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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter XXI. — Colonel McDonnell's Campaign. — Fight at Pokaikai

Chapter XXI.
Colonel McDonnell's Campaign.
Fight at Pokaikai.

The defence minister (Colonel Haultain) having decided to occupy the confiscated lands lying between the Waitotara and Waingongoro rivers, recalled the west coast forces which were then at Opotiki, consisting of the Patea and Wanganui Bush Rangers, Yeomanry Cavalry, and Nos. 8 and 10 Companies of the Taranaki Military Settlers. These corps were ordered to rendezvous at Patea, where they page break
Vincent Brooks, Day & Son Lith.Colonel McDonnellSampson Low & Co. London.

Vincent Brooks, Day & Son Lith.
Colonel McDonnell
Sampson Low & Co. London.

page 121would be joined by the contingent from Pipiriki. Early in July, 1866, Colonel McDonnell assumed command, and marched his men to Manawapou, a central position, from which he could operate in any direction. On the 26th he started for Waingongoro, to hold an interview with Wi Hukanui, a semi-friendly chief, whose services were available to ascertain whether the Hauhaus intended peace or war. The interview terminated by the colonel giving Hukanui a cartridge and a white handkerchief to forward to the Hauhaus, with a message requesting that they would choose at once between these typical emblems, and return to him the one rejected; he also mentioned that, in the event of their choosing the cartridge, it would be well for them to appoint the battle-ground.

Wi Hukanui proposed as an amendment that the colonel should go, alone and unarmed, with him to meet the Hauhaus; but Mr. Broughton's fate was too recent; our somewhat rash commander declined the honour and returned to Manawapou. On the following morning a letter was brought in from the Hauhaus, and McDonnell, with twelve troopers and fifty Maories and Forest Rangers, proceeded again to Waingongoro; from thence he went on to the Kauae pah, escorted by the troopers only, and found several of the leading Hauhau chiefs, including Hone Pihama and Natanahira, awaiting his arrival. After a good deal of speechifying, these chiefs promised to bring the Otapawa tribes to Patea. The colonel then informed them of the nature of his instructions, and read several official letters, which stated that they would have sufficient land given them to live upon, but that the remainder would be confiscated. He concluded the meeting by saying, "I now return to Waingongoro, and shall wait there until to-morrow morning, when, if you desire peace, you will visit me at that camp. If I do not see you, I shall know you intend war, and shall act accordingly."

The chiefs did not pay their promised visit on the morrow, so the colonel and his men returned to Manawapou, accompanied by a Hauhau boy who wished to visit page 122a relative then with the contingent. On the following day the boy and his female relation, Rangimoea, went to Otapawa. On her return to camp, she reported that she had been threatened, and that she considered that her life was in danger all the time she remained at Otapawa. This decided McDonnell to strike at once, as it was clear that the Hauhaus did not mean peace, or they would have behaved differently; consequently, on the 1st of August 200 men marched to attack the village of Pokaikai; the night was fine but piercingly cold, and, as there were many swamps and one river to cross, the men had rough times of it. One officer, surprised at the sudden thickness of his sword, found that it was coated with ice. The column advanced cautiously, fearing that they might be discovered by the enemy's scouts; but luckily the advanced guard discovered the scouts retiring to their warm huts, satisfied that the Pakehas would not attack them on such a cold night. The force followed rapidly upon their tracks, and, a few minutes after one o'clock, arrived within 100 yards of the pah, sufficiently near to hear the children running up and down imitating the neighing of horses. Colonel McDonnell's arrangements were excellent; but man proposes and God disposes. No. 8 Company of Military Settlers were placed in front, as they were armed with bayonets, whereas the other corps had carbines and revolvers; and Captain Wilson was ordered to enter the village silently, quickly place guards over the doors, and use the bayonet if necessary, but on no account were the men to fire, lest they should alarm the inhabitants of Taiporohenui, as McDonnell intended if possible to attack them the same night. Captain Wilson and his men advanced; but just before they entered the village some one gave a cheer, which was taken up by his comrades, and so alarmed the Hauhaus that they rushed out of doors and windows, and escaped before our men could seize them; the consequence was that the men opened fire on the fugitives, and overthrew all our plans. Four of the enemy were killed, and about ten women and children taken prisoners. We had page 123but one casualty, a young volunteer named Spain. He had gone into a whare to bring out a dead Hauhau, and while engaged in this undertaking a party of Forest Rangers came up, and asked who was in the whare? The reply was "A white man," meaning a friend. Unfortunately the Rangers concluded that it meant the deserter Kimball Bent, and at once fired a volley into the hut, which mortally wounded Spain. Our success at first sight appeared to be trifling, but on searching the whares it was found that the Hauhaus had left thirty-five stand of good guns behind them, besides tomahawks and other weapons. This would practically disarm the tribe, and leave them at our mercy. One woman was mistaken for a man in the darkness, and slightly wounded by a bayonet thrust. She was left in a detached whare, where she would be certain to be found by her friends in the morning, as she did not care to go as a prisoner to our camp. The remaining whares were burnt, to ensure the destruction of any ammunition concealed therein, and the expedition returned to Manawapou. One of the officers, Captain Newland, who was the happy possessor of a long beard, was a source of great amusement to his men: when day broke he presented a most venerable appearance, his beard being white as snow, frozen hard by the intense cold. This is a true and correct account of the insignificant skirmish at Pokaikai, which would probably have never been heard of again had not Messrs. Graham and Parris rendered it famous by the accusation they brought against Colonel McDonnell and his men of unnecessary violence and cruelty on the occasion. The charge of making a murderous attack upon women and children was one that should never have been brought against McDonnell; but it was done, and a commission, composed of Sir Cracroft Wilson, Colonel Cargill, and Mr. Graham, sat in Wanganui and at Patea, where they examined numerous witnesses, both Hauhau and friendly. Mr. Graham and Mr. Parris did their best, but utterly failed in eliciting evidence of murderous outrage. At one period in the examination it seemed that they would page 124be successful, for it was stated that a man had torn a greenstone ornament out of a woman's ear; but even this small mercy was denied them, for it appeared that the man did not belong to the force, and that he had been placed under arrest so soon as the offence was noticed. The whole of the charges were proved to be false; but it is only justice to Mr. Graham to state that he really believed them, and had been a tool in the hands of mischievous and interested men, who probably did not believe in anything but their own interest. As for Mr. Parris, the force had much the same opinion of his merits as General Chute had at Warea in 1866, when he requested him to clear out of the camp at short notice.

The immediate results of this skirmish were most important, for on the 6th of August messages were received from the Tangahoe tribe, informing McDonnell that they desired peace, and asking him to meet them at Ohangai to discuss terms of surrender. The colonel assented to the proposition, and appointed the following day for the meeting.

Having some distrust of the good faith of the tribe, he did not proceed alone, but was accompanied by the mounted men and Native Contingent. On arrival at Ohangai, they found the chiefs Tito Te Hanataua and Tukino with twenty-five men, assembled in great trepidation, evidently fearing that their long career of treachery and crime might be requited in kind by the terrible McDonnell; but I suppose our appearance must have been reassuring, for they were soon at their ease, and spoke in the most peaceful and friendly terms. McDonnell, in reply, dwelt strongly on the fact that the land had been taken, and would be kept, by the Pakehas, and that they need not expect that the fact of their having surrendered, after having done all possible mischief, would give them any claim on the Government; at the same time he explained that he was authorised to state that sufficient land would be given to enable them to live comfortably as before.

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The chiefs expressed themselves satisfied with this view of the subject, and signed the oath of allegiance, as did all their men present: many of them kept it throughout Titokowaru's outbreak, and it is probable that those who joined in that rebellion did so under pressure. The effect of the skirmish did not end here, for, a few days after, the branch of the Pakakohi tribe living at Meremere and Te Whakamaru came in and swore allegiance. Thus our enemies were reduced by two tribes, and we had only the Ngaruahine and Ngatitupaea to deal with; but they were more, than sufficient to occupy our attention with the few men remaining in the force. At this period our men consisted almost entirely of military settlers who had engaged to serve for a term of three years, at the expiration of which time they were to receive a grant of land. Three of the best of these companies, 150 strong, were with McDonnell: they had served the period for which they were enlisted, and considered that they were entitled to a further grant of land if they continued to serve. Under these circumstances, Colonel McDonnell allowed them to send an officer to Wellington, to represent the case to Colonel Haultain, asking for a further grant of ten acres for each year served over and above the period agreed upon. This demand was not exorbitant, the more so that Government had failed on their part to give the men possession of the land to which they were entitled. Yet the Government not only refused to do anything for the men, but replied that they might leave the service if they did not choose to wait until the land was ready for them. This answer to men who considered the Government indebted to them, added fuel to the fire, and the Patea Rangers (probably the best corps ever raised in New Zealand) left the service in a body, as the other two companies had already done. For many years the loss of these men was severely felt, and never more so than in Titokowaru's outbreak. This falling off reduced the force to 160 men of all ranks, and our commander found it very difficult to hold the necessary posts and at page 126the same time find men for expeditions. It could only be done by withdrawing the men from the posts the night before the intended movement, leaving only half-a-dozen at each redoubt to mount guard during the absence of the garrison. This was indeed dangerous, for had the enemy discovered our position they would infallibly have taken the redoubts; but it was the only plan possible at the time.