Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Troops Suffer Setback at Paparatu
Troops Suffer Setback at Paparatu
When it was learned on the 15th that the rebels had moved farther inland, Biggs, with the object of intercepting them, set off at the head of a force of 36 Europeans and 40 loyal natives. Henare Turangi (or Kakeopongo) guided it to Paparatu, the only place at which the rebels could come out on to the track leading to the Urewera Country. There was no sign of the rebels at Paparatu, and, amid the snow, an encampment was made.
Leaving Captain Westrup in charge, Biggs went back to Turanganui to arrange for further supplies. Whilst he was returning on the 20th he saw H.M.S. Rosaria enter Poverty Bay. Retracing his steps, he found that Whitmore had arrived to take command, bringing with him 30 Hawke's Bay European Volunteers under Captain Oswald Carr (formerly of the Royal Artillery) and Captain Herrick. Later in the day the Waipara landed 40 Hawke's Bay friendlies. That morning, in Biggs's absence, the rebels reached Paparatu. Westrup advanced one section of his troops on to a spur above the camp and Wilson took the other section on to a ridge on the right. When Westrup called upon the rebels to lay down their arms their answer took the form of a shower of bullets.
Vainly, Te Kooti tried to get in between Westrup's and Wilson's forces. He then sent a party, by a circuitous route, to a piece of bush at the rear of Westrup's section. Westrup fell back on to a hill on the other side of his camp. Just prior to the page 239 engagement much-needed supplies had come to hand. The food, hardly any of which had been touched, was at once looted—and in a very cheeky manner—by the rebels who had got round behind Westrup. Among them was a bugler, who merrily sounded the “Grog” and “Officers' Mess” calls!
The fighting went on for about seven hours. Westrup then ordered the troops to retreat, via Te Arai Valley. He was forced to leave behind the bodies of “Billy the Goose” (William Wilson) and Wi Koro. The wounded (who were brought away) comprised: Robert Goldsmith (shot in the elbow), L. Farrell (severe shoulder injury) and Thomas U'Ren, junior, Charles Evans, Hilton, C. W. Ferris, F. G. Skipworth and Pilbrow (all with lesser wounds).
It was after midnight when Westrup's section reached his outstation at Te Arai. His troops had been greatly handicapped on account of their horses having fallen into the rebels' hands. Lack of food had proved an even greater hardship. Their plight, however, would have been much worse had they not had for their guide Henare Kakeopongo, who was an experienced pighunter and was thoroughly acquainted with the locality. Wilson's section did not get back until late next day. The loss in horses, munitions, provisions, etc., was estimated at £1,000.
Meantime, Colonel Whitmore had reached Te Arai with his force. He wished Westrup's troops to turn back—within an hour was the time which he fixed—and assist him in the pursuit of the rebels. Much to his disgust, the settlers told him that they desired to return to their homes for a few days to obtain a change of clothing and some proper food, have a short spell and attend to urgent private affairs. According to J. D. Ormond, M.H.R. for Clive (Hansard, September, 1868), Whitmore dressed the settlers down, describing them as “cowards and curs.”
In The Last Maori War in New Zealand, Whitmore admits that he became very angry. He continues:
“… I certainly regret having been betrayed into using language which expressed my feelings at the moment. But I claim that it was neither unreasonable nor undeserved and, though silence might have been wiser, yet it was hard to maintain it at the time, believing (as I did) that, unless the pursuit began at once, Te Kooti would probably escape.” [The settlers returned within a few days.]
With reference to the Paparatu engagement. Whitmore (page 7 of his book) is unnecessarily harsh in his criticism:
“It was,” he says, “a day of shame to our arms. But it illustrates very forcibly the danger of being led away by the apparent eagerness of the men to attempt operations in a New Zealand bush, even under favourable circumstances, with untrained and inexperienced troops. The military disgrace of defeat and the misfortune of showing ourselves so unfavourably to the Maoris would have produced a page 240 worse effect, however, but for the devotion of the little detachment which rallied round Captain Westrup and, by their constancy and pluck, prevented the rout from becoming a massacre.”
Prior to the engagement at Paparatu, Biggs sent Lieutenant Gascoyne to Wairoa with a request that a force should be sent to his aid. Contingents raised by Ihaka Whaanga, of Nuhaka, and Paora Apatu, of Waihirere, were placed under the command of Captain W. A. Richardson, who, with Captain A. Tuke, had assembled 36 Europeans, bringing the force up to a strength of 140. It left Wairoa on the 21st—the day after the fight at Paparatu—and headed for Te Reinga. Whitmore now ordered it to take up a position at Te Koneke Ridge and to engage the rebels until his own force arrived.
On 24 July, Te Kooti and his band appeared at Te Koneke and attacked Richardson's force, inflicting one casualty. Apatu's contingent at once bolted. As the Crown force was now smaller than Te Kooti's, it made a hasty retreat towards Te Reinga. Turning northward, Te Kooti crossed the Hangaroa River and proceeded leisurely up the Ruakituri Valley.
Whilst Whitmore was at Te Arai he received a further reinforcement of between 60 and 70 A.C. under Major Fraser. Not until 31 July was he ready to begin the pursuit. He says that he had about 236 men, but W. L. Williams places his strength at 140 Europeans and 180 natives. Snowstorms made lengthy forced marches impossible. Near the Hangaroa River the mutilated body of a young half-caste, Paku Paraone (a son of William Brown the Whaler) was found. The lad had been caught by the rebels whilst he was carrying dispatches between Poverty Bay and Wairoa.