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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter VII. — Progress of The Hauhau Religion — —continued.Battle of Moutoa and Ohotahi

Chapter VII.
Progress of The Hauhau Religion
continued.Battle of Moutoa and Ohotahi.

After Mr. Booth's lucky escape, the Hauhaus decided on attacking the town of Wanganui, and employed themselves in fitting out war-canoes for that purpose. They also as a preliminary movement sent messengers to the Ngatihau tribe at Hiruharama, asking them to join the Hauhau and help to drive the intruding Pakeha into the sea. Ngatihau thought it good policy not to answer, but at once despatched a swift canoe to warn lower Wanganui and Ngatiapa to come to their assistance well armed. They then held a meeting, and decided to leave the three pahs of Hiruharama, Kanaeroa, and Tawhitinui; fall back upon Ranana, and fight the enemy on an old and classic battle-ground, the island of Moutoa. These movements were executed at once. Meanwhile the Hauhaus, uncertain as to the feelings page 35of Ngatihau, advanced cautiously, and finding Hiruharama deserted, passed on and occupied Tawhitinui about two miles distant, and on the opposite side of the river to Ranana, from whence they intended to open negotiations with the tribes of the lower district. By this time the fighting men of Koriniti, Atene, and Parikino had arrived at Ranana, and were present when a message arrived from the Hauhaus demanding permission to pass down the river, and hinting that they would resort to force should their request be refused. Haimona, chief of Ngatipa-Moana, a man of stern character, replied "We will not let you pass; and if you attempt to force a passage we will fight you on Moutoa." The Hauhaus accepted the challenge. It was agreed that our people, as owners of the island, should occupy it before dawn, and await the arrival of the Hauhaus, who would be allowed to land before the firing commenced. Then a general scrimmage would ensue. At grey dawn the following morning the government natives, 350 strong, proceeded to the appointed ground; 250 remained on the left bank as spectators, and 100 picked men arranged themselves in the most effective manner on the island. The advanced guard, fifty strong, was divided into three parties, each under a chief. Riwai Tawhitorangi led the centre, Kereti the left, and Hemi Nape the right; the whole under the general charge of Tamehana Te Aewa. A support of fifty men under Haimona were posted at the other end of the island, at least 200 yards from the advanced guard—much too far to give effective support if the 130 Hauhaus attacked vigorously. The main body under Mete Kingi were 300 yards away, separated from the combatants by an arm of the river, and utterly unable to assist their friends. Why so small a party should have been detached to fight 130 Hauhaus, mad with fanaticism and belief in their own invulnerability, it is difficult to say, the more so that nearly if not all the friendly natives did undoubtedly believe that they were fighting against men who were assisted by the angels. We page 36are bound to admire their courage rather than their discretion in putting themselves in a position comparatively unsupported, and from whence they could retreat only by swimming.

It must not be supposed that the Wanganui fought only to save the town of Wanganui; far from it, at that time they were strong supporters of the king, therefore in a measure inimical to the Europeans. They fought for the mana (influence) of the tribe. No hostile war party had ever forced the river, and none ever should do so. Our friends whom we left at their posts on the island had not long to wait. The Hauhaus came down the river, and grounded their canoes on a shingle spit of the appointed battle-ground. The warriors sprang on shore like men confident of success. Wanganui allowed them to land as agreed upon, and then a portion of the advanced guard fired a volley. The Hauhaus were not thirty yards distant, yet none of them fell. At this moment a lay brother living with the Catholic priest, Father Pezant, rushed forward, and implored the opposing party to stop the fighting. No one listened to him, and the return volley laid him dead, together with many others, including the chiefs Riwai and Kereti. The centre and left, disheartened by the loss of their chiefs, began to give way, shouting that the enemy were invulnerable; but Hemi Nape held his ground, and soon proved to the contrary. Nevertheless they were driven slowly back by the overwhelming force of the Hauhaus. Two-thirds of the island had been gained, and the battle appeared to be lost, when suddenly Tamehana Te Aewa came to the rescue. He had vainly tried to bring back the fugitives; but not succeeding, had returned to share the fate of those who fought. Hemi called on his men to take cover from the Hauhau fire, and hold their ground. He was obeyed by all but Tamehana, who fought like a demon, killing two men with his double-barrelled gun. At this critical moment Hemi Nape, the last of the three leaders, was shot dead. His son Marino took page 37command. Nearly all his men were more or less severely-wounded; and as the Hauhaus rushed forward to finish the fight, our men fired a volley into them at close quarters, killing several; but they still came on, and for a moment the fate of Wanganui trembled in the balance. Tamehana was equal to the occasion. Seizing the spear of a dead man, he drove it through the nearest Hauhau, taking his gun and tomahawk. The latter he drove so deeply into the head of a second, that in wrenching it out the handle was broken. Finding the gun unloaded he dashed it in the faces of his foes, and seized another, which he was about to fire when a bullet struck him in the arm. He nevertheless killed his man. This was his last effort. The next moment a bullet shattered his knee to pieces. The tomahawk would soon have finished him, but his gallant stand had given Haimona time to come up with the support and rallied fugitives. Ashamed of their conduct they came determined to wipe it out. They fired one volley, killing a chief (brother to Pehi), and then charged pell-mell upon the Hauhaus. There was no time to re-load, so down went the guns, and all went in with the tomahawk. The enemy were driven in confusion to the upper end of the island, where, followed by the tomahawks of their pursuers and exposed to the cross fire of Mete Kingi's people, they rushed in a body into the water, and attempted to swim the rapid to the right bank. Just then Haimona recognised the prophet among the swimmers. He called to one of his best fighting men (Te Moro) and said "There is your fish," at the same time handing him his bone mere. Te Moro went for the fish, and caught him by the hair just as he reached the opposite bank. The prophet seeing the fate which threatened him, put up his hand, and said—"Pai Marire, Marire hau." The remainder of what might have been an eloquent speech was cut short by the mere; Te Moro swam back towing his fish, and threw it at Haimona's feet. To this day he shows the two gaps in the mere with great pride. Over fifty Hauhaus were buried on the island, and page 38twenty prisoners were taken by Mete Kingi, who crossed the river and surrounded some fugitives in a galley. Our loss was sixteen killed and nearly forty wounded—rather severe when it is remembered that not more than eighty men actually took part in the fight. The somewhat cowardly behaviour of a portion of Wanganui during the early part of the action may be attributed to two causes: namely, the non-result of the first volley which confirmed them in the belief of Hauhau invulnerability; and secondly, in the loss of their leaders Riwai and Kereti, who fell by the first Hauhau volley. It was only the gallant behaviour of Hemi and Tamehana with the men of Ranana that turned the scale, and gave us the spectacle of a real old Maori fight in modern times. No other tribe can boast of an engagement like this for the last fifty years.

A period of hostility between upper and lower Wanganui, Pehi Turoa's, and Hori Kingi's tribes, followed this fight, and lasted until February, 1865, when the Hauhaus occupied Ohotahi, close to Hiruharama. The fiat round this pah was covered with small conical hills, of which circumstance the Hauhaus took advantage, fortifying them as outworks. They also built a pah on the hill above, from which at long range bullets could be dropped into Hiruharama. The friendly natives lost no time in mustering their forces, and nearly two hundred men took the field under command of Hone Hipango. The first night after they arrived, a Ngatipa warrior, Eramea, set out to reconnoitre on his own account. He crawled unseen up to one of the hillock pahs, and put his head in at the gateway to look about. The garrison (five men) saw him, and thinking that he must be well supported, blazed away wildly, and then bolted over the palisades, leaving Eramea in possession. His triumphant war-whoop soon brought his friends up, and they, not to be outdone, carried the remaining outworks with a rush. The same night an attempt was made against the pah on the range. A few shots had been fired on either side, when suddenly a voice from the pah page 39shouted, "Take care what you do; Te Miere and Te Mokena are here." At the names of those dreaded warriors, one of whom was seventy years of age, our men withdrew, not caring to face them just then. For some days after this, general skirmishes were going on, during which a few men were killed on either side. This style of warfare did not suit Te Hipango, who took more decided measures. Early one morning he sallied out with all his force, and threw up flying rifle-pits within sixty yards of the pah. When his men had possession of the ground, he proceeded to lay out a sap, and while driving stakes into the ground to give the direction, was mortally wounded. The brave chief did not mention that he was wounded, but walked quietly back to Hiruharama, where he died soon after. When the news was brought to his men, they were perfectly infuriated, and determined to assault the pah at once. Had they carried out their intention Pehi and his tribe would have been exterminated. Wanganui were actually moving to the attack, when suddenly a woman came out of the gateway of the pah, waving a white flag. She was recognised as Pehi's wife. The firing stopped instantly, the garrison of the pah came out, and a general tangi (cry) ensued over their mutual losses; for be it remembered that both parties were Wanganuis, and Pehi Turoa was the great ancestral chief of the whole tribe. The celebrated chief Topini Te Mamaku, and Ropina, a brother of Pehi, escaped prior to the surrender of the pah, but all the other chiefs and eighty fighting men surrendered, or would have done so had they not been Wanganuis, for, as Pehi's dignity would have suffered by being made a prisoner, he was therefore allowed to walk off, guns and all, to the great indignation of many Europeans, who could not understand that the tribe would have lowered their own dignity by making a prisoner of their greatest chief. The total loss in these skirmishes was nine Hauhaus and five friendlies killed, the wounded on either side not known.