1863 - Carey, R. Narrative of the Late War in New Zealand - CHAPTER I. Origin of the war...p 1-25

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  1863 - Carey, R. Narrative of the Late War in New Zealand - CHAPTER I. Origin of the war...p 1-25
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CHAPTER I. Origin of the war...

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Origin of the war -- Military force on the island -- Martial law proclaimed -- Operations confined to the Taranaki district -- Arrival of reinforcements from Australia -- Commencement of hostilities.

I PROPOSE in the following pages to give a brief narrative of the events of the New Zealand war of 1860-1861, in the Taranaki district, so far as the military operations under Major-General Pratt are concerned.

It is not my intention, nor would it become me, to enter on the justice or policy

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of the quarrel. These considerations belong more especially to those whose duty it has been to investigate that portion of Maori history, which discusses native title to land, and the proper interpretation of our treaties with the natives. 1

I shall, therefore, only slightly touch upon the origin of the war, and confine myself principally to the military operations of the troops, under the command of Major-General Pratt--commencing in August 1860--by which the war was brought to a successful termination in March 1861.

The unsettled appearance of European politics, the supposed increase of the French force in New Caledonia, and other circumstances, had for some time caused attention to be drawn to the small military and naval forces in the Australian colonies,

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and to the great interests there at stake. Some of these colonies--and Victoria in particular--had made most expensive preparations for self-defence.

In addition to these external causes of anxiety, New Zealand had an internal disturbing element of its own to guard against, in its Maori inhabitants of the northern island, who were numerous, warlike, and independent, and who, though living nominally under our rule, had never acknowledged themselves a conquered race. Nor had our successes in former wars given them much reason for so doing; and while they had been willing at first to see the white man in their country, and to accept the benefits and luxuries he introduced, they had neither contemplated his soon overpowering them, and becoming the dominant race, nor had they calculated upon seeing their lands and old regal sway pass into his hands.

The probability that such results would

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follow was brought prominently before them by the vain boasting of the settlers, who openly declared to these proud tribes, that, whether they liked it or not, they must sell their lands to them. While to keep this race in good temper, as much care and respect had hitherto been paid to their prejudices and habits as to those of the most high-caste Hindoo! For undeniably, for the interests of the colony and its colonists, collision with the native population was on all accounts to be avoided.

At the commencement of the year 1860, the military and naval force in the colony was particularly small: the infantry, by the withdrawal, in October 1858, of the 58th Regiment, being reduced to one regiment. The colonists were scattered over the face of the island without the slightest regard, either in the choice of their land, or of sites for their houses, to military or even to mutual defence. The country itself was a network of gullies, ravines, marshes, and

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impenetrable forest; and, except in the neighbourhood of the townships, destitute of roads; and even those near towns were hardly better than cart-tracks, impassable in winter.

To these matters His Excellency the Governor appears to have been fully alive, when, in March 1859, he entertained the offer of Te Teira to sell the block of land at the Waitara, which became, if not the origin, certainly the pretext for the war. For in pressing, in August of the same year, on the Secretary of State for the Colonies the danger of a foreign invasion, he adds in a despatch:-- 'The internal defence of the colony is, however, a difficult question; I cannot but see with some uneasiness the continuance of the movement in favour of the Maori King. With the means at my disposal nothing can be done or could be done to avoid it; nor do I apprehend any immediate danger from it. Should any unforeseen circum-

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stances lead to a collision, the union of a large body of natives under a single chief, with their central position and the fastnesses of their country, would give them a great advantage.

'There are seldom wanting in New Zealand disaffected Europeans, who, for selfish purposes, desire to foment discord between the two races; and by the last mail from Wellington I learn that a deserter, and others, have been disturbing the minds of the natives in that district, and exciting them to arm; that they were purchasing arms extensively, and being drilled, and had used menaces that had alarmed the settlers and the civil authorities.

'I trust that these fears will prove exaggerated, and that the evil influence may not yet spread beyond the district. If, however, blood were once shed by the Europeans, even in self-defence, it would be impossible to foresee the consequences. Some defenceless family would be murdered

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in revenge. The murderers would find countenance and support in their tribe; and the flame of war, once kindled, would extend through the whole island.

'There can be no doubt of the ultimate success of Her Majesty's arms in any contest with the native race; but the consequences to the scattered European population of the colony of even a successful conflict could not but be ruinous and distressing in the extreme.'

This opinion, so strongly expressed, cannot but have been the firm conviction of all the thinking portion of the community, who had at heart not only their personal interests, but the general good of the colony which they had adopted as their home.

But though the colonists held much more land than they did or could cultivate, still land was the cry of the greedy; and whenever a rich tract, cultivated or uncultivated, came under their notice, they considered themselves entitled to insist on the purchase

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of it by the Government (and subsequent sale to them), whether the native owner desired to part with his property or not.

Thus the Governor, who virtually, under the new constitution, has little power, may have found himself compelled to take the course he adopted by the political pressure brought to bear on him by interested parties. Possibly he was deceived by the misrepresentation of facts, and by exaggerated and partial statements, more especially of those who insisted on the ease with which, with a show of determination, the desideratum could be obtained; and he was therefore, perhaps, driven to yield to the cry, and to agree to the purchase of an insignificant block of land; and thus, although he strongly deprecated any resort to arms to bring to an issue the question of the native king movement, which, in his despatch of August 1859, he states he has not means at his disposal to resist.

No greater proof need be required that

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both the quarrel itself, and the time selected for it, were of our own seeking, and that the issue might have been postponed until a more convenient season, than the tardiness with which the more powerful and influential tribes implicated themselves in large numbers in it, and the extreme caution with which they avoided being the first to shed blood. Our own acts left them no choice. They were driven either to take up William King's quarrel, or to give up the native king movement; and it was not likely that the proud and independent Waikato would take this latter course.

The territory in which the land in question lay had long been a bone of contention, and the legal title to it by Te Teira, the native possessor, a doubtful point. This chief, however, at the instigation of interested Europeans, who coveted the land, and contrary to the wish of his own people, and particularly of William King--who claimed a right of sovereignty over it, and power to

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forbid its sale (and this he did in a most insulting manner)--offered, in March 1859, to dispose of the property. The Governor consented to buy it, if the seller could prove his title. Te Teira appears to have done so; for in January 1860, the purchase was ordered to be completed.

Here it may be remarked, that New Zealand treaties provided that all land should be sold, in the first instance, by the Maori to the Government, who retailed it to the settlers; and that no land should be bought unless the settler could prove indefeasible right to the property.

Since the reduction of troops in the island in 1858, and during all 1859, and until March 1860, the whole military force in New Zealand consisted of Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, and the 65th Regiment, in all about 1,000 rank and file, and distributed thus:--

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Auckland...... 400
Wellington...... 100
Wanganui...... 200
Napier...... 120

and those in the Taranaki district, stationed at New Plymouth, twelve miles from the seat of the dispute, who numbered only:--




Rank and File

Royal Artillery.





Royal Engineers.





65th Regiment.










In January 1860, the purchase was ordered to be made, and, as affairs looked far from settled, His Excellency furnished Captain and Bt. Lieut.-Colonel Murray, 65th Regiment, at that time in command at New Plymouth, with certain instructions as to the course he should pursue, in the event of opposition being offered to the surveyors sent to complete the sale, and

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entrusted to him a proclamation of martial law, 2 to be used if requisite. The survey and the actual taking possession of the land was not at this time begun, and matters remained in this unsatisfactory state, even becoming worse, until the 11th February, when Colonel Murray wrote to Auckland, recommending that he should be supplied with a small reinforcement of 50 men, in case he should have to move to the Waitara. On the 20th of the same month he wrote to William King, that Mr. Parris, the native commissioner, sent down to complete the purchase, had reported that the surveyors had been interrupted, and that they could not carry on their duties; and that this interruption by his tribe was an overt act of rebellion: he warned him of the consequence of persist-

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ing in this course, and gave him till the 22nd to reflect on the matter; and on that day William King, not having given a satisfactory reply to this communication, he put in force the proclamation of martial law entrusted to him in January previous.

Though the natives had committed themselves to an act of rebellion against the Queen, they had done it in a very cautious and innocuous manner. Some stones had been thrown at the surveyors, and some old women had taken up the end of the chain, and had interfered with the performance of their work. But no blood had been shed; and the natives at this time, and ever after, declared that the step they had taken was in no hostility to the Queen of England, but was in defence of their own lands, which they maintained we were forcing unjustly from them in an unprecedented manner, in defiance of existing treaties. In this opinion, as to the justice of their cause, they were strongly

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supported by the clergy, as well as by a large and influential portion of the community generally, and they would have been supported by others also, had not personal interests been concerned in the possession of the coveted land. The effect of this division of opinion among the European population acted most prejudicially on the native mind, as is well shown in a speech attributed to a native, who, after the termination of the war in March 1861, is reported to have said, in a conversation at Auckland, 'How can you expect the Waikato to give up his king movement, when half your own council are for it?'

The antagonistic views held by our people, and their unguarded and impolitic expression, enhanced greatly the difficulties surrounding the Governor; led the natives to believe that he would be obliged to yield the point in dispute; and tended greatly to foster the growing disaffection

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among the tribes. William King, at a later period, by putting the piece of land at the disposal of the native king, obliged the Waikato to espouse his (W. King's) quarrel, or to resign the king movement. The latter could not be expected. But in taking the former course, the Waikato was understood to have entered into at least a tacit if not an express agreement with the Government, that the quarrel should be kept in the Taranaki district, and that all fighting should be there alone. This singular arrangement remained virtually in force until the end of the war in March 1861. It was an excellent one for the natives. They had gained the choice of a battle-field in a country most difficult to Europeans, and favourable to themselves. They had selected a spot distant from their own homes and cultivations, where they had nothing to lose but life. It was a most central position for the union of their tribes. But yet it was not without

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its advantage to us; for, as long as we could depend on the natives keeping to the agreement, it saved the ruin of the other exposed provinces; and it enabled the officer in command at the time, who had not men nor means at his disposal for general offensive operations, to adopt the views of the Governor, which were to endeavour to overawe the native mind by the greatest display of the small military force at his command. And subsequently--some months after -- by confining the war to this district, pending the arrival of reinforcements, it enabled Major-General Pratt, instead of breaking up his small army for the defence of our widely-scattered settlements in the northern island, at that time left with most inadequate garrisons, to carry out a well-digested plan of operations, with his increased though still inadequate force. By repeated and unvaried successes over the enemy, in this their chosen seat of operations, he was enabled heartily to

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disgust them with a war in which they got nothing but hard blows, and which compelled them to send back to Waikato hosts of maimed, besides, according to their own confession, leaving above 400 of their best and bravest dead upon the field, as well as abandoning the bodies of many chiefs to the Europeans; while at the same time large reinforcements and supplies were on their way from England; and preparations were being made for a general war, should an event so lamentable to the colony be unavoidable.

The news of the proclamation of martial law, and of the unsatisfactory state of affairs in the province of Taranaki, reached Auckland on the 24th February, and the Governor decided on proceeding at once to the spot with all available men.

Colonel Gold, commanding in New Zealand, embarked with about 200 men at the Manukau, on the 28th of February, and landing next day at New Plymouth,

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assumed the direction of military affairs. The troops at his disposal were then:--

F. O.




Rank and File

Royal Artillery.






Royal Engineers






65th Regiment.






These were further strengthened by such forces from the navy as could be spared from the ships on the coast, and by the Taranaki Militia, who had been called out on proclamation of martial law, on the 22nd February.

The intimation that these steps had been taken, and that a collision had become inevitable, reached General Pratt, at Melbourne, on the 14th March 1861, in a letter dated February 26th. The terms in which the letter was worded, however, showed that no great alarm existed that hostilities would be of long duration, nor was the necessity for any reinforcement hinted at

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Colonel Murray had, indeed, on the 20th of February, in a letter addressed to the authorities in Auckland, brought under their notice the terrible consequences that might fall on the wives and families of those called on to serve in the militia, and on the want of training of the volunteers, and their numerical weakness. Of this, however, little notice was taken at the time.

On April 5th 1860, the Governor-General, Sir William Denison, telegraphed to Melbourne that he had received despatches from New Zealand conveying a demand for troops, and he expressed his willingness to spare a portion of those stationed in New South Wales, should General Pratt require them. The same patriotic course was adopted by the Governors of Victoria and the other Australian colonies, their only anxiety apparently being that reinforcements should be sent without delay. The colony of Victoria also placed at the disposal of the Major-General for the transport

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of troops, and other service that might be requisite, their fine war steam-sloop 'Victoria.'

The whole of the expense of this ship, its wear and tear, and all outlay, with the exception of coal, was borne by the colony of Victoria. From the 17th of April 1860, until her return to Melbourne, on the termination of the war, this sloop, which, from its build and steam power, was better suited for this service than any of Her Majesty's navy on the coast, rendered the most valuable assistance as a transport; while at the same time her indefatigable and ever-ready commander, Captain Norman, was always anxious to advance the interests of the State in every way, by furnishing such officers and men as he could spare for duty on shore; thus enabling them to share in the military operations of the campaign in which they rendered most effectual service.

General Pratt lost no time in complying with the demand for aid, though this de-

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mand had only reached him by telegram, and was necessarily vague and incomplete; and on the 10th April 1860, the first reinforcement, consisting of a small detachment of the 12th Regiment and of Artillery, sailed from Sydney. On the 17th, the 'City of Hobart' steamer left Melbourne with two companies of the 40th Regiment, and the 'Victoria' started for Tasmania to convey further reinforcements from that colony. These troops, besides being well supplied with camp equipage, ammunition, &c, took one month's provisions and as large a supply of stores for general service as the ships could carry.

On the 16th (the day previous to the embarkation), Colonel Gold's despatch, to which the telegram referred, arrived: it was dated 'Gore Browne Redoubt,' Waitara, March 19th, 1860. It gave no information, but simply asked for reinforcements. It, however, enclosed an important document from Mr. M'Lean, the native secretary,

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who saw the magnitude of the quarrel, and recommended 5,000 men at once for the defence of the colony. These letters, which had been delayed in consequence of having been forwarded through an unusual channel, were quickly followed by further despatches from Colonel Gold at New Plymouth, dated March 31st, enclosing duplicates of a despatch to the Military Secretary, Horse Guards, detailing the capture and destruction by the troops under his command, on the 18th, of a small pah that had been erected by William King's tribe on our purchased land. Some letters were still missing, and on May 28th 1860, duplicates of letters from March 6th to the 20th were received. From the earliest of these it appeared that about the 4th of March Colonel Gold had moved all the troops he could muster to the Waitara, where a camp had been selected and entrenched, and named, in honour of His Excellency, who was present at the time, 'Gore Browne Redoubt;' the name was,

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however, changed, on the 19th of the same month, to 'Camp Waitara.'

From these letters it appeared, too, that on the 20th of the same month, Colonel Gold urged His Excellency to demand further reinforcements from the Australian colonies, 'as their very appearance would, in all probability, induce the natives to sue for peace.' The same mail also brought a despatch from Colonel Gold at New Plymouth, dated March 26th 1860, stating that at the request of His Excellency, in consequence of the unprotected state of the town, he had gone there with a portion of the force, but had left the camp adequately protected. And another despatch, dated March 30th, stated that, on ascertaining that some families still residing at a distance on the Omata block were in danger from the natives surrounding them, he had sent a small force, consisting of military, naval brigade, and militia, to bring them in. This force came into collision with the natives at

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Waireka Valley, who, with few casualties on our side, were repulsed. The immediate cause of alarm for the safety of these families was, that after the capture and destruction of William King's pah, on the 18th of the month, some Europeans had been attacked and killed by the natives on the Omata block. These fatal results Colonel Gold described as 'barbarous murders'--a term hardly applicable, however much the casualties were to be deplored, when we reflect that a guerilla warfare, in this intricate country, was the only one in which the Maori could hope to gain any advantage, and that the acts occurred after martial law had been proclaimed by us; after we had attacked a native pah, and blood had been shed on both sides; and after these very Europeans had been warned by the natives that war having now begun, it was no longer safe for them to wander about the district.

Though the natives, in resisting the survey, had made the first overt act of rebellion,

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they had left it to us to commence the first act of bloodshed, by our attack on the pah on the 18th. The fact that the deaths above alluded to took place eight or ten days after our attack on this pah, was carefully kept in the background by the local papers, which tried to make it appear, and for a long time succeeded in doing so, that the Maori had commenced the war by the murder of unarmed, unwarned, and inoffensive settlers. Whereas war having been begun by us, the natives naturally enough considered this retaliation a legitimate mode of fighting-

1   The Government despatches, and others referred to, will be found in Parliamentary papers on New Zealand, presented to Parliament in March 1861, and at the pages as here noted in the margin.
2   Proclamation of martial law is interpreted by the natives to mean a declaration of war. Power to call out the militia for service was also at this time transmitted to Colonel Murray.

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