1863 - Carey, R. Narrative of the Late War in New Zealand - CHAPTER II. Operations in the neighbourhood of New Plymouth...p 26-43

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  1863 - Carey, R. Narrative of the Late War in New Zealand - CHAPTER II. Operations in the neighbourhood of New Plymouth...p 26-43
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CHAPTER II. Operations in the neighbourhood of New Plymouth...

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Operations in the neighbourhood of New Plymouth -- Attack on Puketakauere Pah repulsed by the natives -- True cause of the quarrel -- Native opinion of our tactics -- Cause and results of the failure at Puketakauere.

IN the early part of April His Excellency returned to Auckland, whence he wrote thanks for the prompt and valuable aid sent him from Melbourne and from the other colonies; and on the 16th of May intimation was received that all the troops sent had arrived. During the first few weeks of April no movements took place at New Plymouth or at the Waitara, and the troops were only employed in furnishing escorts, collecting crops, &c.; and the Governor sanctioned the raising a company of

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fifty natives from the friendly tribes to aid them in these duties.

On the 20th of April Colonel Gold, anxious to afford relief to the settlers to the south of the town, organised a small column for that purpose, and moved as far as the Tartaraimaka block, 1 about eighteen miles distant. New Plymouth, however, was, by this withdrawal of part of the garrison, left as unprotected, that he did not think it prudent to move farther off until the 26th April, when the first detachment of the 40th Regiment arrived. Feeling the place more secure, he then pushed south as far as the Warea Pah, destroying native pahs, villages, and crops on the way; and having done all the damage he could, and not thinking it prudent to remain any longer away, he returned by the 1st of May,

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leaving a military post on the Tataraimaka block.

On the 14th of May, Colonel Gold wrote to His Excellency, urging on him the necessity of his being furnished with specific instructions regarding the operations against William King, as the approach of winter rendered all further delay dangerous. To this he received His Excellency's reply, dated Auckland, 17th May:--

'The operations at Taranaki are of minor importance to those which must ensue if the Waikato tribes take part in the war. I have, therefore, to request that you will abstain, until you hear from me again, from all interference with William King, unless he should himself commence hostilities.

'Should he do so, 1 recommend your offering a free passage to any of the Waikato tribe who, being with him, may be willing to leave his pahs.

'Your not having attacked the pah in the south, as described by Mr. Reimen-

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Schneider, appears to me to have been very judicious; and I am not aware that anything more can be done to punish the Taranaki and Ngatiruanui tribes; but should you find an opportunity you will, of course, not neglect it.'

And on the 31st March His Excellency wrote to General Pratt:--

'The disaffection which commenced at New Plymouth has spread through the more powerful tribes that reside in the Waikato, and it is not possible to form any satisfactory opinion of the future. At the present moment the aspect of affairs is threatening. My wish has been to confine military operations to the province of New Plymouth as much as possible, and, in order to do so, Auckland should be placed in such a state of defence as to offer no temptations for an attack; at present this is not the case, for the garrison consists of untrained militia, partially armed, some volunteers,

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and about fifty men of the 65th Regiment, available for duty.'

Enclosed with this letter was one from Mr. M'Lean, reporting matters as looking gloomy--large native meetings having been held, and declarations having been made of throwing off Her Majesty's allegiance; and adding:--

'I do not apprehend any immediate move on the part of the natives, unless some insult or attack is made upon their people about Auckland or elsewhere. The force applied for will not be sufficient to bring them under subjection of the British law and authority.'

On the 14th and 16th of July letters from Colonel Gold reached Melbourne. In these he reported that nothing had taken place up to the 23rd of June, in consequence of His Excellency having requested him not to move against William King, for political reasons, involving the rising of some of the

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largest tribes in the neighbourhood of Auckland and other posts denuded of troops.

The troops in the Taranaki district now amounted to 1,700; of these, 600 were militia and volunteers; they occupied an extended line of posts, the largest of which was under the command of Major Nelson, 40th Regiment, at the camp Waitara, which consisted of a few Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, and about 300 of the 40th Regiment.

On the 23rd of June the commanding officer at the Waitara reported to New Plymouth that, having reason to believe that some of William King's tribe, who held Puketakauere (a pah on native land about 2,000 yards distant from our camp), were trespassing on our purchased block, he had sent out a reconnoitring party, which, on its return, was followed by the natives; that when it neared the Waitara camp it was fired on by the enemy, who at this time were, it was presumed, on our land, and

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that then, and not till then, were the troops directed to fire.

Some further correspondence took place on the 24th and 25th, and on the 26th the Brigade-Major wrote to Major Nelson, by direction of Colonel Gold, as follows:--

'In consequence of the representations contained in your letter of yesterday's date, I am directed by the Colonel Commanding to inform you that he sends down by the "Tasmanian Maid" an augmentation to your force, as per margin; and he trusts that with them you will be enabled to teach these troublesome natives a lesson they will not easily forget.

'You will be pleased to take every necessary precaution against the wily foe, as regards ambuscades, which the friendly natives would be the best to discover; as also, if possible, cut off their retreat. From the elevated position of the rebels a good view can be obtained of your camp, which must remain amply garrisoned, all remaining on duty armed and accoutred.

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'I have caused ample information to be afforded to Captain Richards, 40th Regiment, and Lieut. Macnaughten, R. A., and I am directed to add that Colonel Gold, from your former experience, relies confidently on your proceedings.'

This letter as it reached Melbourne was incomplete, the strength of the reinforcements having been omitted in the margin. The addition, however, was some of the 40th Regiment and Naval Brigade, enabling Major Nelson, leaving what he considered sufficient for the defence of the camp, to detail the following for an attack on the enemy's position:--

F. O.




Rank and File

Royal Artillery.






Royal Engineers






Naval Brigade.






40th Regiment.






Royal Marines.












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At daybreak on the 27th of June this small force, in three divisions, moved to the attack of the enemy's pah. The action commenced at 7 A.M., and notwithstanding the bravery of the officers and men engaged they were completely defeated, and retreated into the camp, which they gained at half-past 11 A.M., with a loss of thirty--missing, killed, or wounded, left on the field, and thirty-two wounded, who were conveyed to the camp.

The news of this severe disaster was first made known at Melbourne, by telegraph from Sydney, on the 12th July; and without waiting for further news an additional reinforcement was sent from Sydney.

The Major-General in command decided on proceeding at once to the seat of war, and taking every available man from the other colonies. The Head-quarters of the 40th Regiment embarked at Melbourne on the 18th, and on the 24th the General and staff sailed in the 'Victoria.'

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The colonies were now quite denuded of troops, and in Victoria the garrison duties were done by the volunteer force.

The Head Quarters, 40th Regiment, reached New Plymouth on July 31st, and the Major-General landed on the 3rd August 1860, from which time he took personal direction of the war.

In the above account I have been compelled to avoid going into detail as to the operations themselves, and as to the mode in which they were conducted; partly because my information on these subjects at a distance was meagre, and partly because the many various statements of the occurrences precluded any true notions being arrived at, without an investigation, for which there was no time or means, while the war lasted. Moreover I have since heard that a court of enquiry has been sitting to enquire into some of these matters. And also my object hitherto has been simply to point out clearly the chain of events and

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their results, which brought affairs to the crisis in which they were on the 3rd of August 1860.

At the outbreak in February 1860, the native tribes opposed to us were, William King's at the Waitara, and the Taranaki and Ngatiruanui tribes at the south--men whom the Waikato looked down on as slaves, and whom our own people acknowledged as an inferior race, in customs, independence, build, and courage to the Waikato and other tribes that shortly joined in the fight.

The capture of the pah on the 18th of March, and the skirmish at the Waireka, were in themselves of too little consequence to affect materially the general quarrel, which, though not yet fully developed, clearly did not originate in the purchase of a block of 600 acres of land, but in the question as to the right of the chief of the tribe to allow or forbid the sale. The very exaggerated view we took of the importance

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of these two skirmishes, and our public boasting of them, tended greatly to lower our military character; and the means and appliances for conquest at our disposal seemed small in the eyes of the more warlike native tribes, who openly expressed their surprise that so much should be thought of these events, and plainly declared that the fighting they meant would be a very different and much more serious matter.

The march to the south as far as the Warea pah (though the only move, apparently, that Colonel Gold could make) was, with the exception of saving some furniture, property, and crops, productive of no good; and by the burning of the native 'wharees' or houses, and by the destruction of deserted pahs on the road, furnished the natives with the pretext of a systematic raid on the empty and deserted stations of the settlers.

The real event of importance, and that which drove the martial spirit of the Maori

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beyond the bounds of discretion or common sense, and gave great impetus to the king movement, and to the assembling of the native tribes for war, was the defeat sustained by us on the 27th June. The following extract from a letter received later during the war will show the view the natives took of the matter.

It is from a native, Tamati Ngapora:--

'September 27, 1860.

'Tamati Ngapora states that the natives engaged in the conflict at Puketakauere express their great astonishment at the mode of warfare adopted by the military, by which they continually expose themselves to great loss, though vastly superior in numbers to the natives. He says, why are not soldiers taught to fight after the native fashion? They cannot help being beaten if they continue to fight as if they were fighting Pakehas. The natives admire their personal courage, but say that it is this that causes their destruction, for they move so

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steadily and so close that one bullet kills two men.'

Tamati further states that the natives laugh at the idea of being taken by the soldiers, and feel fully assured that with the advantage of cover, and their knowledge of the country, they are more than a match for any number of soldiers; and that if peace is brought about, the road to it will not be fighting.

Tamati also states his conviction that if the natives continue on every occasion to beat the soldiers, as they maintain they have done, it is to be feared that the native tribes will forget their old feuds and join against us.

Tamati further adds that the number of natives actually engaged at Puketakauere, at the Waitara, has been much over-estimated, and that the number of the Waikato, exclusive of the natives of Kawhia, was 140, and of that party none were killed.

Their exclamation after the fight was one

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of extreme surprise, followed by the question--How is it that we all escape?

Puketakauere itself was a strong well-built pah, fortified and garrisoned by the tribes of the district, aided by some Waikatos, fewer than were supposed at the time; but it was still well garrisoned. It was in a position difficult of access, surrounded by gullies, marshes, dense fern and brambles, and intricate and dangerous ground. Its capture, with loss to the enemy, would at this time have had a marked effect on the war; and if it had not ended it would, at all events, have deterred many tribes not yet implicated from joining in it.

In the manner in which it was undertaken it could not have succeeded without much loss on our side, while the probability was that it could not succeed at all; and if it did, the escape of the Maori garrison could hardly have been prevented.

A small body of 300 men was divided into three parties, and sent with bad guides

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into an unknown, swampy, and impracticable country broken with ravines, the nature of which totally precluded the possibility of mutual support or communication. Heavy rains and the clayey soil added to the difficulties; and our troops, from the first, had no chance. The Maori had baited the usual trap, and we walked into it.

The defeat of the troops was so signal and so complete that the Maori declared ultimate victory over us to be in his own hands, and therefore many wavering tribes joined in the quarrel. In addition to the moral effect of this defeat, our actual loss had been so great (viz. sixty casualties, of which half, killed and wounded, left on the field, had been tomahawked and killed by the natives), that the most cautious among them felt that the time for negotiation and terms was now past, and that they were too deeply implicated to be admitted to favour without such sacrifices as they were not prepared to make. It had, in fact, been

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too great a success, and one greater than they hoped or wished for. Nor could the Governor now withdraw from his line of policy, or entertain propositions, until some signal and decisive success should attend our arms, and should thus compel the Maori to acknowledge his inferiority and ask for peace.

Native emissaries carried the news of the victory all over the country, and, while admitting the bravery of the Pakeha, they laid much stress on our ignorance of the country and manner of fighting, and on the certainty of our being beaten. They thus gained many adherents to the king league.

From this date affairs remained at a standstill, and no operations were undertaken. The Europeans were confined more closely to their townships and camps, and the natives, emboldened by their success, ventured near to the town of New Plymouth by night, burnt houses, and marauded in every direction.

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Colonel Gold, who then commanded, was much maligned for inactivity; but it is quite clear that, up to the 28th of June at all events, his hands were tied, and that, in allowing the attack of the day previous, he had carefully satisfied himself that the grounds on which that attack was made were supported by evidence that the enemy had fired the first shot at the reconnoitring party sent out on the 23rd. After this event no choice was left him but to await the result of his despatch to Melbourne soliciting reinforcements. Any further reverse, or even success, if attended with great loss of life on our side, would, without doubt, have crippled his small force, and would have been the ruin of all the scattered settlements in the northern island.

1   The word block is used in New Zealand to designate a portion of land purchased at a particular time, and opened to settlement: thus, the Omata block, the Bell block, the Grey block, &c.

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