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I was down trying to catch a few fish one day, a few hundred yards from the mouth of the Tangaoho River, in the deepest part, when the tide was in. Behind me was a high bank--leading to the table land--on which our redoubt was erected. On the other side it was low, but little above the water, and swampy, covered also with rapou and other growth.
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I was sitting on the sunny, sloping fern bank, near the water, and felt about as happy as one could be when getting a bite now and then. The water here was not more than about twelve yards wide. Sitting quietly there it was but natural that I should begin to think of those far away in the old land, also of another individual in Wanganui, who has since played a very prominent part in my household for over a quarter of a century.
I was in hopes of an early meeting, and that this trouble was all over, so that we could "fix" ourselves. Thus thinking my thoughts were suddenly turned to another subject.
I hoard a rustling in the rapou opposite. I could see it move. Soon I saw a huge black head gazing towards me.
Alas! poor B-----, it is all up with you. The old folk at home, nor the dear creature not so far away will ne'er gaze on you again. You are doomed to be shot down here like a dog, and your dear old comrades will have no chance of revenging your death. I felt that I was doomed to see but little more this side of heaven. The fellow would just wait till I turned my back, perhaps, then do the horrible deed.
I did not pretend that I had seen him. I quietly gathered up my line, and turned up the slope, then I expected to hear the bang of a gun, a sharp cutting pain in my back, where no soldier ever likes to be shot. I had so firmly made up my mind that I was not to see the morrow's sun rise that by the time I got on the top, and no shot, I felt somewhat disappointed. Once on the top a sudden bound brought me out of his sight, and I never covered more ground in the same space of time as I did on this occasion to the redoubt.
The sentry and other men knew there was something up, and preparation was made for a run. I popped into my tent for my rifle, others did the same, and away we went, but not to where I had left. We steered a course that would bring us between him and the bush, got over the river, and moved down in skrimishing order through the flat, covering the ground he must be in, but no; we could not find him, and we had to return. Oh! but it was hard to catch those chaps at any time.
Plenty of very fine horses were caught up this way. Cattle, too, were very plentiful, also pigs, but we did not see any sheep. The natives had not started in sheep farming then. Many now can boast of their flocks, and now those plains are dotted with comfortable homesteads.
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About four years ago I had the pleasure of seeing that country again. What a change! Municipalities have sprung up, and all vestiges of those days are gone forever.
From this place (Manawopou) a party of three went out foraging for potatoes, and, as will be seen, they went a little too far. They went to Manutahi to see if by any chance there had been any potatoes overlooked, when the great haul was made, previously referred to, and they found a pit containing some, and Hennessey jumped down to hand them up to the other two. This went on all right, as such operations usually do, for a time; then suddenly several natives rushed towards them. The two on top managed to make good their escape; but poor Hennessey fell into their hands. They took him away to a village in the bush, and the news was sent in all haste to the surrounding settlements that they had captured a pakeha, and as it reached the village where the scoundrel Kemble Bent was hanging out, and the description he got of Hennessey led him to suppose that it was a man named Murphy, against whom he entertained a warm grudge, he told them to kill the -----; that he was no d----d good.
Next day Bent paid an official visit to the captive. Hennessey said he would have lost his life but for a native whom he had often seen in Wanganui, and who told him what Bent had advised them to do with him; so as Bent went up to Hennessey to shake hands (they belonged to the same company), he shrank from him and told him what he had heard.
"Well," said Bent, "I thought it was Murphy, and you know I have it in for him."
Hennessey suffered much from sickness, and as he said after his return, it was a great wonder he survived it.
They treated him fairly well, and something near a year and a half after, when they had begun to pay little heed to him, they were all going away to another settlement, and Hennessey complained of not being well; so they left him there, and as soon as he saw them clear away, he started in another direction--the one he knew would bring him towards his old quarters at Manawopou, which were then occupied by men of the 18th Regiment. He travelled all he was able till dark; then he rested for the night. At daylight next morning he was up and off again, and he had not gone far when he arrived at the edge of the bush. Then he could see in the near
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distance his old quarters, and his spirits rose, for now he said, "I am safe; they cannot catch me now."
He made all haste, and was soon at the redoubt, where he gave himself up to the officer in charge, and in due time he was sent on to Auckland and was court-martialled, this being one of the formalities to be gone through in such cases. He was, of course, acquitted, and all his back pay granted, which, I remember, was something over £30. He told me some dreadful tales, and he said it now seemed all like a terrible dream.
"I never," he said, "expected my liberty again, or to see my old friends."
He related many items concerning Bent, and only hoped that he would yet fall into our hands and meet that fate usually bestowed on men who desert to an enemy.
"Bent," he said, "always carried a cavalryman's sword," one taken, as was supposed, from Trooper Taylor, previously referred to.
Bent was supposed to have been in the pah "Otapawa" on the 13th January, 1866, when Colonel Hazzard and others were killed. The Colonel was commanding Bent's company, and had on more than one occasion to deal out punishment to him, and this led to the supposition that it was he who picked off the Colonel. It is well known that a voice called out in English, after the first harmless volley, "Fire low."
It would be a very difficult matter to find any body of men without a good grumbler or two among them. Even the "Tigers" could boast of some--one in particular. One of them had occupied the same spot in one of the famous blockhouses in the Rutland Stockade at Wanganui for fourteen years, when he received marching orders to the other, a distance fully seventy or eighty yards. This was too much for him, for the fourteen years "sticker" in one snug corner, so when shouldering his bed and other baggage he was overheard to remark, "They'll never let a fellow rest; they are always shifting one about." Poor fellow, how harshly they had dealt with him; but is it not characteristic of the average Englishman to grumble? Were some of them altogether deprived of a cause they would pine away and die.
My company was ordered into Wanganui. This was glorious news. They went, but, alas! just before that a man
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got drunk on sentry, and as I was a witness in the case, I could not accompany them in.
A district court martial was pending, and as soon as it was over I expected to be allowed to follow my company; but no; sergeants were scarce, and Colonel Hazzard informed me that I could not go, nor did I.
Shortly the company I was doing duty with was ordered on up to Waingogoro. There we were more actively engaged. Parties were out nearly every day fossicking round native settlements.
One day a party of about fifty under Colonel Butler, the late Captain Sir Robert Douglas, and Lieutenant Powys, went towards Keteoneta, a rather formidable settlement a little way in from the edge of the bush. There were several whares outside, and as we came in view of these skirmishers were thrown out. Then we saw a man skedadle into the bush. A few shots were sent towards him, but without effect. A dozen or so with myself followed in the same direction. To our surprise, as we got to the bush, there was a parapet and space for only one man to go through at a time. Wo got through, and ran about 50 yards, when we came to another, but with a gap in it about the width of an ordinary carriage gate. Close in here was the main village, on a plateau, with the bush all round.
I took a hurried glance of the situation and said, "Boys, we must see the inside of this place, and be careful of the bush; keep a sharp lookout."
The doors of all the whares nearly were tied, and all the inhabitants away, luckily for some of us. They were some distance in, in some clearings, performing gardening operations, but the few shots had been heard by them, and they were carrying on a loud clatter, and we expected them to make a rush our way. We could even discover by their voices that they were coming nearer.
I sent a man out to tell the Colonel of this village, but the man got looting instead. Finding no help coming we retired. Nearly every man had possessed himself of something from the whares. One man and myself were empty-handed, and, as we came in, I saw a nice little grey pony tethered, and I had my eye on him.
Seeing a whare that had not been entered, as it was still tied up, I entered, leaving Shea (the man) outside. I at once spotted a small kit of Indian corn sewn up with flax. I
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had heard that this is a way they have of putting cash away, so I threw it out to Shea to open it, but he did not. I spotted a good hogskin saddle on a beam.
This will do for the little grey I thought; but what about a bridle. Ah! here is the very thing, and off we went.
Well, I felt sure they would be following us close up, and I took the precaution to carry the saddle at the back of my head, and just as I got outside I saw Sir R. Douglas's servant walking off with the pony. That was rather annoying; his master had sent him for it.
I may say that all the whares outside had been set fire to by our men, and in one of them were over a score of double and single barrelled guns loaded, so when the fire set them off it created a little stir among our men. The Colonel wanted to get away before more mischief was done, and we fell in with our backs to the bush, and had just got the word to form fours, right, when we got a volley.
"Front," said the Colonel, "right about turn, fire a volley."
"Front fours right, left wheel, quick march."
No one was hurt on our side; but we heard after that our volley had a little effect.
My saddle was put on a bullock dray we had with us, and I got £6 for it when I got to camp from a Mr. Kirkpatrick, the commissariat issuer.
On our way back we had to go over a slight ridge, and the natives were following us and calling out, and now and then sent up a shot or two in our direction.
The Colonel said to me, "When we get over this brow just drop the last half-dozen men to the rear, and lie and wait for those fellows. They may come up this far."
This was done; but the natives took good care not to come within range of that brow.
We remained there about three hours. So did the natives, where they halted, until a trooper came out for us to return to camp. Then we just gave a volley over towards our friends, which caused them to move off, calling us all they could think. Probably they said, "Did you suppose we were fools enough to go over that brow. Not much."