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The Royal Artillery in New Zealand 1861 to 1864

 Operations of the ROYAL ARTILLERY 

during ' The Campaigns in NEW ZEALAND, in 1861, & 1863-1864.


  by Lieutenant. A. F. PICKARD, V.C., R.H.A.

On the 4th March 1861 Captain Mercer's battery of the 4th Brigade, Royal Artillery arrived in Auckland harbour from Woolwich, in the troopship "Norwood," after a passage of 99 days. The ship could not be brought alongside the  pier, so the guns, stores, etc., had to be lowered into cargo boats which were unloaded on the pier.

The battery horses had not yet arrived from Sydney (N.S.W.), and the harness was not unpacked; the ordinary civilian cart-harness could not be fitted to the gun-carriages; so, as the different parts of the carriages were brought on shore. They were packed on carts, taken up to the barracks, and mounted as soon as possible.

In four days the six 12 pounder Armstrong's belonging to the battery, and two 10-inch and two 8-inch mortars (which had also arrived in the "Norwood"), were ready for service.

On the 12th March, Captain Mercer and Lieut. Pickard, with three 12 pounder Armstrong's and four mortars, were ordered to Taranaki, a settlement on the west coast of New Zealand, where Sir T. Pratt, KCB, in command of about 2000 men and a few guns, was still engaged in operations against the natives.

The ordnance, etc., had again to be taken to pieces and conveyed in carts to the Manukau harbour (six miles from Auckland) on the west coast. At the Manukau, the carts were driven into the water alongside cargo boats, into which they were unloaded, and everything was taken to the Colonial steam sloop "Victoria," which was to convey the half-battery to Taranaki.

On the 13th March, the "Victoria" anchored off the mouth of the river Waitara, in Taranaki. The guns, stores, etc., having been lowered into surf boats, were disembarked on the left bank of the river, and were taken up by hand or in carts to the camp which was about a mile distant; bullock-poles were then fitted to the carriages.

On the 15th March, the guns and mortars, drawn by six bullocks each, started at 6 a.m. The 10inch mortars traveled in carts.

In about three hours the guns arrived at a redoubt occupied by the 14th Regiment about 800 yards from the native position, called Te Arei. This position consisted of lines of rifle pits, communicating with one another, cut along the crests of' hills and ridges which extended in a semi-circular form for a distance of about a mile from right to left. Behind the position was a dense bush or forest. On its right was the river Waitara, and in all directions was high and thick fern, which was most difficult to walk through.

A position for the guns was taken up near the redoubt, about 800 yards from the rifle-pits: and orders were received to "keep down the fire of the natives," who being scattered about in the different pits were firing at the troops engaged in pushing forward a double sap, the head of which was about 100 yards from the centre of the position.

The shells from the Armstrong's were fired either with concussion fuses to pierce and burst in the pits, or with time fuses fixed to burst the shells short and high, so that the pieces might search the different entrenchments. During: the three days that the Armstrong's were in action, about 100 rounds were fired from them.

The mortars were occasionally used, and the small 5½ inch coehorns, in an advanced parallel, were particularly useful. It was while laying one of these small mortars that Lieut. MacNaghten, R.A., had served throughout the entire campaign at Taranaki, was killed on the 17th March, and the following day Serjeant Christie, R.A., was wounded near the same spot.

A 24-pounder howitzer and a 9-pounder gun were also in charge of the Royal Artillery but were seldom used after Captain Mercer's arrival. An attempt was made to burn the bush and fern with carcasses, but it did not succeed.

After the cessation of hostilities, Captain Mercer and other officers carefully examined the native position; and as doubts had been raised as to whether the shells burst when fired with concussion fuses into earth, several were dug out, and it was found that in every case the shell had burst after entering from 6 to 8 feet, though the displacement of earth underground was very small owing to the small amount of powder in the burster.

The artillery labored under great disadvantages. They were firing up the side of a hill; they were ignorant of the shape of the Maori rifle-pits and could not tell what damage was done after each round. The firing was directed at a position more than a mile in length, and the direction was continually being changed from one part to another. Not more than the head and shoulders of any hostile natives were visible during the time the guns were in action, and a group of more than two or three natives together was  ever seen. No breaching was required.

In the beginning of May 1861, the three Armstrong's being ordered back to Auckland were again taken to pieces at the mouth of the Waitara river, and were conveyed in surf-boats to H.M.S. "Fawn" which took them to the Manukau harbour. The drivers of this half-battery had accompanied it to Taranaki, but not being required with the guns (as there were no horses, and bullock driving is a trade of itself), were employed in assisting the engineers in gabion-making for the sap.

The pits were from 5 to 7 feet deep, about 3 feet wide, and provided with steps to fire from. The excavated earth was thrown behind the pits, and at every 8 or 10 yards a traverse was left of nearly the same width as the ditch.

At Manukau harbour the half-battery was disembarked, put together, and drawn to Auckland by the horses of the battery which had lately arrived from Sydney, in charge of Captain Watson, and Vet-Surgeon Anderson, R.A., and which were being rapidly trained and broken in to draught. Most of the horses having been lately driven in from out-stations in New South Wales were very wild, and gave much trouble in training.

From this time until December 1862, the battery was employed in paving the stables and stable yard, in assisting to make the great south road into the interior of the country, and, as military train, in conveying provisions to the troops employed on the road.

As it would have been very expensive to hire civilian carts to carry scoria stone from the quarries for paving the stables, etc., the limbers of the smooth‑bored ordnance were stripped, and harness boxes were secured on them. The metal was then conveyed in them from the quarries to the stables by the battery horses. During the road-making these limbers were again employed, a cart body being secured on them instead of harness-boxes. 

There was a tilting arrangement of the axle tree-bed, by means of which stones, earth, etc., which were required at different parts of the road could be easily upset at any point in a short time. These carts were not found to answer well on hilly roads, as the weight came too much on the back of the cart when going up hill, thus causing the horses to jib; but they were afterwards used for carrying baggage, etc., and answered much better, as the heavier boxes could be put well forward in the cart, and lashed to keep them in their places.

A crab-capstan was made use of on the line of road for clearing away stumps and trunks of trees. When the transport work and road‑making were finished, the men and horses returned to Auckland, and were constantly exercised at drill and in marching order over the rough country roads, which shook the carriages considerably. The OR fuse boxes used occasionally to break open while going over rough ground, and the time fuses, which were also O.P. and of white metal, were found to suffer from rust.

Once during a field day, a vent-piece was blown out, and the cause was discovered to have been a badly made cartridge, the serge of which had been caught between the vent-piece and the bore. Once also, a vent-piece was blown out at drill. No reason could be discovered for this but carelessness on the part of No. 2 at the gun. The man was punished and the circumstance never occurred again, either at drill, during practice, or on service.

In December 1862, the battery went for practice to a range of about 1760 yards on land, and about 4 miles from Auckland. Having been informed by officers who had been engaged in the former New Zealand wars, that great difficulty was always experienced by the artillery in breaching the pahs or fortified places occupied by the natives, Captain Mercer had sections of pahs made according to the descriptions furnished by officers who had seen the pahs themselves. Plans of Pahs taken in former years were also obtained from the Officer Commanding Royal Engineers. From these plans and descriptions two sections were constructed; one of which, similar to the Pahs constructed in the northern part of the island, consisted of two rows of young trees or strong spars about 18 inches in diameter placed upright side by side from 8 to 10 feet high in the clear, the rows being about 3 feet apart.

The other description of pah consisted of strong spars about 18 inches in diameter placed upright in the ground about 8 feet apart; cross bars connected them. and op. these were hung smaller spars from 4 to 6 inches in diameter; these were placed close to one another, and their ends were kept about a foot above the ground. No nails were used but, as is customary with the natives, flax secured everything. 'The line of stockading was again double. The natives used to fire cut of pits dug out behind the second row and made deep enough for them to fire under the stockade.

These latter pahs were used by the southern natives in the war of 1860-61 and, on one occasion, one 8 inch gun and two 24-pounder howitzers, besides a 9-pounder gun, failed to make a practicable breach in a pah, formed as above stated, after two hours firing, at a distance of 200 yards.

The battery of six 12-pounder Armstrong's took up a position 900 yards from the stockade and after rather more than an hour's firing made a breach, in tile section constructed after the northern fashion, large enough to allow a section of men to go through abreast.

The southern description of pah was more difficult to breach as it gave more to the shell on bursting; and the debris, supported by the flax, was most difficult to clear away. With both descriptions of pahs salvoes were found most effective; all the guns being laid on the same part of the stockade, until the posts which seemed to afford most support were destroyed.

The great accuracy with which these guns could be fired, and the tearing damage done by the shells on bursting, contributed greatly to effect a breach in the latter description of pah. About two hours were employed in making a practicable breach, and concussion fuses were chiefly used.

The trails used by the battery were old 9‑pounder trails which had been altered for the Armstrong's. Three of them broke during the practice, one while firing at a distance of 900 yards, and the other two at 1800 yards from the target; the range being nearly level in both cases. The point of fracture was immediately under the elevating screw bed. On the return of the battery to Auckland the trails were repaired and strengthened, and were used in the campaign of 1863‑4 without further damage, though several rounds were fired from some of the guns and at high elevations.

In March 1863, Captain Mercer received directions to mount 100 gunners and drivers of his battery and to drill them to act as cavalry. Each man was armed with a regulation cavalry sword and either carbine (cavalry pattern) or a Dean and Adams' revolver. These arms were supplied by the Colonial Government. One troop had hunting saddles and light bridles, which were also supplied by the colony.

As hostilities were expected to break out shortly at Taranaki, Captain Mercer was ordered to take his squadron down there by sea; and also to take four Armstrong 12-pounder with harness in case they might be required. At this time only four officers were with the battery, viz. Captain Mercer, Lieut. Pickard, Asst.-Surgeon Temple, and Vet.-Surgeon Anderson. The other officers had been previously promoted or exchanged and their reliefs had not yet arrived. but Lieut. Rait arrived soon after the order was given for the formation of the squadron of cavalry.

Fifty men and horses went, about the 18th of March 1863, from Auckland to the Manukau harbour to embark for Taranaki, under Lieut. Pickard. On arrival at the beach it was found it necessary to drive the horses into the water, slings having previously been placed on them; boats then towed them to the ship, which was about 500 yards from land, and the horses were hoisted on board and stowed away in the hold or on deck.

On arrival at New Plymouth in Taranaki-where there is no harbour, but only an open roadstead with generally a high surf running-the ship anchored about three-quarters of a mile from the beach, and the horses were hoisted overboard and towed on shore by men in surf boats, two horses being taken by each boat. Some of the horses were very unmanageable in the water. A mare was drowned, having got under the boat and then, while swimming away, been carried off by a strong current.

The second troop and the guns followed about a week afterwards, and the squadron was drilled as much as possible in riding, carbine, pistol, and sword drill. The horses were picketed in a field until sheds were built to protect them during the rainy season which began about this time.

The disputed land at Tartaraimaka was peacefully occupied by the troops in April 1863, but an ambush of natives having soon afterwards waylaid and shot down a detachment of the 57th Regiment and two officers who were going to New Plymouth, hostilities commenced, and the mounted artillery were continually employed, as patrols during the night, and as orderlies during the day between New Plymouth and the various posts in the province of Taranaki.

These duties were most arduous, as the winter season had now begun, and incessant rains falling made the roads so slippery that horses fell continually; while in some parts the mud was so steep that the horses sunk in it and strained themselves badly. The field in which the horses were picketed also became so deep in mud that it was almost impossible to groom them properly.

On the 4th June 1863, after a night march of 15 miles over a difficult country, a force of about 600 men accompanied by three 12-pounder Armstrong guns, the whole being tinder the command of Lieut.-General Cameron,
proceeded to attack a position taken up by the natives on the left bank of the Katikara river near the sea coast and about 15 miles south of New Plymouth.

As soon as it was light, the three guns were brought into action about 800 yards from the Maori entrenchments, and covered the advance of the 57th Regiment with such success, that hardly a native could show himself to fire until the 57th were quite close to the principal work, when the guns ceased firing and the entrenchments were stormed and taken.

The bodies of the natives showed that the effects of the shell firing had been very great. The principal entrenchment was made on an entirely new plan to any before constructed by the Maoris. No palisading was used, but a low indented parapet surrounded a few huts in which they lived. The Maoris fired from a traversed ditch in front of the parapet, and a few fired over the parapet itself.

The position taken up for the guns was most favorable for artillery fire, but the ground was very soft, owing to the recent rains; and the fern being as high as the gun-wheels, impeded the working of the guns. Blocks of hard wood were always carried on the footboards, to put under the point of the trails (when there was time to do so) to prevent them sinking deep into the soft ground every time the guns were discharged.

After the action the guns returned to New Plymouth. The artillery were not mounted on this occasion as it was expected that the ground would be impracticable for cavalry. The roads were very slippery and muddy from the rain ' and there were three fords to cross and several steep ascents and descents on the way to Tartaraimaka and back, but no accident occurred except the breaking of a bullock-pole on coming into action. A spare bullock-pole was carried under each gun; also several planks to assist in crossing ditches etc.

About the end of June 1863, Captain Mercer received instructions to take up a position to shell some native entrenchments at Kaitake, which was on the lower ranges of Mount Egmont and about seven miles from New Plymouth.

Four 12-prs. were accordingly brought into action, after much trouble and hard work, at about 2000 yards from Kaitake. No advantageous position could be taken up nearer to the natives, whose entrenchments were on the summits of two adjoining hills, and were protected by palisading. Several whares or huts were behind the palisading, but no natives were seen. About 50 rounds were fired with time and concussion fuses. The shells burst wherever they were required, but the distance was too great to observe the extent of damage done.

Captain Mercer, wishing to use the shells as carcasses against the huts, tried the experiment of putting pieces of portfire composition and loose powder into the shell instead of the concussion fuse and burster. The time fuse was then screwed in; but as the shells were not seen to burst, and as no report was heard, the experiment was concluded to be a failure.

On the 1st July, the Armstrong's were sent back to Auckland by sea in the same manner as before, and kept in readiness for an expedition against the Waikato tribes. The mounted artillery followed in a few days, and was reduced from 100 to 50 men. The gunners returned to their guns, and the drivers continued to act as cavalry, under Lieut. Rait, R.A. The other horses of the battery and all the harness were given over to the commissariat transport corps, who moved the guns when necessary with either horses or bullocks.

In the beginning of July 1863, General Cameron crossed the Maungatawhiri creek, which was the boundary between the European and native land in Waikato district. A position was taken up by some infantry on the heights overlooking the creeks and surrounding country, and an action took place a few days after-wards in which the natives were defeated.

Artillery was not used, none having yet crossed the creek. Orders for their crossing, however, were received soon afterwards at Queen's redoubt, where the Head Quarters were now stationed; and two 12-pounder Armstrong's were marched to the creek (about two miles from Queen's redoubt), the carriages taken to pieces, put in flat-bottomed boats and, the opposite bank being soft and marshy, were rowed down the stream until hard ground was discovered.

The spot selected for a landing place was a sort of headland near a bend of the creek, about 80 feet high and very steep. The guns were hauled up to the top of this, piecemeal, with tackle; and although they met with very rough usage in being thus hauled up, no damage was done to them.

Three round spars about 5 feet long and 3 inches in diameter were carried with each subdivision, and were most useful in all cases when the guns had to be taken to pieces. One of these spars inserted in the muzzle, another in the breech, and the third lashed across the trunnions, enabled a few gunners to carry the guns wherever they were required, particularly when they had to be mounted inside redoubts, the entrances to which were generally so narrow that the guns had to be taken to pieces in order to be mounted inside. Handspikes were found to be not of sufficient strength to bear the weight of the guns.

The gunners were now employed in assisting to build the redoubts and in otherwise fortifying the position on the Koheroa heights.

About the end of July a night march was made to some native settlements about 15 miles from Koheroa, where a large body of natives were reported to be located. The track was not well known, and no wheeled conveyances had ever before traveled on it. Two 12-pounder Armstrong's, drawn by bullocks and carrying several fascines and planks for bridge making purposes, accompanied the force, which started at about 9.30 p.m. 

The night was very dark and the track so narrow and slippery that, when about three miles from camp, one gun upset down the side of a steep ridge; it was, after some difficulty, brought up again on the track and, one wheel having been broken, the gun was left behind with an escort, and as soon as a second wheel was brought from camp the gun returned to Koheroa. In several place, the bullocks had to be taken out and the guns drawn by hand. The other gun continued with the column, which, finding the natives had left their settlements and retired to the bush, returned to Koheroa the following day.

In the beginning of 4 August 1863, another position having been taken up at Whanaamarmu about six miles south of Koheroa, the gunners were employed in making the track to it practicable for artillery. When that was finished the two 12-pounder Armstrong's were brought up and put in position near a stockade which was built for the troops on a height overlooking the Whanzamarino and Waikato rivers.

Beyond the former river was a swamp, impassable at this time of the year, and the natives had collected in large numbers at the other extremity of the swamp. and had built entrenchments to oppose the further progress of the troops.

The distance from the guns to the native entrenchments at Mere-mere was about 2000 yards.

It was found necessary that the attack on these works should be made from the river, and while a steamer and boats were being built for this purpose the artillery were ordered to annoy the natives as much as possible by firing at any large bodies of them that appeared, and at the canoes which brought their provisions down the river. Another 12-pounder Armstrong was sent to Whangamarino, and the three guns were placed in a small battery having platforms made of large trees sawn in half, with the convex surface sunk in the ground.

Two Armstrong 40-prs. were sent over from Sydney (N.S.W.), and were sent to Whangamarino to be mounted. The latter was a service of great labor and difficulty, as the guns had to be dragged piecemeal up to the top of the eminence on which the stockade was built, and then mounted.

The guns at Whangamarino then annoyed the Maoris at Mere-mere as much as possible. It was found that the best way to damage canoes at great distance was to fire shells with concussion fuses, to strike rather short of the canoes; the shell burst on striking the water, and the pieces ricocheted forward, among the canoes. It was found also that by firing with time fuses fixed to burst at the extreme range of the fuse, the pieces of the shells all went over 2600 yards if the gun was laid with about half a degree more elevation than the actual range required. The shells thus fired burst high in the air, and the pieces being propelled forward and downward, went to a great distance.

Three gun-boats were constructed in Auckland from cargo-boats, they were plated with iron and capable of carrying a 12-pounder Armstrong and small mortar in each. Two iron-plated steamers were also constructed, and about the end of October 1863, everything being ready for a move, a force was taken up the Waikato past the Mere-mere position in the steamers and gun-boats, and landed at Takapou about five miles in rear of Mere-mere. 

Arrangements were then made for attacking the Maoris in front and rear simultaneously. On the day before the attack was to take place, however, the natives were seen to be evacuating their positions in great numbers, having with infinite labor dragged their canoes during the night from the Waikato river, overland, to the swamp. They left behind them three or four old carronades or ship guns which they had fired with little or no effect at the steamers and gun-boats as they passed their position.

The only way of getting a spare wheel along the track was found to be, by running it along on a tent pole which was passed through the nave.

After Mere-mere had been occupied by the troops the three 12-pounder guns were sent back to Queen's redoubt (crossing the Maungatawhiri piecemeal as before), and on the 18th November, two of them were again taken to pieces and towed in boats to Mere-mere. The sheers used for embarking and disembarking, were trunks of trees cut down near the spot.

Foreseeing the impossibility of conveying ammunition wagons with the small number of transport animals that accompanied the force, Captain Mercer had caused extra ammunition boxes to be made, to fit and travel on the footboard of each limber, and to contain 24 extra rounds of ammunition per gun with cartridges, and time and concussion fuses complete.

On the morning of the 20th November, 1863, the two Armstrong 12-prs. drawn by bullocks, and a 6-pounder naval field gun drawn by sailors, accompanied the force under General Cameron which left Mere-mere at 7 o'clock a.m. for Rangiriri, about 12 miles south of Mere-mere. Eight bullocks drew each gun, and the weight they had to draw was much increased by eight scaling ladders and the extra ammunition-box, besides several planks being carried on the guns.

The track led through several swamps and gullies and over some narrow ridges, where the bullocks had to be taken out and the gunners to draw the guns by hand. When half-way to Rangiriri, thirty of the gunners were supplied with Dean and Adams' revolvers (the use of which they were well acquainted with from having been armed with revolvers while acting as cavalry), and Capt. Mercer was told that in case there was any serious difficulty met with in the projected storming of the Maori entrenchments at Rangiriri, his men would be called upon to assist in the assault. Owing to the difficult nature of the ground it was 3 p.m. before the force arrived at Rangiriri. The guns were brought into action about 600 yards from the centre of the Maori works, on a rising ground behind which the limbers were placed nearly out of fire. The Maoris began firing directly the guns came into action, but without effect, except a few shots striking the wheels and gun-carriages.

The object of the artillery fire was to engage the attention of the natives, while the steamers, which had arrived opposite Rangiriri about the same time as the force under General Cameron, proceeded to disembark troops in rear of the works. The disembarkation took a considerable time. The natives did not show at all, but continued firing as long as the guns did.

When the assault was ordered the rapidity of fire was increased; shells had been prepared in  expectation of the assault, and the guns were loaded as fast as they were fired. The shells burst beautifully, and prevented the Maoris taking any aim at the advancing troops, but when, from the near approach of the storming party to the works, the shelling was stopped and the soldiers suffered severely.

Half the position was quickly taken, and the Maoris who escaped rushed some to the Waikare Lake, where they were shot down by the 40th Regiment which had landed in rear of the work, and some to a few canoes in the swamp. but two shells from the Armstrong's bursting among the latter, they
ran back to their entrenchments and joined others who had remained in the works. The last gun Captain Mercer looked over had been laid on a canoe supposed to be about 2000 yards off, crossing the Waikare Lake and full of fugitives. The canoe was smashed by the shell and swamped.

About an hour after the first assault had been made, a message was brought from General Cameron to Captain Mercer asking for some shells to be sent down to be thrown by hand among the Maoris. Captain Mercer sent back an answer to say that Armstrong shell were unsuited for the purpose,
and he had no common shell.

Soon after this an aide-de-camp brought an order for Captain Mercer to bring down his men to drive out the Maoris, who were still resisting. Captain Mercer accordingly led his men to the assault, which failed, as others had previously done, owing chiefly to the men not being able to get to a
hand-to-hand fight with the natives. Captain Mercer was mortally wounded, Sergeant-Major Hamilton was shot in two places, and four other non-commissioned officers and men were killed or wounded while trying to get into the work.

Driver Cuiverwell, who was Captain Mercer's servant, seeing his master shot down, ran to his assistance and was mortally wounded while doing so. The gunners were then employed in filling up a narrow passage leading to the principal Maori work from which much loss had been inflicted on the
troops, and which, while open, prevented assistance being given to the wounded who had passed the entrance.

Some 5½ inch common shell were obtained from the gun-boats and thrown among the natives by Sergeant McKay, and Gunner F. Green, R.A. The fuses were of rather ancient date (1806-7), and great risk was run by the above-mentioned men, as the fuses had to be lighted while the shells were in their hands, and then the shells themselves had to be thrown up over a high parapet. No accident occurred, and the shells, by setting fire to the huts and bursting among the natives, did much damage.

At about midnight the gunners went back to their guns (which in the meanwhile had been guarded by the rest of the artillery and a company of infantry) and the following morning, the natives being surrounded and having no outlet of escape except into the swamp, surrendered unconditionally. This was one of the hardest day's work with the artillery ever underwent in New Zealand.

There was no palisading about the Rangiriri entrenchments. The main obstacle was a high thick perpendicular parapet, built as all parapets are in New Zealand, with layers of fern intermingled with the soil, and thus no berm nor exterior slope is required.

Some of the Armstrong shells were fired to pierce the parapet, as it was expected that the natives would fight from behind them, but it was soon found that the parapet was only intended as an obstacle, the firing being from the ditches in front of it. The fuses were therefore fixed to burst the shells short, by which means the pieces went forwards and downwards into the pits, the guns being on high ground. Small mortars or howitzers would have been very useful, especially the latter if a breach had been required, but the Armstrong's had answered so well at the previous fight at Katikara, that it was expected that they would be also sufficient at Rangiriri.

When a long range or great precision is required, the Armstrong shell is most effective, but it would fail if used as a substitute for a howitzer shell in breaching field parapets, and in ricochet fire at short distances.

Captain Mercer having died from the effect of his wound, the command of the artillery devolved on Brevet-Major Strover, of the 12th Brigade, R.A.

The guns remained at Rangiriri about six weeks after this time, and the men were employed in assisting the engineers to make redoubts, landing places, etc., and afterwards in making a road through a swamp on the right bank of the Waikato.

About the end of December four small mortars and another 12-pounder Armstrong gun having arrived at Rangiriri, they and the two 12-prs. before mentioned were taken to pieces, and embarked on board flat-bottomed boats which conveyed them to a station called Rahuipokeka, about eight miles further up the river. Here they were disembarked, and after-wards taken up in a steamer to Ngaruawahia, about fifteen miles further up the Waikato at the junction of that river with the Waipa. Very little damage or loss of stores occurred in these constant shiftings, but great care had to be taken to avoid it.

The other three 12-pounder Armstrong's of the battery were given into store in October 1863 (by order), and were afterwards served out to the Royal Navy for service in the gun-boats. At Ngaruawahia the gunners were employed in building bridges over creeks, and in foraging parties.

The mounted artillery under Lieutenant Rait, R.A., were also sent to Ngaruawahia, where they were continually employed in reconnoitering, foraging, and as orderlies. As the ammunition supplied for the 4 and two-fifth inch mortars was of very old date, it was replaced by 12-pounder howitzer ammunition, the wooden bottoms of the shells being knocked off for this purpose.

Lieut. Carre, R.A., having arrived in New Zealand joined at Ngaruawahia about the beginning of January. About 24th January 1864, the guns being required up the Waipa river, and the track being impracticable for artillery the guns and mortars were again taken to pieces and were sent up the river in a steamer. The gunners marched, and at Whata-Whata, about twelve miles from Ngaruawahia, the guns were landed and put together again.

On the 27th January, the three 12-prs., drawn by six bullocks each, accompanied an expedition which was ordered to Te Rore (about twelve miles south of Whata-Whata). This march took two days, from daylight till night of each day. A great deal of small-arm ammunition carried on pack parries was in charge of the Royal Artillery. The difficulties which the guns met with on this march, were narrow paths, and roads hurriedly made by the engineers where any steep ascents and descents had been met with. The bullock-drivers were not very good, and often the guns were in imminent danger of being upset down places from which it would have taken hours to extricate them; and from the paucity of transport no spare wheel could be carried.

The temporary bridges over creeks had also to be made in a great haste, and of any materials that could be got on the spot. Sometimes the guns had to be taken over these bridges, and up and down the more difficult ascents and descents by hand thus entailing extra labor on the gunners and fatigue-parties assisting them. There was, of course, no transport for men's necessaries; every man carried his own blanket, carbine (Every gunner in the battery had been supplied with a carbine by the Colonial Government) and change of clothes. At about 6 p.m. on the second day's march, the guns arrived at a creek about 30 feet wide, with soft low banks, and it was necessary to cross it as soon as possible. A large canoe was procured, and the gunners, assisted by a detachment of sailors, took the guns to pieces in the dark, and, the canoe being placed as a bridge, the guns were taken across piecemeal, put together on the opposite side, and taken on about three miles further to the camp.

On both these nights and for a short time after-wards the troops bivouacked, as there was no transport available for tents. One limber-box was slightly damaged during the march, but no further damage was done to the guns and nothing was lost. The round spars previously mentioned were invaluable in moving the guns about.

On the 27th January 1864, Colonel Williams, R.A., arrived to take command of the Royal Artillery in New Zealand. "I" Battery of the 4th Brigade, R.A., equipped with six of the latest pattern 12-pounder Armstrong's under Colonel Barstow, arrived at the same time. Six 6-pounder Armstrong's also arrived at this time and were consigned to the Principal Military Storekeeper in New Zealand.

Col. Williams arrived at Te Rore, where the head quarters of the army were posted, on the night of the 28th January 1864, and appointed Lieut. Pickard acting-Adjutant.

About four miles from Te Rore, inland from the Waipa. river, was a strong Maori position called Paterangi. A post was established about 1500 yds. from this pah, and two 12-prs. were sent there under Captain Betty and Lieut. Carre. The guns were occasionally fired and with good effect.

Colonel Barstow with half of "I" Battery was ordered from Auckland to Ngaruawahia, in charge of three 6-prs., and three N.P. 12-pounder Armstrong's. No horses were handed over to the battery, and every gunner and driver was armed with a carbine or rifle, and learnt gun-drill.

About 20th February, Colonel Barstow left Ngaruawahia, having been ordered to join the head quarters at Te Rore with the three 6-pounder guns; the 12-prs. remained at Ngaruawahia in charge of Lieut. Toogood, R.A. On the 21st February, a night march was made to Rangiawhia (about eight miles in rear of Pateranoi), and the 6-pounder guns drawn by two horses each, accompanied the expedition.

An engagement took place on the 22nd February, at Rangiawhia, in which the natives' entrenchments were assaulted and taken by the 50th Regiment, whose advance was covered by the firing of the two 6-pounder Armstrong's, manned by detachments of "I" Battery. The practice was very good, but the uneven ground, the height of the fern, and the difficulty of getting a view of the natives in their pits, were great obstacles to rapid firing.

Just after the assault on the Maori entrenchments at Rangiawhia had succeeded, and while the natives were dispersing in all directions, they were charged by the mounted corps of Royal Artillery, under Lieut. Rait, R.A., and good service was done, though the difficulties of the ground were very great. One driver and one horse were killed, and three or four men and horses, including Lieut. Rait's horse, were wounded during the charge. The high fern was found most difficult for cavalry to act in. It concealed holes, pits, and other inequalities of ground, and by tilting up the scabbards, swords used often to be dropped. The latter objection was removed, however, by detaching the scabbards from the slings of the sword-belt and fastening them to the saddle instead. The carbine was worn in a bucket in front of the right leg until required for use. The pistol was worn buckled round the waist in a leather case, and a small strap fastened to the trigger guard attached the pistol to the body.

The uniform worn by all the troops was a blue serge "jumper" or short frock with shoulder-straps. The drivers were supplied with long boots and hunting-spurs. The three 12-prs. of "C" Battery were afterwards forwarded to Te Awamutu (two miles from Rangiawhia) from Te Rore, and one was placed in each redoubt built there.

Six 12-pounder Armstrong's were bought by the New Zealand government from the colony of Victoria, and were in charge of the Principal Military Storekeeper at Auckland. Two of these were drawn out of store by the Royal Artillery in January 1864, and sent down with detachments of "C" Battery under Lieut. Greer, R.A., to Tauranga, on the east coast of New Zealand, to join the force stationed there under Colonel Carey, 2nd Battalion, 18th Regiment.

As soon as the natives at Paterangi heard of the night march and engagement at Rangiawhia, they abandoned all their entrenchments and retired to Maungatautari, on the Waikato river, where they again commenced building strong entrenchments on a range of hills well adapted for the purpose.

Their mode of fortification was something similar to that adopted at Rangiriri, but obstacles were now placed in front of the ditches and pits from which they fired, and these pits communicated with the interior of the pah by means of covered ways leading under the parapets. The obstacles were strong post and rail fences, and behind these, on the edge of the counterscarp, were palisading of brushwood, poles, etc., all tied together and presenting an object difficult to breach with artillery, and well calculated to stop a sudden rush. The loopholes from which the natives fired were at the foot of the palisades; the works were enclosed but communicated with one another by covered ways. The works at Maungatautari were reported to be more formidable than any yet constructed, and a strong battery of guns was sent for to Auckland.

By the end of March 1864, the following pieces were collected at Pukerimu (which is about four miles from Mauncratautari), and manned by detachments from the three batteries in New Zealand; many of the men having never had anything to do with smooth-bored ordnance, required continued instructions and drill, to enable them to perform the different duties properly.

  • Two 10-inch mortars,
  • Two 8inch mortars on traveling beds,
  • Two 5½inch mortars
  • Two 4 2-5inch mortars
  • Two 32-pounder howitzers,
  • Two 24-pounder howitzers,
  • And three N.P. 12-pounder Armstrong's.

Each gun was supplied with about 200 rounds of ammunition.

Captain William Smith arrived in New Zealand about this time, and relieved Bt Major Strover who had previously been promoted, in charge of No. 3 Battery, 12th Brigade, R.A.

The other three new pattern 12-pounder Armstrong's of "I" Battery had been sent, about the beginning of March 1864, to Taranaki, under Captain Martin, R.A. Before his arrival, Lieut. Larcom, R.A., had commanded the artillery in the Taranaki district; he bad under his command, a detachment of No. 3
Battery, 12th Brigade, and was in charge of several smooth-bored pieces of ordnance, guns, mortars, and howitzers.

While employed on a reconnoitering expedition under Colonel Warre, C.B., commanding troops at Taranaki, Lieut. Larcorn had been severely wounded. He was, at the time, in command of a 24-pounder howitzer and two small mortars which were in action near a pah which was being reconnoitered. The howitzer was short of men, and Lieut. Larcom was himself assisting as a number at the gun when he was wounded.

After Captain Martin's arrival at Taranaki, the 12-pounder Armstrong's were used with good effect on several occasions while accompanying expeditions into the country; but the rough and rugged nature of the country made the labor very great, and the tracks often led through places admirably
adapted for ambuscades, and the natives on one occasion, attacked the guns while on the line of march but were driven out of their hiding places without doing any serious damage. In the Waikato country great difficulties were now experienced in getting the ordnance, already mentioned, to Pukerimu; and the different varieties of ammunition and stores, which were entirely new to most of the men (more particularly the drivers), were very confusing.

The two 24-pr, howitzers which had been a long time in the country were each of different manufacture; the wheels of one would not fit the other, and in the constant removals from one station to another, by water transport, this was very inconvenient.

In the beginning of April 1864, the position for the breaching batteries having been chosen and all being ready for the guns to move forward, a reconnoitering party discovered that the Maungatauiari position with all its entrenchments had been suddenly abandoned by the natives. 

This was partly owing to a severe defeat which the Ngazirnaniopoto tribe had met with at Orakau, near Rangiawhia. Brigadier-General Carey, who commanded at the latter post after General Cameron had removed the head quarters to Pukerimu, discovered that the Maoris had built a pah near Rangiawhia. He surrounded the pah suddenly one night, and after two assaults had failed, sapped up to it. Three 6-pounder guns (Armstrong's) were at Rangiawhia, and three 12-prs. of "C" Battery, under Captain Betty, R.A., were also available but were not required. A 6-pounder was, however, sent up the sap and was employed in breaching the palisading on the counterscarp.

Howitzers or mortars would have been most useful at Orakau, but they were all at Pukerimu, and the intervening country was impracticable for artillery. 100 hand grenades were put in boxes, and sent on pack ponies to Orakau, and were very serviceable.

Serjeant Angus McKay, of "C" Battery, whose behavior at Rangiriri' has already been mentioned, threw the hand grenades at great personal risk to himself from the sap into the pah, where they did much execution. For this service Sergeant McKay was publicly thanked by General Carey after the pah was taken, and highly spoken of in his despatch afterwards. 

When the sap was within a few yards of the ditch, the Maoris suddenly rushed out of the pah and breaking through a part of the circle of troops which was less strongly guarded than the rest, they made their way, though with the loss of about half their number, to the swamps, creeks and ravines with which the country abounds.

 They were followed by the mounted corps of artillery drivers, under Lieut. Rait, R.A., and also by the Colonial cavalry, but the difficulties of the country for cavalry operations prevented much damage being done. 

Veterinary Surgeon Blake's horse was shot, and a few other casualties took place in the troop.

About the end of April orders were received to remove all the ordnance from Pukerimu (except the 12-pounder Armstrong's and small mortars) to Auckland, from whence they were to be sent to Taranaki where operations were now to be carried on. There were already several small mortars at Taranaki which was the reason those at Pukerimu were left there. The work entailed on the artillery in shifting the ordnance, ammunition, and materiel was now very great, and the greatest precautions had to be taken to avoid loss of stores and the mixture of one description of ammunition with another.

While on the way to Auckland intelligence was received from Tauranga, a settlement on the east coast, the effect of which was that the guns intended for Taranaki were ordered to be sent to Tauranga as quickly as possible. Small mortars would also be required, but these having, for the
reason already mentioned, been left in the Waikato district, some very old pattern mortars were drawn out of the military store in Auckland for use in the Tauranga district. These mortars had been cast in Sydney under the directions of Captain Gother Mann late of the Bombay Horse Artillery, but
now Governor of' the convict establishment at Cockatoo Island (N.S.W.). 

They were cast in 1848 for the war that was then going on in New Zealand, where a light species of ordnance, capable of projecting shell with precision at short distances was required. The mortars were about half the length of the service 5½ inch mortar, so that half the circumference of the shell projected beyond the muzzle of the mortar. There a small chamber for the powder, and the diameter of the muzzle was sufficient to allow of the 5½ inch shell being used, and thus one species of ammunition was sufficient for the 24-pounder howitzers and small mortars. The bed was of iron and was fastened on a flat platform of wood about two inches thick. The mortar itself was light enough for one man to carry with ease. The bed and platform were rather heavier than necessary, and service-beds were afterwards substituted for them.

It was supposed that, as the fuse projected considerably beyond the muzzle of the mortar, the flame of the charge when ignited, would not reach the fuse composition, and therefore it would be necessary to ignite the fuse with a portfire before firing the mortar. This, however, proved not to be the case. It was found that the fuse never failed to ignite on the mortar being fired, and the shells were very accurate up to 400 yards, fired at 45 degrees of elevation.

As fast as the guns arrived in Auckland from the Waikato district, they were sent down to Tauranga by sea, and by the 28th April 1864, the following pieces of ordnance with about 200 rounds of ammunition per piece, and, manned by detachments from each of the three batteries in New Zealand, were ready for action:-

  • Two 8-inch mortars,
  • Two 24-pounder howitzers,
  • Two 12-pounder Armstrong's, 
  • Two 4 2-5inch mortars,
  • Four 5-1-inch mortars (Captain Mann's pattern) and 
  • three 6-pounder Armstrong's. The 6-prs. had only about 100 rounds per gun so were obliged to be placed so that the fire from them would be almost direct as, owing to the nature of the ground, enfilade fire was impossible to be obtained.

On the 27th April a pah was reconnoitered, which had been built by the natives about three miles from the camp at Tauranga and, being placed on the boundary between the European and native and where the Maoris formerly had placed a toll-gate, it was known by the name of the "gate pah". It was built of an oblong form on high ground, and the enclosed ground was about 100 yards long by 15 wide. The front face of the work extended down on right and left to swamps which flanked the position.

On the 28th April, positions were chosen in which to place the batteries intended to breach the parapet, etc. Both mortar and howitzer batteries were obliged to placed so that the fire from them would be almost direct as, owing to the to the nature of the ground enfilade fire was impossible to be obtained.

As it was feared that the natives would abandon their position if they saw the batteries being made, these latter were constructed during the night of the 28th and morning of the 29th April, while the 68th Regiment was sent round by a swamp on the right flank of the pah, to surround the position in the rear, and prevent all escape in that direction. There was little or no transport to be got for conveying ammunition, etc.

A few pack ponies, the two 8-inch mortar carts and, late in the day, three or four transport carts were all the transport that could be obtained, and a great portion of the ammunition was sent up from Tauranga to the "gate pah" (about 21 miles) in wheelbarrows, with fatigue parties of artillery and infantry. The batteries were constructed after dark, and by daylight on the morning of the following day, 29th April, the under-mentioned batteries were ready to open fire:-

  • Two 8inch mortars in a breastwork 800 yards from the pah under Lieut. Greer, R.A,
  • Two 24 pounder howitzers in a breastwork 600 yards from the pah under Captain Smith, R.A.
  • Six small mortars behind a parapet about 300 yards from the pah, under Lieut. Grubb RA and 
  • two 6-pounder Armstrong's were kept ready to be taken to any place they might be afterwards required.

There was also a heavy battery of Armstrong's consisting of one 110-pounder and two 40 pounders manned by the Royal Navy, under direction of Commodore Sir W. Wiseman C.B., RN This battery was about 700 yards from the pah. The batteries opened fire soon after daybreak, but the natives hardly returned a shot. The 8-inch shells seemed from the battery to fall in the centre of the pah.

The fire of the howitzers and heavy Armstrong's was directed on the left corner of the pah where a breach was to be made; and the mortars threw shells into the pah and adjacent rifle pits. About noon it was discovered that the swamp on the left of the native position was passable by a 6-pounder
Armstrong if taken across piecemeal. This was done under Lieut. Donnithorne R.A. With great difficulty the gun was brought into action on a hill beyond the swamp, which looked on to the left flank of the entrenchments. As soon as the gun was seen from the pah, the natives in the left flank of the works who had been occasionally firing at the battery of small mortars, left their position and went to the right flank where they could not be touched by the fire of the 6-pounder A small howitzer would have been most useful here and a 4 2-5inch mortar being carried across the swamp threw several shells into the pah which was now enfiladed. By this time a large breach had been made in the parapet and in the double fence which was in front of it, as shown in the description of the works at Maungatautari. 

The parapet was about five feet high and five feet thick, and was half sunken. From the hill on which the gun and mortar were placed, it was seen that most of the shells from the 8-inch mortars were going a few yards over the pah, which was much narrower than was expected. On a message being sent to the battery this was rectified, and the shells subsequently all fell into the work.

The assault was now ordered. Very little had been seen or heard of the natives during the day, and it was not until the storming party, composed of equal numbers of the 43rd Regiment and Royal Navy, had arrived within a few yards of the breach, that the Maoris opened a heavy fire. Then, however, they did so with such precision and rapidity and from such well concealed places, that the men in the assaulting party could not see the Maoris whose fire was destroying their officers and leading files.

The storming party was eventually repulsed. After dusk a breastwork was thrown up about 100 yards from the pah, and two small mortars taken into it, which, under direction of Captain William Smith, R.A., threw shells into the pah during the night.

At daybreak on the morning of the 30th April it was found that the natives had evacuated the pah during the night, leaving several wounded behind them. They had gone away in small parties at a time, over swamps, etc., but lost many men from the fire of the 68th Regiment who were surrounding the rear of the position, and who were spread over a large extent of ground. On examining the pah afterwards it was found that the breach was perfectly practicable, but the natives had fired from underground pits almost completely covered by roofs of flax and earth, etc., etc., and into these pits entrance was most difficult. They had also fired from traversed pits in front of the parapet, between the latter and the palisading.

Boxer's fuses answered admirably; not one was observed to fail in bursting the shell at the required place, when properly bored. The mortars of Captain Gother Mann's making, answered very well, the platforms, however, were rotten from being so long in store.

The 10-inch mortars and 32-pounder howitzers arrived at Tauranga by sea from, Auckland a few days after the engagement at the "gate pah". There was great difficulty and trouble in landing them and their ammunition, and conveying them afterwards from the beach to the artillery park.

Several expeditions were afterwards made to different native settlements in the Tauranga district, and they were generally accompanied by a 6-pounder Armstrong, drawn by one or two horses.

These 6-prs. are too narrow between the wheels, which are too low for the very rough ground over which they had to travel. Their limbers do not carry sufficient ammunition. They were continually upset on the line of march, and once, on coming into the action in rough ground, the limber upset while being reversed.

The natives having left this part of the country, the artillery were re-embarked about the end of May, and all the ordnance, ammunition, etc., was taken back to Auckland, except the Armstrong guns and small mortars, which remained under Lieut. Grubb, R.A., with detachments from "C" and "I" Batteries of the 4th Brigade.

The last occasion on which artillery were used in action during the campaign was at the engagement at Te Ranga, a few miles inland from Tauranga and the "gate pah". One 6-pounder Armstrong was used with great effect under Lieut. Grubb, R.A., manned by a detachment of "I" Battery, 41h Brigade. Several rounds were fired during the attack and at the retreating Maoris afterwards, and the practice was highly spoken of by Colonel Greer, 68th Regiment, who commanded the troops on this occasion.

The Armstrong field guns were always most effective where a long range or great precision was required, and they are therefore in every way an admirable substitute for, and improvement on, the old 9-pounder brass smooth bored gun. The great number of times that the Armstrong's were taken to pieces, and the continual rough usage which they met with in embarking and disembarking and in crossing rough country, without sustaining any damage, shows that they are not liable to get out of order from being of too delicate manufacture. They can be loaded and fired very quickly with time and concussion fuses with well-drilled detachments.

In "C" Battery, 4th Brigade, a certain number of fuses were put aside for drill purposes, and no shell was allowed to be brought up from the limber to the gun, whether at standing gun drill or in the drill-field without the fuses being screwed in and fixed as would be required on service. If the detachments are not well drilled and constantly practiced in screwing and unscrewing the time fuses into the shells, there is a liability to confusion when the men are under fire, particularly on cold frosty mornings, or in the dark, or coming into action in a hurry and unexpectedly. The thread of the time fuse cannot be got to fit at once into the nozzle of the shell; the man fixing the fuses forgets in the confusion and smoke, which way he has to turn the nut which fastens and unfastens the collar; he is puzzled about the right direction to move the key when he tightens the time fuse in its place, and a careless No. I omits to tighten the nut sufficiently when the fuse is set, thus causing premature explosions occasionally.

Should the E pattern brass time fuse be continued in the service, some of these difficulties might be removed, by having the body of the fuse fitted with a spring something similar to that on the spring-spike; the fuse could then be fixed tightly into the nozzle of the shell as the spring-spike fits into the vent of a piece of ordnance, and half the difficulties of screwing would thus be done away with. There would still remain the collar and nut to be adjusted. It would probably be impossible to extract the fuse when once fixed, but that would be a small object when the greater rapidity of fire that could be obtained is considered, especially the first rounds on coming into action.

But although the Armstrong field gun has been proved to be an admirable substitute for the 9-pounder smooth-bored gun, yet it can in no way replace the 24-pounder howitzers which for obvious reasons were associated with 9-pounder batteries before the introduction of rifled ordnance. When a moderately thick earthen field parapet requires to be breached by field guns, as at the "gate pah" engagement; when shells require to be thrown by hand amongst assailants or defenders of earthworks as at Rangiriri; when ricochet fire at very short distances is required, as at Orakau;-the Armstrong field shell will always fail to be as effective as a common shell from a 24-pounder howitzer. Therefore the same arguments which held good for associating 24-pounder howitzers with 9-pounder guns in the old smooth-bored batteries, still apply to the necessity for associating an improvement on the 24-pounder howitzer with the 12-pounder Armstrong.

It is hardly necessary to remark that on all occasions and whatever might be the various duties that the men were called upon to undertake, their conduct was most praiseworthy, and the duties were performed cheerfully and well, whether acting as artillery, cavalry, infantry, military train, or in assisting the Royal Engineers, in building redoubts or bridges, or in making roads in the interior of the country.

From the Journals of the New Zealand Military Historical Society 1983.


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces