Topic: Battle of Gate Pā 1864: Who gave water to the wounded?

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There is much controversy and fierce debate about who actually gave water to a dying Colonel Booth and other wounded in the aftermath of the Battle of Gate Pā (Pukehinahina) on 29 April 1864. Given the conflicting evidence, in all likelihood more than one Māori warrior provided the wounded with water as they lay in the wreckage of Gate Pa. As Dixon (2010) states, ‘It is likely that numerous acts of kindness were performed after the battle’ (para. 5).

Looking wrong? Archived version here.

Marble frieze on Rāwiri Puhirake’s memorial depicting him standing over a mortally wounded Booth whilst Taratoa brings a calabash of water.

During the night Māori quietly abandoned Gate Pā, which had served their purpose. They took their wounded along with British muskets and disappeared, the Koheriki reinforcements through the Kopurererua swamp on their left (East) and Ngāi Te Rangi past the men of the 68th on their right (West) (Cowan, 1983, p. 433).

Honouring the Poteriwhi Code of Conduct the wounded soldiers were not maltreated, looted or mutilated, but instead given water before they left, including the mortally wounded Booth who had been shot through the spine. ‘By the side of each wounded Englishman there was found in the morning some small water-vessel, placed there by the Māori’s before they departed from their fort’ (Rusden, 1883, p. 216).

Thirty years of teaching by Christian missionaries and the Poteriwhi Code of Conduct were surely responsible for the great compassion shown by Māori before they abandoned the pā. As Ngātai explains, ‘we adhered strictly to the terms of the battle-covenant, and harmed not the wounded nor interfered with the bodies of the dead’ (as cited in Mair, 1937, p.28). Much controversy and fierce debate surrounds who actually gave water to the soldiers as the following stories attest to:


Was it Rāwiri Tuaia Puhirake?

Ngāi Te Rangi leader Rāwiri Tuaia Puhirake (c1814-1864) was the most influential chief in Tauranga during the time of the Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina (29 April 1864) and Battle of Te Ranga (21 June 1864). On 1 September 1874 the Thames Advertiser stated 'The assault was led by, Colonel Booth and Captain Hamilton, R.N. The latter was shot dead; the Colonel fell mortally wounded within a few feet of the parapet of the pa. Rawiri carried him, or had him carried, to a place of safety out of reach of the bullets, and, to the best of his power, administered to his wants himself, going down to the stream at the risk of his life to allay the thirst of the sufferer! That night the, pa was abandoned by the enemy. Before leaving it there was a wish expressed by some of Rawiri's allies to despatch the wounded. Rawiri’s reply was what you might have expected from such man: "Not a hair of their head shall you touch. You may take their firearms with you, but touch nothing else." The following day Colonel Booth was brought to Te Papa, and before his death he repeatedly spoke to General Cameron and his brother officers about the noble and humane manner he and other wounded men had been treated by the enemy. This was attributed alone to Rawiri's influence over the different tribes of the district' (Thames Advertiser, 1 September 1874, p. 3).

Another article from the Bay of Plenty Times in 1909 also suggests it was Puhirake who gave water to the wounded; ‘From what history tells us this man was not a savage. It was he who jumped over the parapet when he saw Colonel Booth fall mortally wounded; taking off his blanket that it might form a pillow for the British officer, and bringing him water to quench his thirst. This chief was killed at the Te Ranga fight about two months later’ (p. 2).


Was it Hēnare Wiremu Taratoa?

Many believe that Henare Wiremu Taratoa (c1830-1864), who composed the Poteriwhi Code of Conduct and was killed at Te Ranga, gave water to the injured. As Tucker (1879) explains, ‘One dying of his wounds was tended all night by Hēnare Taratoa... Taratoa crept down amongst the ferns within reach of the sentries, and filled a calabash with water, which he successfully carried back to refresh the parched lips of his enemy. The English officers told this story’ (p. 205). The white marble frieze on the memorial to Rāwiri Tuaia Puhirake shown above, depicts a mortally wounded Booth lying at Puhirake’s feet whilst Hēnare brings a calabash of water.  

  1. The Episcopal Chapel window: Litchfield Cathedral, Staffordshire, England'Lieut.-Colonel Booth when last seen had been leaning mortally wounded against the rear paling of the pa and was not found lying in the large centre rifle-pit opposite the breach. He was still alive and had been shot in the spine and right arm. As he lay there during the night he was troubled with extreme thirst, and on this being made known to the young Christian native Henare Wiremu Taratoa, at great risk to his life he fetched some water in a tin from the swamp for the dying officer, verily te wai o Tane-pi, or the last drink before death, and also placed a blanket under his head' (Fildes, 1921, p.56).
  2. Henare Wiremu Taratoa - short biography (see last paragraph): ‘As a memorial to the chivalrous conduct of the Maori at the Gate Pa, Selwyn, as bishop of Lichfield, had a stained glass window, depicting King David giving water to soldiers, put into a chapel at Lichfield Palace. In 1914 Maori and Europeans combined to erect a granite monument over the tomb of Rawiri Puhirake, who had led the Maori at Gate Pa. A plaque was added later to commemorate Taratoa's chivalry (click here)
  3. Feast of Henare Wiremu Taratoa of Te Ranga (click here) (appears to have been lifted from the above entry)
  4.   …‘George Selwyn (d. 1878) by an effigy in one of the chambers on the south side of the Lady Chapel decorated with scenes reflecting the bishop's work with Maoris in New Zealand and miners in Lichfield diocese …[? 3 November 1881] From: 'Lichfield: The cathedral', A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 47-57.  Date accessed: 7 January 2013.
  5. "…And still more strikingly, during the bloody conflicts near Tauranga, in 1865, did these Christian principles appear. When our troops had stormed the formidable "Gate Pa," and been repulsed, several wounded officers were left inside. One of them was tenderly cared for, all through that dreary night, by the very Maori who defended the pa, Henare Turatoa by name. He had been educated by the Bishop, till quite lately, at St. John's College, near Auckland. And now, when his dying enemy feebly moaned for water and there was none inside the pa, this noble warrior crept down, at the imminent risk of his life, within the line of English sentries, filled a vessel with water, and bore it back to refresh the parched lips of the expiring Englishman. Such men as these should never have been our enemies…."
  6. The Book "Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand, and of Lichfield : a sketch of his life and work, with some further gleanings from his letters, sermons, and speeches"  by G. H. Curteis, M.A. Canon of Lichfield Cathedral, London Kega Paul, Trench & Co (1889).  


Was it Te Ipu Hikareia?

In 1896 a Bay of Plenty Times article gave details about chief Te Ipu Hikareia (?-1901) who, despite being shot through the knee during the battle, gave water, bread and berries to Booth. He told his story whilst giving Governor Lord Glasgow a tour of the battle site during an official visit (p. 2). In 1903 Hōri Ngātai said ‘It has been said that Te Ipu gave the dying soldier water, but he was badly wounded (foot smashed) and quite incapacitated’ (as cited in Mair, 1937, p.28).


Was it Heni Te Kiri Karamu (Jane Foley)?

Thirty-four years after the battle Heni Te Kiri Karamu (1840-1933) [also known as Heni Pore, Jane Russell and Jane Foley] claimed that it was she who gave Booth water. Heni Te Kiri Karamu declared that, being part-European, she was not under the tapu that forbade Māori women to fight in battle and therefore was allowed to stay and fight beside her foster brother Neri at the Battle of Gate Pā.
In February 1898 a Bay of Plenty Times article included a personal letter to her (dated 3 December 1897) by New Zealand Wars veteran Captain Gilbert Mair (1843-1923) supporting her claim: ‘When I first visited the Bay of Plenty shortly after the engagement, I heard from all sides that it was you who had given poor Colonel Booth and other dying soldiers water. Both Colonel St. John and Dr. Manley mentioned your name, and later on while at Maketu; Dr. Nesbitt, who was then R.M., gave me fuller details... Colonel Booth told him just before his death how he had been succoured most tenderly by a woman during that dreadful night’ (Mair, as cited in Bay of Plenty Times, 1898, p.3). Curiously, nowhere in Mair’s definitive work on the Battle of Gate Pā (first published in 1926) does he mention Te Kiri Karamu’s story.
In the Bay of Plenty Times on 22 April 1898 the following note from the editor appeared; ‘We have had conversation with two natives wounded at the Gate Pā fight, Renata and Hone Taharangi, of the Ngaeterangi tribe, and both distinctly and emphatically deny that even one woman was present’ (p. 2). There is a brass plaque to Heni Te Kiri Karamu and a stained glass window at the Memorial Church of St George in Gate Pā
  1. Reference to a letter from Gilbert Mair to Heni / Jane Foley  to the effect that  Booth ‘had been succoured most tenderly by a woman during that dreadful night… (at Gate Pā). It would be valuable to actually see this letter and verify the author and contents.
  2. A book by Southley, C.C., formerly Headmaster, Tauranga District High School: Gate Pa, in The Historic Bay of Plenty Te Papa C.M.S. Mission Station 1835-1883, p34-38. In it's appendix it was recorded that ‘Heni-te-Kiri-Karamu.’… giving water to the mortally wounded Col Booth …At first the credit was given to a man, …Later it was established that the chivalrous deed had been performed by a woman. Click here to see this book at the Tauranga Central Library.
  3. Book: Jane's story : biography of Heeni Te Kirikaramu / Pore (Jane Foley) : woman of profound purpose
  4. The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I: 1845–1864 Published in 1922. Page 431.


Or was it  somebody else?

  1. On 3 May 1864 the New Zealander newspaper carried an eyewitness account of the recent battle at Maketu and included the following paragraph: “Major Colvile while engaged in the action on the 21st (April) became very thirsty, and asked the friendly ones (Māori) to fetch him some water, but to this there was not one that was disposed to assent, when Mr Denis Foley, who was nobly assisting the forces, volunteered and in the midst of a shower of balls which were passing around him, risked his life in order to relieve the wants of the gallant major and fetched the water” (p.3, column 5).
  2. Local historian Christine Clements writes; "Others who have been credited with the water story include Te Ipu (Ngaiterangi) and Henare Wiremu Taratoa (Ngaiterangi). No contemporary letters or diaries make mention of any water being brought to Colonel Booth during the battle. He died of his injuries on 30th April 1864 and was buried at the Tauranga Mission Cemetery (Otamataha Pa)" (Christine Clement, 2012).  



Bay of Plenty Times (10 January 1896, p. 2). Visit of his Excellency the Governor.

Bay of Plenty Times (25 February 1898, p. 3). The Gate Pā fight: Who gave the wounded water?

Bay of Plenty Times (12 July 1909, p. 2). The new monument: unveiling ceremony.

Clement, Christine (2012). The Foley Family.

Cowan, James (1983). Gate Pā and Te Ranga. In The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Māori campaigns and the pioneering period: volume I: 1845–1864 (pp. 421-440). Wellington, New Zealand:  P. D. Hasselberg. [Originally published 1922].

Dixon, Ngahuia (1990, Updated 7 July 2011). Hēnare Wiremu Taratoa (Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand). 

Fildes, H. (1921). Major General H. Gordon Robley, Soldier and Artist.

Mair, Gilbert (1926). The Story of Gate Pa, April 29th 1864 [Reprinted by the Bay of Plenty Times Ltd in 1937 & 1964. Reprinted by Cadsonbury Publications in 2010. Reprinted by Tauranga Charitable Trust in 2014].

McCauley, Debbie (5 August 2011). Identity and the Battle of Gate Pa (Pukehinahina), 29 April 1864 (Tauranga Memories: Battle of Gate Pa, 1864 kete).

New Zealander (3 May 1864, p.3, column 5).

Rorke, Jinty (1990. Updated 30 October 2012). Rawiri Puhirake (Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand). 

Rusden, G. W. (1883). History of New Zealand [Volume 2].

Thames Advertiser (1 September 1874, p. 3).

Tucker, H. W. (1879). The Māori War (pp. 156-210). In Memoir of the life and episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn, D.D. Bishop of New Zealand, 1841-1869; Bishop of Litchfield, 1867-1878 [Volume 2]. London, England: William Wells Gardner.


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Battle of Gate Pā 1864: Who gave water to the wounded?

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Battle of Gate Pā 1864: Who gave water to the wounded? by Debbie McCauley (Tauranga City Libraries) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License