Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand
Chapter XLIII. — Te Kooti's Peogress—continued. — First Attack on Ngatapa by Rapata
Te Kooti's Peogress—continued.
First Attack on Ngatapa by Rapata.
On the following morning Rapata and Hotene, with Ngatiporou, went out to reconnoitre, and from the summit of the Makaretu hills, could see the Hauhau stronghold, on the highest point of the forest-clad peak of Ngatapa. Ngatikahungunu under Tareha came up shortly after, and proposed to attack the enemy forthwith; but Hotene, sore over the two prisoners, replied, "We cannot attack after your saving those two men; the omen is too bad." This speech confirmed the ill feeling between the two tribes, and the whole force returned to camp, in a high state of dudgeon one against the other. On arrival, Lieutenant Gascoigne and Mr. Preece exerted themselves with partial success to restore order among the tribes; for Ngatiporou promised at last to attack on the following morning in conjunction with Ngatikahungunu. So far they were successful; but when they informed Tareha of the result of their diplomacy, that chief replied, that he had offered to attack that morning, and had been snubbed; and that he would not now work with Ngatiporou, but intended to leave at once for Turanga. This he did shortly after; and it was with great difficulty that Mr. Preece prevented page 243the Wairou tribes from following him. This desertion weakened the'force by at least three hundred men, speaking numerically; but in its fighting capacity it was an increase of efficiency, for it left Ngatiporou untrammelled. On the morning of the 5th, Rapata and his tribe, followed by Ngaitahupo and the Wairoa men, marched to attack Ngatapa. For nearly two miles they wound up the hill through thick bush, until the advanced guard, under Mr. Preece, arrived within a short distance of the summit, and caught sight of the pah for the first time. It appeared that the, defences consisted of two lines of strong earthworks, extending across a small flat below the peak, either end resting on a cliff. The chief point in our favour was, that there was excellent cover to within thirty yards of the parapets. Mr. Preece halted his men until Rapata could come up with the main body. While he was waiting, one of the men fired off his gun, and the enemy answered with a heavy volley. Instantly, without any apparent reason, a general panic set in, and all retreated with the greatest celerity for nearly half a mile. Finally, Ihaka Whanga and Mr. Preece managed to stop them, and persuaded them to remain until Rapata, who had been left well up to the pah, could return to them. This they consented to do; but return to the attack they would not, at least at that time. Under these circumstances Mr. Preece returned to Rapata, and these two gallant men, with sixteen others, commenced the attack upon the pah, working up the side of the cliff's to within twenty-five yards of the first line of parapet. After fighting for some time, Rapata requested Mr. Preece to go down the hill and, if possible, bring up some more men. He did so, and found that most of them had cleared out for Makaretu, and that the gallant old chief Ihaka Whanga could not persuade his tribe to follow him. Only nine men would go with Preece, and with these he returned to Rapata, who was so disgusted with the result that he went himself, and managed to get thirty more. Rifle-pits were now dug on the edge of the cliff by means of a page 244billhook, and a hot fire was poured into the place, and kept up till about 3 p.m., when Rapata called on his tribe, and they stormed one of the enemy's outworks, killing three men. This movement was well enough, provided the rest of the tribe came up to their assistance, and stormed the pah; if they did not, it made Rapata's position, already difficult, desperate, as it was hardly to be expected that he could storm a pah, held by 300 men, with fifty; and if he did not, he would have some difficulty in retreating. Luckily there were no flanking angles, and the enemy were obliged to expose themselves when firing over the parapet. The difficulty would be in retiring from such a place right under the enemy's guns. Intelligence that Rapata had stormed the outworks soon found its way to Ihaka Whanga's people at the foot of the hill, and so elated them that about thirty came up and joined in the fight. This seasonable reinforcement was very welcome, not only for their numbers, but for the ammunition which they brought, Rapata's being nearly exhausted. About dusk he again requested Mr. Preece to return to camp and try to get the main body back with ammunition, promising to hold his ground until Preece returned. Rapata's men were few in number, but he could depend on them; for those with him were either near relations or tried friends, and they behaved splendidly.
Wi Tahata (one of them) continually quoted texts of Scripture to encourage his comrades, and old traditions to show that their ancestors had often been in greater difficulties. Another of them, Ruku Te Aratapu, climbed a tree from whence he could see into the pah, and from his elevated position did some execution. Rapata, fearing he might be shot, ordered him to come down, but in vain; Ruku stuck to his tree, and came off scot free. Watene Tukino, half-brother to Rapata, a man of great strength and courage, was greatly exasperated at their position. "Bighead," said he, addressing Rapata, "you are to blame for this. You brought us here. Why don't you give the page 245order to charge into the pah, and settle it one way or the other? I will never retire." Rapata, waiting patiently for ammunition, refused to give the order; and Watene, to work off his superabundant courage, several times mounted the parapet and fired into the pah. On one occasion he kicked the dust off the parapet into the enemy's faces, and yet escaped unhurt. Meanwhile, the feelings of the runaways who were safe in camp at Makaretu were not enviable. Far into the night they could hear the firing, and knew their chief with his eighty men were having all the work to themselves. Yet Mr. Preece could not get them to start to his assistance with ammunition; it was too dark, they said.
At grey dawn they did make a movement, but it was too late; for Rapata, having expended his last round of ammunition, had made good his retreat while yet dark, and was now close to Makaretu. He had lost five men killed, and had five wounded with him, one of whom died shortly after. The enemy's loss, beyond the three men killed in the outwork, was not ascertained; but the lowest computation placed the enemy's killed during the operations, which commenced on the 23rd, at Makaretu, and ended with this attack, at sixty-five. When Rapata and his men appeared, their manner was by no means conciliating. They strode through the camp in single file, with their guns held across their backs by both hands, and, not deigning to take the smallest notice of the fugitives, passed on, and camped apart some half mile farther on. The main body, ashamed of their cowardly conduct, were afraid to go near the chief; but as it was necessary to ascertain his intentions, they got Captain Porter to interview him. For some time the chief would make no reply; but finally he said, "My men have betrayed me, and I will have nothing further to do with them. I intend to return to Waiapu, and get other men; and if on my return I find Ngatikahungunu here, I will attack them for having deserted me." That same day he marched for Turanga, page 246followed at a distance by the fugitives. Near Patutahi, they met Colonel Whitmore, who, with 300 men of the constabulary, had just landed from Wanganui. The colonel desired Rapata to return with him; but the chief lefused, saying, "I never break my word. I have said that I would go to Waiapu, and I will. But I will return with other men, to attack the Napier tribes who deserted me." After considerable persuasion, Colonel Whitmore got Rapata to promise that he would not interfere with Ngatikahungunu; but nothing would persuade him to fight again with those men of his own tribe who had deserted him. Such being the case, the steamship St. Kilda was placed at his disposal, with orders to return as soon as possible.