Battle Of Rangiriri Essay Format
Chapter 26: The Waikato War and its Causes
Ka ngapu te whenua;
Ka haere nga tangata ki whea?
Kia mau, kia mau!
The earthquake shakes the land;
Where shall man find an abiding-place?
(God of the lower depths),
Hold fast our land!
Bind, tightly bind!
Be firm, be firm!
Nor let it from our grasp be torn!
THIS CHANT, OFTEN heard even at the present day, embodied the passionate sentiment of nationalism and home rule for the Maoris which developed into a war-fever in Waikato. From first to last the wise and patriotic Wiremu Tamehana was a restraining force, and with him a few of the more temperate-minded of the Waikato chiefs, such as Patara te Tuhi, nephew of the old King Potatau te Wherowhero. Potatau was a firm friend of the pakeha, and, had he been a younger man, his undoubtedly great influence, born of his warrior reputation and his aristocratic position, probably would have prevented the Waikato throwing themselves into a test of arms with the Government. In the beginning of the King movement, as has already been explained, there was no desire to force a war. The great meetings at which the selection of Potatau as King was confirmed were attended by numerous Europeans. Government officials, missionaries, and traders were alike welcome guests at Ngaruawahia, Rangiaowhia, and the other centres of the home-rulers. The more intelligent of the Maoris saw clearly that page 232 there was nothing to be gained by a rupture of relations with the pakeha. But the irritation caused by the inevitable friction over European encroachment, the treatment of the natives by the lower class of whites, the reluctance of the authorities to grant the tribes a reasonable measure of self-government, and, lastly, the sympathy with Taranaki and the bitterness engendered by the loss of so many men in the Waitara campaign, all went to mould the Waikato and their kinsmen into a powerful foe of the Colonial Government.
In the beginning the natural desire of the natives for a better system of government could have been turned to beneficial account by a prescient Administration. At a large meeting at Paetai, near Rangiriri, on the 23rd April, 1857, Potatau, Te Wharepu, and other chiefs asked the Governor, Colonel Gore Browne, for a Magistrate and laws, and runanga or tribal councils. To this request the Government responded by the experimental establishment of civil institutions in the Waikato, under Mr. F. D. Fenton, afterwards Judge of the Native Land Court. The new machinery, however, was not given time to develop into a useful and workable system before Mr. Fenton was recalled, and the field was left free for the exponents of Maori independence to develop their own schemes of government.
An account has been given in a previous chapter of the first meetings in connection with the establishment of the Maori kingdom. The Paetai meeting of 1857 was a highly picturesque gathering. The Lower Waikato people were assembled to meet their guests from up-river, the Ngati-Haua and Ngati-Maniapoto and some of the Waikato hapus, who came sweeping down the river in a grand flotilla of nearly fifty canoes. Wiremu Tamehana and his Ngati-Haua set up on the marae or village campus the flag of the newly selected King; this ensign was white, with a red border and two red crosses, symbolic of Christianity; it bore the words “Potatau Kingi o Niu Tireni.” The speeches breathed intense patriotism. “I love New Zealand,” cried one old blanketed chief. “Let us have order, so that we may increase like the white man. Why should we disappear from the land? Let us have a king, for with a king there will be peace among us. New Zealand is ours—I love it.” Another, Hoani Papita, of the Rangiaowhia people, Ngati-Hinetu and Ngati-Apakura, made an eloquent plea for independence and nationalism. “Fresh water is lost when it mingles with the salt,” he said. “Let us retain our lands and be independent of the pakeha.” And he began the chant which heads this chapter, “Ka ngapu te whenua.” The whole two thousand natives gathered around took up the song and chanted it in a tremendous chorus. That old heart-cry of nationalism still holds power to electrify the Maori.page 233
The formal investiture of Potatau with the dignity of King of the Maori Kotahitanga, or confederation of tribes, took place in 1858 at Ngaruawahia, and was followed by a large gathering at Rangiaowhia, the great granary and orchard of the Upper Waikato, not far from Te Awamutu, where presently Mr. Gorst (afterwards Sir John Gorst) was placed by Sir George Grey as one of the “spades” wherewith to accomplish the downfall of the Maori national flag. The aged King Potatau died in the winter of 1860, and his son Tawhiao, grotesquely baptised Matutaera (Methuselah), became the figurehead of the kingdom in his place.
Governor Browne and his Ministers consistently declined to recognize the Maori King or Maori nationality, but when Sir George Grey became Governor, and a peace Ministry was formed under Mr. Fox (afterwards Sir William Fox), efforts were made to conciliate Waikato. In 1861 the Governor sent John Gorst into the Waikato as Magistrate and Commissioner to watch the native political feeling and to establish European institutions in the heart of the Maori country. Grey and his Ministers introduced also a system of local government; under this plan the Maori country was to be divided into districts and “hundreds,” over each of which a Civil Commissioner was to be placed to grapple with the task of governing the natives in his zone of influence, with the assistance of salaried Maori Magistrates, assessors, and policemen. The New institutions were first introduced in the Ngapuhi country and on the Lower Waikato, where the salaries and privileges were received with enthusiasm, but it was too late to entice the Kingites into the Government fold with such devices. The King's runanga of chiefs at Ngaruawahia told Mr. Gorst that if some plan of the kind had been carried out five or six years previously there would never have been a Maori King. Still they were willing, if the Governor was willing to let their King and flag stand, to adopt his plans and work with him for the good of all. But the Kingitanga was the stumbling-block. Grey, for all his kindly feeling towards his native friends, would have nothing to do with an alien flag, and he declared at last, at a Waikato meeting, that although he would not fight against the Maori kingdom with the sword, he would “dig around it” until it fell. This ominous figure of speech, combined with the always suspicious presence of a Government agent in the heart of the King's country, and, finally, the commencement of the military road from Drury through the forest to the Waikato River, fostered the Maori disbelief in the friendly intention of the pakeha.
In other words, the Civil Commissioner of Waikato was requested to “plug up” the boundary river between pakeha and Maori lands, and prevent the King's followers passing below its mouth to trade in Auckland, so that presently they would be reduced to a ragged condition for want of European clothing. To this piece of political persiflage the Kingites retorted with a waiata prompted by the Government proposal to establish a police-station at Te Wheoro's village:—
Koia e Te Kohi,
Purua i Manga-tawhiri,
Kia puta ai ona pokohiwi,
Kia whato tou
E hi na wa!
Kuini i Te Kohekohe,
Whakaronga mai ra nge,
Ka pohutu atu nga papa,
Kei Te Ia.
Mau na wa!
O Queen at Te Kohekohe,
Listen to me!
Presently we'll send your timbers splashing,
To float down to Te Ia.
This threat was soon fulfilled, for a party of King supporters came down the river, took possession of the sawn timber that had been stacked at Kohekohe for the construction of the Government station, threw it into the river, and rafted it down to Te Ia-roa (“The Long Current”), called by the Europeans “Havelock.” There they landed it in front of a trading-store kept by a young Scotsman, Mr. Andrew Kay.page 236
The eviction of Mr. Gorst from the Waikato was the next step in the Kingites' clearance of all forms of European authority from their land. Mr. Gorst (who had at first thought of entering the Melanesian mission work under Bishop Selwyn) came under the magic spell of Sir George Grey's personality soon after his arrival in New Zealand and he became an enthusiastic instrument of the Government in the task of civilizing and educating the Maori youth. The Church Missionary Society lent its 200 acres of land at Te Awamutu, with school-buildings, to Sir George Grey as a technical-education establishment, and there Mr. Gorst for some time carried on a useful work, schooling Maori boys in the arts page 237 of civilized life and at the same time occasionally exercising his magisterial office.
The story of Gorst's little newspaper, Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke i te Tuanui, or “The Lonely Lark on the House-top” (there being no sparrows in Maoriland), established by way of a counterblast to the Kingite print Te Hokioi (“The War-bird”), is a pivotal incident in the history of the Waikato. The pungent tone of the Pihoihoi particularly incensed Rewi and his fellow-chiefs, and the runanga at Kihikihi determined to suppress Gorst and his paper. On the 25th March, 1863, when Mr. Gorst was absent at Te Kopua, on the Waipa, Rewi and a war-party of Ngati-Maniapoto, numbering eighty, invaded Te Awamutu. Wiremu Kingi te Rangi-taake, of Waitara fame, accompanied Rewi. A minor chief, Aporo Taratutu, was the active agent in the raiding of the station. The Government printing-press, type, and paper, and printed copies of the fifth number of the Pihoihoi, were seized. Mr. Gorst was now ordered to leave Te Awamutu. When he refused, Rewi wrote to Governor Grey (then in Taranaki) requesting him to withdraw his official. Wiremu Tamehana sadly begged Gorst to leave. “If you stay,” he said, “some of the young men may grow desperate, and I shall not be able to save you.” Grey recalled Gorst, who left Te Awamutu on the 18th April, 1863. He took a last look at it from the heights above the Mangapiko as he rode away; and it was more than forty-three years before he saw it again, when he revisited Waikato (December, 1906), and was warmly greeted by some of the very people who had turned him away.*
So abruptly ended the Governor's effort to wean Waikato from the charms of kingism. Rewi was condemned by Wiremu Tame-hana, Patara te Tuhi, and others of the moderate party, but the great majority were delighted with Ngati-Maniapoto's coup, and Waikato was soon afire with the war-passion. The first shots were fired in less than four months after the raid on Te Awamutu.
The Right Hon. Sir John E. Gorst (Died 1916)
Sir John Gorst came to New Zealand in 1860, in the ship “Red Jacket,” from Liverpool. He was Civil Commissioner in the Upper Waikato, 1861–63. His life in the Maori country and his association with the Waikato chiefs are described in his books “The Maori King” and “New Zealand Revisited.”
From a photo by Mr. Boscawen, at Mangere, 1901]
Patara Te Tuhi
This chief of Ngati-Mahuta, Waikato, was one of the leaders in the Maori King movement, and was the editor of the Kingite paper Te Hokioi, printed at Ngaruawahia. He visited England in 1884 with Tawhiao and other chiefs. His attitude before the war was moderate and conciliatory, and, like Wiremu Tamehana, he endeavoured to avert hostilities.
This was only a part of a general sudden blow against the pakeha race; similar attacks were urged upon the natives in the Wellington District. It was an exceedingly bold and hazardous scheme; nevertheless it would have been attempted had Governor Gore Browne remained in New Zealand. It was only the news that Sir George Grey was returning to the colony as its Governor that averted the general rising. The Maoris looked forward to his coming as the beginning of a different policy and a more friendly attitude towards their political aspirations. Then, when after all it was seen that war was inevitable, and when Governor Grey and his Ministers began an aggressive movement towards Waikato, the original plan of campaign discussed in 1861 was taken up—the raiding of the frontier settlements, with Paparata as a base of operations and camps in the Hunua forest.page 241
In 1860 Mr. C. O. Davis informed the Government that gunpowder was being made at Tautoro (near Kaikohe, in the Ngapuhi country), and in the Waikato territory. It was believed that a Maori who had been in Sydney had learned the manufacture of powder there, and that Europeans assisted in the work. It is known that later on in the wars a European (Moffat) made a coarse gunpowder at a settlement near Taumarunui, on the Upper Wanganui. But it is improbable that the Maoris relied on locally made gunpowder to any great extent; they had sources of supply from traders, and for several years before the Waikato War had been laying in stocks of powder, lead, and percussion caps. Large quantities of ammunition were traded to the natives at Tauranga up to the beginning of the war. Tauranga was, in fact, one of the avenues of supply for Ngati-Haua as well as the Ngati-te-Rangi and other coast tribes. A common trick to evade the authorities when the restrictions on the sale of munitions were in force was for a coasting-vessel to clear outward at the Auckland Customs for Tauranga or other ports with a cargo ostensibly of empty casks (for pork) and bags of salt; each cask as often as not contained several kegs of gunpowder, and the bags were filled with lead and boxes of percussion caps. American whalers calling in at East Coast ports were believed to have bartered ammunition to the natives in return for provisions, and Sydney trading-vessels surreptitiously supplied munitions, but most of the guns and powder reached the Maoris from Auckland trading-houses.
The war now waged was very different from Hone Heke's chivalrous tournament of 1845. It was a racial war; the Maori aim was to sweep the pakeha to the sea, as the pakeha Government's object was to teach the Maori his subjection to British authority. The Europeans were not without warning that the sharp and barbarous old Maori methods of warfare were to be revived. Wiremu Tamehana himself, deeply as he sorrowed over the inevitable conflict, was compelled to place himself in line with his countrymen. He warned Archdeacon Brown, at Tauranga, that he—meaning his race—would spare neither unarmed persons (tangata ringa-kore) nor property. In August, 1863, he wrote to the Governor cautioning him to bring “to the towns the defenceless, lest they be killed in their farms in the bush.” “But,” he concluded, “you are well acquainted with the customs of the Maori race.” The frontier settlers who remained on their sections did so at their own risk. No chief, not even the King or the kingmaker, could restrain a party of young bloods on the war-path seeking to flesh their tomahawks. They would quote the ancient war-proverb, “He maroro kokoti ihu waka” (“A flying-fish crossing the bow of the canoe”) in allusion to any luckless persons whom a fighting taua might find in its path, and in the stern logic of the page 242 Maori there could be no reasonable protest against the practical application of the aphorism by cutting short the career of the “flying-fish.”
Letters. Ciphers. A 1 E 2 H 8 I 3 K 7 M 6 N 0 O 4 P 9 R 7 T = U 5 W A mark resembling the symbol for “per.” NG O followed by an S crossed like the American dollar symbol, but with one line only.
The figure 7 stood for both K and R, but no doubt there was some distinguishing mark or variation for one of the letters.
From a portrait by G. Lindauer, in the Auckland Municipal Gallery]
Tawhiao, the Waikato King (Died 1894)
The decisive battle for Waikato was fought in November 1863 at Rangiriri, where a defensive line was constructed along a ridge between the river and Lake Waikare. The defences consisted of an entrenched parapet with ditches on both sides. Concealed rifle pits covered by fern were protected by wooden stakes driven into the ground. The most obvious approach route from the north was covered by a central redoubt designed by Pene Te Wharepu. Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron, commander of the Imperial forces, later conceded that the strength of this position had not been detected by the British. Swampy ground made an approach from the south difficult. But formidable as Rangiriri’s earthworks were, they were incomplete.
A number of important Māori chiefs – including King Tāwhiao and Wiremu Tāmihana – were present at Rangiriri, but the pā was seriously undermanned. The Kīngitanga forces had now been managing the circulation of warriors between their ‘homes and the field’ for the best part of three months. After Meremere, manpower was stretched to the limit. According to Belich, it was ‘inevitable that the Meremere army should break up’.
The British were not going to wait until it reformed. On the morning of 20 November they assembled a force of 860 men - backed up by artillery - just north of Rangiriri. Another 600 men were ferried upstream by the river fleet. Men from the 65th, 12th and 14th regiments were organised into three lines, with a detachment of the 40th and the remainder of the 65th in reserve. A scaling party carrying ladders and planks was poised for action. Royal Artillery led by Captain Henry Mercer was ready to shell the pā.
The river force eventually made it ashore and quickly occupied the now-abandoned rear defences. The central redoubt was surrounded but would be a tough nut to crack. ‘Barely 12 paces’ wide, it was crowded with defenders, including a number of women who reloaded muskets for their warriors to fire.
With British soldiers now within the pā, the artillery fire was halted. All available men – including Mercer’s gunners – were mustered for a final assault. Strong resistance continued. Mercer was shot in the face and dragged to a ditch where 20 other men lay wounded or dead. Assistant Surgeon William Temple disregarded his own welfare in attending to the wounded. Lieutenant Arthur Pickard showed similar courage by running back through enemy fire to seek help from Cameron. Both men were awarded the Victoria Cross for their endeavours.
A naval force followed Mercer’s artillerymen in charging the pā. They chased a number of Māori into the swamp, shooting nearly all of them. But when they returned to assault the rifle pits they were quickly forced to take cover. By nightfall there was a stalemate. The bank of the central redoubt had proven too high to scale. The ditch and approaches were ‘littered with dead and wounded’.
A combination of factors thwarted a plan to blow up the redoubt and plans were made for a renewed assault at dawn.
Overnight a number of Māori were evacuated via the eastern ditch – the only remaining escape route to Lake Waikare. As many as 36 warriors accompanied Tāmihana and a similar number may have escorted King Tāwhiao and the Māori wounded, who included the mortally wounded architect of the pā, Pene Te Wharepu.
The planned dawn attack became unnecessary when Māori raised a white flag. While a white flag may symbolise surrender, it is also recognised as a ‘protective sign of truce or ceasefire, and request for negotiation’. The British chose to interpret it as a sign of surrender. Facing no resistance, they moved into the redoubt. The remaining Māori defenders were confused. Lieutenant Pennefather, one of the first men to have ‘tumbled into’ the central redoubt, gave this account to Archdeacon Robert Maunsell:
The Maoris then (at 5.00 a.m.) hoisted the white flag. He [Pennefather] at once scrambled into their redoubt, and with his men mingled amongst them, shaking hands, and the General came up about ten minutes afterwards complimented them on their bravery and demanded their arms. To this they demurred: but the chiefs felt that to resist now was out of the question and decided upon delivering up the arms as required having first said that the reason of hoisting the white flag was that they might ask what terms they might expect. [Maunsell’s italics]
A decisive victory?
Casualties at Rangiriri were high – 35 British and a similar number of Māori were killed. Ten more members of the British force died later from their wounds, including the unfortunate Mercer, who had lost most of his jaw.
Many reports exaggerated the magnitude of the British victory, with claims of up to 280 Māori casualties. Other accounts were less celebratory, seeing the number of Māori killed as a poor return for 130 British casualties. Settler William Morgan wrote in his journal that it was ‘extremely annoying, in fact it is galling, to think of our losing so many fine officers and men by such savages as those we had a sight of yesterday.’
The Kingite forces had suffered a major blow. In addition to those killed and wounded, 183 prisoners – including a number of chiefs – were taken along with their weapons. The importance of the victory was recognised by Cameron’s subsequent knighthood.
Cameron knew that the war was not yet won. But the occupation of the Kīngitanga’s capital, Ngāruawāhia, on 8 December 1863 prompted Grey to tell London that ‘there can, I think, be no doubt that the neck of this unhappy rebellion is now broken.’
While this was a moral and political victory for the British, King Tāwhiao had already retreated into Ngāti Maniapoto territory (now known as the King Country), where he would remain unmolested for 18 years. Cameron knew that ultimate success depended on the capture of the economic heartland of the Waikato around the settlements of Rangiaowhia, Te Awamutu and Kihikihi.
The Māori captured at Rangiriri were initially taken to Auckland and held in a hulk on Waitematā Harbour, then transferred to Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf. To the embarrassment of the authorities, they escaped to the mainland in September 1864.