CHAPTER XIV. A RIDE THROUGH THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY
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A RIDE THROUGH THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY
AT Keteonatea Colonel Whitmore told me of his intention to march his force at the back of Mount Egmont to Waitara, and asked me to go by steamer to New Plymouth from Patea, and arrange for rations to he sent to meet his men on the other side of Mount Egmont. I replied that there was no steamer available, either at Wanganui or Patea, which would enable me to get there in time, and the only way to do it was to go overland. The distance between Keteonatea and New Plymouth is about eighty miles, and, as before mentioned, the country, for the greater part of the way, was practically in the hands of the enemy, as, though the natives were not actually fighting against us, their sympathies were
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THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY
entirely with those who were, and communications were frequent between them, more especially for the first ten miles, and no European had gone through this district during the six months previous, excepting Father Roland. Colonel Whitmore then said he would not order me to go by that route, though it was most essential that provisions should he sent for his troops from New Plymouth, but, if I decided to go, he would give me a troop of cavalry to escort me. This I declined, feeling certain that, with an escort, I should have to fight my way, and should not get to New Plymouth without considerable loss of life, and possibly might not get there at all. I felt it would he far safer and better for me to go with a couple of native guides. I was sure the hostile natives on the coast would go to Te Ngaire, inland, to help those there to defend themselves against the attack which they knew would be made directly against them, and that I should he able, with a couple of guides, to steal through the country unmolested. This I told Colonel Whitmore,
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and he said I could go, but he would not order me, and that I did it on my own responsibility.
Lieutenant Gudgeon picked out two smart men from the native contingent--one, the son of the celebrated warrior Hapurona, who fought against us in Taranaki in 1861, the other, a man who had been a rebel six months before. I went to Lieutenant-Colonel Lyon, second in command, and Sub-Inspector Goring (both brave men) to bid them good-bye, and they begged me not to go, as they thought it madness to run such great personal risk; but I felt in mv own mind that there was not such a great risk, as, on account of the premeditated attack on Te Ngaire, I should not see many natives. I therefore determined to go, and went.
I started from Keteonatea about ten o'clock a.m., with my two guides, who led the way about twenty-five yards in front, I riding behind on a favourite charger. After we had gone about a mile, one of the guides came back to me and demanded
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my revolver, saying he had not got one, I remonstrated at his coming without a revolver, but it appeared he had never had one. He argued it was his duty to ride in front and defend me, and to see that we rode into no ambuscades. I thought his argument a very reasonable one, and gave him my revolver; this left me with only a sword to defend myself, but I relied, in case of trouble, more on the speed of my horse.
It was really a beautiful sight to see how these two natives scoured every gully, as they rode past at a hand canter, each with a loaded revolver in his hand, to make sure no ambuscade was laid. The natives when laying ambuscades in a fern country would sometimes put fern round their heads, and an inexperienced eye would never detect it; but these guides would notice any peculiar movement of the fern directly. After we had crossed the Waingongoro river, and had gone about eight miles, we came to Kaipukenui Pah, the residence of Wiremu Kingi, a very doubtful chief, so doubtful indeed, that the guides
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would not let me go with them to the pah. I dismounted on the top of a hill, and gave my horse a spell, while the guides went to see Wiremu Kingi, and after a short time, I was glad to hear the welcome words, "Haere Mai," which mean, "Come on, you are welcome." Wiremu Kingi received me very well, and invited me to have something to eat, which I did.
After resting some little time, we rode on, accompanied by another native from this pah, and on reaching Oeo, I received a very cordial welcome from the chief, Hone Pihama, who, a few pages back I mentioned, was our friend. He told me that I was quite right in coming by the coast road, as the natives had gone inland to Te Ngaire as I anticipated, that we should have no difficulty in getting to New Plymouth, and that he would go with me. I then felt I was perfectly certain to succeed in my mission. He told me to leave one of my guides behind, which I did, and he came on with us, reaching Opunake at about seven o'clock p.m.
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AT NEW PLYMOUTH
We remained the night at Opunake; a large number of natives were there, who were more or less excited at my being in their pah in uniform, but at the same time, were very civil. After we had had some food, I amused the natives by showing them some tricks at cards, of which I knew a good many; they were very sharp, and found me out in two, much to their delight. This little event had a wonderful effect; they became most friendly, and I could not have been treated better.
The next morning we were up early, and I rode into New Plymouth with Hone Pihama and my guide. The first man I met on reaching the town, whom I knew, was the late Sir Harry Atkinson, under whom I had served when he was Defence Minister. He was astonished to see me, and delighted that I had been successful in getting through. I called for immediate tenders for supplying with rations, the troops who were coming at the back of Mount Egmont, and the next morning at ten o'clock, I accepted the lowest tender,
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and instructed Major Stapp, Adjutant of the Taranaki district, to send the rations out on a given date, returning at once to Keteonatea, riding the first day with Hone Pihama as far as Oeo, a distance of over sixty miles.
On the way back when passing through Warea, where the natives were considered more unfriendly than at any other settlement, we suddenly came upon a party of natives, men and women, carrying fruit and fish. I was the first man they saw, and their look of utter astonishment at the sight of an officer in uniform amused me very much. They put down what they were carrying, and threw up their arms, loudly calling out. I suppose that they at first thought our troops had come and taken their pah, but Hone Pihama soon eased their minds, and they became very friendly; I dismounted and ate some of their apples, which I enjoyed.
We did not reach Oeo till late in the evening, and I was most anxious to hear if our troops had made an attack on Te
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RETURN TO KETEONATEA
Ngaire, but no news had been received, and it was believed that the force was still at Keteonatea. I slept the night at Oeo, and the next day I thought I might venture a short cut through Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, the scene of two engagements some time before, but Hone Pihama would not hear of my doing so, as he feared that I should be shot; but by the coast, he felt sure, I should be perfectly safe, so I took the coast road, and arrived at the camp at Keteonatea at ten o'clock in the morning, reporting to Colonel Whitmore that the rations for his force would be at the back of the mountain where he required them on the day named.
I had only been lent to Colonel Whitmore to accompany his force for a few days, to organise the commissariat, transport, and medical departments, as I had previously been appointed Inspector of Defence Stores for the Colony. I, however, remained with him nearly three months, and after I returned to Keteonatea,
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I left the force to take up my duties as Inspector of Defence Stores at Wellington.
It is not often that an officer gets the chance of doing good work outside his usual duties: my chance, I thought, came when I volunteered to do this essential work, and I felt in my own mind, I ought to have got some recognition of it. I think I should have, had I been in the Imperial service. I did not even get thanked; all Colonel Whitmore did, was to say in his dispatch: 'I dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel Gorton to-day to New Plymouth to enter into a contract for the supply of provisions in the Taranaki district.'
This was the manner in which I suffered for the disagreements I had with Colonel Whitmore, in which I contended for the benefit of my department and the wounded; but such is the luck of war. At any rate I have the satisfaction of feeling I conscientiously did my duty to my dear, noble Queen and country.