1879 - Featon, J. The Waikato War, 1863-64 - CHAPTER VII, p 26-29

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  1879 - Featon, J. The Waikato War, 1863-64 - CHAPTER VII, p 26-29
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STANDING on the highest point of the Pokeno range, where the bush is cut away for the road, leaving a blank in the skyline that can be seen miles away, a beautiful scene presents itself to the wandering eye of the traveller. To the north is stretched, like a panorama, a large expanse of seeming level country, dotted here and there with patches of bright

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green, and white specks that you know are bouses; and here and there dense clumps of bush; whilst on the horizon, like dark clouds, rise up the cones of extinct volcanos, looking dim and blue in the distance. The largest of the cones is the Mount of Eden, and under its shadow, by the waters of the Waitemata, rests Auckland City. To the west the broad bosom of the Manukau glitters in the sun like an immense sheet of glass; and the hills that girt its western shore are the ranges that ward off the stormy seas of the wild Pacific. If the wind should chance to be light and westerly, at times even the distant boom of the ocean as it bursts upon the Manukau bar can be heard. On this bar it was that on the 7th of February, 1863, was totally lost H. M. S. Orpheus, 21 guns, together with Commodore Burnett, 22 officers, and 167 seamen and marines. This ill-fated ship left Sydney for the Manukau, on her first voyage to New Zealand, with a crew of some 250; and had on board a large quantity of stores for the different ships of war stationed in New Zealand. On the morning of the 7th February the New Zealand coast was sighted, and before noon the vessel had come up with the land. Earlier than usual the hands had been piped down to dinner, which, being finished, the vessel headed straight for the bar, coming in from seaward through the north (or main) channel. This passage runs between two long sandbanks that stretch some four or five miles out to sea, which, excepting in very calm weather, breaks heavily on the banks, especially with the flood. The wind was fair, blowing a stiff breeze from the west; the sun was shining brightly, and, under steam and press of canvas, the Orpheus entered the north channel. She had scarcely done so when she struck heavily several times, and then, swinging round, settled firmly on the bank. Several boats were lowered, but were immediately smashed against the side of the ship, and the crews drowned--the first lieutenant being in charge of the first boat that was lowered. One boat and crew, however, got away clear, in charge of the paymaster, Mr. Amphlett, who made for the Pilot Station to get assistance. At the Pilot Station there was, beside the usual pilot boats, a lifeboat (but it was scarcely, if ever, used), and the hands at the station, unable to launch it, had to proceed to the wreck with the boats they had in use. The steamer Wonga Wonga, bound south, on her way through the south channel observed the Orpheus on the bank and went to her assistance. When she arrived, the crew of the Orpheus were on the yards and rigging, with a heavy sea bursting over the decks. Having no rocket apparatus, the Wonga Wonga could only lay-by in the channel as close as possible to the bowsprit of the Orpheus. Some of the Orpheus' men, sliding down the foretop-mast-stay, jumped into the sea, and were picked up by the people of the Wonga Wonga; others, in the attempt, were drowned. At this time the masts of the Orpheus suddenly went over the side, carrying with them the unfortunate seamen and marines who were clinging to the yards. With a loud cry they disappeared in the heavy surf that was breaking over the doomed ship. Whilst this dreadful tragedy was being enacted on the bar, another ship of-war, the Harrier, was lying calmly at anchor at Onehunga-- only some 22 miles from the scene of the wreck--but it was night before the sad news of the wreck reached that ship, and it was then, of course, too late to render assistance. In those days there was no telegraph. Out of the whole of the ship's company only about 70 or 80 were saved. One seaman--a coloured man--was picked up inside the heads, floating in with the flood tide. He was completely doubled up like a ball, and had floated in that strange position. Although in a dreadful state of exhaustion when picked up he afterwards recovered. Parties of settlers went on the coast the morning after the wreck, but no bodies had been washed ashore, and the only indications of any disaster having taken place were some spars pounded to pieces with the action of the surf. It was nearly a week after the wreck before any bodies came ashore. The loss of the Orpheus is said to have been caused through the sandbank (a shifting one) on which she struck not being marked on the Admiralty chart. Owing to the recent hostilities at Taranaki, men-of-war were continually crossing and recrossing the bar in nearly all weathers; in fact, when H. M. S. Harrier first crossed the Manukau bar it was blowing a hard gale with a tremendous sea running, yet she came safely through the same channel taken by

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the Orpheus. Official information that should have been in the hands of the commodore was evidently not there, or if there was, not used. The following "Ode to the Manukau" gives a description of the Manukau Harbour and the loss of the Orpheus: --


Back from the sun, the morning mists are roll'd,
And, glistening at my feet, behold
Broad Manukau's pellucid streams
Flash back the sun's bright beams.
With rapturous gaze, I view each mountain top;
Each sandy bay, adorned with rustic cot,
While distance shows, in panoramic view,
Some richer prospect of a purple hue.
Here stands a cot, close by the river side,
Where crimson pohutakawha hangs o'er the tide,
And wooded hills rise sloping up behind,
Affording shelter from the wintry wind
In such a calm and peaceful spot.
Methinks one tired with his lot,
Sick of the hum and smoke of town,
Might make his home and settle down;
Pass a bright and joyous measure
Of his life in healthful leisure;
Bask in the sunbright ferny glade,
Or loiter 'neath the greenwood shade;
Watch from the shore the modern ark,
The steamer swift, or white-sailed barque,
As, spectre like, they softly glide
O'er Manukau's quick flowing tide.
But other thoughts do now arise
Of bygone days--and savage battle cries.
I see again on yonder strand
Proud Hongi with his warrior band,
To the conflict rush with tribal cry,
These warriors come to conquer or to die.
The battle waned then fiercer grew,
Till Hongi's band had conquered Awitu.
But now, no more upon thy sandy shore
Is heard the sound of savage war;
No more the music of the native song
Cheers the swift canoe along;
And where the nikau whare stood,
On the margin of the rising flood,
Now sheltering stands in calm repose,
The Saxon cot, encircled with the rose.
On either side the eye may turn--
Behold sweet grass, in lieu of fern.
The low of kine uprises in the air,
And all around shows peace and plenty there:
Whilst floating o'er yon wooded hill--
Hark! the music of the busy mill.
Revolving time will surely soon efface
The passing glories of the Maori race.
Now westward comes booming on my ear
A rumbling sound, monotonous and drear,
Like distant thunder, or the roar
Of ocean waves, breaking on the shore.
I turn, and yonder faraway,
Where the sea-bird skims the frothy spray;
Where yonder distant breakers are,
I see, oh, Manukau, thy funeral bar,
And like a vision, bright and glorious,
Behold England's pride, majestic Orpheus,
Rise from the sea--each towering sail
Swelled out before the western gale;
On, proudly on, no danger dreaming,
Comes the doomed ship--swiftly steaming;
Dashing the spray from her giant sides--
As o'er the heaving wave she rides.
"Heavens," must this noble ship and band
Find a watery grave in yonder strand!
Can no friendly chart or seaman guide
Them safely o'er the channel's tide?
Alas, no! for see, with sudden bound,
She strikes upon the treacherous ground;
Trembles with the shock each tapering spar
As rocks her hull upon the bar.
In haste the hardy seamen swarm
High on the yards in dread alarm,
And anxious glances scan the rugged land.
A steamer comes; there's succour close at hand.
Now with hope each heart beat stronger.
As nearer comes the Wonga Wonga.
But sea is rough and waves are high,
The Wonga dare not come too nigh.
Some few are saved--when fiercer than before
Great hurtling seas come rushing to the shore,
Wave piled on wave in tones of thunder,
Now crashing, tear the decks asunder;
Unceasing, sweep in legions to the fray,
Like famished wolves upon their prey.
The swaying spars o'erstrained with weight,
Fall by the board with their living freight.
Then hark I from the sea a dreadful wail,
That rises on the summer gale--
'Tis the British sailors' sad farewell,
As they sink beneath the ocean swell.
Thy Wonga turns, and slowly steams away,
For all is o'er, she need no longer stay.
The sun that eve as it sank to rest
In its ocean bed, the far off west,
Each glittering ray ere dying threw
O'er ocean--o'er land--a crimson hue--
Roll on, 0 sea, thy surges roar,
In funeral anthems on the shore.
Sad requiems pealing o'er every wave,
That curls upon the sailors' grave.

On the southern side of the Pokeno range the view is altogether different-- here, the range falls abruptly to the flat, in the centre of which was situated the Queen's Redoubt; further on rise up the fern hills of Koheroa, with the Mangatawhiri stream at its base, running through a swampy tract until it joins the Waikato, which glides like a silver thread through

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the King country. At the back of the river, broken wood and fern-clad ridges obstruct the further view. The road over the Pokeno ranges cut through a dense bush, is rough and uneven, up hill and down dale, with here and there sharp pinches difficult for the transport of stores. Several streams crossing the road were roughly bridged over. Whilst the fight was taking place in the Koheroa hills, the distant rattle of musketry being plainly heard on the Pokeno ranges, a convoy of six carts, escorted by 50 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion 18th Regiment, under command of Major Turner and Captain Ring, wound its way slowly along the road over the Pokeno range en route from the Queen's Redoubt to Drury. Arriving at a part of the road called the "Stone Depot," so-called on account of the metal for the road being stored there, the convoy halted to water and feed the horses. Whilst so engaged, a detachment of the 18th passed by on its way to the Queen's Redoubt; they reported the road all clear of natives. Thus assured, Major Turner rode on by himself, leaving the escort to follow in charge of Captain Ring. The horses having been fed and watered, the convoy resumed its march, the rear guard consisting of 14 men, being some little distance behind the last cart. The escort, not dreaming of danger, were marching at ease, when suddenly, near Martin's Farm, a heavy fire was opened on the convoy from the bush on both sides of the road. Major Turner, who by this time was some distance on in front, must have ridden unknowingly through the ambuscade. The suddenness of the attack threw the convoy momentarily into confusion; the horses plunged and reared, and some being hit, fell on the road in their traces. Quickly recovering from the surprise, the escort, with great coolness, returned the fire of the natives, who kept under cover of the bush. The natives seeing the rear guard some distance behind the main body, attempted to cut them off; a mob of about 40 rushed across the road. Four of the rear guard were already hors de combat, when the remaining ten brought their bayonets to the charge and rushed at the Maoris, who, although four to one, declined the contest, and scrambled back hastily under cover of the bush, thus enabling the rear guard to double up to the main body. Gallantly fighting as it went, the convoy continued its march until they were reinforced by the detachment of the 18th which had passed them at the stone depot; but hearing the firing, had doubled back to assist their comrades. Upon their arrival the the natives retreated. Shortly afterwards more reinforcements arrived from Drury. In this affair the escort lost five men killed and eleven wounded. Some of the bodies were dreadfully mutilated; one soldier was found with his tongue cut out. Where the convoy was attacked, the road was strewed with pieces of harness, broken boxes, pools of blood, and the bodies of the killed and wounded soldiers; these being lifted on to the carts, the troops returned with the convoy to Drury. How many men the natives lost is not known, as they managed to carry their dead and wounded away with them. The camp at Drury was that evening reinforced by the arrival of the Naval Brigade, some 200 strong, under Captain Sullivan of H. M. S. Harrier. The Naval Brigade was composed of seamen and marines belonging to the different ships of war on the station; they had several boats with them for service on the Waikato river. The Brigade arrived in the Harrier, which crossed the Manukau and steamed up the Papakura channel, landing the men in boats up the Drury creek.

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