When Colonel Despard about a fortnight later turned his back upon
Oheawai, he left the _pa_ in flames behind him. At no time had much
been seen of the enemy, except during Kawiti’s dash and that fatal
ten minutes of assault; so the quiet aspect of the _pa_ attracted no
particular attention. Then Waka’s men noticed one night that their
challenging watch-cries were not answered, though the howling of dogs
suggested that the place was still occupied. Cautious investigation
before dawn revealed the state of matters. Several dogs were tied up to
posts, so that their howling might deceive the besiegers; but the enemy
had stolen away, leaving an immense amount of material behind them,
probably with the intention of tempting Waka’s men and so checking
immediate pursuit. Without more ado the _pa_ was burnt and the return
to Waimate begun.
The storm of popular indignation now broke out anew, not only on
account of Colonel Despard’s failure–for it was failure, the Maori
counting as nothing the evacuation of a _pa_ in time of war,–but
because the Governor listened to the advice of Mr. George Clarke,
Chief Protector of Aborigines, and refused to prosecute the war until
it should be seen whether Heke and Kawiti would sue for peace. They did
nothing of the sort and, when it became known that Kawiti was building
a _pa_ which he boasted would defy any number of big guns, the Governor
was popularly called upon to resign.
Captain Fitzroy refused to resign, and it was not long before petitions
reached England, praying the Colonial Office to deal with him and to
relieve the depressed state of the colony.
No one in England had any very clear idea of what to do for New
Zealand; but Lord Stanley shook his head when the New Zealand Company
suggested the establishment of a proprietary government on the model
of the early colonies in North America. Captain Fitzroy was, however,
relieved of his office and, when the colonists learned that Captain
George Grey, Governor of South Australia, was to take his place, there
was general jubilation; “for now,” people said, “they have at last sent
us a man!”
For George Grey was not untried in the art of governing men of
different races, living in the same land; nor was he without experience
of troubles such as were then oppressing New Zealand. He had dealt
in South Australia with precisely such problems, and had in five
years brought order out of chaos. Nor would he come unprepared to
argue matters with the New Zealand Company; for the South Australian
Colonisation Association oddly enough derived its existence, and in
a measure took its methods, from Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the
right-hand man of the New Zealand Land Company.
When Captain Grey became Governor of South Australia in 1839, the
country was almost bankrupt from much the same causes (the native
question excepted) as had brought New Zealand to the verge of ruin.
Before the Governor left, South Australia was in a flourishing
condition; by the aid and liberality of their chief the colonists had
overcome their difficulties, and the prosperity of the colony seemed
established. Is it any wonder, then, that the New Zealanders joyfully
anticipated Captain Grey’s arrival, and looked to him to do for them
what he had done for their cousins on the other side of the Tasman Sea?
Moreover, Captain George Grey was believed to know more than any man
living about native races, and how to induce them to adopt the manners
and customs of civilised man. If there were some who shook their heads
and declared that George Grey was “too much inclined to see that
niggers got their rights,” their growls were lost in the shriller
chorus of satisfaction.
Captain Grey arrived on the 14th of November, 1845, at Auckland.
Without loss of time he quieted the financial panic, smoothed away for
the moment the land difficulty, and assured all loyal natives of the
Queen’s favour and protection. Then, having ascertained that Heke and
Kawiti were still in arms, he sent them a message that, unless they
sued for peace before a fixed date, he would again set the war dogs
at their throats. As a gentle hint to all concerned, he immediately
passed a bill to prevent Maori from purchasing munitions of war.
While Heke and Kawiti, unused to such swift decision, debated the
question, the time limit expired, and their spies raced to them
with the news that the _Kawana_ (Governor) was sending against
them the greatest “war-party” which the “Pakeha Chiefs” had ever
put together. Heke was still forced by his wound to abstain from
active participation; but old Kawiti had finished his strong _pa_,
Ruapekapeka–“The Bat’s Nest,”–and retired thither, convinced that it
would be impossible for the British to dislodge him.
Kawiti felt both complacent and apprehensive. The _pa_ he had built was
immensely strong and provided with every means of scientific defence,
and five hundred good fighting men lay behind its massive fences.
Colonel Despard, on the other hand, commanded close upon twelve hundred
men, with eleven guns, two of them being thirty-two-pounders. For the
odds Kawiti cared not at all; but the prospect of so many guns pounding
at him all at once did not please him. There was no help for it. The
war-party was at his gates, which he did not mean to open without a
Colonel Despard, getting his first glimpse of “The Bat’s Nest,” made
up his mind that he would reduce it by means of regular sap work, if
it cost him a year. He had not to wait nearly so long; but neither he
nor Kawiti had the least presentiment how swift was to be the fall of a
fortress which at first sight looked impregnable.
It was now summer, and the dreadful mud and angry rivers were no longer
to be feared; yet there were difficulties in getting into position, for
old Kawiti had chosen his site with consummate skill. The troops left
Kororareka on the 8th of December, and four days later reached the _pa_
of a friendly chief, Tamati Pukutetu, whence Ruapekapeka could be seen,
nine miles away. Only nine miles; yet it cost those twelve hundred men
nine days to cross the intervening strip of country between Pukutetu’s
_pa_ and their camp before Ruapekapeka, and another nine days elapsed
before the whole of the guns and ammunition could be got up. Kawiti
made no attempt to harass the troops. The country fought for him and,
besides, he was in no hurry to begin. No Maori ever was.
The British camp lay distant eight hundred yards from Ruapekapeka,
which stood on the side of a hill, surrounded by dense forest. A
quarter of a mile of space had been cleared all around of bush, leaving
a formidable glacis, which must be crossed before the massive palisades
could be reached. Not that the colonel intended to cross it until he
had sent ahead of him a good many iron notes of interrogation.
For the _pa_ itself, with its one hundred and seventy yards of frontage
and seventy yards of depth, all broken into flanks, if a purely
technical description were to be given of its figure–the stockaded
divisions of the enceinte, the curtains with their huge piquets, the
trenches and covered ways, the loopholes on the ground-level for
musket fire, the traverses, the subtle division of the interior into
compartments so that the loss of one should not necessitate the loss
of the rest, the subterranean cells, the bomb-proof shelters,–were
these to be detailed, even a soldier would stare and, while still his
wonder grew, ask not only how old Kawiti’s head could carry all it knew
of the science of defensive warfare, but also, to adapt a famous query,
“Where the deuce got he that knowledge?”
The bombardment began long before all the guns were up. Moses Tawhai,
one of the allied chiefs, just before daylight on the 29th of December
stole through the thick bush with his men to a position six hundred
yards from the _pa_. Ere the enemy detected their daring approach,
they had “rushed up” a temporary stockade, and into this two hundred
soldiers and a couple of guns were promptly conveyed.
Two days later, even as the enemy, as if inviting a beginning, hoisted
their standard, every British gun in position–big guns, brass guns,
little guns, mortars, rockets–roared, banged, cracked and fizzed an
instant response. When the very first shot–fired from the gun served
by the contingent from H.M.S. _Racehorse_, under Lieutenant Bland–cut
the flagstaff in two and brought down the flag, “even the ranks of
Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer.” Which is to say, the chivalrous
gentlemen defending the _pa_ were as ungrudging in their admiration of
the successful marksman as were the besiegers.
Next day, the 1st of January, 1846, the guns again roared out in
chorus, this time in salute to the New Year; and old Kawiti, on the
2nd, tried one of his famous flank rushes. But the British were ready
for him and drove him back with loss, so that he kept behind his
defences for the remainder of the siege.
So the days wore on until the 10th, by which time every gun, heavy and
light, was in position. All day long they thundered and crashed, and
shot and shell thumped and smacked against the wooden walls with much
more visible effect than at Oheawai, so that two very obvious breaches
had been made by nightfall.
Heke arrived that night with a reinforcement, having dodged a column
of friendlies who were blocking him in his home at Okerangi. When he
saw the condition of things, he gave the very sound advice that the
_pa_ should be evacuated before further mischief was done. “There is
no sense in remaining here to be killed,” he urged. “Let them have the
_pa_ and, if they follow us into the bush, we shall have _them_; for
they cannot bring their big guns there.”
People who have for nearly a fortnight endured a bombardment do not
require much persuasion to change their quarters, and the majority then
and there followed Heke out into the dense bush in rear of the _pa_.
But it was different with old Kawiti. Ruapekapeka was his very own,
the offspring of his own science and skill. He would not leave the
_pa_ while hope remained of saving it. So he threw his oratory into
the scale against Heke’s arguments, and prevailed upon a few devoted
adherents to share his fortune for good or ill.
So the 10th of January closed without the British being aware that
Heke and the bulk of the garrison had slipped away to safety.
The end came on the next day, and from one point of view rather
pathetically. It was Sunday, and if there was one principle more than
another which the _mihonari_ had impressed upon their converts, it was
that no work of any kind must be done upon God’s Day of Rest. Most
of those who were left in Ruapekapeka were Christians, and these,
believing that the British would be similarly employed, assembled
for divine service under cover of some rising ground outside, and in
rear of the _pa_. Kawiti and the few who remained inside were asleep
in the trenches; for they, too, had assumed that no attack would be
delivered on that Day of days. Heke might have warned them; for he had
read the lives of Wellington and Napoleon, and knew that Sunday never
yet stopped a fight. But Heke and his people were also busy at their
devotions in the shelter of the forest.
Had the British been alone nothing might have happened; but the
friendlies made a shrewd guess at the cause of the unusual quietude
within the _pa_, and Wiremu Waka Turau (William Walker), Waka Nene’s
brother, stole up to the breaches and cautiously peeped through. As he
had expected, he could see no one; so signalled his brother.
Nene communicated the news, and Captain Denny and men of the 58th
instantly hurried up with the _hapu_ of Nene and Tao Nui at their
heels. As they burst into the silent fortress, old Kawiti awoke and
with a handful of followers made a brief defence. But the assailants
poured in, the odds were too great, and the old warrior, knowing that
the game was up, turned and fled out at the rear of the _pa_ and joined
Heke in the bush, calling upon him to return with his Nga-Puhi and
The face of the situation was thus entirely changed. The fort was
occupied by the British and their allies, and the Nga-Puhi were
hopelessly attempting to re-enter it at the rear. Their attack was
really a feint, intended to lure the soldiers to Heke’s ambush; but
when the Nga-Puhi skirmishers at last fell back towards the bush,
strict orders were given against pursuit. Here, again, it was the
advice of the friendly chiefs which prevented the conversion of an
unexpected success into a disaster.
“Ah! The soldiers care nothing for Sunday when there’s any fighting
to be done,” observed a rueful Nga-Puhi prisoner after the fight.
“It’s only when there’s nothing else to do that they go and say their
So, on the 11th of January, 1846, fell Ruapekapeka _pa_, “The Bat’s
Nest,” at a cost to the British of twelve killed and thirty-one
wounded–how different from those ten awful minutes at Oheawai!–and
with it fell the hopes of Heke and Kawiti, who presently tendered their
submission and swore allegiance to Britain.
And so ended the first sustained war between Maori and Pakeha.