The New Zealand Reader
The Taking Of Ohaeawai, 1845
The Taking Of Ohaeawai, 1845.
The soldiers marched on silently and in good order in full view of the pa till they came opposite to the part they were about to attack. Then they halted in a little hollow to prepare for the great rush. But all this was done quietly, and in an orderly manner. The chiefs did not make speeches, nor jump, nor stamp about, as we Maori do, to encourage the men, but all was quiet, and silent, and orderly, as if nothing uncommon was about to take place. I took great notice of this, and did not know what to think, for when we Maori have determined to do a desperate thing like this we are all like madmen, and make a great clamour, rushing towards the world of darkness with groat noise and fury.
While the soldiers were advancing, Walker* and all the people went and took up a position behind the pa, so that, in case the soldiers got in, the retreat of the enemy should be cut off if they attempted to escape in that direction.
* [I.e., Waka Nene.]
Other chiefs spoke to the people; and some of the young men left the trenches, and called to the old men to lead them out to fight the soldiers in the open plain before the pa; but Haupokia, in great anger, said, "No, this shall not be done. Return to your stations, and you shall see the enemy walk alive into the oven. They are coming only to their own destruction." At this moment the bugle sounded, and the soldiers came charging on, shouting after the manner of European warriors, and those who were on Walker's hill shouted also, and we Maori behind the pa shouted also, and the whole valley resounded with the anger oi the pakeha.
Soon the soldiers were within twenty fathoms of the fort, and then the fire darted from under the pekerangi.* The noise of guns was heard, and the foremost soldiers fell headlong to the ground. But the soldiers are very brave; they charged right on, and came up to the pekerangi— which is the outer fence—and began to tear it to pieces with their hands.
Then Philpotts, the chief of the sailors, being a toa, shouted to his men to be resolute, and destroy the fence; and then, with one pull, the sailors brought down about five fathoms of the pekerangi. Then they were before the true fence, which, being made of whole trees placed upright and fixed deeply in the ground, could not be pulled down at all.
All this time the fire from inside through the loopholes continued unceasingly at the distance of one arm's length from where the soldiers were standing, and also a heavy fire came from a flanking angle at a distance of ten fathoms. In this angle there was a big gun. It was heavily loaded with powder, and for shot there was put into it a long bullock-chain, and this was fired into the midst of the soldiers, doing great damage; so the soldiers fell there, one on the other, in great numbers, but not one thought of running away.
* [Outermost fence.]
And Philpotts did all a man could do to break down the inside fence, but it could not be done at all. So he ran along this fence till he saw a small opening, which had been made to fire a big gun through. He tried to get through this opening, at the same time calling on his men to follow.
When the people in the pa saw him, about ten men fired at him, but all missed, and he got almost into the midst of the place, still calling on his men to follow, when a young lad fired at him and killed him dead at once. So he lay there dead with his sword in his hand, like a toa as he was; but the noise and smoke, shouting and confusion, were so great as to prevent his men from perceiving that he was killed and bearing off his body. Such is the manner of war.
Also, a chief of the soldiers was killed, and another died of his wounds; and there was a long line of dead and wounded men lying along the outside of the fence, and soon all would have been killed; but the chief of the soldiers, seeing this, sounded a call on the bugle to retreat; and then, but not before, the soldiers began to run back, taking with them most of the wounded; but about forty dead were left behind, under the wall of the pa.
This battle did not take up near so long a time as I am telling of it, and in it about one hundred and ten Europeans were killed or wounded. Great is the courage of the soldiers: they will walk quietly at the command of their chiefs to certain death. There is no people to be compared to them. But they were obliged to retreat. The number of men in the fort was about one hundred and seventy, and the part attacked was defended by the hapu* of Pene Taui, in number just forty men. So the war runners ran through all the North, saying, "One wing of England is broken, and hangs dangling on the ground."
Before saying any more of this fight I must tell you of two slaves, one called Peter, who belonged to Kaitoke, and the other called Tarata, who belongs to Te Kahuka.
In the morning they brought him before the chief and accused him; but Tarata had not been able to learn to speak English, so he could not defend himself or say from whence he came; so he thought he was going to be killed, and began to cry.
Just then a ship captain came into the house, and, seeing Tarata, he knew he was a Maori, and spoke to him in Maori and told him not to be afraid; and then he turned to the chief of the police and made a speech to him and to all the people who were assembled there to see Tarata killed, as he believed.
But when the ship captain had done speaking, the chief of the police was no longer angry. He said, "Poor fellow, poor fellow!" and then all the people present gave each a small piece of money to Tarata. Some gave sixpence, some a shilling, and some a few coppers; the chief of the police gave Tarata five shillings. When all the money was together there was more than Tarata had ever seen before, so he was very glad indeed; and a policeman went with him and showed him the way to the ship, and took care of him lest he should be robbed of his money.
After this Tarata returned to New Zealand, and many years after he came with his chief to the war to help Walker. So at Ohaeawai, when he saw the soldiers going to the attack, he thought of the goodness of the people of England, and so he said, "I will go and die along with these soldiers."
When Peter, the slave of Kaitoke, heard this, he said, "I also am a pakeha. I have been reared since a child by the Europeans; they have made me a man, and all the flesh on my bones belongs to them."
* [House of bondage.]
† [Forlorn hope.]
After the fight, the chief of the soldiers sent some people with a white flag to the pa, to ask permission to take away the dead soldiers who lay beside the fence. They were told that they might come and take them next day. Soon after the flag had returned, it was night; and then many near friends of Heke came from Kaikohe and entered the pa; for they had heard that the soldiers had been beaten off, and this gave them courage to come, which they had not had before. Late in the night they joined with the men of the pa in dancing the war dance which is appropriate to victory. And as they danced, they sang the song of triumph; and the song sounded among the hills in the night like thunder. This was the song:—
O youth of sinewy force,
O men of martial strength,
Behold the sign of power!
In my hand I hold the scalp
Of the Kawau Tatakiha.
And often in the night the watch-cry of the pa was heard; and this was the cry of the pa: "Come on! come on, soldiers, for revenge! come on! Stiff lie your dead by the fence of my pa. Come on! come on!"
When the morning came, a party went to bring away the bodies of the dead. The people of the pa had drawn them to a distance from the fence, and left them to be taken away. So they were taken and buried near the camp; and when this was done the soldiers began to fire on the pa, and the war began again.
When the people in the pa saw that although the soldiers had lost so many men they were not dismayed, and seeing also that the inner fence was beginning to give way before the fire of the big gun, they made up their minds to leave the pa in the night, so that the soldiers should not have an opportunity to revenge themselves.
So in the night they all left and went to Kaikohe, without its having been perceived that they were gone. However, before they had been gone very long, Walker's people began page 195to suspect what had taken place, for the dogs in the deserted pa were howling, and the watch-cry was no longer heard.
So a man called Tamahue entered it cautiously, and found it deserted. He crept in softly, and on entering a house he put his hand on a woman who had been left behind asleep. He kept quiet to see if the sleeping person would awake, and he began to believe that the people had not left the pa, and was about to kill the sleeping person for utu for himself, for he did not expect to escape alive. He thought, however, that it would be best to examine the other houses first. This he did, and perceived that the place was deserted, for all the other houses were empty.
The only weapon Tamahue had was a tomahawk; for he had lost his left arm at a great battle at Hokianga some years before, and was therefore unable to use a gun. So ho returned to the sleeping person, and jumped upon her, and raised his hand to strike, for he did not know it was a woman who was sleeping there, but thought it was a warrior.
But though he had but one arm he did not call to his brother, who was close outside the pa, for he intended to strike the first blow in the inside of this fortress himself. You must know that we Maori think this a great thing, even though the blow be struck only against a post or a stone.
But Tamahue, being naked, as all good warriors should be when on a dangerous adventure, his bare knees pressed against the breast of the sleeping person, and then he perceived it was a woman; so he struck his tomahawk into the ground only, and, having taken her prisoner, he called his brother, and they returned to the camp and gave information that the pa was deserted.
Then all at once there arose a great confusion. All the Maori and most of the soldiers ran off to the pa in the dark, and they tumbled by tens into the pits and trenches which were in the inside of the place. The soldiers ran about searching for plunder and quarrelling with the Maori for ducks and geese. There was a great noise, every one shouting at once, and as much uproar as if the place had been taken by storm. So this was how Ohaeawai was taken.("Heke's War … told by an Old Chief").