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HEAVY rains now set in, and made the roads almost impassable. Fortunately the road to the Queen's Redoubt, or the Great South Road, was metalled, otherwise it would have been a most difficult task to have conveyed stores to the troops already at the front. As it was the teams were sorely tried, and the escorts, composed on the first stage from Auckland of Militia and Volunteers, and thence on to the front of Regulars, were, day after day, soaked to the skin. The little township of Otahuhu at this time was a scene of bustle and excitement; all day long the main street was thronged with Regulars, Militia, and Volunteers, whilst convoys, on their way to the front, halting, blocked up the road, and from the reveille to tatoo bugles were sounding.
On the morning of the 17th July, some hours before the break of day, 60 Volunteer Cavalry, under Colonel Nixon and Captain Walmsley, were in saddle and galloping along the road to Papakura, where they joined about 400 Regulars, under Colonel Murray, of the 65th Regiment. At 6 a.m. they were on the march for Keri Keri, where a large number of natives had occupied a pa, the same no doubt who were concerned in the murder of Mr Meredith and his son. The natives surprised, made no opposition, and the troops took the chief, Ihaka (Isaacs), and eighteen men, women, and children prisoners, together with a flag, a keg of power, on which a native was sitting, and twelve stands of arms. A large number of natives who were camped in the pa, which was erected in the bush, fled with their arms and ammunition.
The prisoners were escorted to Drury, and the Hon. Dillon Bell, the Native Minister, for some reason best known to
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himself, but which has never been found out by anyone else, forwarded to his Maori pets several mats of sugar and a quantity of tobacco. It will be, however, a satisfaction for the reader to know that after passing through the hands of the troops very little of it reached those for whom it was intended.
Four horses that had been taken at the game time as Isaacs' party were sold for £20 each, and the money, to the astonishment of everyone, was handed over to the prisoners. They also were allowed far better rations than the troops, who not unnaturally grumbled considerably. It appeared that by some great stretch of imagination on the part of the authorities, Isaacs' party were considered to have voluntarily given themselves up, although they had refused to take the oath of allegiance, and were captured with arms and ammunition in their possession. Numerous similar gross acts of favouritism shown towards the rebel natives during the progress of the war by the colonial authorities, who were said to be influenced in no small way by the clergy, and afterwards by certain religious fanatics, who held their meetings in Exeter Hall, London, caused the war to be very unpopular with the troops, both Imperial and Colonial.
The prisoners were conveyed under a guard, and accompanied by Bishop Selwyn to Otahuhu, and were there received by a crowd of settlers, who hissed and hooted both at the Bishop and the prisoners. The tumult increasing, Ihaka and his party were removed into the Military Stockade.
The chief Ihaka, on account of his good behaviour in having given himself up, did not have his land in the Papakura Valley confiscated, and at the present time it is in the hands of his family, and of very considerable value.
The roads beyond Drury were now declared not safe, and warning of their insecurity was given to the out settlers who had not already come in. The church at Drury was converted into a depot for the reception of the refugees until they could be forwarded under escort to Auckland.
It has been stated by one writer, a missionary, that the reason why the Maoris were incited to commit murder was because directly the natives left their settlements the settlers came with carts and carried away their goods and chattels, the Maoris watching this operation from the bush. Such may have been the case in one solitary instance, but, as a general rule, the goods and chattels left behind by the natives were not worth mentioning, and they were astute enough to know that directly they left their settlements to take up arms against the Queen and her subjects that they were outlawed, were in open rebellion, and that their lands and effects from that moment were confiscated, as stated in the notice which they had received from the Governor.
At most of the settlements deserted by the natives, greater or less quantities of potatoes and kumeras were left, for the reason that the Maoris did not care to be hampered with their carriage. These were, as might be expected, appropriated either by the settlers or the troops.
The writer passed through several deserted settlements shortly after the natives had left, but never saw anything that would tempt anyone to take the trouble of even picking up. There was, however, one notable exception to the usual heap of old rags, for, of all things in the world, there stood a piano, an article of furniture that could not be conveniently carried away. The popular supposition that music soothes the savage breast did not seem to hold good in this instance, or it may have been that the owner was unable to produce from his instrument other than discordant sounds, which perhaps rather tended to irritate than soothe. The Maori chief to whom the piano belonged was, I believe, shot dead at Rangiriri.
Whether the settlers had taken anything from the native whares or not, murder, no doubt, would have been committed all the same, it being the Maori method of declaring war.
Some of the soldiers at the Queen's Redoubt, thinking that the natives had left their settlement at Pokeno, went to seek for potatoes, but the Maoris, not having departed, opened fire upon them, but without effect. The marauders beat a hasty retreat. A detachment of troops marched out the next morning from the Redoubt, but found the settlement deserted.
For service in the field the troops, who were armed with the Enfield rifle, were provided with a serviceable blue serge tunic in place of the regulation red coat,
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which was left at the headquarters in Auckland, and their shakos were discarded for the time being. The regimental colours were also left behind, as well as the mess plate of the officers, and the bandsmen put on one side their instruments and joined the ranks of their several corps at the front.
No pomp or splendour of war could attend the "fight" that was about to ensue. The struggle would be carried on in an almost wild uncultivated country in the deep tangled forest, amid swamps or barren fern hills.
The Kingites opposed to our forces could not be considered as organised. They had no one leader or chief, for their King, Tawhiao, was a mere puppet, taking no active personal part in the affairs. His council of chiefs arranged and decided everything of moment. Of the chiefs who took the most prominent part in the war, Rewi, perhaps, stands first. Before hostilities commenced he it was who incited his tribe, the Ngatimaniapotos, to break into and destroy the printing establishment at Te Awamutu, and when Apora was incarcerated, Rewi strongly advocated a raid upon Auckland. During the struggle Rewi, no doubt, had more than any other chief to do with directing the native operations.
In the matter of commissariat the natives were not badly provided. Large supplies of flour, potatoes, and kumeras could be sent down the river from the Upper Waikato, where were situated several flour mills and their most extensive cultivations. Supposing that this resource should fail or be cut off, nature gave them an almost inexhaustable supply of food, for when in the bush the nikau was at their side, and when on the open ranges the fern root was at their feet.