1863 - Carey, R. Narrative of the Late War in New Zealand - CHAPTER IV. New Plymouth fortified...p 71-95

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  1863 - Carey, R. Narrative of the Late War in New Zealand - CHAPTER IV. New Plymouth fortified...p 71-95
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CHAPTER IV. New Plymouth fortified...

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New Plymouth fortified--Refusal of the civil authorities to aid in the removal of the women and children, and in sanitary operations, with its consequences -- Plans for victualling the town -- Selfishness of the settlers -- Presumption and inefficiency of the Volunteers -- The enemy abandon their pahs, and retire into the forest -- Expedition to Burton's Hill, and escape of the enemy -- Maori tactics -- Plan adopted by General Pratt.

IMMEDIATELY on landing, the Major-General proceeded to inspect the defences of the town and its outposts. For the former little had been done, and the latter were clearly on too extended a scale. Orders were at once issued to surround the main portion of the town with a parapet and ditch, or stockade, according to circumstances, and for curtailing as far as possible the extended

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line of outposts. The latter could at the time be only partially done, but the former was at once taken in hand most energetically. The defence of the town by an enceinte was at that time, and up to the end of the war in March 1861, much criticised, both as to its necessity, and as to the actual security obtained. It was, however, a very necessary measure; it gave a defined limit, beyond which people were warned not to reside or to venture. Those who disobeyed orders, and many did so, did it at their own risk; and most of the casualties that occurred to the settlers, all of whom, capable of bearing arms, were at a distance beyond these limits, where they had apparently gone for the mere pleasure of disobeying orders, and in defiance of repeated proclamations and warnings, and with no object in view but to look at, not to look after, their lands and houses, to which at present their visits could do no good. It made the posts of alarm more easily accessible, and

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enabled a chain of sentries to be kept with some continuity. It also prevented marauders from creeping through the numerous ravines, and setting fire to the wooden houses of the town. It is quite true that this work was not an insurmountable obstacle to an enemy, nor was it capable of resisting at all points an organised and determined attack. Neither time nor means were at hand, nor was it ever contemplated, to erect such a defence. It was, however, a good fieldwork, answering the purpose for which it was mainly constructed; and interposing with its ditch, and parapet thickly covered with broken bottles, a very formidable interruption--especially to savages with naked feet--in making a night attack. Had such an attack been attempted it would have given time to the garrison to get under arms and to repair to their posts, and to the women and children of the settlers to gain the shelter provided for them. The outposts encircling the town were block-

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houses placed on commanding sites, but they were used rather as barracks than for this duty, as the nature of the country quite precluded, with the small number of troops in hand, anything like a continuous circuit.

Alarms by day and night were of frequent occurrence, causing the women and children of the families still living beyond the prescribed limits to rush in confusion and uproar to Marsland Hill; so that it was clearly necessary to remove the greater number of them to some place of safety, farther from military operations. The Major-General at once turned his attention to this most disagreeable duty; and tried, by showing the exigency of the occasion, to enlist the influence of the acting superintendent of the Province and other civil authorities in aiding him to carry out his views to this end. Far from receiving that amount of support from the colonists (on whose account the war had originated) that

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he had a right to expect in carrying out a measure of this kind, he was met with nothing but difficulties, and when not openly opposed he was passively resisted. For the civil authorities declined to have any hand in a measure so unpopular, and left the obnoxious duty to be carried out by the military alone as they best could. They alleged that martial law had superseded their authority, and that they now had no power. The real fact of the case was, that the more influential persons of the district were averse to sending their own families away; and, therefore, had no desire to see such a measure carried out in its entirety. They were quite aware that the presence of their families in New Plymouth must hamper military operations and protract the war; but they calculated that the expenditure, from which they largely benefited, and the compensation which they anticipated, would far more than recompense them for the temporary loss of their homesteads, and the

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inconvenience of living in a crowded town. The whole subject was referred to the Government in Auckland, the result of which was an acknowledgement of the necessity for the measure, and to cause them to forward a very inadequate sum of money for the purpose, which was doled out most sparingly and grudgingly by the Taranaki civil authorities who had the control of it.

It soon became clear that under their arrangements no families would leave unless it suited their plans. In a sanitary point of view the town could not contain its numerous inhabitants without a risk of engendering much disease; and though the heavy rains that now fell cleared the half-formed streets of much refuse, still the want of drainage and the accumulation of filth in houses crowded with families living in dirt and discomfort, rendered it too probable that the consequences would be most disastrous when the hot and dry season should set in. As it was, fevers and diph-

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theria pervaded the town when the hot season did come; even although some hundreds of women and children had with great difficulty been removed, and the garrison had been reduced by the force sent to the Waitara; and even although the Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals had aroused the better class to their danger, and showed them the urgent necessity for drainage and cleansing.

Many lives were sacrificed, owing to the ignorance and obstinacy of the people in not attending to his sanitary regulations. For, while disease and death were rife among the families in the town, the soldiers in the same place were most healthy; and in the outposts and at the more distant camp at the Waitara, disease was unknown. Had the original numbers remained in New Plymouth, the mortality would, probably, have been fearfully great.

On the 22nd of August the Major-General embarked in the 'Victoria' for Auckland,

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to concert with His Excellency the best means of bringing the war to a successful termination, and to urge forcibly on the Government the necessity of its taking decided steps in removing those who now encumbered the town and prevented all distant military operations; and, if possible, to induce it to give the requisite pecuniary aid to the Province--the unfortunate scene of war--that the distress consequent on temporary banishment from their homes might be alleviated.

The Government, however, afforded only the most lukewarm assistance in this matter; contenting themselves with merely granting him an indemnity for any steps he might take, and with placing a steamer at his disposal for a few trips, instead of sending some person to the spot armed with authority and supplied with funds sufficient for the purposes required.

With much trouble and difficulty about 600 women and children were eventually

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removed to Nelson. The opposition, however, was very great, and the encouragement to resist given by the civil authorities, and by the richer portion of the inhabitants, who mostly held commissions in the local corps, was very decided. It was found impossible to remove any more without resorting to the employment of actual force, which was not desirable. The remainder of the inhabitants were therefore left to endure whatever might be the consequences of their own folly. And on the 8th September the General reported to His Excellency that he had done all that he considered advisable with regard to moving the families.

Early in the month of August General Pratt visited the camp at the Waitara, and reconnoitred the enemy's position; and, leaving instructions for the preparations for his contemplated attack, returned to New Plymouth to hurry on the defences there. These were pushed on during the next few days, interrupted by occasional alarms and

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by skirmishes with small parties of the rebels who showed on the edge of the main forest. These were, however, only marauding parties, burning the more distant and deserted farm-houses.

The population of the district had been obliged to leave their lands uncultivated, and to flock into a confined town; it was clear that vegetables, milk and other necessary articles of consumption would soon become scarce. To obviate this result every aid was offered to the settlers 1 to cultivate

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their land, by converting suitable residences into block-houses, by establishing codes of signals, &c. By this system of outposts, from which no military duty but self-defence was required, it was intended to keep the enemy confined to his forest while the farmer sowed his crops. This plan, which was proposed by the Major-General, and some time after again suggested by the Commanding Royal Engineer, was not tried because the settlers did not feel secure without more permanent military protection; and because they all thought their own houses and their own lands were those which should

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be especially chosen to be benefited by being saved and cultivated at the public expense. None of them cared for the general good. The plan eventually adopted, and by which much valuable food was supplied to families in the town, was to cultivate a large reserve close to the lines. To do this it first required to be fenced in. A native corps had been formed and was employed on this duty, with orders to clear away useless bush, but not to cut down any ornamental wood, the property of the colonists. This, though an advantage to the settlers, who before the war would have been only too glad to have had their land cleared without expense, was now objected to by them; and compensation was claimed for the damage done. They even proposed that all the wood required for this purpose should be cut on the lands belonging to the natives, and that it should be cut by the natives themselves without payment!

Another source of difficulty was found

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in dealing with the newly raised local corps. They imagined themselves fitted for every emergency, and equal, if not superior, to the regular troops. The officer commanding the militia and volunteer corps solicited an audience with the General for himself and the captains of the volunteer companies; and at this interview these gentlemen explained that their knowledge of the country, gained by a long residence in it, had rendered them far better fitted to carry on a war with the natives than it was possible for soldiers to be; and they requested that the Major-General would strike them off garrison duty for a time, in order that they might carry on a guerilla war on their own lands, asserting that in a few weeks not a Maori should be seen in the district. As there was at the time no immediate prospect of bringing the natives to action, and as he had no wish to curb such patriotic zeal, the General assented to the proposition. The weather suddenly becoming

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very boisterous the volunteers were unable to commence operations. During the storms, however, the brig 'George Henderson' was wrecked on the coast; and as it was presumed that the natives would come down to plunder it, two or three ambuscades were laid, but without effect. Beyond this no move was made, no organised plan was adopted, nor were any steps taken likely to obtain the promised result. As the volunteers still remained in the town, notwithstanding that the weather cleared up, the officer commanding them was called on to explain, when it appeared that the men were not willing to undertake the duty proposed for them by their officers. The scheme then fell to the ground, and the corps were ordered to resume garrison duties.

The works were continued during the absence of the Major-General at Auckland, and no event of any moment, on either side, took place until the 27th of August, when

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Major Hutchins, 12th Regiment, commanding at Waireka, sent in word that the enemy had abandoned their positions there, and that he had destroyed them. They were found to consist of covered rifle-pits on the slope of the hill, in double and treble lines, flanked by stockades, traversed and having passages of retreat to the rear. This unexpected step on the part of the natives enabled General Pratt, on his return to New Plymouth, on the 28th, to do what he had always been most anxious to do, viz. to withdraw the outpost at the Waireka, without risking an action in which much loss of life on our side must have occurred, and the result of which could at most have been the capture of a post which must have been abandoned the next day--a conquest that could have had no influence on the issue of the war, which was to be decided on the north and not on the south of New Plymouth.

On the 29th information was received

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from the Waitara that the enemy had abandoned the Puketakauere Pah, which our troops had then destroyed. Thus the enemy had given up their lines of defence to the north and to the south, and had retired into the forest, whence they issued in small parties by day and night, and burnt the deserted wooden tenements of the settlers, and drove off their cattle with impunity. Many of the buildings were in the forest itself, quite beyond our protection, as also were the cattle, which were scattered over an unfenced district. Escorts were freely offered to the settlers to drive their cattle into the town that they might be sold to the contractors. But, though the contractors offered about double what the colonists had been before receiving, still, in most cases, they preferred having their cattle stolen by the natives, to losing the chance of the large compensation they anticipated at the end of the war.

Mr. M'Lean, the native secretary, who, during the short period he was enabled to

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remain in the district afforded much valuable aid, both by his influence and by his information, obtained intelligence on the 3rd September that a body of the enemy from William King's and the Taranaki tribes, had established themselves and were erecting a pah at a place known as Burton's Hill, about six miles from Omata. It was therefore determined to try and surround them. For this purpose three parties, averaging 250 rank and file each, started at midnight to take up positions: two to intercept the enemy on the lines of retreat that he would most likely adopt, and the third to advance on his position by daybreak. As far as Omata the road lay through a difficult fern country, but was well known to us; beyond Omata, where it entered the dense and impracticable forest, we knew only little of it. Notwithstanding any precautions that might be taken, a very few natives could have lain hid in this forest and could have fired on the column without being seen. The march,

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however, was conducted with the greatest secrecy and quiet, and the point of attack reached without any sign of the Maori. But though the information was ascertained to have been correct, yet the enemy had escaped. The foundations of a pah had been dug, and building materials had been collected. Recently cooked food found on the spot showed that the position had been abandoned in haste. This day's march confirmed Mr. Reimenschneider's description of a New Zealand forest, and showed us how little persons who talked of flying columns knew of the country.

In a war against savages the European has at all times great difficulties to contend against; and in New Zealand, and more especially in a district like the one to which operations were now necessarily confined, this was peculiarly apparent. In all former feuds between the European and the Maori the tactics of the latter had been to keep the war at a distance from their homes and

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cultivations; to take up positions naturally strong, the only value of which was that they were difficult of access; to cause much loss of life to the attacking party in its advance; to retreat and to vacate the post without coming to close quarters. By these measures they usually inflicted heavy losses on us and sustained little themselves. The same tactics were still adopted, though on a more extended scale, owing to their supply of arms and ammunition being now much increased. None of the positions taken up by the natives were of the slightest importance to them or to us. They did not cover magazines, roads, or any points of consequence; they were selected simply as spots the most inaccessible that could be found, from which retreat was secure. The abandonment of the pahs after they had answered their purpose, was part of their system of war. In the native mind victory remained with the side that lost fewest men, and not with the possession of the barren piece of

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ground on which the fight took place. The Maori knew that when they assembled we had no choice but to attack them, and that we were only too glad when they took up a position. The mode of attack, however, was in our hands. Hitherto this had always been the same, viz. a rush on the place, which had at best resulted in its capture, with severe loss to us, and with little or none to the enemy. We had, in fact, played their game. After one of those attacks the Maori dispersed to his villages and boasted of the number of the Pakeha he had killed; while we, having hoisted our flag on the captured pah, lunched, carried off our dead and wounded; pulled the flag down again; returned home to glorify ourselves on our gallant deeds, and bury our dead. The loss sustained by the enemy was always over-estimated. Everyone secretly wondered what object had been gained, and what had been done to bring the war to a termination.

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This was the regular mode of procedure during the continuance of former disturbances; it was hardly ever deviated from, and so the tribes remained unconvinced of the superiority of our appliances, and conceived no great opinion of our aptitude to put them to the best use. When tired of fighting they dispersed into the interior, to their own homes and cultivations, and tilled their lands unconquered. Thus the feud perforce slumbered until roused again by the insidious machinations of some turbulent Pakeha-Maori, or of some interested colonist.

The history of our colonisation of New Zealand, and the constant recurrence of these feuds with the natives, made it evident that this plan of warfare--if such it could be called--would not bring the natives to submission and order. If this end was to be attained by fighting, it must be conducted so as to prove to them conclusively that we were their masters, not

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only in pluck, but in the use of the appliances at our command. It was necessary to show them that their strongest pahs, or positions of any kind, were valueless; that the forest would in time be no further protection to them, and that all could be taken with little loss of life on our side. One reverse, such as that of the 27th of June, or a victory in which we suffered much loss of life, would now have raised the whole native population, and plunged the colony in a war which, ending in the extermination of the native race, must have begun by the utter ruin of the northern island. By an extraordinary chain of reasoning the public, at home and in the colony, appeared to be inoculated with the feeling that to carry on a war with the native we should adopt his plan of warfare, and that we should meet him in the bush in skirmishing order. General Pratt, however, decided that to adopt this plan would be to sacrifice the advantages of our superior weapons; for, if

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we met the natives where men could only creep singly, and could not support each other in any way, the tomahawk would prove a more formidable weapon than the rifle. The issue showed that he was right, for he brought the war to a successful termination before the winter set in, and proved to the natives how vain it was for them to cope with us. The nature of the country, the habits of the Maori, and the peculiar features of the war, did not admit of a strict appliance of the theory and rules of warfare. But it was not on this account necessary to disregard them altogether; and in the subsequent operations theory was made to suit the circumstances of the case, and plans were not made to suit theories; and I believe for the first time in New Zealand wars the Maori was taught that neither pah nor forest would for the future afford him security.

The cry raised in New Zealand, and industriously circulated, that the capture of

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a pah by us without the capture of the garrison was considered by the Maori a victory, was calculated to mislead. It is true the Maori had no intention in taking up any position, and fortifying it as he did, to remain in it. If he succeeded in inducing the Pakeha to attack it, and in so doing killed many of our men, losing few himself, his object was gained, and he naturally considered vacating the then useless pah no defeat. But if he was compelled time after time to vacate his posts, and to retire deeper and deeper into the forest, having sustained daily loss of his own men, and having inflicted little or none on us, the case was very different. He was too clear-sighted not to see this. Whatever we might say he knew that he had been defeated at his own game; that his loss was not only men--a serious loss to the Maori--but prestige; and it was in this way that the Waikato influence was so much weakened.

The dress used by the troops on all

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active operations was well calculated for the service, viz. a blue serge jumper worn over the belts, in lieu of the tunic, while a forage cap replaced the shako. In winter they had the great-coat, with the skirts tucked up, cut off, or worn horse-collar fashion.

1   'Superintendent's Office: 19th October 1860.

'Major-General Pratt having approved of a plan whereby settlers may cultivate their farms in the neighbourhood of military posts, the following conditions relating thereto are published for general information; and all persons who may desire to avail themselves of the opportunity for raising such crops as the season admits of, should at once make application at this office.

'1. The farms should be in blocks, to enable the persons cultivating the land to work together and protect each other.

'2. A farm-building, in which the labourers would reside, will be selected for the purpose of being fortified. Materials for doing so will be found, but the persons themselves must give the requisite labour.

'3. The persons so combining together will be relieved from the present military duty whilst so employed, but they must live together in the building to be selected, for mutual protection and defence.

'(Signed) E. L. HUMPHRIES.'
Taranaki Herald, Nov. 10th, 1860.

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