A Sketch of the New Zealand War
From Cameron to Chute XIV
Notwithstanding all our precautions, a handful of gallant Maori worked through our pickets at Nukumaru, and surprised a body of men in the very heart of our encampment. Lieutenant Gudgeon, in his New Zealand War, says a Maori was shot just outside the General's tent. If so, that incident was kept secret. I was encamped there at the time with the 68th Foot, and beyond the fact that there had been a surprise, I heard nothing. After this incident our precautions seemed to be redoubled. Dull care sat enthroned over the whole force. The soldiers, though physically powerful and in excellent health, were spiritless. There was nothing but drudgery; no fighting to stir the pulses of the men. We marched past the Wereroa pa, leaving it on our right. It was said to be impregnable. Finally we encamped at the mouth of the Patea River. Here we made asses of ourselves page 128—marching about through high fern up to our shoulders, and never moving except in overwhelming numbers.
One fine day, with the sun shining gladly overhead, we set out, a great force of us, horse, foot, and artillery. Forming a half-moon, with the cavalry skirmishing on the right and left flanks, we advanced over an open plain to Kakaramea.
The village of Kakaramea was situated on a gentle hill sloping to the plain. A flax and toi-toi swamp lay at the foot of Kakaramea, and extended in depth about a mile to our front as we advanced. The Maori, about 120 men, women, and boys, came out to meet us under the protection of this cover. We swooped down upon them. Their prospect was hopeless; we had them completely in our power. This made no difference to the Maori. He fought in the open, delivering his fire, retired slowly loading in a dignified manner. The women fought beside the men, the boys in front of all. The dignity and martial bearing of the Maori touched the hearts of our soldiers. Very few of the Maori were killed, and the wounded were handled with infinite tenderness by our men. The majority of the defenders of Kakaramea got aawy [sic: away] scatheless, page 129and every one on our side was equally delighted. The British soldier's heart was not in the struggle.
I heard our men say, "Begorra, it's a murder to shoot them. Sure they are our own people, with their potatoes, and fish, and children. Who knows but that they are Irishmen, with faces a little darkened by the sun, who escaped during the persecutions of Cromwell?"
The wounded Maori and white men were all collected together in the runanga-house at the top of the hill in the village. They were treated in turn by the surgeons of the force, according to the gravity of their injuries, irrespective of rank or colour. When the wounded were all seen to, General Cameron, a man of the most humane disposition, visited the runanga-house, making affectionate inquiries and giving expression to soothing words. I happened to be present. When the General's interpreter came opposite one Maori, I said, "General, that is a most extraordinary man. He has received two gunshot wounds; his thigh has already been amputated, and his arm is in danger; he has had the bayonet thrust into his body seven times, and received four sabre wounds in the head. Look at him page 130now, smoking his pipe as tranquilly as a baby sucking a bottle."
The interpreter interpreted all I had said to the Maori. He nodded his head, and smiled in a sweet and gentle manner.
The General's eyes moistened, and he became a little pale.
"In the name of God," he exclaimed, "why did you resist our advance? Could you not see we were in overwhelming force?"
The Maori replied, "What would you have us do? This is our village, these are our plantations. Men are not fit to live if not brave enough to defend their own homes."
The General looked abashed. "At any rate," he said, "I am glad to see you are now well treated. Have you any complaints to make?"
"No…. By the way, yes. Whilst I was lying wounded on the ground, and after a soldier had given me a drink, an officer came up and sabred me."
"That is not according to the usages of war."
"That is a slave's work."
The General turned purple and swore an oath. "I'll cashier him. Would you know the man?"page 131
"Yes. I was a little flurried, but I would know the man."
There was a great turmoil in the camp; hot and fevered inquiries. Presently a colour-sergeant marched in, holding a drummer-boy by the ear. The boy was marched up opposite the Maori, who continued to smoke and gaze at him intently,
"Is that the officer?"
"Yes," said the Maori; "that is he."
The interpreter explained that the youth was a drummer-boy, and his sword was only a toy.
"Do not say any more about it," quoth the Maori. "Boys must be boys. We train our own sons the same way." It seems to be the only fashion we have in common.
This Maori recovered, and was set free. He went to war against us afresh on his return to his people. He was taken prisoner in a surprise effected by Colonel McDonnell, and when I saw him he smiled on me, and we exchanged confidences.
"What!" I said, "in arms again?"
"Yes," he said. "What would you have a man do? He must stand by his own people."
Our whole force after this became listless. An idea prevailed that it was an unjust war, in every way discreditable to us. The soldier no page 132longer desired to kill the Maori, and disliked more than ever being killed by him. In spite of a most harassing discipline, it became in some instances a task to muster the men for picket duty. It is a fact that I often heard commented on, that in one regiment it took the non-commissioned officers twenty to thirty minutes to muster a complement of fifty men for outpost duty. The heart had gone out of the enterprise, when unexpectedly General Cameron gave up the command, and General Chute succeeded him.
General Chute was considered one of the best drills in Her Majesty's service. The soldiers christened him the "Kerry Bull," not merely from his resonant voice, which on parade echoed from hill to hill, but on account of his general appearance and roaming disposition. He was a short-legged man, with a shaggy, square, masculine head and powerful body. He walked deliberately, carrying his head a little to either side, and no man could precisely foretell his temper from day to day. He was equally loved and feared by his own regiment, but as he was not a scientific soldier, and naturally of a retiring disposition, he was little known to the army generally.
Owing to the weight of his body and short page 133grip of his legs, he was a poor equestrian. Consequently he rode a quiet old horse, whose hair was left as long as possible, because the General was equally short-tempered and good-natured. When anything went wrong on parade, the General swore awfully, and hammered his old horse with a short hunting-crop,—treatment which made the animal play curious tricks. The whole spectacle was something to marvel at, but no one who looked at the General's face could have the hardihood to laugh and expect to survive.
When he took command, I saw at once he was a character, and soon became convinced he was as lonely as a moulting crow in the midst of his predecessor's brilliant staff. I therefore watched him closely. I was sufficiently known and sufficiently insignificant to be able to do this without attracting attention. The General, however, by a curious intuitive power some men possess, saw under my grave, respectful demeanour a certain humorous sympathy with his difficult position. He always had the habit of walking about amongst the men. Alone, and wearing a shabby undress uniform, whacking his riding-boot with his hunting-crop, he would turn up anywhere in the camp.
The men liked their rough, capable com-page 134mander. In a few days they sang and whistled and joked each other with all the zest of a newly recovered gaiety, marching light-heartedly with a swing in their gait.
I had previously resigned my commission, with a view to settling in the Colony. On providing a substitute I was allowed to retire on leave, so I saw no more of General Chute's expedition. A field officer, however, of Crimean experience, continued the observations I had always made, and this is the narrative he told me about five months afterwards:—
"Soon after your departure we had a brush with the enemy. The soldiers went into it with heart, so we were successful everywhere. The General walked about the camp, chatting with the men. 'Jolly fine sport we have had this morning, boys; plenty of pigs and potatoes and poultry after it.'We had captured an open village, and were rejoicing over the enemy's supplies. 'A good feed to-night—a short, tight sleep—an early march in the morning—another fight about the break of day. Donnybrook will be nothing to it.'
"The men merely smiled, and rejoiced openly when his back was turned. It was decided to march round Mount Egmont. Dr. page 135Featherston, Superintendent of the Province of Wellington, arrived with 300 friendly natives. The General profoundly distrusted friendly natives.
"Isaac Earle Featherston was a stern, strong, haughty man, with a genial nature when not irritated. Proud and self-reliant, he resented dictation of any kind. General Chute and he jarred whenever they met. The General ordered the natives to parade before the break of day, make a detour through the forest, and take a pa he was about to attack in the rear.
"Dr. Featherston said the Maori were weary and footsore from constant marching; that to be hurried in this way was contrary to their tribal custom; that they were most useful allies, but must be humoured a bit.
"General Chute lost his temper; said, 'Damn you and your allies! If they do not march when I order them, I will fire into them. I will have no mutiny in my camp, supported by the civil authority.'
"Chute marched off, and left Featherston in a rage. Featherston sat down and smoked cheroot after cheroot, saying nothing. This was a bad sign. Featherston silent was a dangerous man.page 136
"Now, there was an officer in camp, Deputy-Commissary-General Strickland. The success of this expedition was everything to him. It meant promotion and a C.B. Strickland was a man of great Eastern experience. He saw what was going on, and said, 'This will never do.'He called on Featherston, who sat smoking in his tent, asked for something to drink, and lit his pipe. Featherston knew him, and liked Strickland's rugged humour.
"Strickland at length said, 'The General has sent me to ask you to supper.'
"'It is like General Chute's damned insolence! As soon as the war is over, I will call him out and shoot him. I wish to the Almighty every soldier in the Colony was out of it. Were it not for my duty to New Zealand, I would fall upon General Chute's force this night with my Maori and slaughter the whole of his men.'
"Strickland smoked on, and made no reply until Featherston's volcanic eruption was over. Then he said,—
"'The General recognises the full force or what you have said. He will give you ample satisfaction when the time comes. All the same, there is no use in two men like you page 137quarrelling now. The General knows that he cannot get on without you. His temper is the curse of his life, but he is a very good fellow, and you will like him well when you know him as I do. May I tell him you will come to supper?'
"Featherston mused a bit, and said,—
"'I will think of it.'
"Strickland then went to General Chute and said,—
'"I have just been with Featherston. He desires me to say he is coming to supper with you.'
'"The devil he is!'
"'Yes, General; and, look here, you may as well ask me too.'
"Chute did ask Strickland. Strickland at the proper moment went over, and said,—
"'Featherston, the General is waiting supper for you.'
"They all three supped together, rose from table immense friends, and the friendship was permanent."
I will now narrate precisely, and almost word for word, the exact story I heard of the attack on Otapawa from a field-officer of distinction who served there. This account was verified in every detail by a private of the page 13814th Foot, who was present and took part in the attack.
When the 57th Foot were ordered to assault Otapawa, which was a fortified, rifle-pitted pa, they rushed forward with great gallantry, supported by the 14th Foot. The slope which led to the pa had been scarped, and when the men were within 150 yards of the stockade, they met such a deadly volley that they wavered.
General Chute rode up, whacking his old horse with his riding-crop; swore and blasphemed in an awful manner. At last he became silent for a moment; then he stood up in his stirrups, and said,—
"You do not know me, men. I am Billy Chute. Do you think you are going to make a laughing-stock of me at every club in Pall Mall? I swear by the living God, I will leave the bones of the whole army to bleach on the sides of these mountains before I will ever turn my back on any fortification I once assault. Fifty-seventh, I will do worse than that: I will disgrace you before the whole army. Fourteenth, charge!"
The 14th had a vile reputation for discipline; but this regiment knew the "Kerry Bull." They uttered one fearful yell, and page 139sought to break past the 57th. The 57th rushed headlong at the pa, and these two regiments almost bayoneted each other in their eagerness to get in first. The Maori broke in terror at the fury of the assault, and never again faced the bayonet.
The 14th Foot and the 57th were not encamped near each other for some time after this, and the officers and men of both regiments, knowing the gravity of the position, kept perfectly silent, never even discussing amongst themselves this incident.page 140