “He must be a mighty magician who will uncover the incantations which have been laid at that place. Peace has been many times made there. Pukehawani1 is laid there. Rather let the other side be the first to leap over.” Te Paea and I were at Kihikihi.


Wi Patara.’

In this state of things, Mr Rogan, officer of the Native Department, was sent, at the risk of his life, with a letter to King Matutaera, detailing the events at Taranaki which had ended in the Oakura massacre, and asking whether, in the opinion of the King, the deed was murder or not. After being several times stopped and searched for concealed weapons, Mr Rogan reached the capital; but was of course not permitted to see the King. It was well known that the etiquette of Matutaera's Court forbad personal communication between the King and a subordinate officer of Government. But though no expression of opinion from the King himself could be procured, the sentiments of Waikato were delivered with great freedom, and were not different from what might have been expected. Rewi and his allies declared, that the deed was no murder, but the righteous recommencement of a just war. Most of the rest reserved their opinions, until they should have heard the Maori story as well as the Governor's, not placing implicit faith in Government statements. There are several technical words in Maori to express ‘killing.’ It was necessary for the natives to consider, whether or not due warning had been given, whether there was a just ground of quarrel, and many other circumstances, before they could determine whether the word ‘kohuru,’ by which we render murder, could be correctly applied to the case. Maories, in estimating guilt, think more of the motives than of the consequences of an act. A man may be ‘murdered’ without being killed at all. I was once ‘murdered’ myself, and was afterwards addressed by my Waikato friends, as—‘Oh,

1 A deity of Maori mythology.

2 [For another translation, see AJHR, 1863, E-1, p. 27.]

page 236 corpse!’ and by other tribes as—‘You food of Waikato.’ Wiremu Tamihana, and a few others, had made up their minds before-hand, and boldly declared the act was murder. But Tamihana's views of international law were much less civilized than Rewi's. Nothing could, in the opinion of the former, justify the seizure of a ‘material guarantee.’ It was wrong, he thought, for the Governor to hold Waitara and other portions of native territory; but the wrong done by the Governor, did not justify the Maories in retaining Tataraimaka. The opposition to Sir George Grey's occupation was unjust, and the slaughter by which it was manifested was a ‘murder.’

A great meeting took place at Rangiaowhia, to determine what part Waikato should take in the new Taranaki war. The first speaker was Wi Tamihana, who, after condemning, in the strongest terms, the whole of those proceedings of Rewi which had led to war, declared his opinion, that the Maories were in the wrong, and announced that the Ngatihaua would take no part in the war. As soon as he sat down, Rewi rose, and, without speaking, thrust out his tongue, and made horrible grimaces at the rival chief. Tamihana asked what this meant. ‘It means,’ replied Rewi, ‘that I shall go.’ Where?’ ‘Right on into the mouths of the Governor's cannon.’ He was asked if he paid no regard to the words of the King. ‘I care nothing,’ he said, ‘about your King. I have anointed my sword and my spear to be kings over me.’

The Ngatimaniapoto, however, although bent on war, did not go to Taranaki: they wished for war in Waikato, and they were urgent for an attack upon Te Ia, upon the English villages at Mauku, Drury, and Papakura, and even upon the town of Auckland itself. Nothing but the firm opposition of Wi Tamihana and others to this design prevented its execution in May or the beginning of June, when the bulk of the British troops were engaged at Taranaki, and Auckland lay comparatively defenceless. Rewi, seeing that war was inevitable, wished to strike at an advantage; Tamihana refused to stir until he could fight in a righteous cause. The latter, indeed, carried his opposition to the war-party to such a length, that he went down the river to visit Waata Kukutai, the principal Queen's magistrate, and said that the time was now come when all who desired order and laws must join together to oppose the violence of men like page 237 Rewi. The members of the Government, however, in Auckland did not like Tamihana. Few Europeans knew him personally, and it was the fashion to believe him insincere. No encouragement was on this occasion held out to him, nor were any negotiations entered into.

But while leaving Tamihana to struggle unaided against the flood of confusion which the acts of Government had let loose, the authorities were busily employed in preparation for the general war, which was now believed by every one but Tamihana and his friends to be inevitable.

When the station at Te Awamutu was abandoned, a few of the boys, chiefly the younger ones, with two native teachers, remained in the house. Two young men returned to their native homes. The rest went to Auckland, on the promise that, being faithful to Government, they should receive the same benefits as at Te Awamutu. The promise thus made was confirmed by the Governor, who announced his intention of settling the whole establishment at some place in Lower Waikato, where it could be maintained against any further assault, and where the number already under training could be at once reinforced by the young men attached to Waata Kukutai and Wiremu Te Wheoro: these had been awaiting the building of the police-barrack at Te Kohekohe, and the fear of Ngatimaniapoto had deterred them from placing themselves meanwhile at Te Awamutu. The intentions thus expressed had been told to those most nearly affected by them; and the scheme would have been immediately put in execution, had not the tragedy at Oakura prevented Sir George Grey—who wished to superintend the new plan in person—from returning immediately to Auckland.

During this unavoidable delay, a different scheme, which had the effect of making the former no longer possible, was devised and carried into effect by one of the Colonial Ministers, who, while the heads of Government were at Taranaki, was administering affairs in Auckland.

Hona, of Kahumatuku, was directed by Government to leave his village, and settle on a block of Crown land, near Cameron Town, on the Lower Waikato. Te Wheoro, with all his adherents, left Te Kohekohe, and commenced building a Pa, in native fashion, on the slopes of the hills above Te la. Waata Kukutai and the Ngatitipa tribe established themselves in Pas at the page 238 same place. The two principal chiefs had their salaries raised from £50 to £150 per annum, as a testimony to their loyalty, and the inferiors had presents and pensions distributed amongst them. They all wore yellow leather caps, to distinguish them from their disloyal countrymen. The tools for constructing the Pas, and the food for the working parties, were supplied at the Government expense.

These men were under no orders except those of the distant officials in Auckland, and no attempt whatever was made to reduce them to a state of discipline and obedience. Te Wheoro and Kukutai were, no doubt, perfectly faithful and trustworthy, but neither they nor any one else had the least control over their followers. All were in constant communication with their friends and kinsmen of the King-party, and any person who felt affronted, deserted with the greatest readiness.

Although this measure was wholly ineffective as an attempt to raise a corps of Maories for service as soldiers or police, it had a most important and significant meaning in the eyes of the King-party. Unmistakeable signs now met their eyes, as they went to and fro along the road between Auckland and Waikato, which put an end to all their doubts as to the ultimate purposes of the Government. The soldiers, the military road, the redoubts, the electric telegraph recently constructed from Auckland to the depôt camp at Otahuhu, and being still extended thence to Drury, and lastly, the Pas of Te Wheoro and Ngatitipa—all convinced them that, as they expressed it,—‘The evil day was at hand.’