Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand
Chapter XV. — East Coast Expedition—continued. — Poverty Bay
East Coast Expedition—continued.
Rapata Wahawaha had from the first taken a leading part in these engagements, but he was not a great chief by descent, nor was he at that time supposed to be a man of intellect; but from the first fight at Mangaone, his indomitable courage and energy, and more latterly his oratory and address, made him the first man in his powerful tribe, and raised him from his original position of subchief of Ngatirehu and Te Aowera. Hostilities had hardly ceased at Waiapu, when Major Fraser received orders to march upon Poverty Bay, where Kereopa's converts showed signs of an approaching outbreak. This district, unquestionably one of the finest in New Zealand, was at this period inhabited by a numerous and industrious Maori population, belonging to the three tribes of Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, and Ngaitahupo, the latter a branch of the Napier tribes, under the able direction of the Bishop of Waiapu. The whole country had become one vast orchard, and, at the present time, the fruit exported from thence is grown exclusively on trees planted by the Maories. Large herds of cattle and horses were to be found everywhere on the well-grassed plains, and the export of wheat was larger than that of any other Maori port, not even excepting Opotiki.
The weak point in their social life was, and is contained in the people's proverb, "Turanga tangatarite" (In Turanga, all men are equal). This republican feeling rendered them peculiarly liable to receive and retain dangerous ideas, such as Hauhauism; for the majority, uninfluenced by the old men and chiefs, would be tolerably certain to page 90join any society in which rapine and murder were the leading principles.
In March, 1868, Kereopa made his first appearance in the bay, and his advent caused the greatest excitement among the bishop's people at Waerenga-a-Hika; nearly 500 of them rushed to arms, and insisted upon proceeding to the village of Taureka, where Kereopa was, announcing their intention of either expelling him from the district, or handing him over to the Pakehas as a murderer. Bishop Williams evidently did not place much reliance on these valiant words; he feared the effect of the prophet's influence on the fickle Maori mind, and determined to accompany them. His men remonstrated, but to no purpose, for his lordship was firm. When they arrived at the village of Taureka, Kereopa was surrounded by the people of the place, who had evidently fallen under his influence; this was so patent to the bishop's party, that they forgot all about the expelling and capturing, and contented themselves with sitting quietly down and speechifying. The usual amount of talk ensued, and the result was that these rabid churchmen welcomed the murderer by rubbing noses with him. This concluded, Kereopa walked up and offered his hand to the bishop, who refused it. Kereopa demanded the reason, and his lordship replied, "I see blood dripping from your fingers." This was a sufficient answer; the prophet walked off somewhat crestfallen, and the bishop, seeing that a large majority of his people would join the new religion, left them and returned to his own home. Things now went rapidly from bad to worse, Kereopa openly urging the murder of the bishop; but the tribes had hardly reached the pitch of fanaticism which was necessary before they could kill a man from whom they had received nothing but kindness, and the faithful few, under their old chief and catechist Wi Haronga, mounted guard every night at Waerenga-a-Hika, determined not to fall victims from want of precaution. By this time the Government page 91had received information as to the state of affairs in the bay, and fearing that the Rev. Mr. Volckner's fate might overtake the bishop, despatched a steamer to bring him and his family to Napier. His lordship handed his property over to the old catechist and left. Scarcely had they reached the steamer, when Kereopa and his converts arrived to loot and burn his house, as they had already done Archdeacon Williams'; but old Haronga, true as steel, coolly seated himself on a pile of valuables inside the house and declared that nothing should move him. His extreme obstinacy of disposition was so well known, that the house was not burnt, and old Haronga managed to save and bury the most valuable property until the bishop could return.
Mr. McLean lost no time in representing to the Government the necessity of crushing this outburst of Hauhauism, before it could spread to Te Wairoa and Napier. His recommendations were approved, and H.M.S. Brisk arrived soon after, having on board the Defence Force, and a detachment of military settlers under Lieutenant Wilson. At the same time, Majors Biggs and Fraser were ordered to march on Poverty Bay, and operate vigorously against the common enemy. In November the Waiapu force arrived, as also the famous Ngatiporou chiefs, Rapata and Mokena, with about one hundred and fifty of their men. Mr. McLean visited the bay officially, and sent for the chiefs of the Hauhau party. The great man Raharuhi Rukupo and one or two others of note came at his summons; Mr. McLean remonstrated with them, pointed out the trouble they would bring upon their people and land, and finally gave them three days to come in and surrender their arms, promising to withdraw his forces if they did so; if not, he would deliver them over to the tender mercies of Biggs and Rapata. Raharuhi and the other chiefs distinctly refused these terms, and took the opportunity to insult Mokena, thereby narrowly escaping death, for had it not been for a guard of Europeans, who closed round them and walked them out of danger, Ngatiporou would infallibly have shot page 92them. Mr. McLean waited the three days, and as the Hauhaus did not make their appearance, he handed over the conduct of future operations to Major Fraser and left for Napier.
The enemy at this time held three very strong pahs, viz., Waerenga-a-Hika, Pukeamionga, and Kohanga Karearea. At first it was intended to attack the second of these pahs, and the force marched in that direction; but observing that a strong reinforcement of the enemy were marching from Waerenga-a-Hika to assist the threatened pah, Major Fraser halted for the night, and on the following morning stole a march upon them, by appearing suddenly before the latter place. As our men approached the scene of action, the Hauhaus could be seen watching them from the top of the bishop's house, which was only 300 yards from their stronghold; our skirmishers soon drove them back to their pah, when they hoisted the flag Riki (god of war), and went through their karakia (incantations). The force immediately took possession of the bishop's house, and a select body of marksmen ascended the roof, and under cover of the chimneys did great execution during the seven days' siege. The disposition of the various corps was simple but effective. The military settlers and Defence Force took possession of a thorn hedge which commanded two faces of the pah, at a distance of from two to three hundred yards, and rifle-pitted it; on the other side of the pah the sloping banks of a lagoon offered cover, and was held by Captain Westrup and his Forest Rangers. The native allies under their several chiefs had no particular station assigned them, but were mixed up with the Europeans. The enemy were estimated at 500 fighting men, and held a strong position, whereas our force was much less, numbering only 110 Europeans and 250 Maories, but this inequality was in great measure balanced by the inferiority of the Hauhau weapons. For the first three days both sides contented themselves with heavy and continuous firing, which did little harm on either side; but page 93as it was evident that the pah would not be taken by these means, Lieutenant Wilson, with thirty military settlers, were ordered on the morning of the fourth day to take up a position on the northern face of the pah, where the ground was favourable for mining operations, drive forward a flying sap sufficiently near to allow a rope to be thrown over the palisades, when the united strength of the detachment would be used to pull it down, and thus form a breach for the storming party, who were to be warned by preconcerted bugle calls when this was done. By evening the sap was close to the pah, and all appeared to be going well, when suddenly the main body at the bishop's house were startled by hearing the alarm and double sounded, and the next moment Lieutenant Wilson and his men were seen running across the face of the pah in confusion, closely followed by a sortie of the enemy. The stampede was caused by a strong reinforcement which had arrived from Pukeamionga, and while attempting to enter the pah, had fallen on Wilson's rear; they were first noticed by two friendly natives who were with Wilson, and they shouted, "The Hauhaus! The Hauhaus!" at the top of their lungs. For a moment Lieutenant Wilson was staggered, but seeing that no time was to be lost—for the new arrivals had opened fire on him, and the garrison of the pah had sallied out to cut him off—he gave the order to fix bayonets and charge, and dashed across the face of the pah, exposed to a heavy fire, and closely pursued. It was running the gauntlet with a vengeance, but it was their only chance; the loss was heavy, six men were killed and five wounded, rather more than a third of the detachment. Sergeant Doonan, who was slightly wounded, was overtaken and speared to death, but the remainder, covered by the heavy fire of their comrades at the thorn hedge, made their escape; the wounded were brought off, but the dead lay too near the pah to attempt it, and the Hauhaus were seen stripping them.
As might be expected, the enemy were greatly elated page 94with their success, and the prophets became more oracular than ever, prophesying that if an attack were made on the morrow (Sunday), it would be certain to succeed, as the Pakehas would all be at their devotions. Fortunately, the Hauhaus knew but little of the godless Forest Rangers' class; their experience of Pakehas was confined to the Church Mission and its followers, and they made a woeful mistake, for morning broke and found us in the trenches, rifle in hand and not a Prayer-book to be seen. About 10 a.m. the oracle began to work, several hundred men were seen, to leave the pah, form up in two wedgeshaped masses, one a little behind the other, and advance upon our position under the thorn hedge; the enemycarried large flags that appeared to be white, and this caused Major Fraser to mistake their character, and called out to the men not to fire upon flags of truce. Luckily Biggs was present; he knew they were fighting flags, and, before the mistake could lead to serious consequences, ordered the men to fire. By this time the leading wedgeshaped phalanx was close to our line under the thorn hedge, our men fired a close deadly volley into them, but failed to stop the rush, for the next moment they lined the opposite side of the hedge, firing through into our riflepits. The camp, now thoroughly aroused, opened a terrific cross-fire upon the second column, which broke at once; some of the enemy rushed back to the pah, while others, less bold, threw themselves on the ground and feigned death. The enemy under the thorn hedge were completely at our mercy; the flanking pits were manned, and they were annihilated; it did not take long, for the whole affair was over in fifteen minutes, and sixty-three of the enemy lay dead on the flat, our loss was one man wounded.
An incident occurred during the fight worth mentioning, as a moral may be drawn therefrom: while the enemy were charging up to the hedge, the prophet who led them was wounded, and as he fell one of his own men tomahawked him. For some time after the hard fighting had page 95ceased there was a desultory fire kept up, very amusing to all but the Hauhaus; for the poor wretches who had lain down feigning death, got tired of the continual storm of bullets flying over them, and would occasionally start up and make a dash for the pah, but with very indifferent success, for there were too many men watching them.
For two days longer this style of warfare was carried on, but by this time the bodies of the slain, lying between the combatants, smelt so badly, that Major Fraser offered the enemy an hour's truce to bury their dead, provided they would also bring ours from where they had fallen; they accepted the offer, and buried their dead, but so far from bringing ours, they proceeded to get water from the lagoon, and collect ammunition from the corpses. This was stopped by a volley, and hostilities were again resumed on the evening of the seventh day; a six-pounder gun was brought up from the Start, and one of the force, who was supposed to be an engineer in disguise, mounted it on a platform, not altogether with success, for each shot caused a back somersault. Finally the refractory weapon was taken in hand by one of the Defence Force, whose first two shots were sent crashing through the palisades, and caused such terror to the Hauhaus, that before the third shot could be discharged, they had hoisted the white flag, and sent out a woman to ask for peace. It was granted, and arranged that they should march out, deliver up their arms, and surrender themselves prisoners of war, which they did to the number of 400; but many of them escaped with the chiefs Anaru Matete and Tamati Te Rangituawaru, and cleared out of the district. There were a large number of killed and wounded in the pah, and some individual having set fire to the whares, very few were saved, and those only by great exertions on the part of the force. The enemy lost on this occasion upwards of 100 men, and many wounded, whereas our loss did not exceed eleven killed and twenty wounded. The effects of this engage-page 96ment was decisive; the Hauhaus deserted all their strongholds, the best disposed among them surrendered, and the turbulent characters retired inland, and, with one single exception, did not trouble the Pakehas again for years.