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Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall
Table of Contents


 

 

THE WARPATH

"When will your valour begin to rage?

When will your valour be strong?

Ah! when the tide murmurs,

Ah! when the tide roars.

Bid farewell to your children,

For what more can you do?

You see how the braves are coming amain,

Like the lofty exulting peaks of the hills,

They yield, they yield! O Fame!"

Maori War-Song.

[216] HEKE'S fame spread far and wide. He boasted of the defeat of the white men, and threatened that when the moon was full he would attack Auckland and sweep it from the earth, as he had swept Kororarika. All the colony was shaken with fear. Everywhere towns were fortified. Everywhere settlers drilled, and practised, and made ready for war.

The governor saw that he must now fight in good earnest. For only after Heke was subdued could there be peace. So again he sent to Australia for soldiers. Meanwhile Waka Nene and the friendly Maoris helped the British, and took up arms against their lawless countrymen.

After the sack of Kororarika, Heke and his warriors marched away to a strong, native fortress or "pah" called Okaihau. There Waka Nene followed him, and there he was joined later by a British force under Colonel Hume.

[217] When the British soldiers arrived they were very much astonished at sight of their allies. Was it possible, they asked, that they were expected to fight side by side with a rabble of half-naked savages? Their astonishment became still greater when the Maoris, in their honour, danced a war-dance, which Waka Nene's wife led, and in which Waka Nene himself joined, dressed in the uniform of a British officer.

It was May when the troops landed. But May in New Zealand is like November at home. The weather was cold and wet. For four days the men marched through almost pathless forest, under torrents of rain. The way was so bad that no baggage-wagons could pass along it. So the men had neither tents nor proper food. Each man carried his own biscuits and slept upon the damp ground. Thus wearied and hungry, they arrived before Heke's pah.

Between a large lake and a wooded hill lay the fortress. It was built of two rows of tree-trunks twelve feet high, and so closely set together that only the barrel of a gun could pass between. The outer fence was covered with flax, and between the two was a deep ditch. Without cannon it was impossible to take such a fort, and the British had only a rocket-tube.

The British began their attack by firing their rockets. The first struck away a strong post, burst inside the pah, and frightened the defenders so much that some of them were ready to flee. But no one being hurt they took courage again. Then as rocket after rocket fell wide of the mark, they watched them with surprise and scorn. "What prize can be won by such a gun?" they sneered, and they were no longer afraid.

Presently they gained so much courage that they came out of their pah to fight. But the British soldiers [218] charged them with fixed bayonets and drove them back again.

So for many hours the fight lasted, the Maoris firing in safety from behind their strong palisade, against which the British vainly wasted their shot. Lead whistled through the air in all directions, the whole country seemed on fire, "and brave men worked their work."

At length the fighting ceased and both sides retired to rest. As the British soldiers sat round their camp-fires they heard a strange sound coming from the Maori pah. the sound of singing. Plaintive and wailing it rose and fell in the still air. It was the Maoris singing their evening hymn. "Fight and pray," had said their priests. "Touch not the spoils of the slain, eat not of human flesh lest the God of the missionaries should be angry. And be careful not to offend the Maori gods. It is good to have more than one God to trust to. Be brave, be strong, be patient." So ignorant and simple, trusting in they knew not what, the Maoris now sang a hymn to the God of the missionaries.

Next day, seeing how hopeless it was to try to take the fort without cannon, Hume marched his soldiers away.

The people in Auckland had been eagerly awaiting the news that Heke was captured. And when instead of that news the worn-out, haggard troops reached the town, they were struck with dismay. Was it possible that two hundred and fifty savages had been more than a match for four hundred well-trained British soldiers? It was the second time that the Maoris had beaten "the wearers of red garments," and now the British began to tremble for their hold on the land.

Meanwhile Heke swaggered about in the glory of victory. He wrote letters to the governor which were [219] about peace indeed, but which breathed war in every line.

More soldiers, however, now arrived from Australia under Colonel Despard. They brought with them four cannon, and the colonists began to feel more cheerful.

The last fight had taught Heke that in the open his soldiers could not stand against British soldiers. He had learned that his safety was in the strength of his fortresses. So now he retired to a pah called Oheawai, which was far stronger than Okaihau.

Here the British resolved to attack him. But it was with great difficulty that the cannon were brought along the rugged path through the forest to Heke's camp, for they were ship's guns, and the wheels were only fifteen inches high. Many a time they stuck fast in the marshy forest, but the friendly Maoris harnessed themselves to the carriages, and at length all difficulties were passed, and in the dusk of a winter's evening the whole army encamped before Heke's fort.

That night there was little sleep in either camp. Through the night as they lay awake on the ground, the British soldiers heard the Maoris in their pah praying, singing, and talking.

In the morning the fight began. The great cannon-balls crashed and crashed against the huge, wooden walls without doing much damage. And when all the heavy ammunition was done only a small breach had been made. But small though it was, Colonel Despard, against the advice of his officers and of the friendly Maoris, ordered a party to storm it.


[Illustration]

"SHOUTING THEIR WAR-CRY, THE BRITISH CHARGED THE BREACH."

Bravely the soldiers obeyed his orders. Shouting their war-cry, they charged the breach. Bravely they fought and fell. The breach was narrow. It was defended by hundreds of well-armed Maoris. Fighting [220] valiantly, the British passed the outer fence; but the inner fence was still unbroken. From it a hail of bullets blazed upon the gallant stormers, and man after man went down.

After ten minutes of awful slaughter and confusion the British fell back, leaving half their number dead upon the ground.

Then followed a night of horror. The dead and dying lay untended round the pah. Through the still night air the groans of the wounded were heard, mingled with the songs of triumph sung by the exulting savages.

"O Youth of sinewy force,

O man of martial strength,

Behold the sign of power!

In my hand I hold the scalp

Of the Kawau Tatakaha."

Often too, through the night the watch-cry of the pah was heard. "Come on! Come on! soldiers for revenge. Come on! Stiff lie your dead by the fence of my pah. Come on, come on!"

Round their camp-fires the British sat wakeful, watch­ful, downcast, eating their hearts out in anger and despair.

For two days there was little fighting. The Maoris hung out a flag of truce and told the British they might bury their dead. Then more ammunition having arrived for the great guns, the bombardment again began. Soon the breach already made became much larger, and a second assault was planned.

When morning dawned the pah was to be taken. But during the night the Maoris, seeing they could hold their fortress no longer, slipped quietly away to the forest, leaving their empty pah to the British. So quietly did they go that the British knew nothing about it until they [221] were told by a friend that the Maoris were already ten miles away.

It was hard to fight such a slippery foe. It was useless to try to follow them into the forest wilds, so Colonel Despard marched his men away to Kororarika to rest. And the governor, hoping that now Heke might be persuaded to make peace, told him not to fight any more for the present.


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