1865 - Browne, J. A. England's Artillerymen [New Zealand chapter only] - CHAPTER XVIII. NEW ZEALAND, p 271-280

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  1865 - Browne, J. A. England's Artillerymen [New Zealand chapter only] - CHAPTER XVIII. NEW ZEALAND, p 271-280
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"Amid the wave, where the gentlest breezes creep:
O'er the bright azure of the southern deep,
A thousand islets lie that brightly gem
The hoary ocean's glittering diadem.
. . . . . . . . .
But none appear so lovely to the sight,
Floating amid the waves' refulgent light,
As thine, New Zealand!"



IN 1845 the natives of New Zealand having shown a spirit of resistance to the Queen's authority, and pulled down the flag in several places, the governor, to enforce submission, applied for troops from the neighbouring colonies of Australia.

The only artilleryman, or rather the only member of the Royal Artillery, in this part of the world was Lieutenant Eardley Wilmot, 1 who was on the governor's staff in Van Diemen's Land.

This young officer immediately volunteered for active service in New Zealand, and, with a hastily-formed artillery from the Auckland Militia, was most invaluable throughout the operations.

At Rawitta's pah, at the destruction of Arratuah's pah, and in the various affairs which took place before Ruapekapeka, in December 1845 and January 1846, Wilmot and his quasi--artillerymen were most effective, and received great praise from the governor.

Twenty-three men of the Royal Artillery, under Captain Henderson and Lieutenant Yelverton, were sent to New Zealand in May, 1846; but the disturbances had ceased before they arrived at Auckland.

There has ever since been a detachment of the corps in the colony.

In 1860 fresh disturbances arose through a native selling

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land to the Government, of which the Maories declared he had no right to dispose.

By this time the New Zealanders had become an intelligent race of people, and by their conduct during the war (which unhappily is not yet ended) have proved themselves no contemptible foes, while their observance of Christian ordinances has raised them to an equal standing with ourselves. 2

On the 28th February, 1860, a force including a detachment of the Royal Artillery under Lieut. Macnaughten, embarked at Auckland for Taranaki, the district of the rebellious Maories, and at mid-day on the 17th March the artillery fired their first shot against a strongly-defended pah which the Maories had erected in the face of the British camp on the Waitara.

Although good practice was made, the shells bursting on the stockade, and the shot going through the outer defences, the natives showed no disposition to surrender; and by the evening, all our ammunition being expended, the troops were obliged to lie down among the fern till more should be brought up.

Early on the following morning the guns again opened fire, tearing away a large portion of the stockade.

Lieutenant Macnaughten went forward, and was immediately followed by several of his gunners and some of the 65th regiment; and rushing into the pah, they found it empty, the defenders having made their escape by a gully leading to the river. This, the first engagement of the war, is known as the capture of the Te'kohia, or L. pah.

On the 16th April a reinforcement of forty men of the

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Royal Artillery, under Captain Strover, arrived from Sydney, and at once joined the army.

Tall flagstaffs and yards for signals were now erected at the Bell Block, Omata Stockade, and Marshland Hill, and a code of signals was arranged under the direction of Sergeant Marjouram, Royal Artillery, by means of wicker balls by day and lanterns by night, forming words.

This worthy man and excellent non-commissioned officer did good service during the early part of this war, commanding the artillery in the absence of Captain Strover and Lieutenant Macnaughten; while his services in a higher cause, that of advancing the truths of the Gospel (both by example and precept), were recognised and acknowledged by Archdeacon Govett and all the officers under whom he served.

He was invalided home early in 1861, and died at Woolwich in June of the same year. His "Memorials," published by Nisbet and Co., has been widely circulated and productive of much good.

About the middle of June Major Nelson, 40th regiment, commanding at the Waitara, determined to attack a pah the enemy had erected at Puketakauere, about a mile distant from our camp.

There were eighteen artillerymen under Lieutenant Macnaughten engaged, of whom two died of their wounds. They did their work well, especially when our infantry were repulsed, checking the advance of the enemy, who made several attempts to follow them.

The attack was a failure, but the retreat was conducted in an orderly manner, the troops returning to camp with a loss of sixty-five men, thirty-two of whom were killed.

Major Nelson remained before the pah, however, and continued to harass the enemy by shelling them, especially by night.

General Pratt now arrived from Melbourne and assumed the command. Lieutenant Forster, R.A. attended as his aide-de-camp.

Another expedition was at once prepared to assist Major Nelson at the Puketakauere pahs, when they were suddenly found to be evacuated.

About the end of July a settler named Hurford, with three artillerymen from the Omata stockade, had gone into the bush to visit his farm. The natives came upon them in force, and the party separated, and two of the artillerymen made their way back to the camp, one reaching it at sunset, and the other arriving at midnight. Neither could give any account of the fate of those they

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left behind, and the following day a party was sent in search. They discovered the artilleryman, a fine strapping young man of Captain Strover's detachment, quite dead and hideously tomahawked. The farmer's body was not recovered, but there was no doubt about his death.

On the 10th September a large expedition was organized at New Plymouth, under Major-General Pratt, to advance as far as possible into the country.

The force was told off in three divisions:-- No. 1, commanded by Major Nelson, having a detachment of the Royal Artillery, with two 24-pounder howitzers, under Sergeant Marjouram; No. 2, under Major Hutchins, 12th regiment, with Captain Strover's detachment, two 24-pounder howitzers, and two 3-pounder guns; and No. 3, commanded by Colonel Leslie, 40th regiment, to which the remainder of the Royal Artillery under Lieutenant Macnaughten was attached.

Several pahs evacuated by the enemy were destroyed, and an engagement took place in which a brisk fire was kept up on both sides, the Maories replying to the round-shot, grape, canister, and musketry with volleys from the bush and the rifle pits, and wounding a few of our men, including a bombardier of the Royal Artillery, who was severely injured in the foot.

The order was then given to retire to the Waitara camp.

The artillery, under Captain Strover and Lieutenant Macnaughten, took part in all the subsequent engagements,--Mahoetahi, Matorikorika, &c.,--and worked with the greatest zeal in their important arm of the service, in a long and arduous struggle against a brave and determined foe, when Captain Mercer arrived from England with a battery of Armstrong guns, which in four days compelled the Maories to surrender or disperse, thus suddenly closing the campaign.

On the 4th March, 1861, Captain Mercer, R.A. arrived at Auckland in the Norwood, after a prosperous voyage, with the Armstrong battery and 10-inch and 8-inch mortars. That day week he had cleared the ship of the battery, mortars, shell, and other stores, in all amounting to 700 tons: notwithstanding the extra labour of discharging by lighters, as the Norwood lay out at some distance in the harbour, being unable to go alongside the pier to discharge, officers and men worked with a will, all being desirous of taking part in the Maori war in the Taranaki.

On the 12th March half of the Armstrong battery, with the mortars, embarked on board the colonial war-steamer

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Victoria, Captain Norman, for the seat of war. Lieut. Hunter, R.A., was left behind in charge of the other half battery, and was to follow on the arrival of Captain Watson, R.A., with 180 horses from Australia. Captain Mercer's party arrived at the Waitara river on the morning of the 13th March, and commenced landing at once in surf-boats. The same afternoon the Armstrong guns were taken out of their cases, cleaned and mounted, the ammunition, &c., examined, and the whole found to be complete and in perfect order. Major-General Sir T. S. Pratt, K.C.B., then commanding, directed Captain Mercer to proceed with Mr. Parris, the native commissioner, the following day, and select a favourable position for shelling Mataitawa, the stronghold of Wiremu Kingi, but the distance of the nearest spot from whence it could be seen over the tops of the trees of the forest was (by calculation) beyond the range of the 12-pounder Armstrong gun. Whilst Captain Mercer was absent, Lieutenant Pickard had the men drilled and exercised at laying the guns, in order to see that they had not forgotten during the long voyage the instruction they had received in England. The artificers were at the same time busily employed in making poles, &c., for bullock draught. Three poles were completed during the day, thus enabling the guns to start for the front at six the next morning, Friday the 15th of March.

On arriving at No. 7 redoubt, the white flag was flying from the Te Arei pah; but about midday, when Captain Mercer was in the advanced trench with the late Lieutenant E. C. Macnaughton, R.A., examining the position, &c. of the Maori rifle-trenches, it was hauled down, and in place of it a large red war-flag was run up. A single defiant shot was then heard, which was immediately followed by volleys from the Maori pits; these rattling against the gabions of the sap showed that the natives were recommencing hostilities in right good earnest. Captain Mercer immediately returned to No. 7 redoubt, and opened fire from the Armstrong guns and mortars on the lines of the enemy's rifle-trenches, there being nothing else to fire at except the open stockading of Te Arei pah.

There was no heavily-timbered stockade to breach to enable the troops to take Te Arei by assault, for a broad roadway led right over the crest of the hill into the centre of the position of the Maories through open picketing. The extraordinary occurrence of finding oneself in front of the enemy with apparently nothing for artillery to fire at, struck the newly-arrived artillery officers, and remark-

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ing the same, they were told if the white flag was hauled down, the rifle-trenches of Te Arei, as well as those of the neighbouring hills, would be alive with natives, as far as their fire was concerned, but they themselves would be all but invisible. Captain Mercer then attentively considering these lines of pits or rifle-trenches along the crest of the hills all around, coupled with the peculiar mode of Maori warfare, and also being informed that their trenches were generally constructed in the following ingenious manner:-- First a narrow deep trench is made, then on the side fronting their assailant it is dug out in the form of a shoe, the earth so excavated being thrown outside on the top to the rear, rough woodwork, beams, &c. arranged so as to support the earth above the excavation, thus forming a secure place where they immediately retired after delivering their fire,--it appeared to Captain Mercer that he had before him in these rifle-trenches a target of about eight feet in height, counting from the top of the trench to the bottom of the excavation, and running laterally some distance; and he calculated that, by aiming at the centre of this target, some three or four feet below the earth thrown on the top rear of the trench, the shell penetrating just below the crest of it, and meeting with the resistance of the rough wooden support of the earth in the trench, or any other body momentarily to arrest the flight of the shell, it would burst inside and deal destruction around.

To increase the chance of unearthing some of these wily natives, planks were procured for gun-wheels and trails to rest upon, so as to adjust the gun to the greatest nicety of level. After a trial shell on each of their positions, and the range having been accurately obtained, the Armstrong guns were loaded and laid on certain points of the lines of the enemy's rifle-trenches, and the gunner, with lanyard in hand, waited for the word to fire from the officer who was watching the trench with glasses, until some heads appearing above, or a puff of smoke from the discharged pieces revealed their presence in that direction, when the gun was instantly fired, and the shell was observed from the battery to enter just below the crest of the trench, carrying destruction to any Maories in that portion of the pits.

The natives were also in the habit of firing volleys when the working parties or any number of men were going to or returning from the head of the sap. On these occasions the guns were laid on the lines of the pits, and the shells fixed with both time and concussion fuses, and be-

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fore the parties marched, the gunners were ready waiting for the word, which was given directly the natives opened fire, and the Armstrong shells at the same instant burst auiongst them. Lieutenant Pickard and Acting Sergeant-Major E. Hayes made some excellent shell practice with the Armstrong guns. Colour-Sergeant J. Moran, Royal Engineers, whilst at the head of the sap, and Bombardier T. Singer, Royal Artillery, whilst working the Cohorn mortars (with the late Lieutenant E. C. Macnaughten, R.A.) have both given satisfactory evidence of their having personally observed the action of the Armstrong shell, its entering just below the crest of the rifle-trench in front of Te Arei and bursting inside.

On Saturday, 16th March, an attack was made on our extreme right. A 9-pounder gun, accompanied by a detachment of the 40th regiment, commenced firing some rounds of common case into the bush to drive out the Natives; and subsequently, on their retiring to the trenches on the edge of the wood, some shrapnel shell were sent amongst them. Soon after the firing ceased, and the men returned to camp.

It had been the practice to place every night behind the sap-roller, and sunk in the earth in its box, an eight-inch naval shell, with a friction-tube fixed through the fuse, and a cord attached to it and the sap-roller, so as to explode should the natives attempt to capture the roller. This was suggested by the Royal Engineers, and carried out at their request by the Naval Brigade, in consequence of one sap-roller having been carried off by the natives; conceiving that, in the event of their trying to do so a second time, the main rifle-trench in front of Te Arei, not far from the head of the sap, would be lined with natives watching the operation, as well as at hand to help to secure the roller and drag it up the hill to the pah. The Armstrong guns were loaded and laid on this trench the last thing before dark; each night also the mortars were laid on different parts of Te Arei. On Saturday night the trap of the shell succeeded; the Maories endeavouring to capture the sap-roller, the shell exploded, and immediately afterwards the enemy got the benefit of both the Armstrong and mortar shells from No. 7 redoubt.

Sunday, 17th March, was a sad day for the artillery, for they lost poor Macnaughten. He was killed whilst in the act of laying a Cohorn mortar in the extremity of the advance demi-parallel, the ball passing through the wrist and entering the chest. He died almost immediately,

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firing his last shot on the anniversary of his firing his first one in this war. He had ably conducted the fire of the Cohorn mortars since the advance of the sap from No. 8 redoubt, and had been in every engagement throughout the whole war.

Lieutenant Macnaughten's death was thus recorded in the Taranaki Herald, Sunday, March 17th, 1861 (St. Patrick's Day):--

"The first anniversary of a war that has for twelve months cursed New Zealand, and desolated the province of Taranaki, has been marked by the irreparable loss of as brave an officer as ever fought and fell on flood or field,--as devoted a soldier as ever gained lustre for the British flag at the price of his blood. Lieutenant Macnaughten of the Royal Artillery is, alas! numbered with the dead. This intrepid soldier was stooping over a mortar, in the act of adjusting its elevation, when a musket-ball struck him in the hand which held the plumb-line, and then pierced his breast. An officer who was near him exclaimed, 'Macnaughten, you are hit!' but the lieutenant smiled, and, with his usual calmness, replied, 'Oh, never mind, 'tis but in the hand!' They were his last words. He stood up, turned pale, staggered backwards, fell, and died. The sorrow of the troops of all corps for the loss of this officer is inexpressible. Every soldier knew and appreciated his worth; all admired his unsurpassable valour, his uniform coolness, and his skill in gunnery; while his undeviating affability and kindness endeared him even to the most thoughtless. His presence at the guns was the inspiration of confidence in the troops, for no one doubted the accuracy of an aim taken by Lieutenant Macnaughten. He walked up to the sap to-day full of ardour, full of confidence, full of every quality that constitutes a perfect soldier. Alas that the green shamrock which he so proudly wore on his manly breast should be so soon dyed red with his life's blood! Many a stout heart sighed, and many a stern eye dropped a tear, as they beheld the noble soldier borne past them a lifeless corpse. When the ambulance which bore him from the field arrived at No. 6 redoubt, the officers and men of the 65th regiment mingled round the vehicle to get a last glimpse of the honoured and beloved dead. The brow even of the most thoughtless wore a sad gloom, and rough hands endeavoured in vain to conceal the big tears that rolled from the eyes that could not restrain them. The memory of Lieutenant Macnaughten will be ever pre-eminently dear to our hearts."

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Sergeant J. Christie, R.A., an excellent non-commissioned officer, was wounded in the shoulder in the advance demi-parallel early on Monday morning, whilst Captain Mercer was arranging with him about carrying on the practice with the Cohorn mortars.

On Monday afternoon an attack was made on our extreme right in the wood. During this attack the Armstrong guns were used against the main rifle-pits just in front of the pah, to keep down the fire of the natives on the head of the sap. A 9-pounder gun and a 24-pounder howitzer were taken down towards the wood, the former under Captain Strover, and the latter under Lieutenant Pickard. The practice with common and shrapnel shell was with good effect, after the natives had been driven from the bush to their rifle-pits by a few rounds of common case. Gunner T. Selford was wounded in the leg.

At four o'clock on the morning of the 19th March, Captain Mercer, with an escort of the guard, went outside the redoubt and fired the last two mortars at Te Arei, and within two hours afterwards white flags were flying from all the Maori positions.

It is beyond our province to enter into the events of 1863, but the Royal Artillery have so signally distinguished themselves in New Zealand during the present struggle, that passing notice must be given of their services.

The Maories having, in May, 1863, waylaid an escort of the 57th regiment and killed the greater number of them, the Government determined to uphold its authority, and, if needs be, exterminate the rebellious people. A number of additional troops were therefore despatched to Auckland, including another Armstrong battery under Lieut.-Colonel Barstow.

A series of engagements with various results have taken place, in all of which the Royal Artillery have rendered important services. Not only have they exhibited their usual courage and ability in the working of their guns, but have acted as cavalry and also as infantry. Captain Mercer's battery rendered great service at the taking of the Katikara pah on the 4th June. The Maories were driven from their hiding-places by the guns, when they fled inland, pursued by the infantry and by Lieutenant Rait and his detachment of artillery armed with sword and revolver.

At the capture of Rangiriri (20th November) the assault was most gallantly led by Captain Mercer, R.A., who was followed by about thirty of his own men armed with revolvers. A great number of this detachment were

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struck down, the first being Captain Mercer, who received a bullet in his jaw. By his side fell his servant, Gunner Culverwell, upon whose corpse the captain rested his mangled head till he was removed on the following morning.

Lieutenant Pickard, who bravely followed his captain to the assault, scaled the parapet, and, lying flat on the top, fired his revolver at whoever showed. Finding himself alone, however, and hearing that Captain Mercer was wounded, Lieutenant Pickard descended, and, the assault being impracticable, collected the few remaining men and drew them off in safety. Assist.-Surgeon Temple, R.A., hearing that Captain Mercer was wounded, determined to go to his assistance, although warned that to go over was almost certain death. He succeeded in reaching the spot in safety, however, and stayed there attending to the wounded all the evening, until, a trench being dug, the dead and wounded were removed.

Captain Mercer died on the 25th November, and was buried with military honours at Auckland on the 27th.

Other engagements have since taken place in which the corps has sustained its high reputation, and special mention has been made of Lieutenant Rait and his mounted detachment (acting as cavalry); of Lieutenant Larcom, who commanded a detachment at the capture of Kaitaka, and who, although severely wounded, remained with his gun until the detachment retired; of Sergeant M'Kay, a "stalwart Scot from Sutherlandshire," who rendered great service at Orakau by pitching hand-grenades into the midst of the enemy "as coolly as if he had been playing a game of quoits;" of Lieutenant A. Grubb, who, with a battery of six mortars, drove the enemy from their rifle-pits; and of Assist.-Surgeon Manley, who, under a heavy fire from the enemy, went to the assistance of the wounded at the disastrous assault of the Gate pah.

Lieut.-Colonel Barstow and Captain Betty have both been mentioned as having directed the fire of their batteries with good effect.

1   Afterwards Major Wilmot, killed in Kaffraria. See chap. xiii.
2   Though a few cases have occurred at which humanity shudders, such as the decapitation of Captain Lloyd and the subsequent exhibition of his head, there are many things to be recorded of the New Zealanders during the present war which prove them to be a race on whom the Gospel has come with telling effect, and who, physically and morally, are, if anything, in a very slight degree inferior to our own troops. At an early stage of the war the schooner Louisa was wrecked on the east coast, and the crew and the passengers were in a helpless condition, when one of the native chiefs received them most hospitably; and not working on Sunday, on Monday saved spars, sails, and running gear from the wreck, and thirty sacks of wheat, and sent in canoes the crew and passengers to Auckland. They never fight on Sunday unless compelled by our troops, and latterly they have not only refrained from killing our wounded, as was their custom, but they have not even plundered the dead, whom they bury according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England.

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