Updated 17 September 2019
By February 1860, mounting tensions arising from the sale of a 240 hectare block of land at Waitara led to Governor Gore Browne declaring martial law in Taranaki, and shortly after a military assault on Te Ati Awa rangatira Wiremu Kingi and his people commenced.
The following is an account of some of the consequences for the Honeyfield siblings.
More than 200 farms were burnt or plundered by Māori over the ensuing 12 month period of hostilities, including John and Harriet Newman’s farm house in Omata. Harriet was eight months pregnant with her 5th child.
John Newman and James Honeyfield became members of the newly formed Taranaki Rifle Volunteers. On 28th March 1860 a force of 56 Taranaki Militia and 103 Taranaki Rifle Volunteers set out to bring settlers back to safety in New Plymouth. Each man had only 30 rounds of ammunition. Edmund Honeyfield, although not part of the militia, was likely to have been alongside his brother James and brother-in-law John.
A contingent of regular army had also been despatched inland towards the Omata Stockade, but had been given strict orders to be home by dark.
At Waireka the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers and Taranaki Militia became the first colonial volunteer units to take the field against Māori at the Battle of Waireka. The Maori antagonists were mainly warriors from the Taranaki, Ngati-Ruanui and Nga-Reuru iwi of the west coast, south of New Plymouth and just south of Te Ati Awa territory.
Kevin Honeyfield gave the following account of the Battle of Waireka on a bus tour during the Honeyfield reunion in March 2015:
Anxiety was high in town, especially when gun fire could be heard from the direction of where the volunteers and militia headed.
They had come across a large number of hostile, heavily armed Māori who attacked the militia with all they had.
The regular army heard the gunfire and from the Omata Stockade, marched to 700 metres from the Māori aggressors, launching long range missile fire to assist the militia. However, with orders to be home by dark they sounded the retreat horn and left the militia and volunteers to battle alone.
The militia where down to one round of ammunition each, and as day was turning to night, with no backup from the regular army, they expected a charge from the Māori at any time … their only defence would be bayonets against the still heavily armed Maori.
The militia were not in a position to retreat, for they had dead and wounded amongst them and rough terrain to navigate.
Suddenly, from a short distance away, they heard more gunshot and yelling followed by victory cries as the Māori flags came down.
Tired and with little ammunition, the militia did not advance to join the assault on the Pa, instead carrying their wounded and dead, made their way cross country to the Omata Stockade in darkness. It was there they learned that a 60 strong contingent of naval marines had stormed the Pa and dealt with all the enemy that did not flee.
Back in town, at Marsland Hill and St Marys Church, spare a thought for eight months pregnant Harriett Matilda. Her husband and brothers went to try and bring back other settlers to safety, they were not looking for a full on engagement with the enemy. She could hear the battle, but knew no detail of what was happening.
The regular soldiers arrived back at dark as ordered … telling the families how they left the militia trapped and under heavy fire. Dismay and disbelief followed, then some hours later the naval marines arrived, carrying the Maori flags and claiming victory – but they were unaware of the wellbeing of the militia. It was after midnight when the militia finally got into town and the families found out who the casualties were and who was safe.
It is probable to say that if the naval marines had not shown up, the battle of Waireka would have had a completely different outcome, and there would be no Tataraimaka or Patea Honeyfields alive today, as James and Edmund would have likely perished as single men 155 years ago today.
After the battle, many women and children were transported to Nelson. John also relocated his family to Nelson and became a publican for a few years before he and Harriet Matilda returned to their Omata farm when the unrest had settled.
An impressive flag was awarded to the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers in 1861. A memorial stands in the grounds of St Mary’s Cathedral Church, New Plymouth, recording the names of 11 Taranaki Militia and 10 Taranaki Rifle Volunteers who were killed in action between 1860 and 1866.
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