Topic: The Inaugural Gate Pā Address (29 April 2014) by Justice Joe Williams

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Justice of the High Court, Joseph Victor Williams (Ngati Pukenga and Te Arawa (Waitaha, Tapuika)), gave the following address at the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina on 29 April 2014.


E aku ariki e rua nei, Tuheitia, korua ko Ta Jerry, tena ra korua kua kotahi nei i runga i tenei marae pakanga o tatou.  Kua whiria te kai-arahi o Niu Tireni ki te kai-arahi o te Ao Maori i roto i ta korua haeretanga mai ki tenei wahi tapu. Kaati, he tohu ataahua tena ki te motu.

E aku huaanga o te Moana nei, ka nui te mihi.  Ahakoa kei te mihi au ki a au ano, e tika ana me mihi atu mo te ahuatanga ki ta tatou ra whakamiharo i a tatou e anga whakamua ana ki te wa i o tatou maatua, ki te wa o te pakanga ki Pukehinahina.

Kua hoki ora mai o tatou kauheke, i roto i nga tamatoa, me nga wahine toa e pae nei, he tiaki whenua te mahi, he manaaki mana motuhake te mahi.

No reira ratou ki a ratou, tatou ki a tatou.



  • Your Excellency The Right Honourable Lieutenant-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.
  • King Tuheitia and Te Atawhai.
  • Honourable Pita Sharples.
  • Honourable Jonathan Coleman.
  • Te Ururoa Flavell MP.
  • Your Worships The Mayors and Chairpersons of City, District and Regional Councils, together with Councillors.
  • Distinguished military leaders – soldiers, sailors and airmen from New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
  • Chiefs and leaders, kaumatua and kuia of Tauranga moana, Te Whakatohea, Tuhoe, Ngati Porou, Ngati Rangiwewehi and Waikato.
  • Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I cannot tell you what an honour it is on this, the 150th anniversary of the battle here at Pukehinahina, to be invited to give this address.  I do so as a descendent of one who fought here, a member of Ngati Pukenga and Tauranga moana, a representative of the judiciary, and a proud New Zealander.


The Battle

When war finally and inevitably arrived in Tauranga moana in January of 1864, Tauranga iwi – hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned – set about extracting what strategic advantage they could from the situation. They built a BIG target designed to ensnare British military pride and hubris. To bring the Red Coats to a fight at a time and place of Maori choosing. They even offered to build General Cameron a road up to the target pa. They provoked and taunted British camps and supply lines until General Cameron could take no more.

The Maori world was undergoing profound change in Tauranga moana at this time. Not least of the changes was mass conversion to Christianity. These 'rebels' advertised strict rules of engagement. They promised to care for any prisoners; no women or children would be killed; and wounded soldiers would be attended to. They did not wish to be seen as blood thirsty heathens in the eyes of the adversary.

They took literally the biblical injunction "Ki te matekai to hoariri, whangaia.

Ki te hiainu, whakainumia" If thine enemy hungers give him food; if he thirsts, give him drink.

And so it was that 150 years ago, at this place, on this day, indeed at this very hour, the small hill before us came to be surrounded by 1700 British regulars: the 43rd light infantry regiment; the 68th light infantry - both of whom had seen action in the Crimean and Indian campaigns; together with a crack naval brigade from the HMS Miranda. In contemporary accounts, they were described as an "elite force".

Their commander, General Cameron (after whom the road in front of us is named), was an exceptionally careful man.  He followed US General Colin Powell's "shock and awe" school of warfare of the late 20th century. His strategy was to utterly overwhelm the pa.

He first subjected the pa to the largest artillery barrage of the Land Wars.

His men dragged 8 mortars (the largest lobbing 46-pound shells), 3 howitzers (both 24-pounders), 2 ships cannon (32 pounders) and 5 armstrongs to within a few hundred metres of this place. The armstrongs were the latest artillery technology then available. Breach loading with rifled barrels, capable of delivering unprecedented fire power with equally unprecedented accuracy. The largest of the armstrongs lobbed a 110-pound shell.

The barrage poured 30 tonnes of shot and shell into the pa over the course of that day – roughly 300 pounds for each Maori inside.

Hori Ngatai later described the scene from the perspective of those in the pa: "When we gazed at those sons of thunder, launched forward in their might, can you wonder that the cooked potatoes seemed to have lost their sweetness and many a one of us seemed to forget his hunger?"

General Cameron’s objective was to enforce a blockade in order to prevent the flow of arms, supplies and fighters over the Kaimai Ranges and into the Waikato. He needed a show of unanswerable British strength. He wasn't so much interested in capturing the pa as in wiping out its occupants.

Inside the pa, was a taua of 230 mostly from Tauranga moana though they were supplemented by Kingitanga supporters from Ngati Porou, Whakatohea, Tuhoe, Ngati Rangiwewehi, Te Koheriki and others.

As was the Maori way, each hapu had its own commander but Rawiri Puhirake was in overall command - first among equals - alongside Hori Ngatai, Paraone Koikoi, Pene Taka and others. My great-great grandfather, Wiremu Mangemange Te Whareiro, led a small Ngati Pukenga contingent.

To Maori, the arrival of a British fighting force was perceived as an unprovoked home invasion. Like the Turks whom we honoured just four days ago at a moving ANZAC service on the cliff tops of ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli, these Maori wished to hurl the British invaders into the sea.

The night before, on the 28th, in further evidence of his cautious attention to detail, Cameron had dispatched 730 men of the 68th to the rear of the pa to cut off any means of escape. He had them surrounded as they say.

By 4pm on the 29th, shelling had created a large breach in the main palisades with little more than token return fire. It seemed to the field commanders outside that the pa and its occupants were in tatters.  An assault party of 300 was chosen, with a further 500 providing close support fire on each flank. The assault party poured into the gap.

What happened next is the subject of great debate and controversy but it seemed that the assault party met very little resistance at first, perhaps confirming to them that few had survived the artillery barrage.

The pa went silent (at least this was how outside observers described it); and then, suddenly, all hell broke loose.

Within seconds, the assault party was streaming back out in full rout, leaving behind a hundred and ten dead and wounded.

The Gate Pa was a trap.

Pene Taka had designed the pa carefully.  First, he used extra trench depth, heavy timber and earth to nullify the artillery barrage. Second, he created firing angles from trenches and rifle pits that allowed the pa's occupants to concentrate their volleys from secure firing points into an enemy he planned to trap inside the pa. It was, they said, a killing ground.

To be sure, Maori had suffered losses – about 25 – but Pene Taka’s structures withstood the worst of the barrage.

Added to this design mix, there is a third factor: the courage the men and women under Puhirake's command exhibited in sitting tight under such heavy bombardment in order to spring the trap. It may have been that with the 68th covering their rear escape route, courage was all that was left to Maori as an option.

In any event, the battle at this Gate Pa is said by some to be the most important battle of the Land Wars and even at the time was described as the worst defeat suffered by the professional British army at the hands of tribal irregulars – no more than "a horde of half naked, half armed savages," according to one report at the time.

Extraordinarily, Maori stuck to their promised Christian code of behaviour. During the night that followed, defenders – among them, the famous woman Heni Te Kirikaramu – crept out from the pa to take water to wounded British soldiers still lying in the battle field.  It was either her or Henare Taratoa who brought drink to the mortally wounded Colonel Booth.  The British admired this chivalry.

Puhirake's force eventually evacuated the pa and broke through the 68th’s cordon.

If there were celebrations about this important Maori victory, as there were recriminations on the British side, neither lasted. On the 21st of June 1864, a force of 600 British troops (the 43rd, 68th, and the 1st Waikato militia) came upon Rawiri Puhirake again – Puhirake with his own force of 500. They were at Te Ranga, only a few kilometres from here, working on a half-finished pa.

The British engaged and Puhirake chose to stand his ground. This time, in generally open country, it was the British who had the strategic advantage and Puhirake's force could not match the disciplined approach of the British soldiers to open field combat.  The Maori force was routed with heavy losses including Puhirake himself.


The Confiscation

Te Ranga was generally seen as the last engagement of the Waikato War. Tauranga Maori could not sustain a force through another winter and the leaders, who had already begun to come in, sued for peace in the face of the death of their gifted general.

Initially Governor Grey announced that the whole of the Tauranga district was to be confiscated in payment for the hostilities, but eventually a 50,000 acre block was taken and the land between Te Puna and Athenree subjected to a forced purchase. Maori lost nearly all their land one way or another.

Thus it was that the sad business of dispossession following war proceeded along its inexorable course.

Someone wise once said that “the past is not dead and buried. It's not even past. It's right here in front of us." So it is, as we gather here on this tiny piece of New Zealand's history.  We call the past forth into life once more this day, in the angry pukana of a thousand warriors, men and women, and the solemn cadence of the military march up Cameron Road to this place.  The past is right here in front of us, and we have had the privilege of seeing, hearing and almost tasting it.



But if defeat and dispossession were all that this story offered, then Gate Pa would be little more than a footnote in the grand narrative of the displacement of indigenous peoples all over the world in that great age of empires. The British, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Belgians, the Dutch, the Russians, even the Americans in the end tried their hand at building empires over the bodies of others.

But that was not the end of this story. Not by a long chalk. To be sure, Maori won the battle but lost the war. And they have suffered the economic, social, cultural, and political consequences of that fact for as long as anyone here can remember.

As a judge who presides over our criminal justice system, I am perhaps more aware of that than most.

But it must be said that the seeds of something more positive were also sewn at Pukehinahina on that day. I like to think of it as a certain mutual respect – albeit grudging at first. It was a small seed and it took many years to germinate, but germinate it did. And now, a century and a half later, it is beginning to flower and shade out older attitudes that have persisted in the undergrowth.

My evidence? Well these old adversaries chose in time to fight shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy in two world wars and in conflicts since. Now the New Zealand defence forces perform haka, karanga and waiata that might be undistinguishable from those that emanated from the 230 in this pa in 1864. These soldiers, sailors and airmen are Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Island and Asian of all hues. But they express themselves in Maori ways in today’s New Zealand. Now our Head of State is not just a warrior, he is a Maori, and that fact passes unremarked upon.

But most importantly of all, after a generation of litigation and negotiation the Crown now acknowledges that it was the aggressor in Tauranga – not Maori – and it broke the promises solemnly made at Waitangi in 1840. Reparations have been made or are in the process of being made. Not in compensation, for no compensation could ever be enough. But to allow Ngai Te Rangi, Ngati Ranginui and Ngati Pukenga to contemplate a fresh start – a future that might be different from the past. There is a certain optimism about the place.

And the best thing of all about this developing picture is that these Maori models of growth and development are now seen as New Zealand successes. Shifting demographics and inter-marriage has achieved what conflict never could.

Professor Quentin-Baxter wrote in 1984:

“If New Zealand has a destiny as a separate nation it will be principally because these islands were a meeting place of two great races, and because – even in the worst times – their dealings with each other never lacked a certain grandeur. It is of course a flawed record, but the world has no better record and can ill afford to lose this one.”

I agree.

So we have spent this day commemorating a conflict that needn’t have been and lives lost on both sides that shouldn’t have been. But we must celebrate the lessons we have learned since then. The fact is we Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders (and all of the others since then, for that matter) are utterly interdependent now. If one falls, we all fall and if one rises, we all rise. Sounds like a recipe for partnership to me.

There is so much more to be done, but those old men and women who signed the Treaty here in 1840 might be forgiven a chuckle or two if they could see us now.

Tuturu o whiti whakamaua kia tina!

Haumie, hui e!

Taiki e!

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