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THE WAIKATO WAR.
IN tlie early part of the year 1863 the storm clouds of war which had for so long hung like a funeral pall over, and devastated fair Province of Taranaki, banked on the southern horizon of Auckland, and the daily increasing hostile attitude of the Waikato Tribes towards the settlers might have been likened to the thunder which, muttering at a distance, portends the coming storm.
The sugar and flour policy which the government had adopted seemed to do no good, being looked upon as a sign of weakness on the part of the Pakeha, who would give anything to conciliate the proud Waikatos. A road that had been constructed over the Pokeno Ranges towards the Waikato gave great offence to the natives, and at several large meetings that were held, it was decided that if the Pakehas moved one step further towards the Waikato the tribes should at once rise, and sweep the hated white man off the face of the earth.
The temporary cessation of hostilities at Taranaki liberated large numbers of the Waikatos who had been actively assisting the Taranaki Tribes in their operations against the Troops, and these returning to their several districts helped in no small way to fan the glowing embers of rebellion into a flame. The few missionaries and Pakeha Maoris residing with the natives had sharp notice to quit. Their goods and chattels were appropriated, and in some instances the Maori wives and half-cast children of the Pakeha were taken from them A printing establishment which the government had erected at Te Awamutu was broken into by a mob of natives who smashed the machinery to pieces, and ejected the superintendent, Mr Gorst, who shortly afterwards returned to England, and gained a some what unenviable notoriety by his virulent attacks upon the New Zealand colonists.
One of the Waikato Natives who took a prominent part in destroying the printing press, Aporo by name, had the hardihood to make his appearance in Auckland, where he was promptly seized by the police, tried and sentenced to some two or three years imprisonment. The arrest and incarceration of Aporo increased the wrath of the Waikatos and especially the Ngatimaniapotos to which tribe Aporo belonged. Meetings were held to consider what steps should be taken to recover their lost brother. The result was that an impudent letter was forwarded to the Governor demanding the release of Aporo, and in the event of non-compliance it threatened that the natives would at once march upon Auckland, destroy the town and liberate the prisoner. As the reader will imagine no notice was taken of the natives' threat, and Aporo remained in gaol.
The Kingites, as the Waikatos styled themselves, were so called on account of their having set up for themselves a King. Their reigning potentate was Tawhiao son of their first king, old Potatau, who died a short time before this period. The idea of having a king, or the king movement, was started by Wiremu Thompson, one of
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the leading Waikato chiefs, who was afterwards called "The King-maker." This great and good chief, always friendly disposed towards the Pakehas, tried in vain to stem the growing spirit of rebellion amongst his countrymen, and he predicted what he afterwards lived to see, viz., the confiscation of their lands, and before he died, which event took place some years after the war was ended, he exhorted his countrymen to live on friendly terms with the Pakeha.
The remains of Wiremu Thompson are buried on his ancestral ground at Mata Mata, and an inscription on a stone monument over his grave informs the traveller that it was erected to his memory by his friend, J. C. Firth, Esq., of Auckland.
The Maori king resided, and held his court at Ngaruawahia, which is situated at the junction of the Waipa and Waikato rivers. Here important matters were discussed and decided by the king and leading chiefs, who, when occasion required, assembled from all parts of the Waikato. The following account of a state visit that the late king Potatau paid to Waiuku will give the reader an idea of the pomp which surrounded the dusky monarch upon his travels.
On Thursday morning the 8th of March, 1860, a fleet of canoes from the settlements within the Manukau, manned by a considerable body of natives, arrived at Waiuku laden with dried shark, potatoes, and other eatables. Next day Potatau with a large party of Waikato natives arrived at Pura Pura, and on Saturday the old chief (king) came over to Waiuku in state.
The procession consisted first of from seventy to a hundred natives about four deep, then came a body-guard of from twenty to thirty carrying fowling pieces, next the standard-bearer with a green streamer having painted on it a red cross and the words "The Truth;" old Potatau came next seated on a pony with a tartan shawl thrown over it. The pony was led, and two women of the household walked alongside. Then came the general body of natives, women laden with kai kai and baggage bringing up the rear. On reaching the royal tent the standard was stuck into the earth, and the old chief seating himself on the ground received a general greeting.
The Maoris living in the vicinity of the out-settlers prepared for the coming struggle, which all could see was inevitable, by converting their live stock into cash, with which they bought powder, caps, and guns--from whom?--has long been an open question. No doubt a good deal of ammunition and many stands of arms found their way into the hands of the natives from Sydney traders who ran their schooners into Kawhia for that purpose; the natives have confessed as much to the writer, but we cannot disguise from ourselves the dreadful fact that traitors were in our midst, who trafficked with the natives secretly for the sale of munitions of war, one of the most dreadful of crimes, and for which death alone is the just punishment.
A strict Arms Act was in force, but there were few if any convictions, and to this day there are no doubt some who stalk proudly amongst us, with a bold front, in the full glare of the noonday sun, who live on the fat of the land purchased with their blood money. Their face is fair, but the brand of Cain is upon their brow although invisible to human eyes.
When bullets and caps could not be obtained by the natives, old lead, matches, and boxes of brass eyelets were eagerly sought after, and were used as munitions of war. The heads of the matches were placed in the brass eyelets, which fitted on the nipple of the gun, and made not a bad substitute for caps.
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The fire arms that the Maoris possessed were not such as to inspire their owners with confidence, being an assortment of old Tower and ship muskets and single and double fowling pieces. They had very few revolvers or bayonets, for which their tomahawk was supposed to be a substitute. Some of their old muskets were so very ancient that they might have done duty at Waterloo, and were quite as dangerous to the party who fired as to the enemy aimed at.
The natives growing more insolent day by day the settlers in the outlying districts had an anxious time of it, and became alarmed at the attitude which the Maoris assumed towards them, with whom in most cases they had been on amicable terms for years. The hitherto friendly greeting and shake of the hands ceased, and each party viewed the other with suspicion.
It was no uncommon thing for armed natives to stalk boldly into the settlers' houses, squat down in the rooms unbidden, walk into the kitchen, appropriate the contents of the pots on the fire, and demand tobacco, pipes, or matches, and if these were not given with a good grace, the unfortunate settler was treated with threats of a bloodthirsty character. To appeal to the law was useless; it was powerless, and the Queen's writ a myth, and it is so to this day in the native districts. The settlers had to put up with the insolence of the natives as best they could, to wait, hope, and pray that if the time for hostilities had nearly come it would come soon, in justice and mercy to both races alike.