THE QUEEN MOVES

First blood was to the Maori on the 17th of July at Koheroa, near that
rectangular bend just referred to which the Waikato river makes towards
the sea. The tribesmen had cleverly divided into two columns, one of
which swung round through the dense forest on the Wairoa ranges and
attacked the British rear, where they forced an escort of the Royal
Irish under Captain Ring to retire with the loss of one killed and four
wounded. A sharper fight, later in the day, left the advantage once
more with the British.

Colonel Austin was in command of the advance post at Koheroa, General
Cameron occupying a redoubt on the ranges overlooking the river. The
colonel, observing large masses of natives gathering on the ranges to
his front, immediately advanced in skirmishing order. The enemy retired
towards the Maramarua creek in their rear, but, when two miles had been
covered in a running fight, suddenly made a stand in a very difficult
position, which they had already fortified with breastworks and
rifle-pits, and which, from the nature of the ground, it was impossible
to turn.

So terrific a volley was poured upon a detachment of the 14th, which
had never till then been under fire, that for all their pluck the lads
wavered. General Cameron had just arrived to take command and, seeing
the unsteadiness of the leading files, ran to the front, twenty paces
in advance of all, and stood there, a mark for every bullet, cheering
on his men. British soldiers never yet failed to answer a call like
that. The slight hesitation disappeared in a moment, and the men rushed
forward and drove the enemy out of their pits at the point of the
bayonet. The pursuit was maintained for five miles, the Maori making
defiant stands at one prepared position after another–much as the
Boers used to do at a later period,–but they were finally driven into
headlong flight, with a loss of between sixty and eighty.

The colonists were greatly disappointed when, instead of following
up his victory, General Cameron sat down at Wangamirino creek and
watched the rebels while they strongly fortified Meri-Meri, three
miles distant, making no attempt to dislodge them. Alleging that
his transport service must be thoroughly organised, General Cameron
remained where he was until the end of October, and all through the
long weeks over a thousand horses panted and strained, dragging the
heavy commissariat waggons along the forty-mile metalled road between
Auckland and the Waikato. The transport service ran grave risk of traps
and ambuscades, but, as no vessels suitable for river navigation were
available, the military stores could be sent by no other way.

The General at last considered himself ready to advance; but first
very properly reconnoitred Meri-Meri in one of the iron-screened
steamers which the Governor had sent him. Then, on the 31st of
October, he moved forward over six hundred men, left them in position,
and returned for another detachment with which to attack the Maori
fortification both front and rear. But when he arrived with detachment
number two, there were no Maori there to fight. They had abandoned
Meri-Meri under the very eyes of detachment number one, instead of
remaining, as they clearly ought to have done, to be surrounded. It was
as well; for Meri-Meri was very strongly entrenched, and great loss of
life must have attended an assault.

The Maori rarely fought as they were expected to fight, and, as in the
case of the Boers, their _personnel_ was constantly changing, some of
them going home, and others, who had so far done no fighting, taking
their places. After the evacuation of Meri-Meri, a considerable number
withdrew temporarily from the field, while the rest, reinforced by a
fresh contingent, set to work to fortify Rangiriri, twelve miles higher
up the Waikato.

Against this General Cameron advanced on the 20th of November with a
land force of eight hundred men, five hundred more on board two river
steamers, two Armstrong guns and two gunboats, whose duty it would be
to pitch shell into the _pa_ from their position on the river. The
fort, trenched and pitted, had a formidable look; but the Maori had
for once omitted to leave open a way of escape in their rear, and,
besides, they were numerically too weak to defend the long line of
fortification.




From three o’clock until five that afternoon the gunners poured shot
and shell into the entrenchments at a range of six hundred yards, and
then the troops, led by the gallant 65th, drove the enemy from the
trenches into a central redoubt, which defied all efforts to take it.
The men of the red and white roses swung raging back to make way for
a contingent of the Royal Artillery and, when these, too, were beaten
off, Commander Mayne of H.M.S. _Eclipse_ twice in succession led
his jolly tars against the impregnable redoubt. Not even they could
succeed, and night closed in on the combatants, putting an end to the
slaughter, and leaving the Maori still in possession.

All night long the sappers laboured at a trench, and all night long
the Maori within the redoubt kept up a terrific howling, flinging
challenges, and occasionally something more practical, at the
besiegers; but, when morning dawned, there stood on the fatal parapet
a chief of note, and asked for an interpreter. In a few moments one
hundred and eighty-three warriors and one hundred and seventy-five
stand of arms were surrendered to General Cameron.

The mistakes of Oheawai were repeated at Rangiriri, and the wonder
is that the troops got off as cheaply as they did; a fact only to be
accounted for by the numerical weakness of the Maori. These knew well
the courage of the men arrayed against them; but the desperate valour
with which they defended their works helped to convince the British
General that they, too, were foemen not to be despised.

The battle of Rangiriri had this great advantage, that it opened the
gorge of Taupiri, where disaster might well have overtaken the troops,
had the Maori been in a position to defend it. As it was, General
Cameron was able to push forward, and on the 6th of December to occupy
Ngaruawahia, where King Matutaere had established his headquarters, and
where his father, old Potatau, was buried. Matutaere had not waited
for General Cameron and, unduly fearful of desecration, had carried
away with him the mouldering remains of the old king. One thing he
had left behind, as being too heavy for a flying column, and that was
a flagstaff of most exalted height, from the peak of which his royal
standard had lately floated. The standard was gone, but the flagstaff
had not been cut down, and the Union Jack soon proclaimed to any
watching Waikato that the first game of the rubber had been won by the
British.

You may also like