A Sketch of the New Zealand War
Peach-Groves and Thistles XI
On receipt of information that the Maori had deserted their pa, and were digging potatoes and collecting peaches in a small but beautiful valley, we determined to surprise them. In order to do so, we started off two hours before the break of day, about 1,000 of us, with as much clatter and noise as if we were going to market. Having marched for miles through tangled fern, we arrived at a slope of ground fringed with forest. A halt was called, and our guide and interpreter was sent for. Colonel Carey questioned the interpreter in my hearing. "Yes, there are the peach-groves," he said. "But you told me there was an open plain." "So there was. Owing to neglect of the land since this war broke out, this forest of thistles has grown up."
Colonel Carey looked incredulous—the General weary and disgusted. Skirmishers were thrown out, and ordered to enter this cover. I rode a pony about fourteen hands page 100three high. It was my duty to accompany the skirmishers, and I did not dismount. It was with difficulty I forced my horse through the thistles, such was the closeness and strength of the growth. The horse's skin was not pricked, because he had to do merely with the stem. I got all the benefit of the thorns. As I rode, the thistles were up to my shoulders. They were ordinary Scotch thistles, accidentally imported in grass-seed, flourishing in a virgin soil. Who after this can wonder at the success of Scotchmen in a new country? I am aware there are persons who, on perusal, will consider this account of the growth of thistles exaggerated. I have nothing to do with such. It is my mission to tell the truth as I saw it.
When the little battle was over—the Maori were there—we had to tell off a large fatigue party with bill-hooks to cut a road through the thistles. The crop was as thick as wheat, yielding forty bushels to the acre, and the uncut sides offered a solid barrier to any entrance except by force.
The Rev. Mr. Wilson, a charming Church of England missionary, accompanied us on the expedition. He was a simple-minded, sincere, delightful companion. He had been a chaplain page 101in H.M. Navy, and left the service to Christianize the Maori. We became great friends. As it was reported we had killed and wounded many of the Maori who were too proud to desert their peach-groves without a fight, Mr. Wilson decided to pay them a visit of condolence. I volunteered to accompany him, to look after the wounded. He said he would first go alone, and then, if the Maori consented, return for me. He did return. His reception had been friendly; but they denied having any wounded, and added, if there were, their own doctor was sufficient for their purposes. Mr. Wilson was rather sad, foreseeing that the war would end badly. We cut down all the peach trees, dug up the potatoes, devastated the country (as far as its nature would permit), and returned to our camp at Waitara.page 102