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I WILL not attempt to go through a history of the campaign under Colonel McDonnell, as it would only prove wearisome; and with the account of the only engagement of any consequence in which I took part will end this portion of my adventures.
Right in front of us, under the shade of Mount Egmont and far in the bush, we could see the smoke daily from a large village called Pungarahu, said to be a nest of Hau-haus. This McDonnell determined to destroy in the same manner as we had done all that we had yet come across, viz.: to shoot down all who resisted, and burn it to the ground. Accordingly, one night the whole force mustered in dead silence, armed with rifles and carbines, and each man carrying as many rounds as he could beyond his regular number in a haversack behind him. Altogether, I believe we numbered about 180 strong, including the friendly Maories or native contingent, who always accompanied us, but who, with scarcely an exception, were looked upon by us as worse than useless.
We proceeded as usual, marching in single file, down to the beach, to a place called Wangangoro, where a company of the 18th Royal Irish were quartered. Here we had to cross by means of a canoe, which had been thrown across the wide and deep gorge of a rapid and rocky river which ran into the sea at this place. A poor fellow, who had once
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held a commission in the rifles, and who was a private in the militia at this time, fell over a boulder in descending the precipitous ravine, and broke his arm. He was taken up to the hospital of the 18th in the redoubt, and, being to some extent deprived of the use of his arm, afterwards received a pension of 1s. per diem for his life. After marching as usual all night, we reached the village of Pangarahu just before dawn the next morning, and jumped over the fences with a rush.
The "wharries" were perfectly full of rebels, some of whom we shot down as they ran for their lives to the bush, whilst others remained inside and fired out on us from their low door-ways. Our little farrier-major, Duff, with customary Irish impetuosity, was as usual one of the first in the place, and I caught sight of him firing off all the barrels of his revolver in reckless style round the corner of a "wharry" door into the inside, which was crammed with niggers. The next minute I was potting an old villain with a head like an oakum mop in dry weather, and he had just dropped when I heard some one shout "Duff's down!" I instantly ran towards the spot where I had seen him last; the Hau-haus had been cleared out of the hut, and on the ground beside it sat poor Duff shot through the neck. With the help of the troop sergeant-major of the Wellington Defence Force, I carried him off to the doctor, and left him to his care, though it was but too evident that all was over with him. Five minutes after this, Colonel McDonnell him-
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self and Captain Newland shouted for volunteers to follow them and clear the "wharries" and bush at the further end of the village, from which a dropping fire had begun. We had not gone half way across the open towards the bush before a sudden and heavy fire opened from the trees above us, and looking round I found that besides Colonel McDonnell and Captain New-land, there was not half-a-dozen of us to do any good. Colonel McDonnell saw this, and gave the word to take cover. After a skedaddle across the open, I dropped under a fence, from which several of us kept up a fire for some time. Whilst firing and loading under this frail protection, a poor fellow who had volunteered on this expedition was hit out in the open in front of us, and I had to pass over the "tie-up," and give a hand to carry him in. He was a high-spirited, brave fellow, and was in the act of bringing a wounded Maori prisoner out of the line of fire when he was knocked over; he died before we got home. The fire which had so unexpectedly broken out from the trees was known afterwards to have been from a large reinforcement of the rebels, who had arrived suddenly from a large village some way in the interior of the bush, and which we afterwards, in company with some of the 18th, and honoured by the presence of Sir George Grey himself, took and burned down. By this time we had several wounded, and as each man required four to carry his stretcher, besides relays, our numbers had dwindled considerably; the Maories never for a moment thinking of helping to carry their "Pakeha"
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comrades, dead or wounded. The numbers of the enemy seemed to be momentarily increasing, and the word was passed to take the wounded out of the place as quickly as possible, the rest retiring as steadily as might be in their rear. When this movement began, I and some half-dozen others were formed into a rear guard, under the command of one of the coolest and most fearless fellows it has ever been my lot to come across, Ensign Northcroft, of the Taranaki Military Settlers. He had lost his cap, and, with a handkerchief tied round his head, took charge of our little party, with the injunction, "Keep low down, and fire away boys!" I obeyed the first part of this order after a time only too willingly, for as sounds from the main body, who were in full retreat, became less and less distinct, the shouts and yells from the Hau-haus from all sides became perfectly fiendish, and the balls began to rattle about the trees above us in anything but a pleasing manner. I lay on the ground, half way down the slope of a small gully just below the village, flat on my stomach, potting at hazard, with my carbine in front of me, in the direction of the loudest cries and at the puffs of smoke from the rebels in their leafy ambush. For a short time I candidly acknowledge that I was not entirely free from the sensation known by schoolboys as blue funk; and when my readers remember that we were being rapidly hemmed in, and by so blood-thirsty a set of brutes as the Ngatirannuis have proved themselves to be, yelling, shrieking, and closing fast upon our little band, whilst the leaves and
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twigs falling about us shewed the extent of ammunition they were bestowing on the hated "Pakeha," and that we were aware that the main body were by this time out of hearing, perhaps they will excuse the sinking sensation of one heart in that row of bodies, crouched like deer-stalkers within sight of their game.
All at once a voice reached us--"Mr. Northcroft, you can retire slowly." "Steady, boys, up into the bush; quick with you." To snatch up carbine, and, bending low, to scud like a hare up the opposite slope and into the bush, has taken as long a time to write as I employed to accomplish it; but, once beyond their friendly shade, we soon, though keeping up our fire as we went, and moving steadily, reached the rear of the main body, and all were shortly afterwards halted on a clearing, where we turned to to make stretchers out of blankets (one of which each man had brought with him) for the better conveyance of the wounded men, three of whom died before we reached the redoubt we had left in the morning.
Taking turn about at the duty of shouldering the stretchers, we reached the Wangangaro Redoubt early in the afternoon, and were served out with a "doubler," or two lots of grog in one.
I took a last look at the poor fellows lying in a row sewn up in their blankets, who had started the night before, "burning with high hope," and so soon "to moulder cold and low," and was not sorry to turn in early that night, pretty well baked. We had a few more expeditions after this, and it was while advancing
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with the 18th to take the village of Kitionitea, that we were surprised by an out picket, who had felled huge trees across the track and built their mia-mias behind them, and poor Pat Hanley, my old comrade in Auckland, was killed.
I could tell many curious incidents peculiar to this sort of life if I did not fear that they would prove tame and uninteresting from so unskilled a pen, so I will not enter further upon this part of my erratic experiences, only mentioning that what had been long brewing in our wild band soon came to a head.
Mr. B--------- actually went so far, on our gallant and popular sergeant-major leaving us to join his brother (a major in a regiment at the Cape, I believe), as to appoint in his place, over the heads of all our own noncommissioned officers who had been with the troop over two years and through its hardest days, a private trooper from the Wellington Defence Force. He was a steady man and a good rider, but had nothing further to recommend him (beyond the fact of his being a popular and intelligent fellow) to a position above the heads of many equally qualified, and whose claims, not only from the superior rank to which they had risen in the troop, but from the mere fact of their belonging to the old Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, gave them a right of precedence for promotion. We were electrified one evening, whilst attending the sale by auction of the property of one of our deceased comrades, by reading in the order-book the appointment of Trooper O'Halloran, of the Wellington Defence
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Force, to be sergeant-major of the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, in the place of Sergeant-major Hall, retired. Every man instantly refused to do further duty as long as this order was carried out. The whole of us, therefore, were put under arrest, and after a pleasant enough month, during which we drew our rations and had plenty of exercise and recreation, were one by one tried by a court-martial, and one and all honourably acquitted. Mr. B--------- shortly afterwards gave up his command.
The country having now become moderately quiet, Colonel McDonnell, if he had been allowed to carry out the measures he desired, would probably have secured permanent safety to the settlers and merchants who began to occupy the district; but, as has always been the case where the right man was for once in the right place, the penny-wise Government could not see it as those did who had followed the course of events in the district, and, acted upon by the representations of interested office-seekers, actually had the face to break their agreement with the men of the militia force, who had been sworn in for three years at a fixed rate of pay. They sent up Colonel G---------, who had been known to say to men discharged from the service that he hoped they would starve in the streets, and who had suggested the expediency of the measure to re-enrol these very men, before the time for which they had agreed to serve had expired, at a rate of little more than half the amount of wages they had engaged for. In case of their not accepting this offer, they were to be
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shewn the land that was to be theirs when their time was up, and to be allowed to settle on it, or get their living as well as they could.
The greater part of the troop left the service at once, disgusted with such treatment at the instance of a mad-brained official whose sole recommendation for promotion in the colonial army consisted in his having commanded a company in the regulars in so ridiculous a manner as to render his retirement, if not necessary, at least advantageous to his regiment; and yet this miserable humbug had the power of harassing and hindering McDonnell's measures in every possible way. The result has been chiefly owing to that worthy's clever manoeuvre to save a penny for government, with the benevolent intention of spending a pound eventually. The accounts which reached me after my return to England did not in the least degree astonish me. I only regretted that he who had been one of the main causes of the bloodshed at Turo-turo-mokai--the blood, too, of men like Ross and others, who had shewn their pluck and gallantry in many a wild encounter with their savage foes--should not have been the first victim to his own folly, and that thus any future errors of such magnitude might be prevented.
I took work on the survey again, and that not proving steady enough, I began to cut firewood in the bush and sell it in the town. With three good fellows in an old "wharry" in the Kakaramea Redoubt, I carried this on for about a month, till that also became an uncertain employment, and I joined an old troop-mate
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who had been post-and-rail splitting for some Maories at Rangitiki, to which place I went with him. I worked for some time for a Maori chief, who actually lived in a boarded house and kept an English cook. It was amusing enough to see the crowd of dirty beggars, some with nothing but a filthy blanket to cover their bodies, while others were rigged in paper collars and bobtail coats and jewellery, sitting around the deal table in the kitchen, stuffing hot mashed potatoes and lumps of fat pork into their mouths with both hands, and believing all the time that they were behaving in the most correct way, and were, in fact, almost adepts in civilization. The old chief, Reuben, looked upon himself as a sort of Marquis of Hastings, after he had imbibed too much bad rum, and had lost two or three shillings, not pounds, at a sitting. He used to set off every evening on a broken-down hack, with an Inverness cape over him, to play "loo" in the most reckless manner for penny points!
I found some difficulty in getting even my week's wages out of the dirty old tattooed savage; but, by some blarney and more bounce, I succeeded in doing what scarcely any had done before, and vowed that it should be my last experiment in that line.
I next took a job at splitting posts and rails on a station close by the Maories, which promised to pay me fairly enough. It is pleasant, clean work, and the healthiest a man can do, though pretty hard and requiring considerable strength as well as knowledge of the use of the axe. This employed me for about six
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weeks, during which time we had a small place to live in, that to our ideas, accustomed to tent-life, was a little palace. It had been used as a wash-house, and the fire-place was famously big. Besides this, we revenged ourselves on the Maories, whose pah was on the other side of the creek near us, by lying in wait for their pigs as they came across the stream, and slaughtering them for our table whenever we happened to be out of meat. This job finished, I set off down the coast in the direction of Manawatu, and took work on a large farm at Rangitiki. Mr. McBeth was the only Swedenborgian I ever came across, and a most kind-hearted, exemplary character he was in every way. His house was like a home, and I look back to my life there as to a pleasant dream. I took the job of hedge-trimming at first, and, after having finished this all round the station land, which consisted of some 1500 acres parcelled off into paddocks and fields, I began to pick up bullock-driving; and many a day I have awoke in the morning with stiff limbs from walking over the heavy ploughed land all day behind my bullocks, while they dragged the iron harrow after them, whilst I constantly shouted at them, every now and then lifting the heavy frame of the harrow to free it from roots and weeds collected by it in its progress. Dagging and paring sheep, tailing lambs, etc, felling timber, and splitting firewood, were the other employment's in which I spent three months at Mr. McBeth's farm very pleasantly. A reduction of expenses, and consequently of farm hands, caused me to leave this worthy gentleman
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sooner than I would have wished, and I entered the employment of a neighbouring settler, who remembered me years before when I was digging on the Lammerlaw Creek, in Otago, where he kept the store from which we obtained our provisions. Here I had to work on an average fourteen hours a-day to satisfy Mr. Brice, who was a Scotchman, and tried to make nine-pence go as far as other people's shilling. Being the only hand kept, my duties were more arduous still, and I rather astonished my employer by packing his wool, on my first trial, closer than he had ever had it done before. What I liked about this place was that the hours of the morning and evening were devoted entirely to dairy work, such as churning, filling the dishes with fresh milk, etc.; though, of course, feeding the calves, pigs, ducks, etc., formed part of the programme of the entertainment. The amount of milk and cream I consumed while in this farm I should be sorry to attempt to calculate. Mr. Brice's sister not being blessed with angelic sweetness of temper, and having abused me one day about some trifle, I next day went in search of "fresh fields and pastures new." Before three days I obtained a contract for the erection of a scrub fence, and, having hunted up a mate, who was a hard-working chap, "wired into" the work, and in less than two months had cleared a sum that gave us £30 for the time we had been at it; this in a farming district, where wages were nearly as low as at home, was not very bad, especially as I had never put up a fence of the kind before.
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Tired of farm life, I took a run up to Patea to see how things looked up there, and, after finding nothing doing that would pay, joined the colonial army for the third time, and drew my rations and lived in a bell-tent for a month, at the end of which time we were disbanded, and I began to think seriously of turning again towards the diggings, when a letter reached me with the intelligence that the dearest friend I had on earth wished me to come home immediately. This decided me on giving up my wanderings at least for a time, and in less than three weeks I found myself steaming out of Wellington harbour in the Panama Company's ship "Kaikaura," bound for Home after just seven years' absence.
We had pretty rough weather to Panama, but the "Kaikaura" was a staunch little craft, and took us safe into port. Panama has been described so often that I need not enlarge upon my stay, which was only of a few hours' duration. Suffice it to say that a party of us breakfasted at the grand hotel, and that both fare and surroundings were of such a nature as to make us forget the filthy street by which we had reached its cool and pleasant shade.
Hurrying over my meal, I wandered alone through the streets and into the churches, one of which would not be used as a drill shed at home, with its tawdry images falling to pieces, its tinsel and paint torn and effaced, and its very pavement full of holes. The chief cathedral was in better repair, and on approaching the grand altar I saw a fellow-passenger, Monsignor the Catholic
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Bishop of Wellington, deeply engaged at his devotions. Thinking that he might be ignorant of the near approach of the hour at which we were to cross the Isthmus, and might possibly miss his train, and perhaps his passage, too, by the "Tasmania," which was to take us from Aspinwall, the other side of the Isthmus, I sent an acolyte to inform him that a gentleman would be glad to speak to him, and, on his assenting, ascended the imposing steps to the high altar, and whispered the information relative to the approaching departure of the "Kaikaura" passengers across the Isthmus. He professed himself much obliged, and shortly after left. Those few hours in the train through a dismal foetid swamp, with a deadly-green rankness of purple vegetation crowding up to the very lines, alligators basking in the sun on rotten logs half in and half out of the slimy morasses, turtle lazily waddling through the stagnant pea-soup-colored water as we shot past them at the magnificent pace of 30 miles an hour, and villages now and then struggling into view, formed of a few wretched huts, and more miserable inhabitants, with a general odour suggestive of yellow fever, cholera and plague, are like a strange and unpleasant story that one scarcely likes to recall; and when we arrived at Colon we found little else but strong rum and dirty streets to make the retrospect less gloomy.
There was a revolution going on, of course, while we were in the place, as they say there always is; but beyond a few ugly boys lounging about the wharves with
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old-fashioned pieces, some with fixed bayonets and some without, I saw no appearance of warfare whatever.
As Kingston has been described by many poetic and descriptive pens, I will merely en passant refer to the strange picture that might be painted of negro girls coaling there or at St. Thomas's. Some hundreds of ebon beauties (?) carrying each a basket of coals on her head, and crowding one behind another up the planks to the ship in a never-ending string, form one of the most strangely picturesque sights I have ever beheld, and would form a fit subject for Mr. Frith's appreciative pencil.
St. Thomas, with its pretty harbour, on the shores of which were visible the wrecks thrown up by the late tidal wave, and the lively colours of its buildings, will be always a picture pleasant to recall to memory of my homeward voyage. We were very fortunate in our weather, and in not having more illness on board, although we had as many as twenty-seven cases of shagras fever at one time; and we were happily almost free from yellow fever, only four cases having occurred, and those just after leaving St. Thomas. The fact of yellow fever being on board was not generally known till we were in the Channel, and all danger of its spreading out of the question. At St. Domingo, on the night we touched there, we saw the fire of the rebels on the heights above the town of Jacmel, and heard from the post-office authorities, who had been on shore, that the consuls were in considerable alarm as to what steps
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to take for their own protection. Very soon after leaving this, I was once more in London!
W. H. WILLIAMS, PRINTER, ELIZABETH STREET, MELBOURNE.