CHAPTER I. A LONELY GRAVE. THE STORY OF A MOUNTAIN CAMPAIGN.
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A LONELY GRAVE.
THE STORY OF A MOUNTAIN CAMPAIGN.
The Urewera or Tuhoe tribe, descendants of their famous ancestor Toikairakau (the Eater of Leaves), who lived thirty generations ago, occupied that broken, densely-wooded country between Waikaremoana Lake and the Whakatane district, intermarried with the offspring of those who came six or seven generations later in the Mataatua canoe. They were a fierce, warlike people, whose proud boast, "Tuhoe mou-mou taonga, mou-mou tangata ki te Po" ("Tuhoe, the destroyer of earth's treasures and the waster of mankind unto death") resulted in the bones of their warriors finding a resting-place on many battlefields, but their wooded fastnesses generally saved them from disastrous invasion.
In the days of the wars with the New Zealand Government they became so persistent, especially as the notorious rebel Te Kooti found a safe refuge there, that in April, 1869, three columns of European and friendly natives were organised to march on their main stronghold, Ruatahuna, at the headwaters of the Whakatane River. The total number of the three columns exceeded 1,200 men. That under Colonel Herrick, from the Wairoa (Hawke's Bay), was to build boats on Waikaremoana Lake, cross over, and junction with the other columns in Ruatahuna, but failed signally to fulfil this duty. After much fighting, Colonel Whitmore's column, marching via Te Whaiti, and Colonel St. John's, travelling sixty miles up the Whakatane River, united at Tatahoata on May 8. On the 7th, Captain David White, one of the very finest bush fighters in the Colony, was shot dead while leading the corps of guides across a ford on the upper Whakatane. St. John's column was halted, still under heavy fire, and White's body was laid to rest in a grove of manuka on a shingle bank in the valley. The men lighted a huge fire on the grave, where they cooked breakfast,
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entirely deceiving the enemy, who never thought we would commit such an infraction of tapu; hence they never discovered the grave.
On the 8th, while attacking the strongly palisaded pa, Tatahoata, near Mataatua village, Captain Travers was ordered to hold a point of dense forest, known to be occupied strongly by the enemy, but instead of taking cover behind the fallen timber and trees, he was directed to shelter under a frail tumble-down old fence, some twenty yards outside the bush. Standing on a tree-stump, he was sternly making his men take cover when the rebels opened a heavy fire. His trusty batman crept up and implored him to come down to a place of safety, but Travers replied: "A British officer never takes cover." He fell almost immediately, and after a number of his men had been killed or wounded, they fell back on the main body with their officer, and the dead and wounded; but not before his servant had shot his assailant, who proved to be a Whakatane native named Hemi Paraone Te Waiewe, whose brother, Pauro Te Waiewe, was one of my best men. Hemi had been living in the Marquesas (in the Eastern Pacific) for many years, and was the most splendidly tattooed man I ever saw. Not a portion of his body the size of a lead pencil but what had been wonderfully ornamented with birds, reptiles, flowers, and fish, done in the most brilliant colours of the rainbow. The markings from the waist to the feet formed a perfect kilt. Pauro, who had not met his brother for thirty years, obtained permission to bury the body, but the curiosity was so great that successive parties of his comrades kept exhuming the corpse, and dashing water over it to study the elaborate ornamentation. This went on for several days, till Pauro, quite worn out, approached me very dejectedly, and asked me how many times was it incumbent upon a man to bury his brother, telling me he had already done so seven times. I reminded him of the Scriptural injunction of "forgiving even seventy times seven," when he muttered: "Oh, that's all very well, but it does not apply to a man who has borne arms against the Queen." He drew the line at the mystic seven.
The gallant, handsome young Captain Travers and his seven comrades we buried with solemn military honours on the right hand side of the pa gateway, the enemy beating their booming "pahus" or wooden drums, and firing volleys from the surrounding wooded mountain sides. The air was so clear that they could shout to each other freely across the mile-wide valley of the Whakatane. Junction with Colonel Herrick's column
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being impossible through his failure to build boats, food and ammunition running out, and the snowy season setting in, the united columns under Whitmore withdrew via Te Whaiti. Major Mair took the wounded out by the Horomanga Gorge.
Next day Te Kooti, with a large force, returned from a triumphant raid on the Mohaka settlement. He immediately ordered his followers to resurrect our dead and give their bodies as food for the beasts of the field and fowls of the air. Two years later (May 30, 1871), Captain Preece and I, with our respective Maori forces, reached Matatua, and made peace with the natives there under the chiefs Te Whenuanui and Paerau. We found the heads of Captain Travers and his comrades stuck on the tall posts of the Tatahoata Pa. The natives, men, women and children, joined our force in diligent search, and collected almost every bone, though portions we found had been carried by pigs and dogs for hundreds of yards. These we buried with full military honours, the now friendly natives joining reverently in the service. A year later, we discovered some of Captain White's remains, which had been swept by an abnormal flood many miles down the Whakatane River. We collected these and placed them with those of his comrades, planting two poplar trees at the head and feet. One of these shows in the photograph here given, taken by Mr. James Cowan when we rode through the Urewera Country together in 1921. The other tree was destroyed by fire some years ago.
Fifty-four years have passed away, yet no stone marks the final resting place of these gallant men. Truly the words of the Psalm of Asaph apply in this sad case:
"The boar out of the wood doth waste it,
And the wild beast of the field doth devour it."
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The threshold of Aotearoa. A joyful sight to the weary voyagers.