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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter IX. — Capture of the Weraroa Pah

page 48

Chapter IX.
Capture of the Weraroa Pah.

After the fight at Moutoa the Wanganui tribe, elated by success, waited upon Mr. Mantell, the native minister, and asked permission to attack the Weraroa pah, as a sort of revenge upon the Hauhaus for having attacked them on their own river. Mr. Mantell declined to encourage the expedition, lest it should in any way interfere with General Cameron's plan, and the Wanganuis, disgusted with what they considered Pakeha red tape, returned to their villages. This stronghold of the enemy was situated about fifteen miles from the town of Wanganui, and ten miles from the boundary of the settled district to which it was a standing menace. The position was naturally strong, but owed little to art, it being by no means in the best style of Maori fortification. General Cameron had, however, a different impression, for in his correspondence with His Excellency Sir G. Grey he writes, "I consider my force insufficient to attack so formidable a work as the Weraroa pah. It would be necessary to establish two posts to keep our communication open with Wanganui, and we should have to furnish escorts daily for convoys. This would reduce my force to 700 or 800 men, which would not be sufficient to provide for the protection of the camp in such a country, and at the same time carry on all the laborious operations of the siege. Instead of 1100 men, my present available force, I should require 6000." Holding these opinions, however ill founded, it is not astonishing that General Cameron should have passed by the pah without attacking, or that he should have treated the offer of the Wanganui tribes as mere bounce. Unfortunately for himself he recorded these opinions in writing, and the result proved conclusively that he mis-page 49judged both, the strength of the pah and the ability of the Wanganui to take it, for he writes to Sir George Grey, "I was very confident that the desire stated to have been entertained by the friendly natives to be allowed to attack the Weraroa was mere bounce; and I was astonished that you should have believed in it, that is to say, if you really did believe in it, and yet you could hardly have professed that 500 natives should attempt what I told you I would not undertake with less than 2000 soldiers "About the time that this letter was written, the Colonial Government, seeing the necessity of providing for the defence of the frontier and occupation of the confiscated land, were enlisting men. One company of Bush Rangers sixty strong, and a native contingent of 110 men, were duly enrolled, and in addition to these corps, Yon Tempsky with 100 Forest Rangers was at Nukumaru, forty men of the Yeoman Cavalry were in Wanganui, and lastly, there were at least 400 Maories ready at any moment to assist their relatives in the contingent. Thus the Government could rely upon an active force of 500 men, after garrisoning the various posts held by them. The Native Contingent were at this period stationed at Pipiriki, under Captain Thomas McDonnell. This officer had served with distinction in the Waikato and at Maketu, and a better selection could not have been made, as his knowledge of the native language and customs was superior to that of any officer in the service. The humdrum life at Pipiriki did not suit his active mind, and having heard from the Maories that they had offered to take the Weraroa but had been prevented by the Government, he proceeded to stir up their enthusiasm anew.

This was a simple matter, for, notwithstanding General Cameron's opinion, the Maories really had intended to attack the pah. Once the leading chiefs were won over, the rest was easy. The Native Contingent, contrary to the articles of war made and provided for such cases, suddenly informed their commanding officer that they were going to page 50Wanganui en route for the Weraroa. Captain McDonnell expressed a proper amount of astonishment and indignation at this very irregular proceeding, and informed them that Captain Brassey, the senior officer at the station, would not allow them to leave. Captain Brassey would not hear of it, and the contingent admitted that he was quite right, but at the same time quietly put their baggage into the canoes ready to start. Under these circumstances McDonnell felt constrained to follow, if only to see that they behaved themselves. On the 18th of June, 1865, about one hundred and eighty Maories of the contingent and kupapas (volunteers) were ready to start from Wanganui, where they had been joined by the Yeoman Cavalry under Major Rookes. On the following day the expedition started and camped at the Okehu sandhills, from whence a spy was sent out to communicate with the pah, and ascertain the feelings of the Hauhaus by means of one of their chiefs (Pehimana) who was known to be friendly to the Wanganuis. The negotiations went on for some days, during which time our men were not over-well provided with rations, until some of the troopers drove a fine wild bullock up to the camp. A general rush was made upon him by the natives; the bullock charged and knocked over one man, but in a moment twenty men were upon him, and he was literally lifted off the ground and thrown down, when one of the troopers despatched him with a sword-thrust through the heart. After this incident the men were decidedly more contented with their lot, and when our spy returned with a message from Pehimana, to the effect that most of the garrison were absent and that he had persuaded the remainder to surrender, there was a general rush to arms and the whole force marched to Maenene, distant about half a mile from the Weraroa, where the Hauhaus were to meet us and surrender. But our hopes were doomed to be blighted, for when we reached the appointed place, only Pehimana appeared, and he informed us that the more violent and fanatic portion of the garrison had returned and put a stop to the surrender. Under these circumstances he page 51had deemed it advisable to surrender himself as a proof of his good faith. The indignation of the Wanganuis may be imagined; each man silently stripped, and in a few moments the chorus of their war-dance might have been heard two miles off. Major Von Tempsky who was with us galloped off to bring up his men, and that afternoon would have seen a very pretty fight had not the government agent (Colonel Logan, 57th Regiment) and his staff appeared upon the scene, and ordered Captain McDonnell to march his men back to Wanganui, as he was acting without the authority of the Governor. McDonnell refused to obey; then Colonel Logan ordered the natives to return, telling them that he acted under instructions from Sir George Grey. Had he used the name of the Government, the Wanganui would have laughed, but the Governor's name was different; he was not an abstract idea but a real personage, and they, having great belief in the man, combined with respect for his power, reluctantly shouldered their weapons and returned to the Okehu camp. After this check, Von Tempsky and McDonnell resolved to go to Wellington and obtain his Excellency's consent to the attack, but at the last moment the officer commanding the troop in the district ordered them to remain, informing them that Colonel Logan was going to ascertain the Governor's intentions. This arrangement would have disconcerted the two colonial officers, but McDonnell out-manœuvred the imperial authorities by sending the chiefs Hori Kingi and Kawana Paipai to represent their side of the question. The imperial authorities tried in vain to detain them; old Hori was obstinate and refused to leave the steamer, and Colonel Logan had to go down with them to make good his story. The chiefs were, however, too many for him, and the result answered McDonnell's expectations, for not only was he authorised to proceed with the operations, but he was informed that his Excellency would shortly arrive and assume command. By the 14th of July the force was again before the Weraroa, on this occasion in much greater page 52strength, there being 160 Europeans and about 300 Maories in camp. Communication was again opened with the pah, and Major Rookes, McDonnell, Hori Kingi and Kepa were invited to visit them in the village of Perekama, which was situated in the valley below and on the further side of the pah. Here they remained for some days urging the people to surrender, which they finally promised to do, provided that the Pakakohe tribe at Te Putahi would also agree to surrender. This tribe bore a very bad character, even in the old cannibal days they were known for treachery and murders; but a full knowledge of these facts did not deter McDonnell from visiting them on his peace mission. The Wanganuis would not let him go alone, but sent Kawana Paipai and Kepa with him, judging rightly that even the Pakakohi would think twice before they killed chiefs whose men would be certain to avenge them. When they entered the pah the tribe went through some Hauhau ceremonies, and then conducted their visitors to the council whare, where the talking commenced, McDonnell and his friends urging surrender, which Te Onekura and the Pakakohi steadily refused. Seeing that nothing was to be gained from this people, McDonnell left at daybreak and returned to Perekama, where a messenger awaited him with intelligence of his Excellency's arrival at the camp.

Sir George Grey, wishing if possible to avoid bloodshed, sent Captain McDonnell several times to the pah, urging a peaceful solution of the difficulty. Two of the chiefs favoured this view, and were anxious to surrender, but their men, guided by a Hauhau prophet, prolonged the negotiations from day to day, ostensibly to give the women and children time to leave and carry off their things; the real reason was, however, that reinforcements had been promised from Patea and Upper Wanganui, and could not arrive for some days.

This piece of diplomacy did not deceive Sir George, who, to bring things to a climax, resolved to go in person and take possession of the pah. Aperahama and Pehimana page 53(the two chiefs before mentioned) were sent on in front to make arrangements for his reception, and Hori Kingi was informed that he would be required to attend his Excellency. Hori knew so well the murderous character of the Ngarauru and Pakakohi tribes, that he showed considerable disinclination to put himself in their power; but finding Sir George determined to go at all risks, he followed with unconcealed distrust. When within 200 yards of the pah the party was stopped by the Hauhaus, who asked whether in the event of their surrender they should be punished for former acts of rebellion. Sir George assured them that only murderers would be punished. This appeared to satisfy them, and Aperahama called on all to enter the pah; Sir George ordered his staff to remain where they were, and taking with him Hori and one other chief, moved toward the pah. There is many a slip twixt cup and lip in Maori matters. The garrison appeared to be on the point of surrender; but unfortunately, their prophet was suddenly seized with a fit of compunction, fanaticism, or something else, and called on his men to stop the Europeans. The Hauhaus got ready their guns, and the semi-Hauhau chiefs, Aperahama and Pehimana, alarmed at their responsibility, implored Sir George to return to Maenene, which he did, after being informed by the prophet that the pah would never be surrended. The two chiefs above-mentioned were refused admittance to their own pah, as friends of the Pakeha. This so disgusted them, that after reviling the Hauhau religion they finally left their people, and took up quarters with the contingent. Even after this affair the people of the pah attempted to keep up the negotiations, informing Sir George that if he would send his men back to Wanganui they would cease hostilities and live peaceably. Sir George promptly refused to withdraw the force, and wrote to General Waddy, asking whether the instructions given him by General Cameron would permit his commanding the force before the pah and directing the operations. The reply was that his instructions would not permit him to take an active page 54part in the reduction of the pah. His Excellency, after pointing out the loss to the public service that General Cameron's orders would entail, requested that 400 men might he sent to Maenene as a moral support.

Delightful phrase, conveying to the unsophisticated mind of the Bush Ranger the idea of a camp-guard to look after baggage, for such were the duties of the 400. General Waddy complied with this latter request, and thus allowed Sir George Grey to use the whole of the colonials in the proposed operations. The plans were as follows: ahout four hundred men under Von Tempsky and McDonnell would make a long detour through the bush by a track that had already been scouted, and camp for the night on the Karaka plateau, a position in rear of the Weraroa, and between that stronghold and the village of Areiahi, where a large number of the enemy were living in fancied security. Arrangements were made to start on the 19th July, but that evening an orderly arrived from Wanganui, with intelligence that the Upper Wanganui and Taupo tribes, 600 strong, had surrounded Captain Brassey and his detachment at Pipiriki and cut off his communications. This news alarmed the contingent and kupapas for the safety of their relatives, and the obstructive chief Mete Kingi used all his influence to induce them to start at once for Wanganui. This movement would have put a stop to the Weraroa operations, but luckily Sir George Grey was present. His all-powerful influence crushed Mete Kingi, and the Maories agreed to march on the following morning and take the pah, after which the whole force were to march to the relief of Pipiriki. At 11 a.m. on the 20th nearly four hundred men paraded under the command of Major Rookes (who had taken Von Tempsky's place in consequence of the darter's illness), and marched into the bush through torrents of rain and hail. About sunset they reached the edge of the Karaka plateau, and when sufficiently dark to conceal the movement, marched to the ridge dividing the Hauhau villages of Perekama and Areiahi; here the column was halted and ordered to page 55lie down in the high manuka and await the dawn. A more uncomfortable night was never passed by the colonial forces; the men were wet through, and it was piercingly cold, and worse still, most of them were without blankets or food, for they did not know that they would be out all night, thinking it was a scouting expedition. Smoking and talking were strictly forbidden, and they could only huddle together in the wet manuka and pray for an early dawn. I had fortunately brought a blanket with me and shared it with Kepa and Wirihana, two officers of the contingent, when I am sorry to say we not only struck matches (an unforgiveable offence) and lighted our pipes under the said blanket, but all the men in our neighbourhood, finding that the light could not be seen, did likewise, creating such a sulphureous atmosphere that we were obliged to uncover our heads. Soon after we arrived at this place, the enemy could be heard speechifying in the Areiahi village; scouts, well acquainted with the locality, were sent out to ascertain their numbers. On their return they reported very few men in the village, conclusively proving that they had not been near the place.

About an hour before dawn Captain McDonnell, who had been told off to attack this village, came round and roused his men up, but with very indifferent success, for the Native Contingent and kupapas were half-frozen and cramped with their long night-watch, and did not feel in the humour to move. At last about forty of them, under the European sergeant-major, slid down the steep and narrow track to the village, and kneeling in a pond of water close to the nearest whare, awaited the arrival of Captain McDonnell, who was vainly trying to get the remainder to follow him. Just at grey dawn he came down the hill and joined the small party; there was not a moment to lose, for the whares were scattered about at some distance from one another, and had our presence been discovered and the enemy succeeded in escaping to the high manukascrub in rear of the huts, we should have been in a very page 56awkward position, for the river was in our rear and their fire would have swept the open space between it and the scrub. Our party moved on silently until they reached the first whare, where McDonnell asked in a loud voice whether they wanted peace or war? There was no time to wait for the answer, for every door opened simultaneously and the Hauhaus began to swarm out; for a few minutes there was rather lively work, one or two of them escaped, but the majority were too close to us. A few heads were gently admonished with the butts of our rifles, as they were poked out of the low doorways, while those already outside were ordered back with the alternative of instant death;—and in a few moments all were again shut into their houses and had sentries posted over them. It was now evident to all that the enemy were in much greater strength than we had anticipated, and that care would be needed to prevent their escape; it was decided to take the occupants of each whare one by one, making them walk out, leaving their arms behind them. As each hut was cleared, the prisoners were walked off and placed inside the sacred fence round the Niu. They did not all surrender quietly; far from it. In the large Runanga whare there were about twenty men of the Ngatipukeko tribe of Whakatane; these men had only arrived from Pipiriki the previous evening, and were so exasperated at their misfortune, that when called upon to surrender, one of them opened a window and fired both barrels of his gun; the bullets passed between McDonnell and Haimona. "One more shot," said McDonnell, "and I will kill every man in the place. I will give you while I count five to surrender." The contingent, delighted at the prospect, had already cocked and levelled their rifles, when the door opened and a man shouted, "Is that McDonnell?" It was Tiopera, Ngatipukeko chief; he had recognised the voice, and was just in time to save his people. He came out and shook hands with McDonnell, who informed him that he wished to avoid bloodshed, and would spare their lives, provided they surrendered. With these assurances page 57he returned to the whare, and his men came out. One other lot gave us a deal of trouble, threatening to fire upon us if we went near them; but in the end they also saw fit to come out. One old white-haired man, who came out with the rest, was seized with a fit of fury when he saw us, and rushed back for his gun. The sergeant-major seized him by the blanket, but the old fellow slipped out of it, and would certainly have killed some one, had not McDonnell caught him by the hair and so secured him effectually. Immediately after entering the village, sentries had been placed in ambush to watch the river; after the last prisoner had been secured, one of them was seen to signal and point up the river. About a dozen men placed themselves in ambush at the mouth of a creek that ran into the river, from whence they could see a canoe with two men and two women coming slowly down, little thinking that our rifles covered them. They ran on shore close to the ambush, and as they did so our men showed themselves. One of the crew had just risen to step on shore, gun in one hand and paddle in the other. When he saw us rise he appeared petrified; the paddle fell from his hand, his jaw fell, and he seemed unable to move, although ordered to give up his gun. The other man was nearly as much affected, but the women, although yellow with fright, had more presence of mind and began to pai marire us, placing their hands alternately upon the forehead and breast, and waving the palms towards us, at the same time talking what they believed to be pure English. The Native Contingent gazed at them for some moments in astonishment, and then burst into yells of laughter. The poor women, who at first had thought their spells were working, were dreadfully abashed, and followed us dejectedly to where the other prisoners sat. By this time the work of destruction was over; all the whares were burnt, and piles of loot, among which were fifty guns, two kegs of powder, two greenstone meres, and other articles too numerous to mention, were lying in heaps ready to be carried off. Our men were lying about round the prisoners, smoking page 58their pipes, when suddenly the high manuka-scrub between the bush and the village was seen to move, as if a man was making his way through it. Instinctively the guard stood to their arms, and presently a tall naked savage walked out and advanced towards the prisoners. He was unarmed, but held one hand above his head, the palm turned outwards. Without taking the smallest notice of the guard, he walked three times round the flagstaff, muttering Hauhau incantations, accentuating his gibberish as though it were English. He evidently believed that he could bewitch us and liberate his friends. Perhaps he might have done so had he been allowed to complete the third circle; but he was not, for McDonnell, in the most unfeeling manner, seized him by the back hair, which was long, a la Hauhau, and jerked him off his feet, thus nipping a great magician in the bud. During these operations, Major Rookes and the main body were holding the Karaka plateau, to prevent reinforcements being sent from the Weraroa to assist their friends at Areiahi, Intelligence of our success was sent to him, with a request that he would build a small stockade, for the safety of the prisoners during the night, and also send more men to assist us in preventing their escape while marching up the narrow bush-track to the plateau. Forty men were promptly sent to our assistance. McDonnell, not wishing to encumber himself with useless prisoners, gave the women, children, and old men their liberty, after duly cautioning them as to their future conduct. A few men belonging to Pehimana's tribe were also released, on the chief becoming surety for their good behaviour. The remainder, fifty able-bodied men, were marched safely to the Karaka, and handed over to the Forest Rangers until the stockade could be completed. So far our operations had been carried ont in a very satisfactory manner; but there still remained the Weraroa to be dealt with, and that could only be taken under cover of the night, for the cliffs in rear were so precipitous that they could not be scaled in the face of an enemy. To while away the time, page 59some of our best shots, including Captain A. Ross, Ensign Ross of the Forest Rangers, and others were told off to try the range of the Weraroa, rising the 600 yards sights. They soon raised a commotion in a small pah "below the main work, and cleared the natives completely out of it. About 9 p.m. the whole force, with the exception of forty men, left to guard the prisoners, started to attack the Weraroa. The night was very dark, and our march necessarily slow. The village of Perekama was entered noiselessly, and our men were about to climb the steep face leading to the pah, when a voice suddenly called to us not to fire and asked for McDonnell. The man proved to be one of Pehimana's men named Heteraka. He stated that he believed the enemy had deserted the Weraroa, for none of them had been near the village during the afternoon, and most of the villagers had left, taking with them their property. This statement Major Rookes considered satisfactory, and ordered the men to halt for the night at Perekama, while Adjutant Ross, Captain George, and the sergeant-major were sent on to reconnoitre the pah, and if they found it deserted, were to pass through and inform his Excellency at Camp Mainene of the enemy's flight. They found it had been deserted during the night, one old Maori woman being the sole occupant, the knowledge of our capture during the night, and of the position we held, being too much for their nerves. Thus fell the redoubtable Wereroa pah by stratagem and daring: had it been attacked from the front, the point at which disciplined troops would most probably have assailed it, a great loss of life must have ensued, without much damage to our sable foes, who always kept open a means of retreat. A messenger was then despatched to Sir George, who with some of the imperial force was near at hand as a reserve, informing him of the result; and early the following morning the imperial troops occupied the position, the colonial forces being required for the relief of Pipiriki. The prisoners were marched into Wanganui, shipped off to Wellington, and page 60placed by Government on board a hulk which was moored about a mile and a half from the shore, in charge of an officer and some men of the 50th Regiment. Here they remained until one stormy night, when, taking advantage of the weather and of the officer being on shore, they managed to knock out one of the portholes, through which they let themselves down into the sea. Men, women, and children, impelled by a love of liberty, struck out boldly for the shore. About sixty of the eighty reached it, and finally escaped again into the bush, vowing vengeance on the Pakeha, although well tended and well fed.