The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1 (April 1, 1940)
Von Tempsky — And The Forest Rangers — The War Correspondent
[Copyright—All Rights Reserved]
Part III. At the “Travellers’ Rest”
Major William Jackson, M.H.R. Major Jackson's first military service was the command of the Forest Rangers, In 1863, with the rank of Lieutenant. After the Waikato War, he commanded the Waikato Cavalry. He became M.H.R. for Waipa, and in 1889, when on his way to attend Parliament he was lost overboard from the s.s. “Wanaka,” between Onehnnga and New Plymouth.
On his news-hunting rides from Drury to the military posts in the district in the winter of 1863, Von Tempsky frequently called at a solitary house on the edge of the bush, between Papakura and Wairoa. This was a farmhouse and roadside inn combined; it was a halfway house on the dangerous road to Wairoa (now the township of Clevedon), and it was called the Travellers’ Rest. All the other settlers had left their homes in that part of the frontier, for there was always fear of attack from the dense bush that extended to the Hunua and far over the ranges. But sturdy squarebuilt John Smith—“Old Smith” he was popularly called—laughed at all the injunctions of the Army patrol officers that he should lock up the place and take his family to Auckland. “What! Clear out? Not me!” he said. “I'll hold my castle against all the Maoris in creation.”
His resolute, self-reliant spirit was shared by his family. His cheerful wife, his three big sons and his three daughters, with a man servant, were the garrison of the Travellers’ Rest. They were armed with half-a-dozen rifles, two double-barrel guns and a good supply of ammunition. Old Smith made his house bullet-proof by strengthening it inside with seven-feet-high sawn timbers and slabs, and by cutting loopholes on all flanks. The stables were well-covered by loophole fire. Smith had been a sailor, and Von Tempsky soon discovered that he had been in California also, trying his fortune on the diggings; that rough school of adventure always seemed to have developed to the full a spirit of independence in those who breathed its heady air. Thick through of chest and shoulders, firm-set as a rock, resolute of air, this bushy-bearded borderer looked just the man to make a stout fight for his rights. Von Tempsky liked him at first sight, and his talks with him increased his admiration for this first-rate specimen of a frontier settler.
Here under the hospitable shingled roof of the Travellers' Rest he met for the first time the young officer in command of the first corps of Forest Rangers, enrolled as the result of the attractive invitation to arms in the “Southern Cross.” Lieutenant William Jackson—we were to know him well in after-years as Major Jackson, commanding the Waikato Cavalry Volunteers—had chosen Smith's inn as his headquarters on account of its contiguity to the great Hunua Bush, the hunting and hiding place of the war parties. There was good dry barn accommodation for Jackson's fifty lively Rangers; and old Smith was very willing to receive the company of carbineers in his quarters. He now reaped the benefit of his courage and self-reliance in the form of protection and profit.
Jackson, presently to be promoted from Lieutenant to Captain, had been selected by the military heads to command the bush corps formed by way of experiment at first, to scout the bush on the flanks of the Great South Road, and especially to chase the native defenders out of the Hunua Ranges. A difficult task, still a persistent plan of campaign on those lines would at any rate keep the main military road free from ambushes and sudden volleys from the gloomy bush. The young commander was the right man for the rough work. He was a Yorkshireman whose family had taken up bush sections between Papakura and the Hunua and his labours in bush-clearing and pioneer farming had toughened his frame and developed his powers of endurance. He was one of those backblocks men who could trudge all day under a heavy swag. He had had no military training, but hard experience was presently to supply that need.
Jackson and His Rangers.
It was Old Smith's wife who introduced Von Tempsky to Jackson in the big living-room of the Travellers' Rest. The two borderers quietly appraised each other. A contrast, that pair, who presently were to share in many an adventure together. Jackson, young John Bull even to the short muttonchop whiskers; Von Tempsky, swarthy, lean, a glint of fierceness in his dark eyes, a suggestion of the Magyar and gipsy in his cast of features.
* * *
“I see you're interested in my fellows, Mister Tempsky,” said Lieutenant Jackson one day, as he and the soldier-correspondent sat at lunch in the Travellers' Rest. “How would you like to come with us for a bush expedition? I'm taking the company for a scout through the Hunua bush towards Paparata. Do you think you could stand the walk? It'll be hard going, I warn you, but it'll be a bit of active service experience for you.”
This was exactly what Von Tempsky had been waiting for with hardly suppressed eagerness. He was secretly amused at Jackson's apparently poor estimate of his bush-tramping powers. If the young Forest Ranger officer had only known of his acquaintance's campaigning and roughing it in many climes, he would scarcely have adopted so patronising a tone. However, Von Tempsky was content to let that pass. He chuckled inwardly at the thought that Jackson would discover before very long that he was entertaining unawares a practised soldier of bush experience far greater than his own.
“I'll be delighted, sir,” he replied. “It certainly will be an experience, and I shall, I hope, have something of interest to send to my paper.”
“I can promise you that, old man,” said Jackson. “I think I know where we can fall in with some of those jokers who've been laying ambushes and raiding the Wairoa farms. My Rangers will give a good account of themselves, I warrant you, if ever we pick up the Maori tracks.”
So it was arranged. Von Tempsky was to ride in from Drury two days later and accompany the Rangers when they set out at daylight next morning. Joyfully he promised timely attendance. He came in just before dark and dined with Jackson and his wife and his fellow-officer, young Ensign McGregor Hay, the stalwart son of a pioneer settler near Papakura. Von Tempsky learned that Hay* was a law student who preferred for the present the war path. The men talked with eager anticipation of the morrow, but the subdued presence of Mrs. Jackson gave the party a rather pathetic touch. She had been married only a few months, and she had before her always the fear of a Maori bullet or a tomahawk blade for her venturesome husband.
A Bush-Scouting Expedition.
The night fog still blanketed the valleys and ranges when the fifty Forest Rangers fell in in front of the Travellers' Rest. Jackson inspected his men, armed with their breechloading carbines and their Colt revolvers; saw that each man had his fifty rounds of Terry ammunition in his pouches, his revolver cartridges also, and three days’ rations in his haversack.
The mists were thinning and the sun shone out soon after the order to march was given. The Rangers took the track with the zest of schoolboys bound on a holiday tramp and Von Tempsky's heart leaped at the thought that here at last he was on the warpath again.
He was content to follow at the tail of the single-file for a while. He carried his Mexican sword, his revolver was at his belt. There was no sound of bugle, no tap of drum; those inspiriting soldier sounds were not for a bush-scouting party.
About noon Jackson called a halt. The party had emerged from the narrow track under the twilight shade of heavy timber on to a long cleared opening with felled and partly-burned trees still blackening the newly-grassed level.
“Buckland's Clearing,” explained Jackson when Von Tempsky joined him. “We'll have a bite of tucker and then get along in that direction.” He pointed to the south, where the dense forest went up in waves of green and blue to high ranges.
“Paparata lies somewhere yonder, no one knows exactly how far. It's a regular nest of Maoris, I believe, and fortified. We'll have a shot at finding it anyhow, and try the quality of our carbines if we have any luck. Besides, we may fall in with scouting parties any time.”
After half-an-hour's rest the Rangers, refreshed with a tot of rum from their leather-cased bottles and with their thick sandwiches from Mrs. Smith's kitchen, stood to arms again and continued the silent march. Von Tempsky now went with Jackson to the head of the company; young Ensign Hay took the rearguard duty, with Jackson's trusty sergeant, Southee. Now the track disappeared entirely in high fern, where it was difficult to break a way. Von Tempsky slashed at it with his sword but soon found that his companion's method was the best—treading it down by sheer weight. Exhausting labour. Both he and Jackson were glad to give place to reliefs from the single-file party.
In the Unknown Forest.
“Take it easy, Mister,” said Jackson. “You'll knock up, and we'll have to carry you.”
“I'll have to be a very dead man, sir, before you put me on a bush stretcher,” said Von Tempsky, laughing. “I'm enjoying this; it's glorious! Everyone of these tanglefoots is a Maori to me. Off mit his head.”
The light faded in the bushy depths, where the human pigmies were struggling along like so many insects in high grass. Presently it began to rain. The country grew wilder. The small gullies that gave trouble out of all proportion to their size became deeper and steeper; they were ravines now, and the heavily laden Rangers made heavy work of it, clambering down into and out of the jungle-wooded depths. The clouds hung low on the ranges; the ground was more and more uncertain. All around became a dim chaos of tree-trunks and branches and dark-leaf curtains.
“Enough for to-day,” said Jackson. “We'll get some water and then camp.” A gleam of a half-hidden stream and the murmur of a waterfall in a gully were welcome to the tired thirsty men.
The Rangers descended to the creek, and drank their fill of the water; filled too the billies—they called them quart-pots in those days—and encamped on a narrow bit of level ground on the other side of the brook. But no camp-fires were lit. This was enemy country. Each man looked to himself, chose his tree, unrolled his blankets, and tucked himself into them.
Jackson and Hay stationed sentries for the first watch of the night; they were to be relieved every two hours.
Von Tempsky and the two officers made their night quarters underneath a big rata with a root-buttressed hollow where some old boar had made its lair. The Rangers ate some army biscuit and the remains of their lunch sandwiches. No hot drink for them, but at any rate they could smoke, and with his pipe going well the “paper-man,” as Jackson and Hay called their companion, felt quite comfortable and sleepy.
Von Tempsky remarked on the safety and comfort of the New Zealand bush as a camping-ground.
“Now, if we were in America or Australia,” he said, “we'd have beaten all about these ferns and bushes and hollow trees for snakes. It's as much as your life is worth to lie down there without clearing the ground first. And even then you'd as likely as not find a poisonous bedmate in the blankets with you in the morning.”
A rainy night, and no fire. But the Rangers slept well.
* * *
Next day was colder and wetter. The little corps penetrated far into the trackless forest. Dark gorges of the wildest character, with veils of mist trailing along the precipice sides, opened up at their feet. No Maori trails there. About four o'clock in the afternoon Jackson halted for the night. Thoroughly drenched, the men built rough shelters of ponga fern-trees and nikau palm leaves and requested permission to light fires to dry their clothes to some extent and warm themselves.
Jackson, Hay and Von Tempsky held a little council of war. It was decided that fires might be lit as soon as darkness had set in fully. They were, however, to be extinguished two hours before daylight.
Von Tempsky and his friends stretched their feet towards their own small blaze, and contemplated through their tobacco smoke the camp scene before them—a perfect picture of a brigand band's bivouac — and the prospect of dry socks in the morning. The rough huts or wharau, run up in a few minutes, kept out the rain quite well; the long leaves of the nikau are the readiest and best of bush-roof material. So all were in comparative comfort that night on the scouting trail—all except the sentries during their hours on watch. But, as Jackson remarked, eight shillings a day and the honour of being a Forest Ranger must be paid for in some way.
* William McGregor Hay became a barrister and solicitor, and after the war practised for many years in Hamilton.