THE BLACK KNIGHT GIVES CHECK

Shortly before the occupation of Ngaruawahia the New Zealand
Settlements Act was passed, giving the Governor power to confiscate the
lands of insurgent Maori, the Imperial Government having relinquished
control of native affairs. These were now entirely in the hands of the
colonists, and it was hoped that their knowledge of the requirements
of the Maori, together with the success which had attended General
Cameron’s arms, would combine to bring about lasting peace.

There was, indeed, talk of peace between Sir George Grey and Wiremu
Tamihana; but it came to nothing, and the Maori meanwhile threw up
fortifications at Pikopiko and Paterangi, on the Waipa, a branch of
the Waikato. Dislodged thence, and severely handled in a skirmish
on the Mangapiko river, in which Captain Heaphy of the New Zealand
forces gained the Victoria Cross, the Maori, commanded by their great
fighting chief, Rewi, were again defeated at Rangiaohia. This was
late in February, 1864, and the Waikato, undismayed at their numerous
disasters, entrenched themselves at Orakau, in the heavily-wooded
Taranaki country.

Orakau was unusually strong, and General Carey, with great judgment,
completely surrounded it before opening his attack. Even so, he fell at
dawn on the 30th of March into the old mistake of attempting to storm
the impregnable. After three unsuccessful assaults by regulars and
colonials, the General determined to approach the defences by the less
costly, if slower method of sap and trench. All was ready by the 2nd of
April, and the Armstrong guns soon silenced the enemy’s fire, while the
soldiers managed to burn no less than 48,000 rounds of ammunition.

General Cameron at this stage very humanely ordered a parley, as there
were many women and children within the _pa_; but to his summons to
surrender the Waikato sent back the defiant answer, “This is the word
of the Maori: We will fight for ever and ever and ever!” (_Ka whawhai
tonu; Ake, Ake, Ake!_) “Send out the women and children,” urged General
Cameron. “No; the women also will fight for their country,” was the
heroic response, and the General had no choice but to order the troops
to assault.

The first men up, some twenty in number, led by Captain Hertford of
the Colonial Force, were received with a volley which put the captain
and ten of his men _hors de combat_, while on the other side of the
_pa_ the 65th had no better success. But the Maori were worn out with
the three days’ struggle; they had lost heavily, and Rewi now gave
the order to evacuate the _pa_, which was, it will be remembered,
completely invested.

How the Maori managed to escape has never been satisfactorily
explained. In the words of an eye-witness, “a solid column of Maori,
the women, children and great chiefs in the centre, marched out as cool
and steady as if they had been going to church.” A double line of the
40th Regiment lay on the side the defenders chose for their escape, the
first under a bank sheltering them from the fire from the _pa_. It is
almost incredible that, before any one had gathered the significance of
what was going on, the Maori jumped over the heads of the first line,
and walked through the second line.

The war correspondent of the Auckland _Southern Cross_ wrote of this
extraordinary happening: “The cry was heard that the rebels were
escaping, and a scene baffling description ensued. General Cameron,
Brigadier-General Carey, aides and gallant colonels of the staff were
rushing about to warn and gather men from the sap…. This occupied
minutes, and all this time not a man of the 40th appears to have seen
the Maori, who must have jumped over the heads of the soldiers lining
the road cut out of the steep embankment, and so passed into the swamp
and _Ti_-tree scrub, wounding two or three of the 40th as a remembrance
of their passing.”

The Maori must have escaped unharmed, had it not been for a small corps
of colonial cavalry, who, led by Captains Jackson and Von Tempsky,
worked round the scrub and inflicted great loss upon the natives as
they emerged. Owing to the blunder, Rewi escaped along with numbers of
his countrymen.

The scene was now suddenly shifted to the Tauranga district on the
east, in the neighbourhood of the Bay of Plenty. The Maori here had
nothing to do with the quarrel, but emissaries from the Waikato
had constantly approached them, and many of the tribes were deeply
disaffected. No great distance separated the two districts; Wiremu
Tamihana owned considerable land in the Tauranga country, and, it
was well known, the Tauranga men had materially helped their western
neighbours. Fortunately, the Arawa tribes, which had an immemorial feud
with the Waikato,[66] took our side and, led by Captain McDonnell of
the Colonial Forces, defeated the tribes of the Rawhiti at Maketu. A
week later this initial success was forgotten in view of the disaster
which overtook the British at Tauranga.

General Cameron had towards the end of April transferred his
headquarters to Tauranga, and established himself with two thousand men
before a strong fortification of the enemy, which is remembered as the
“Gate _Pa_.” This fort was built upon a neck of land which fell away
on each side to a swamp. On the summit of the neck the chief redoubt
had been constructed and, flanking it, were lines of rifle-pits and
shelters, covered with wattle or earth, rendering the place almost
impregnable.

The position had been completely invested, and the bombardment opened
on the morning of the 28th of April, 1864. The Maori lay grimly
silent behind their defences while our great guns banged and boomed,
belching their storm of shot and shell at–emptiness! The cunning foe
had planted their standard one hundred yards in rear of their _pa_,
while the besiegers fondly imagined it to be placed in the centre.
For two hours the waste of ammunition went on before the mistake was
discovered; but, even when the great guns roared furiously at the
redoubt, as if wroth at the saturnine jest played upon them, the Maori
made no sign; so that none could tell whether they were lying close,
like scared rabbits in their burrows, or whether–though this was not
likely–they had already stolen away and escaped.

The afternoon was advanced when, with their reserves well up, the
troops poured through a wide breach in an angle of the redoubt. They
met with little opposition, and those on the plain actually believed
the _pa_ to be taken.

Not so. In the very moment of victory occurred one of those
inexplicable panics which, rarely enough, seize the most seasoned
troops; the positions were reversed in an instant, and the Maori
masters of the situation.




As the troops dashed cheering through the breach, the Maori attempted
to slip out at the rear of the _pa_; but, seeing the men of the 65th,
the whole mass of them surged back and came face to face with the
foremost of those who had entered from the front. These, startled at
sight of so many savage foes rushing furiously upon them, pressed upon
their comrades, who in turn faltered, and the troops in another moment
turned and ran, shouting, “They are there in thousands!”

Undaunted by this terrible sight, the reserves dashed up to encourage
their dismayed comrades, but to no purpose. The Maori, momentarily
inactive from sheer astonishment, recovered and poured a disastrous
fire upon the mob of struggling men, twenty-seven of whom were killed
and sixty-six wounded.

It is useless to try to explain away this unhappy incident. It is
enough to say that the men of the 43rd Regiment two months later atoned
for their behaviour, and wiped out their defeat by utterly routing the
Maori at Te Ranga, where the position was not at all unlike that at the
Gate _Pa_.

Despite the fact that there were now arrayed against them some ten
thousand British regulars, and five thousand colonial troops, the Maori
made no overtures of surrender–save for a few at Tauranga. Instead,
they withdrew from the Waikato plain, as well as from those parts
occupied by the soldiers, and joined forces with the Whanganui rebels
in the fastnesses of the latter’s country, where they were able to
indulge in their favourite bush-fighting and guerilla warfare. Here,
too, their resistance was strengthened by the growth of a shocking
superstition, which bred in them a fanatical hate, and lent to their
methods a brutality never previously exhibited in their conflicts with
the Pakeha.

Another development which strongly influenced the remainder of the war
occurred about the time when the operations at Tauranga were brought to
a close. Until the early part of 1864 the Colonial Forces had played a
subordinate part in the war–not from choice–though their conduct had
been invariably deserving of the highest praise. The time was now at
hand when they were to become principals instead of supernumeraries,
and by their own strenuous efforts bring about the end of a struggle
which General Cameron had more than once frankly despaired of finishing.

“The nature of the country forbids the idea of a decisive blow being
struck in the Whanganui district,” he once wrote to Sir George Grey,
“and if Her Majesty’s troops are to be detained in the colony until one
is struck, I confess I see no prospect of their leaving New Zealand.”

No doubt General Cameron was right in considering the country indicated
as probably the most difficult in New Zealand in which to engage in
military operations; but, even in the more accessible Waikato plains,
he had not conducted the war with that dash which the colonists knew
to be necessary for the speedy subjugation of the natives. Even the
Maori considered him slow and, notwithstanding his personal courage,
contemptuously styled him “the sea-gull with the broken wing,” because
of his tendency to avoid the bush and encamp upon or near the shore.
Lastly, his Fabian policy had cost the colony an enormous sum, and the
British Government, irritated by the expense of its generous response
to the colony’s appeal for aid, now demanded £40 per head per annum
for all soldiers kept in New Zealand at the request of the Colonial
Government, after the 1st of January, 1865. The answer of the colony to
this was to beg the Home Government to remove the Imperial troops to
the last man, declaring the colony ready and able to undertake its own
defence.

This “self-relying” policy of the Weld Ministry relieved the colonists
of a great burden; for the poll-tax was to be paid only for soldiers
remaining at the request of the New Zealand Government. Furthermore,
the relations between Sir George Grey and General Cameron had for long
been none too cordial, and one thing added to another brought about the
departure of some of the British regiments.

To put the matter in a nutshell, the Governor asked the soldier to
dare and do more than the latter believed he could accomplish with
the troops at his disposal; so he refused point blank. The Governor
thereupon dared and did on his own initiative, and proved the soldier
wrong.

Here is an outstanding example. After General Cameron had been
surprised at Nukumaru,[67] he passed on up the coast, leaving unreduced
the strong Wereroa _pa_, which was occupied in force by the Maori. His
reason, given to the Governor, was that he had only fifteen hundred
troops with him, and to attack the fort with less than two thousand
would be to court disaster. When five hundred friendly Whanganui
natives offered to take the _pa_, the General sneered at their offer as
“mere bounce” and, further, insisted that the Governor knew it to be
“mere bounce.”

The Governor’s reply was to collect a mixed force of five hundred men,
including three hundred of the “bouncing” friendlies, and borrow two
hundred regulars from General Waddy for moral support. With these he
marched upon the _pa_ about which such a pother had been raised. The
Queen’s troops, who were not allowed to fight–though the enemy did not
know that–acted as a camp guard, while the colonials and friendlies
worked by a circuitous and very difficult route to the rear of the
_pa_. Here they took a strong redoubt, which commanded the fort, and
captured fifty Maori on their way to join the garrison. All this was
effected without the loss of a man, and the enemy, seeing themselves,
as they supposed, surrounded, evacuated the _pa_ by the front. Had
the regulars been allowed to fight, the hostile force must have been
annihilated; but, much to their astonishment, they were allowed to walk
off unopposed. The numerically insignificant contingent of colonials
and friendlies entered the _pa_ next day, having accomplished in two
days, under the Governor’s eye, that which the commander-in-chief had
for six months declared to be impossible of accomplishment with less
than two thousand regulars. Perhaps, however, he was right.

As one result of this constant friction and of General Cameron’s
representations to the British Government, there remained in the colony
in 1865 only five regiments, and these were employed in guarding the
districts which had been reduced. After March, 1865, the Colonial
Forces for the most part conducted the war in their own way; but it
would be absurd to deny that, but for the regulars who remained, the
conquered tribes would have reassembled and obliged the war to be
fought over again, or necessitated an increase in the strength of the
colonials proportional to that of the Imperial troops withdrawn. As
it was, while the regulars stood on guard, the colonials fought their
fight unhampered by reviving sedition–fought and, as we shall see,
conquered.

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