Kororareka was done with; but not so Honi Heke, outlawed now with his
comrade old Kawiti, and the whites around Auckland went in terror of
the victorious pair. For Heke had threatened to assault the capital
at the next full moon. Some watched for his coming as apprehensively
as did ever Roman for the approach of Lars Porsena and his Etruscans,
while to others the mention of the Black Douglas was not more prophetic
of disaster than was that of Honi Heke. Many of these last migrated to
more peaceful shores, despairing of rest anywhere in the land where the
Maori were predominant.
After all, Heke never came. The Maori leader had his hands full; for
Tomati Waka Nene, throwing in his lot with the British, marched into
Heke’s country, and kept the victor busy while the Pakeha drew breath.
The Governor, worried almost out of his senses by the bitter attacks
made upon him, hurriedly collected all the soldiers who could be spared
and despatched them under the command of Colonel Hulme of the 99th
Regiment to the support of Waka Nene. The expedition reached the Bay
of Islands on the 28th of April, 1845, a guard of honour disembarked,
and the British flag was once more hoisted over what remained of
Then came Waka Nene, advising immediate advance upon Heke, to which
Colonel Hulme agreed; but he made before starting one of those errors
which have more than once lowered our character for absolutely fair
dealing in the eyes of native races. The chief, Pomare, was taken
prisoner under a flag of truce and packed off to Auckland, while his
_pa_ was burnt. It is useless to reproach savages with treachery if
we ourselves are guilty of it. When the story came to his ears, the
much-abused Governor released Pomare with an apology, and soothed his
injured feelings by the gift of a sailing-boat, always a delightful
present to a Maori.
Heke had established himself at Te Ahuahu, not far from Okaihau, in
a _pa_ belonging to Kawiti; and here he waited till early in May for
Colonel Hulme, whose force of white men, swollen by the addition of
seamen and marines from the _Hazard_, had increased to four hundred.
Heke was said to have twelve hundred fighting men; but Waka Nene’s
eight hundred “friendlies” equalised matters as far as numbers went.
As soon as Heke had ascertained that Colonel Hulme had left Auckland,
he withdrew from Te Ahuahu and built a new _pa_ near Taumata Tutu,
significantly enough, on the spot where the famous Hongi had spoken his
last “word” to his people. This _pa_ he named Te Kahika, or the “White
There was a good deal of the pagan left in Heke, or, at least, he
still preserved a considerable respect for the old religion. It is,
therefore, not wonderful that Te Atua Wera, the famous _tohunga_ of
the Nga-Puhi, should have been with him in camp, or that the commander
should have prayed the magician to put heart into his men. This Te
Atua Wera proceeded to do very diplomatically, advising the pagans
to stick to paganism, the Christians to Christianity, and impressing
upon each the absolute necessity for making no mistakes. “Do nothing,”
he cautioned, “to make the European God angry, and be careful not to
offend the Maori gods. It is good to have more than one god to trust
to.” On these conditions he promised success and guaranteed to turn
aside the shot from the big guns.
There were no big guns, as it happened; for when Colonel Hulme’s column
arrived at Okaihau on the 7th of May, they had only a few rockets. It
was resolved to use these for the moral effect it was hoped they would
Waka Nene’s Maori had mounted a white headband to distinguish them
from the foe; but, as a matter of fact, they took little part in
the conflict, their superstitious fears having been aroused by the
carelessness of the soldiers and sailors regarding omens.
“They are eating their breakfast standing up!” one Maori exclaimed in
horror. “Don’t they know how unlucky it is to eat standing just before
“They have no _tohunga_ with them,” another remarked, shaking his head.
“I threw a _rakau_ (divining dart) for them this morning,” a third
said gloomily, “and it turned wrong side up as it fell. Many will die
“True,” assented a fourth. “Look at them now. They are carrying
litters, as if they were already dead. They ought to be told how
unlucky that is.”
And Nene’s fighting chiefs did actually warn the British officers that
they were behaving very foolishly and, being laughed at for their
pains, begged the soldiers to throw away the litters, by carrying which
they were really asking for death. But the soldiers, too, laughed and
marched on, as the Maori fully believed, to their death.
This was too much for the friendlies. “We are not going to take part in
a funeral procession,” they declared and, with the exception of a score
or two of Nene’s relations, withdrew to the top of Taumata Kakaramu, a
neighbouring hill, to watch the fight.
“If the soldiers win to-day,” they declared, “we will always help them.
But how can they possibly win?”
The reasons given by the friendlies for their abstention were genuine;
but underlying them was another, unconfessed. Like those with Heke,
they were Nga-Puhi, and in times of stress the claims of kinship have a
way of making themselves heard.
Heke had taken the precaution to cover the roofs within the _pa_ with
flax to protect them from the sparks of the rockets, and the first of
these presently came roaring and hissing at its mark. All held their
breath; for the friendlies, watching from the hill-top, knew as well
as those within the _pa_ that the _tohunga_ had promised immunity from
this very danger.
Heke came out just at this moment to observe the effect of the
missiles. Determined to be on the safe side, he had put up a Christian
supplication, and now stood repeating with great unction a Maori prayer.
On came the rocket; but Heke never moved. Many thought that he must
be hit; but the missile struck the ground and ricochetted over the
fort–greatly, no doubt, to the relief of the venturesome leader, who,
when a second shot behaved in like manner, yelled defiance and stalked
Kawiti had meanwhile laid a clever ambush. When the rockets had been
fired, a rush was made on the rear of the _pa_, and Heke, leaving
sufficient to defend the walls, sallied from the front and had nearly
succeeded in effecting a junction with Kawiti, when a friendly saw him
stealing through the bush and yelled an alarm. In consequence, Kawiti’s
flank attack was repulsed, his son being among the slain.
The old warrior attempted a second flank attack, but was driven back
by the British, who, as they chased the Maori, swore at them after the
immemorial fashion of Thomas Atkins. This annoyed the Maori more than
any drubbing; for they complained that they had done nothing wrong, and
to be treated to such vulgar abuse was an outrage. Such behaviour was
indeed utterly opposed to the Maori idea of courtesy, and a deputation
once approached the Governor, protesting against the Pakeha’s habit
of swearing at them, and praying His Excellency to discourage the
Colonel Hulme concluded as night fell that he could not take the _pa_
with the force at his command. He believed that he had punished the
enemy in the open; but his own loss was fourteen killed and thirty-two
wounded. Having neither ammunition nor food remaining, the colonel
marched away, leaving Heke in possession of the field.
The Maori chief some days later received a visit from Archdeacon
Williams, who urged him to yield and go into exile for a year, after
which his offences might possibly be pardoned. Heke declined the
missionary’s kind offices, and wrote the Governor a letter which was
very far from being that of a fool.
“Friend, the Governor,” said Heke, “where is the good will of
England? In her great guns? In her Congreve rockets?… Is it shown
in Englishmen calling us slaves? Or in their regard for our sacred
places?… The Europeans taunt us. They say, ‘Port Jackson, China, the
Islands are but a precedent for this country. That flag of England
which takes your country is the commencement.’ The French and, after
them, the Americans, told us the same thing…. We said, ‘We will die
for the country which God has given us.’ … If you demand our land,
where are we to go?… Waka Nene’s fighting for you is nothing. He is
coaxing you for land, that you may say he is faithful…. Were anything
to happen to me, the natives would kill in all directions. I alone
restrain them. If you say fight, I am agreeable; if you say make peace,
I am equally agreeable…. I say to you, leave Waka and me to fight.
We are both Maori. You fight your own colour. Peace must be determined
by you, the Governor.–From me, John William Pokai (Heke).”
Public confidence in the security of life and property was by no means
increased by the retreat of the British from Okaihau, while the Maori
not unnaturally assumed airs which intensely irritated the colonists,
though they wisely ignored them.
The Governor, standing at bay between the scornful Maori and the
indignant colonists, who gave him a large share of the blame for the
misfortunes which had befallen the colony, made vigorous efforts to
organise another expedition which must crush Heke and Kawiti. While
this was preparing, Heke kept his hand in by attacking Waka Nene’s
_pa_, where he received a bullet in the thigh. The British, not to be
outdone, went in boats up the Waikari river, to find the fort they
designed to attack deserted by the nimble foe.
All was ready by the 16th of June, and Colonel Despard of the 99th
Regiment began the second campaign against Heke, who had withdrawn to a
_pa_ of immense strength at Oheawai, sixteen miles inland from the Bay
of Islands. The colonel, an experienced soldier, commanded a force of
six hundred and forty regulars from the 58th, 96th, and 99th Regiments;
sailors from the _Hazard_; a company of one hundred volunteers, and
two hundred and fifty friendly Maori. Four guns were with infinite
pains hauled along the difficult track, through mud of a depth rarely
seen in Britain, and over creeks and rivers with steep, defiant banks,
between which the water often rushed in flood. June is midwinter in New
Zealand, and no worse time could have been chosen for the expedition.
Yet, in the judgment of those most deeply concerned with the colony’s
fortunes, it had to be undertaken.
The force encamped near the mission-station on the Waimate or River
of Tears, and on the 23rd of June marched to Oheawai, where a small
garrison under Kawiti and Pene awaited their attack. Heke was still
The night was spent in preparing batteries for the “potato pots,” as
the Maori styled the mortars with which it was intended on the morrow
to breach the palisades of the _pa_,–four barricades of massive
logs, twenty feet in height, with a broad ditch between the first
and the second. Some heavy hammering would be necessary before a
path could be smashed through those tremendous defences. Yet it was
confidently expected that the mortars would accomplish their part of
the programme of attack.
When they had turned in, the experience of the rest of the night must
have been weird to the unseasoned British. Throughout the long, dark
watches the comforting “All’s well!” of the sentinels was drowned by
the oft-repeated challenge, thundered by the guards in the _pa_, “Come
on, O _hoia_! Come on and revenge your dead of Okaihau! Come on!
Come on!” And the deep-toned, defiant watch-cry of Waka Nene’s men from
their hill, “Come on, O Nga-Puhi! Come on for your revenge! We have
slain you in heaps ere now! Come on! Come on!”
The bombardment began on the morning of the 24th, and for six days
thereafter was continued. The round shot bowled through palisades
one, two, three and four, or stuck fast in the giant posts; but never
a trunk was shaken down, never one so hopelessly smashed as to open
the door of that much-desired way. The enemy, safe in their cunningly
contrived rifle-pits, meantime kept up a galling fire, which more than
once caused a shifting of the positions of the batteries.
This ineffectual bombardment went on day after day, till Colonel
Despard lost patience and suggested an assault, breach or no breach.
But to this talk the Maori would not listen, and Waka Nene, wise in
war, implored the colonel not to dream of an attempt which must result
in the slaughter of almost every one concerned in it. The officers,
brave though they proved themselves to be, supported Waka. Then Colonel
Despard, angry, ashamed–for it was known how small a force held the
_pa_,–and well-nigh disheartened, was cheered by a gleam of hope. Why
not send to the _Hazard_ for a thirty-two-pounder gun, which would
certainly breach those defiant palisades? And send he did.
We know what bluejackets can do; but it is difficult for any one
unfamiliar with the country to realise the enormous pains and labour
expended in dragging that thirty-two-pounder the fifteen miles which
lay between the ship and the camp. It was done, though, and the great
gun crowned the hill and frowned down upon the _pa_, threatening
terrible probabilities for the morrow.
At ten o’clock next morning the new gun roared its first message. It
was posted only a hundred yards from the fort; yet, astonishing to
relate, those massive trunks groaned and quivered under the shock
of impact, but as sullenly as ever refused to fall, declined to be
smashed. But the defenders must have been apprehensive for the fate
of their stockade; for, while the great gun went on booming, Kawiti
and a chosen band of thirty stole out of the _pa_, and made their way
unperceived to a thick wood close to, and in rear of the battery.
No one was prepared for this, even the friendlies’ sharp ears and keen
eyes being occupied with the banging of the guns, the thumping of the
heavy shot against the palisades, and the splinters flying in all
directions from the stubborn trunks. Wild, indeed, was the surprise of
those on the hill, when old Kawiti and his band burst from the wood and
charged down upon them.
Back reeled Waka’s irregulars; down the hill in headlong flight raced
gallant Colonel Despard and his officers, forced to “run away” in order
that they might “live to fight another day,” and upon that thundering
monster and his small six-pounder orderly swooped Kawiti and his men. A
few minutes more and the guns would have gone off in a fashion unusual
with them; but a number of the brave 58th came charging up the hill,
flung themselves upon the assailants, and drove them back with nothing
but a small union-jack for their pains.
Yet the sight of that little flag, hoisted below the Maori colours in
the _pa_, stung Colonel Despard to madness, or, rather, into issuing
a mad order which cost the lives of many brave men. Twenty-six shot
had been fired from the big gun which Commander Johnston had brought,
and, though an impression had been made upon the palisades, the Maori
maintained that much remained to be done before it would be safe
to assault the _pa_. Waka Nene threw his influence into the scale
against the proposition, but, finding the colonel determined, very
generously offered to lead a simultaneous attack upon another face of
the _pa_–which was built in parallelogram. Twenty bold spirits among
his men asked leave to accompany the soldiers; but the colonel refused
all help from his friendlies on the ground that, when they got inside
the _pa_, the soldiers might mistake them for hostiles. Thus, the men
who had had most experience in assaulting a _pa_, and who were willing
for once “to walk in a funeral procession,” were forced to remain
spectators of an assault which they knew could have but one issue.
One made his last charge that fatal afternoon whom the hostile Maori
would fain have spared if they could. He was Lieutenant Phillpotts
of the _Hazard_, or “Toby,” as the Maori affectionately styled him.
Here, at Oheawai, he showed his usual cool courage, walking up to the
stockade and along it, examining as he went, and all the time under
fire of the sharpshooters in the pits. When these recognised the bold
intruder, they ceased firing, calling out, “_Kapai_, Toby! Hurrah for
Toby! Go back, Toby! We don’t want to hurt you.” But the lieutenant
finished his examination, returned and reported to Colonel Despard that
without further breaching assault was impossible. But the colonel was
The assault by escalade was fixed for three in the afternoon of the
1st of July, and one hundred and sixty gallant fellows under Majors
Macpherson and Bridge, along with forty eager tars under brave
Phillpotts, paraded at eighty yards from the _pa_, and stood staring at
For a few minutes the silence is intense. Even the Maori in the _pa_
cease firing, unable to believe their eyes as they note the axes and
ropes in the hands of the men. Then the hush is broken by a pealing
bugle-call–“Advance!” A roaring chorus of cheers bursts from the
devoted band–“_Ave, Desparde! Morituri te salutant!_” it should have
sounded to the colonel,–and they race to cover those eighty yards and
reach what is indeed the “imminent, deadly breach.”
Where is the brave fellow who a moment ago gave his bluejackets a last
cheering word? Where is Phillpotts? There he is–back behind the big
gun, thumping in a few more shots at the palisade, if so he may give
his men a chance for their lives.
He recoils suddenly from the gun, staring. Is he dreaming? The storming
party is not making for that part of the palisade at which the monster
has been hurling its iron wrath, but for the strongest section of the
_pa_, at which never a shot has been fired, whence never a spicule
of wood has been torn. What can it mean? “Are they all gone mad?” he
groans; and a wrathful growl answers him, “Colonel’s orders, sir.”
Phillpotts scarcely hears. If his men are to be sent to death in that
fashion, he is not going to lag behind. On he runs. His men have
covered half of the distance; but he is close upon them, and catches
back his breath for an encouraging shout, when a line of light sparkles
along the ground in front, and from under the _pekerangi_, or outer
fence, a hundred balls of lead, invisible, but whining viciously, speed
towards their billets.
The foremost soldiers are down. Some of the sailors go down, too. But
Phillpotts is up with them now; no–ahead of them, where he wished to
be, and his cheery voice comes to them through the din, “Keep at it,
men! Down with those palisades!” And with one long, strong pull the
tars bring down full fifty feet of the _pekerangi_.
Alas! that does but little good; for they are face to face with those
mighty tree-trunks, whose fellows not even the great gun has been
able to demolish. This fence is set so deeply in the soil that human
strength avails not to pull it down. It is loopholed, too, and every
aperture spits death at the brave fellows who fall and fall and fall;
but will not run.
Ah! What is that? A roar, as of a wild beast springing upon its prey,
and a big gun, unsuspected before, belches from an embrasure round
shot and chain and scrap iron almost in the faces of the bewildered
men. The space between the two fences is a shambles now; but they will
not run, and Phillpotts is on his feet still.
They might go now. They have done enough for honour. Why does not the
bugler blow the “Retire”? If he does, those stern fighters do not hear
it; or, if they hear, they do not heed; for Phillpotts is running along
that impassable fence, seeking for a way through.
By Heaven! He has found one! But what a way! The embrasure through
which but now a heavy gun poked its ugly muzzle. Hardly large enough
for a child to climb through, much less a man. But with a shout to his
tars Phillpotts is up and wriggling through, and his cheering men are
under him, each striving to be the first up and after his leader.
Phillpotts is almost through, and a dozen muskets are emptied in his
face. But such is the perturbation of the Maori at sight of that
solitary, well-known figure, threatening now to leap into their midst,
and shouting “Follow, lads! Follow!” that every man there misses him.
And still he struggles in that narrow way, shouting “Follow!”
A single shot rings out, clearly heard in a momentary cessation of
the hideous din. It is fired by a mere boy; but it does its work, and
Phillpotts without a cry falls dead, still grasping his sword.
[Illustration: Phillpotts at Oheawai]
He lies somewhat apart; but Captain Grant of the 58th is not far away,
a ball in his heart, and Beattie, subaltern of the 99th, is dying.
Two sergeants have fought their last fight, and thirty of rank and
file–the brave unnamed–will never charge again. Macpherson, leader of
this forlornest of forlorn hopes, is grievously wounded; so are Ensign
O’Reilly and Interpreter Clarke. Three sergeants and seventy-five of
the rank and file are down. Not ten minutes at it, and three-fourths of
the one hundred and sixty who started have fallen, dead or wounded; and
of them all not one has passed that cruel fence. Will that bugle never
Ah! At last–“Retire!” The man watching from the hill, the man who
commands, realises now that he has demanded the impossible, has set his
men to take an impregnable fortress. And again, as if imploring them to
obey, the bugle wails–“Retire!”
The assault by escalade upon Oheawai is over, and the Maori has once
again repulsed the Briton.
But whose is the fault?