O’ERCLOUDED SKIES

There was no session of Parliament between April, 1858, and the end of
July, 1860, and the colonists were consequently justified in believing
that the machinery of Government was moving smoothly throughout the
Islands, and that the chief engineers required no help from their
subordinates. Had they been told that they stood upon the dividing line
between peace and war; had they been told that it required but one
forward step in order to plunge them into a strife which should endure
almost without intermission for just so many years as the peace they
had enjoyed, they would have laughed in their informant’s face.

From the earliest days certain tribes had maintained an attitude of
reserve towards the Pakeha. If the white intruders chose to found a
settlement or two on the coast and remain there, well and good; the
Maori might find their presence useful commercially and for purposes
of war. It was another matter when the strangers absorbed the land,
divided the country into provinces, and founded not only capital
cities, but numbers of smaller towns and villages as well. If this
sort of thing were to go on, the Maori might as well evacuate the
island at once; for, as Heke had said to the Governor, “If you take our
land, where are we to go?”

This was the view taken by the Waikato, one of the most famous and
most warlike of the Maori _iwi_, who about the year 1848 formed a Land
League, which they strove to induce the other tribes to join. The
leading principle of the League was obstinate refusal to sell land
under any conditions to the Pakeha.

Confined to the Waikato alone, this movement would have been serious
enough, threatening, as it did, to preserve in the midst of the Pakeha
settlements numerous fierce and resolute men, opposed to the domination
of Britain. When other tribes associated themselves with the founders
of the League, it should have been evident that some day, and before
long, white and brown must stand foot to foot to decide which was to be
for ever supreme.

It mattered not to the Leaguers that the Government desired them to
participate in the beneficent legislation designed on behalf of their
countrymen. If they were to be governed at all, they preferred to
choose the means and the way. To this end they devised a grotesque
scheme, blending British institutions with the monarchical system
of the ancient Jews. This done, they elected a king, called a
“parliament,” hoisted the flag which William the Fourth had granted to
the “United Tribes of New Zealand,” and inscribed it “Potatau, King of
New Zealand.”

Ridicule might have killed the movement, had it stopped there; but
danger loomed very near when the irreconcilable chief of the “Boiling
Water” tribes, Iwikau Te Heu Heu, demanded total separation between
the two races, pointing to his great ancestor, the slumbering volcano,
Tongariro, as the centre of a district through which no road should be
made, where no white man should settle, and wherein Queen Wikitoria
should not be prayed for.

Governor Browne held, notwithstanding, that “Kingism” should be allowed
to die a natural death, and most unwisely repealed the Act which
Sir George Grey had brought in, which prevented the sale of arms to
natives. It was not until six months after this unaccountable step, by
which time the Maori had acquired several thousand stand of arms, that
the Governor listened to the anxious settlers and made the purchase
of guns and ammunition somewhat more difficult by increasing the duty
upon them. The whirlwind of the wind thus sown was to be reaped later;
but the immediate result was a series of small civil strifes between
different tribes during the years 1857 and 1858.

Peace was still unbroken when 1859 came in, nor did the colonists even
then pay much attention to the mutterings of the Land Leaguers or the
growls of the King party. Yet they were really sitting over a powder
magazine, and a very small spark must at any moment cause a terrible
explosion.

Before the explosion comes, let one last word be said regarding the
attitude of the contending parties towards one another.

Every one knows the shocking story of the retreat of the red men
before the advance of civilisation, during which deeds were done, not
once, not twice, but over and over again, upon both sides which cannot
be named for the horror of them. We have not always been too careful of
the black man’s rights in Africa, and when he has turned upon us in his
despair, have smitten him hip and thigh, decimating his tribe, burning
his kraal and laying waste his fields.

The Maori experienced little, indeed, of this in comparison with those
others. Misunderstanding there was, and some, perhaps, were too quick
to judge. Misunderstanding added to hasty judgment led to strife; but
that strife, keen as it was, and bitter too, sometimes, was never a
combat _à outrance_.

Pakeha and Maori met and fought, slew and were slain, won or lost.
Feeling now and again ran very high, the Maori smarting under a sense
of loss and injustice, the Pakeha furious at some treacherous murder.
Then there were reprisals. Such lamentable happenings there were;
but at no time, not in the very depth of the war, existed generally
that intense bitterness of spirit, that fierce racial jealousy, that
consuming hatred, which distinguished the conflict between Paleface
and Redskin. As the limits of the Pakeha’s territory were extended, at
no time did there arise such a band of bloody murderers as the “Indian
Runners” of the western frontier of the United States. With these men
it was an abiding principle to shoot an Indian on sight, innocent
though he might be of any deed of blood. The strongest article in the
creed of the Runner was, “There is only one good Injun, and that’s a
dead Injun.”

Nothing like this wicked spirit ever animated the white community in
New Zealand. One might almost say that they waged war in generous
mood, and there were certainly instances of extreme generosity and
high-mindedness on the Maori side. Where in the world in a campaign
against “savages” has one heard of the savage calling a warning to
his white foe? Yet this is what the Maori did. “Go back, Toby!” they
cried to Lieutenant Phillpotts at Oheawai. “Lie down, icky-fif; we’re
goin’ to shoot!” they frequently shouted to the soldiers of the 65th
Regiment, who had somehow gained their regard. Where in the world will
you hear of converted “savages,” having been taught the sanctity of the
Sabbath, respecting the same when at war with their instructors? Yet
this is what the Maori did. Remember the _pa_ of Ruapekapeka! Great and
simple souls! What must have been their feelings when a volley from
those who had taught them the holy lesson laid many of them low? There
is no implication intended that the Maori were uniformly chivalrous and
the Pakeha uniformly the opposite–the records of the war would never
justify such,–but it ought not to be difficult for the civilised white
man to be generous and chivalrous, whereas such instances as those just
quoted are probably unique in the annals of war between the white and
the coloured races.

The wars in New Zealand had for the most part their origin in agrarian
questions, and were concluded by diplomatic negotiations. They
were not–nor was it ever contemplated that they should be–wars of
extermination. The Pakeha strove by means more or less legal, if not
legitimate, to push the Maori from the soil on which their feet had
been firmly planted for six hundred years. The old owners resented the
attempt and, in some instances, the manner in which the attempt was
made. When argument was exhausted, then, and then only, came the final
appeal to arms, and a war resulted which has brought about lasting
peace.

When the war began there were 170,000 whites in New Zealand, while
the Maori population was reckoned at 32,000, of whom about 20,000
were available as fighting men. Remember, the Maori of 1859 were very
different from even their immediate forebears. Cannibalism was as
extinct as the _moa_. The intelligent natives had recognised the value
of the Pakeha methods and studied them with advantage. Many possessed
their own holdings, farmed their own ground, and progressed in the
education which was freely offered them. There were Maori assessors in
the Courts of the Superintendents, and a Maori chief was attached to
the Governor’s staff as adviser on purely native questions. The two
races were distinctly drawn to one another about this period, and the
white portion at any rate hardly looked for trouble.

What gave the colonists an added sense of security was their knowledge
that the great leaders of the past were all dead, or nearing their end.
Heke had died of consumption in 1850. Te Rauparaha preceded him to
Reinga in 1849, being buried by his son, Thompson Rauparaha, who had
been educated in England and was a lay-reader. Rangihaeata helped to
bury his old friend, and followed him seven years later to the shades,
having never during the whole of his seventy years abated his hatred of
the Pakeha.

Rangihaeata was a man of great strength and splendid presence, and
it is told that, when on one occasion he met Sir George Grey at a
_korero_, or palaver, his costume was entirely and markedly Maori, in
contrast to that of many of his countrymen, who wore blankets instead
of mats, or were clothed in ordinary European dress. In reply to the
Governor, Rangihaeata assumed his proudest, sternest expression, and
spoke defiantly. “I want nothing of the white men,” he concluded, and,
with a sneer at his compatriots, “_I_ wear nothing of their work.” Sir
George smilingly indicated a peacock’s feather which surmounted the
chief’s carefully dressed hair. “Ah! True; that is European,” said
Rangihaeata with vehement scorn, plucking the feather from his hair and
casting it on the ground.

Of the rest of the stern warriors who had been in grips with the
Pakeha, Pomare was dead, Te Tanewha was gone to join the long line of
his ancestors, and Waka Nene, their reliable friend, was growing old.
In the opinion of many the great past had died with the dead heroes,
and was dead for ever.

It was in November, 1859, that Governor Gore Browne arrived at Taranaki
and announced that, if any native had land to sell, along with a good
title, he was there to buy for the Crown. A Maori named Teira–the
nearest approach he could make to “Taylor”–offered to part with six
hundred acres at Waitara, and this block the Governor agreed to buy, if
Teira’s title were proved good. The Commissioner was satisfied as to
the title; surveyors were sent to mark boundaries, and were promptly
ordered off by Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake (William King), the chief of
Teira’s tribe, who had already declared that he would not allow the
land to be sold.

Governor Browne was a soldier, and diplomacy was not for him. He at
once sent a force to compel Wiremu Kingi to withdraw his opposition,
and these found the Maori strongly entrenched, and quite willing to
take up the gage of battle.




The Taranaki settlers retired with the soldiers to New Plymouth, and
the Maori ravaged the settlement, which extended twenty miles north and
south, and eight or ten inland. The fighting which followed during the
ensuing months was chiefly remarkable for the first appearance of the
colonial force in the field, where they then and afterwards did such
good work.

For most obvious reasons–were they known–the writer would be the last
to disparage the regular forces; but they were hampered by method,
and the bush fighting of the Maori was a style of warfare to which
they were quite unused. Not a few, without intending disrespect to
the regular forces, strongly hold that, had the conduct of military
operations been left to McDonnell, Von Tempsky, Whitmore, Atkinson,
and a few others, they, with their militia and volunteers, would have
brought the war to a successful close in half the time, at half the
cost, and with infinitely less loss to their own side. For these
fought the Maori in the Maori style, and the natives feared these
men, who knew them and the bush, with a fear they never felt for the
redcoats, whom, in their queer way, they often expressed themselves
sorry to be obliged to shoot.

One example will show the difference in method. General Cameron, a man
of great experience–elsewhere–and proved courage, one day in 1865
marched from Whanganui with drums beating, colours flying, and bands
playing, at the head of as gallant a company of regulars and volunteers
as ever went out to war. After a march of fifteen miles they came to
the lake of Nukumaru, five miles from the rebel _pa_ of Wereroa, and
here the General gave orders to encamp.

At this, Major Witchell, who was in command of the military train, most
of his men being mounted colonials, rode up and said, with a salute,
“General, don’t you think that we are rather too near the bush?”

General Cameron glanced towards the bush, distant half a mile, the
interval being covered with high _toë-toë_, a grass something like that
called “pampas,” and replied, “Do you imagine, Major, that any number
of natives would dare to attack two thousand of Her Majesty’s troops?”

The Major thought it very likely; but he could say no more. He was
confident that there were Maori in the bush, and the high grass offered
excellent cover to such skilled guerilla. He probably realised also how
much depended upon his own initiative, for, though he ordered his men
to dismount, he bade them not offsaddle.

Suddenly the roar of musketry broke out, and the _toë-toë_ was
violently agitated as the Maori, still unseen, dodged hither and
thither. That one discharge accounted for sixteen men, among them
Adjutant-General Johnston, a capable officer; but, thanks to Major
Witchell, that was the sum of the disaster.

“Mount!” he shouted, and his men, riding as they knew how to ride,
chased the Maori back into the bush, save thirty-six who lay dead among
the grass to balance the account of the sixteen. How narrow was the
General’s own escape is shown by the fact that a Maori was shot hard by
his tent, in the centre of the camp. It was not until he had allowed
himself to be surprised again next day and lost five more men that
General Cameron concluded that the bush was too close, and that the
Maori would actually attack two thousand of Her Majesty’s troops.

This incident belonged to a later stage of the war. We are still with
the troops in Taranaki, in the autumn of 1860, when General Pratt, who
had arrived to take command, was about to besiege one of the Maori
strongholds in the orthodox manner.

Before this could be done, a truce was negotiated by the Christian
Waikato chief, Wiremu Tamihana Te Whaharoa (William Thompson),
who represented the King faction. Waikato had sent a contingent
to the aid of Taranaki–in the old days it would have been very
different–although they had no personal interest in the dispute; but
these had been repulsed with loss, and it was then that Tamihana
suggested a truce. This was in May, 1861, fourteen months after the
Governor’s soldiers had marched against Wiremu Kingi.

[Illustration: Major Witchell’s charge at Nukumaru]

Men were everywhere satisfied that nothing more would come of this
year of skirmishing, and few, if any, regarded it as preliminary to a
long and dreadful war. Things fell again into their places; three new
provinces–Hawke’s Bay or Napier, Marlborough and Southland–were added
to the rest, the Bank of New Zealand was incorporated, and only those
within the innermost circle knew that underneath the seeming calm was
deep-rooted unrest.

But so it was. Governor Browne demanded, very much in the imperative
mood, the submission of all concerned in the late rising, and a
general oath of allegiance to the Crown. The Maori said neither yea
nor nay; they simply did nothing. Whereon the Governor, wroth at their
contumacy, declared his intention to invade Waikato and bring the
insolent rebels to their knees. It is hard to see how one who has never
taken an oath of allegiance can be a rebel; but that may pass.

The colonists who heard the Governor’s fulmination could not believe
their ears, called his attention to the state of unpreparedness
throughout the colony, and urged that to invade Waikato would be to
invite an alliance of the sympathisers with that powerful tribe against
the British. But the Governor had the power, believed that he had the
means, and reiterated his determination.

At this critical juncture Britain intervened to give her youngest
child breathing time. Sir George Grey, Governor of Cape Colony, was
instructed to proceed to New Zealand, and there resume the reins of
government; and, when Governor Browne understood this, he held his
hand, much to the relief of the colonists.

For the next two years Governor Sir George Grey tried by every means
short of war to bring about a peaceful solution of the difficulty which
had arisen out of the Waitara block of land. He had the powerful aid of
Bishop Selwyn; but all was useless, for the Waikato declined to submit
the question to arbitration. And then the face of the situation was
suddenly changed, and the natives placed entirely in the wrong.

The district of Tataraimaka, fifteen miles south of New Plymouth, had
been for fifteen years in undisputed possession of European settlers,
even the Maori admitting their title to be good. The natives had
ravaged this block during the trouble of 1860-1861 and, as they now
refused to withdraw from it, Sir George Grey cut the knot of the
difficulty by declaring his intention to abandon all claim to the
Waitara block and to drive the Taranaki tribes out of Tataraimaka.
Sir George never allowed “I dare not” to “wait upon I would,” and the
military were soon on their way.

Confident of the support of the Waikato, the men of Taranaki sent to
the king’s headquarters for instructions. The answer came back at once,
sternly laconic: “Begin your shooting!”

An escort party were ambushed on the 4th of May, 1863, and the
Taranaki began their shooting by murdering–for war was not
declared–Lieutenant Tragett, Dr. Hope, and five soldiers of the 57th
Regiment. Apart from this, the Waikato showed their determination to
stand shoulder to shoulder with the Taranaki tribes and force a contest.

Only a month earlier Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Gorst, resident
magistrate in the heart of the Waikato country, had been expelled by
the leaders, and the printing-press whence he had issued literature
opposed to Kingism seized. The Waikato had a press of their own, which
had been presented to them by the Emperor of Austria, and they issued a
news-sheet which they called _Hokioi_, after a fabulous bird of great
power. Mr. Gorst, on his side, published the _Pihohoi_, which is the
name of a tiny lark; and, as the principles of “The Lark” were dead
against Kingism, the king’s men suppressed the paper with an alacrity
worthy of Russian censors.

The King party immediately after this came into direct conflict with
Sir George Grey himself. Marching in force to a spot on the lower
Waikato upon which Sir George proposed to build a court-house and
police barracks, the malcontents hurled all the ready-fitted timbers
into the river, declaring the district outside British jurisdiction.

After this exhibition of power and determination, the Waikato
despatched war-runners in all directions to rouse the Maori and inspire
them to “drive the Pakeha Rat into the sea.” The runners carried a
circular letter exhorting the natives to “sweep out their yard” and to
remember the national _whakatauki_, or motto, “_Me mate te tangata me
mate mo te whenua_” (the death of the warrior is to die for the land).
“We will sweep out our yard,” went on the letter, and concluded with a
line from a stirring war-song, well known throughout the North Island:
“Grasp firm your weapons! Strike! Fire!”

Though skirmishing was going on, neither side actually admitted being
at war; but Auckland itself being threatened, General Cameron was
hurriedly called north with every available man of his command.

A glance at the map will show that the Waikato river makes a bend
where the Maungatawhiri creek falls into it, and then pursues a course
almost due west to the sea. At this junction, some forty miles south of
Auckland, and east of the river’s mouth, was the frontier line of the
defiant Waikato. The King tribes had long ago said that the crossing
of this line would be regarded by them as a belligerent act, and when
General Cameron, on the 13th of July, 1863, led his troops across it,
the Waikato war began without any more formal notice.