1863 - Carey, R. Narrative of the Late War in New Zealand - CHAPTER V. Attack and destruction of the Ngatiparirua, Kairau, and Huirangi pahs...p 96-107

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  1863 - Carey, R. Narrative of the Late War in New Zealand - CHAPTER V. Attack and destruction of the Ngatiparirua, Kairau, and Huirangi pahs...p 96-107
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CHAPTER V. Attack and destruction of the Ngatiparirua, Kairau, and Huirangi pahs...

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Attack and destruction of the Ngatiparirua, Kairau, and Huirangi pahs -- Difficulty of the country -- The enemy retreat into the forest--Major Hutchins reconnoitres the position on the Kahihi River -- Misrepresentation of the colonial press.

SINCE the evacuation of the Waireka valley and of the Puketakauere Pah by the Maori, the troops in New Plymouth, Waitara, and Bell Block had been occupied in destroying the deserted pahs of the enemy on both banks of the river Waitara, and in the neighbourhood of New Plymouth. A large number were pulled down, many "wharees" were destroyed, crops were rooted up, and much loss was inflicted on the enemy. The Maori, on the other hand, retaliated on us by burning the deserted

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houses of the settlers. The continual movements of the troops in the district kept the communication partially open; and, though the main road was never safe to individuals, the tribes were more cautious in leaving the shelter of their forests. The numbers of the natives in arms at the Waitara, including the Taranaki and Ngatiruanui, who had joined the former, were at this time estimated at about 1,700; but no certain information could be gained of their locations, or of the numbers in each place, till about the 8th September, when Mr. M'Lean ascertained with some degree of certainty that a body had established themselves in three pahs, Ngatiparirua, Kairau and Huirangi, in a level country at the entrance of a perfectly impenetrable forest, which covered the road leading to the Ngatimaru district. The information was that the hostile Waitara tribes of William King, reinforced by the Ngatiruanui from the south and from the Taranaki district, had occupied these

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pahs; that the Huirangi pah was in the forest, and that any attempts to penetrate beyond this must be attended with much loss of life, and could result in no real advantage to us. We could hardly credit that the natives should be so emboldened as to venture to stand an attack in these pahs situated in the open country. But the information was trustworthy as to their presence there, and all native reports agreed that their intention was to fight. The only thing, then, to be done was to attack them in their positions and to destroy their pahs, and dislodge or, if possible, capture their garrison. To leave New Plymouth, with its imperfect defences and its crowd of women and children, without a garrison was out of the question; and a column of about 750 rank and file, all that could be spared, was drawn from the garrison and moved to Mahoetahi, a pah about eight miles off, belonging to a friendly native. They encamped here for the night, and all infor-

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mation tending to show that the enemy had determined on making a stand, orders were issued for the march. The strength of the force was increased by another column of about 300 men, who had orders to move from the Waitara camp by night up the left bank of the Waitara river, and to take up a position intercepting the enemy between Kairau and the forest. A column from the main body moved off at midnight, crossed the Waiongona river, and, following its right bank, took post to intercept retreat to the south. Both these parties reached their allotted posts before daybreak, at which time the main body, not much numerically stronger, but encumbered with the ammunition, artillery, &c, reached its post and advanced on the pahs. And then we discovered how little the country was known by the resident authorities and persons on whom we depended for information. Instead of finding a plain level country, easily traversed, as we had been led to

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expect, we found undulating ground, situated between two parallel rivers, intersected at right angles by innumerable gullies, at all times marshy and often impassable, the whole hid and covered by a tangle of fern and bramble from five to eight feet high. Through this the advance was led by a line of skirmishers of the 65th Regiment, 1 men who had been many years in the colony, and understood the nature of the work before them; and a fine sight it was to see them skirmishing through this difficult ground. As day dawned and the pahs appeared in sight all the troops were in position, and the situation of the right

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and left columns was ascertained, but there was no enemy to be seen. A few shells were thrown into Ngatiparirua and Kairau, and the pahs were burnt. They had evidently been vacated at the last moment, as food half cooked was found, and other signs of recent habitation were apparent. The ravines and gullies intersecting the plateau afforded too many openings for retreat to render it necessary to speculate how the garrisons had gone. And there could be no doubt but that their place of defence was the bush and the Huirangi pah, which rested on a deep ravine, its right and rear covered by the forest. A volley or two were hurriedly fired from it by its garrison, who then withdrew to annoy us from the bush, and to lure the troops into it. In this they partially succeeded; and one man, caught in the supple-jack and unnoticed, was dragged in and tomahawked before his comrade had found out that he was missing. An officer in command of a small party,

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misled by bad information, entered the forest with his men, where they were entangled by the underwood and separated, so that they could neither hear nor obey orders, nor help one another. The above casualty was the result. Fortunately more men were not sacrificed in this ill-judged proceeding. This was after the capture of the three pahs and while the men, previous to returning to camp, were occupied in destruction of crops, wharees, &c. Nothing more remained to be done in this direction. The enemy had retreated to the depths of the forest, and the troops having entirely destroyed the pahs and cultivations, moved to the Waitara camp. Our loss was trifling: one man missing (killed), and four wounded. That of the enemy could not then be ascertained, but they afterwards acknowledged that they had lost twelve men. It was certainly a disappointment that a more serious loss of life had not been inflicted on the enemy. There

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was, however, no help for it. The broken country, covered with high fern and bramble, gave such advantage of cover to the native that, surround his position as you would, he could still find many paths to escape by; and, unless he liked it, it was impossible to bring him to action. Still the day's results were satisfactory. The destruction of so many pahs, the constant harassing by escorts moving about, and keeping the natives, by day, at all events, either in the forest or on its verge, began to work their own results; while the many alarms that had previously disturbed the town now in a great measure ceased.

The duties of his department now called Mr. M'Lean, the native commissioner, to Auckland, where the attitude of the Waikato kept the Government in constant alarm. Before returning there he however wrote as follows:--'The several pahs and strongholds to the north of New Plymouth being destroyed, and the natives driven into the

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forest, where it is impossible to carry on successful military operations against them, I have the honour to submit for the consideration of Major-General Pratt, that at present nothing farther can be done in that direction beyond watching their movements and keeping them off the open country if they should expose themselves.'

This was accompanied by some valuable information regarding the country to the southward. It appeared that the natives in this part of the district had many old pahs in which they lived on the road to the Tataraimaka block, and that they had erected and fortified some others on the block itself. A short distance farther, beyond this again, on the banks of the Kaihihi river, the natives were also reported to have taken up some strong positions, and to have erected defensive works, which latter formed the line of defence that would be attempted by the Taranaki and Ngatiruanui tribes until the war assumed a general form,

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and until the tribes were united under one common head. It was not improbable that pahs had been erected in this district without our knowledge. The country was now quite beyond visit from Europeans, and the native tribes who had not openly joined the insurrection were not likely to give information; besides, the wood required for making pahs was cut in the forest near at hand, and they could be put up in the course of a day or two. The Tartaraimaka block was a fine, open, grassy plain, and though new well-built stockades had been put up there by the natives, it could not be supposed that there was any intention on their part to garrison them, or that the old pahs on the road were intended to be defended, or, in fact, that the enemy contemplated making a stand nearer than the Kahihi river. To reconnoitre this latter position, and to obtain information as to the country, landing-places, &c, and to destroy the first-named pahs, a small force,

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under the command of Major Hutchins, 1st Bat. 12th Regiment, was detailed, and marched on the 19th September. In addition orders were given to this officer that, as there were reasons to suppose that the enemy were strengthening a position on both banks of the Kahihi river, he should reconnoitre it well without permitting himself to be drawn into an engagement, and should ascertain its strength and the best means of approach to it. The whole of this duty was well performed, and after carrying out his orders and remaining a few days encamped on the Tataraimaka block, to complete the destruction of the enemy's posts there, his party returned to New Plymouth on the 25th of the month. The camp at the Waitara was now strengthened by the Head-quarters of the 40th Regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel A. Leslie, who was directed to move round the Kairau plains to complete the destruction of the pahs captured on the 12th, and to

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keep the natives back in the bush. He rejoined the force at New Plymouth on October 1st, having finished the destruction of the posts and crops as directed. In the performance of this duty, on the 29th of September, a few Maoris crept up, concealed by the high fern, and firing on the rearguard of the party returning to the camp killed four men.

These events were at once seized on by a portion of the colonial press of New Zealand, which was apparently only too glad to have an excuse for venting its spleen on the military. The reports given were so inaccurate, and the accusations founded on them were so palpably untrue, as to be almost unworthy of notice; still improbable and unauthenticated as they were, they obtained credence in New Zealand and in the adjacent colonies, and even a wide circulation in some of the English papers.

1   The natives never once ventured to harass any column marching through the district, nor did they on this occasion; but had they known the true advantage their country gave them, they could have found spots along the whole course of the road where they could have caused endless annoyance and confusion to the troops, and could still have secured themselves a safe retreat to the forest, which was not above two miles off.

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