Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand
Chapter XXXVII. — Te Kooti's Progress. — The Fight at Paparatu. The Colonial Troops Defeated with Loss of Two Killed, Ten Wounded, and £1200 Worth of Horses and Camp Equipage
Te Kooti's Progress.
The Fight at Paparatu. The Colonial Troops Defeated with Loss of Two Killed, Ten Wounded, and £1200 Worth of Horses and Camp Equipage.
When it was found that they had escaped, Major Biggs ordered Mr. Skipwith to follow them up with some friendly natives, threatening their rear, until he had definitely ascertained the line of retreat, when he was instructed to cut across country, and join the main body, who by that time would have taken post at Paparatu. This was a strategical point of great importance, as from the rugged nature of the country, the enemy were obliged to cross the Arai creek at a point just below the position taken up, and would thus come in collision with our force, whether they liked it or not. No time was lost in commencing operations; four days after the landing, Major Biggs with fifty Europeans under Captains Westrupp and Wilson, and thirty Maories under Henare Kakapango, marched for Paparatu, and arrived there the following morning. Biggs had left orders for a reserve force, under Tamehana Ruatapu, to march two days after and bring up rations and ammunition. Camp was pitched in a valley under the main range, but hidden from an enemy's view by some low hills page 210here our men awaited their enemy for five days. On the fourth day the camp was out of rations, and there was no sign of Tamehana with supplies; so Major Biggs started to bring him up with all speed, lest starvation should compel retreat. That same day Mr. Skipwith arrived with intelligence that Te Kooti was undoubtedly marching on Paparatu, but slowly, as his men were heavily laden with their loot. The position of the force at this period was as follows: the camp was pitched in a hollow, with the view of concealing its presence from the enemy, and was about a mile from the proposed battle-ground, where a strong picket was posted, in a position commanding the spur up which the enemy must march, after crossing the Arai. The ground held by the picket was the key of the district. Before leaving for Poverty Bay, Biggs arranged a plan of defence with his officers as follows: Biggs and Wilson with the main body were to intercept and fight the Hauhaus at the picket hill; while Westrupp and twenty men took possession of a hill on the right flank, which from its appearance was called the "Castle," and was almost impregnable; and thus prevent the enemy's escape in that direction. On the morning of the sixth day, Captain Westrupp concluding that Te Kooti must now be in their neighbourhood, sent out Mr. Skipwith, and two Maories, to scout the country in front of the picket—about an hour after, they were seen running up the spur from the Te Arai ford as if pursued; Captain Westrupp at once ordered his men to fall in, which they did cheerfully, though they had eaten nothing for thirty-six hours, except an old boar, whose skin was even disposed of—worse still, they had only thirty rounds of ammunition per man, to hold in check a well-armed and desperate body of men, more than twice their number. After despatching Wilson and twenty men to hold the Castle, Westrupp and the main body marched to support the picket, but before he could arrive, Te Kooti with overwhelming numbers had driven them from the ground, and occupied the hill—this left us page 211no alternative but to try and retake it; so forming the men in skirmishing order, Westrupp charged up the slope, and occupied a small ridge near the summit; about twelve yards distant from the Hauhaus, and only separated from them by a narrow gully. The ground on our right flank was moderately open, with a few scattered flax-bushes here and there; but our left rested on the steep face of a ravine, covered with thick scrub, and this position was held throughout the day. A sharp and well-directed fire was kept up by the Hauhaus, with occasional replies from our men, until 11 a.m., when one of the European volunteers, rejoicing in the name of Billy the Goose, was shot dead, and another severely wounded in two places; the enemy also plucked up sufficient courage to crawl round the steep face on our left, and wounded one or two others. At 2 p.m., they commenced a series of small charges (or kokiris, as they call them) with fixed bayonets; but, as our men refused to be intimidated and would not run away, the hearts of the Hauhaus failed them, and each time they retired, doing little harm beyond causing us to expend more ammunition than we could afford. From the moment the first shot was fired, our men had cast anxious glances in the direction of the Turanga track, hoping to see Major Biggs with supplies and reinforcements; about 3 p.m. these hopes seemed about to be realised, for men could be seen advancing towards our deserted camp. Captain Westrupp at once wrote a hasty note, and despatched it by one of the men to acquaint Major Biggs with the state of affairs; but, to our disappointment and disgust, it was found that the new arrivals consisted only of nine Maories carrying rations; most of them excessively drunk, as they had broached the rum en route; only two of this party joined in the fight, and one of them, Waitiri, was shot dead immediately, the others remained in camp with the rations and ammunition brought by them. Just before dark the force was startled by hearing a Hauhau bugle in their rear, and shortly after observed some of the page 212enemy moving among the broken ground on our left rear; evidently making for the camp. In fact, Te Kooti, availing himself of his superiority of numbers, had made a flank movement, which compelled us either to fall back to a hill previously appointed as a rallying place in case of disaster, or change positions with the enemy, by driving them off the hill they had occupied all day. Captain Westrupp decided to try the latter; and, calling on his men, rushed forward, and got to such close quarters with the enemy, that a Hauhau fired his gun into Westrupp's face, and literally burnt one side of his whiskers off. No less than seven of the small force were wounded in this charge against an unseen enemy, who were hidden behind the flax-bushes, and the remainder, exhausted by want of food, and with scarcely a round of ammunition left, fell back towards the camp, followed at a respectful distance by the enemy, who entered the camp as our men retired to the appointed hill, where they were joined by Wilson's party. Westrupp wished to entrench himself on the site of an old Maori fortification, and hold out till daylight, but the men, who up to this had behaved admirably, considering that most of them had not previously been under fire, now began to show signs of demoralization; like most young soldiers, they could not stand retreat, and Westrupp suddenly awoke to the fact, that he was left with about forty men, and that the other moiety of his force, taking advantage of the darkness, had continued the retreat without orders, and were now scattered over the face of the country in small parties.
This desertion disheartened those who still stood by their officers, and necessitated immediate retreat; though, as a matter of prudence, the utter want of food, and scarcity of ammunition, would in itself have compelled this movement in the morning; therefore, it was better to do it while unmolested by the enemy; the more so, that the reserve brought by the nine men in the afternoon had disappeared; some enterprising Hauhaus had probably entered the camp, under cover of darkness, and carried it off.page 213
The situation, at this period, was not encouraging; Captains Westrupp and Wilson found themselves obliged to leave their horses, swords, and baggage, and retreat over a rough and unknown country (for the tract was occupied by the enemy) with about forty half-starved men, at least seven of whom were wounded, and two of them would require carrying. At this juncture, the chief, Henare Kakapango, who had behaved admirably throughout, offered to guide the party across country; his offer was accepted, and the retreat commenced, every one taking his turn at carrying the wounded; it was fearful work for exhausted men, but it had to be done, and so they floundered on, up the bed of a mountain creek, often waist-deep in water, and over steep fern hills, till grey dawn, when they reached Captain Westrupp's out station, at Tapatoho; here they managed to get two sheep, which had been killed in expectation of their arrival; it was not much among so many, but better than nothing. Shortly after the arrival of our men at Tapatoho, Colonel Whitmore appeared on the scene, with thirty Napier Volunteers, who had arrived in the bay on the previous day. He at once requested Captain Westrupp to parade his men, thanked them for their behaviour at Paparatu, and warned them to be ready to start back in pursuit, in an hour. This was rather more than the volunteers were prepared to submit to, and, after a little hesitation, a Mr. Dodd stepped out as spokesman for his fellow settlers; enumerated the hardships they had undergone during the previous forty-eight hours, and concluded by saying, that Colonel Whitmore, under similar circumstances, would hardly have been ready to march in an hour.
This plain but inoffensive expression of public opinion annoyed the colonel so much, that he then and there said sufficient to prevent the possibility of harmonious working between himself and the Poverty Bay settlers on any future occasion; they did not start in pursuit until the following day.page 214
The fight at Paparatu had been a most disastrous one for the settlers and friendly Maories; for not only had they lost two killed (left on the field) and ten wounded, out of a total of fifty men engaged, but all their horses, saddles, baggage, swords, and accoutrements had fallen into the hands of the enemy; in fact, the loss amounted to £1200; and only two of the enemy were killed as a set-off. Maori accounts of this fight are conflicting; Te Rangitahau who, with Nikora, led the affair on the Hauhau side, says that only the Taupo men, forty strong, were engaged; while others contend that the Taupo tribes commenced the action, but that all joined in it eventually. The great mistake made on our part would appear to have been, firstly, the division of a force, numerically weaker than that of the enemy; and, secondly, Captain Wilson's neglect in not going to the assistance of his friends, after he had definitely ascertained the dispositions of the enemy. His twenty picked men would, in all probability, have enabled Westrupp to storm the Hauhau position, in which case we should not have been beaten; as it was, the Hauhaus were satisfied with what they had done, and, instead of following up their foe, they remained to feast on the good things taken in the camp.