Topic: What the Battle of Gate Pa Means to Me by Kayla Dawson

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Tauranga Girls' College student, Kayla Dawson, came second in the junior section of the Battle of Gate Pā Essay Competition (2014).

Some people may think that the subject matter of this inquiry, namely the Battle of Gate Pa, is boring.  For me however, because my family and I are recent immigrants from South Africa, New Zealand history is new and exciting.  Throughout my research and the trips to the Battle site I have discovered heaps of interesting facts and ‘stories’, some of which are; the casualties and losses of the Battle, the causes of the Battle, the tactics that the Maori used to win the Battle and a story that a Maori woman gave water to dying enemy soldiers.

The casualties and losses of the Battle vary as different internet sites show different statistics.  The majority however, indicate that 1700 British soldiers battled against 250 Maori warriors and of these, only 15 Maori warriors died while the British lost 110 men.  I find this interesting despite the number of trained British soldiers far exceeding the number of Maori warriors and despite their heavy weaponry, ammunition and experience, the Maori warriors, with their traditional weapons, won the battle.

The new settlers in 1850 created a problem for the new foreign government who had to find them land.  The Maori were worried their land would be taken away from them so they formed the Kingitanga movement.  The Kingitanga believed in “No land Sales” to the new colonisers.  The British disagreed with the King movement and so they passed acts in parliament which gave British the right to confiscate land from the Maori Tribes.  The first British troops arrived in Tauranga in January 1864, they tried to stop supplies reaching Waikato.  This was one of the causes of the Battle of Gate Pa.

On the night of April 28th, the 68th Durham Light Infantry stationed themselves behind the Pa to cut off any Maori retreating from the battle which was to occur the next day.  At daybreak of April 29th, the British bombarded the Pa with gunshot.  The Maori passed their flag pole at the back of the Pa, instead of the usual British central position which confused the British, so they overshot.  However, when they shortened the range of their guns, they inflicted damage on the eastern corners of the Pa.  The Maori had to withstand over 12 hours of British assault on a cold, damp day.

A remarkable story that caught my attention, and probably many others, was that of Heni Pore or Jane Foley.  There seem to be a dispute on whether she was the ‘angel of mercy’ on the evening of April 29th.  After the Battle and before he dies, Colonel Booth supposedly told Assistant Surgeon William Manley that a Maori woman who spoke english had brought him water.  Jane backed up this version only some 30 years later.  It hasn’t been clarified whether or not it is true but it’s quite inspiring and heart-warming that there was concern and kindness shown by the Maori towards the soldiers even though they were at war.

What does the Battle of Gate Pa mean to me?  Humans can be barbaric towards each other and war brings out the worst of mankind but not in this case.  After the battle decency was shown.  There was a rule which made sure no one would torture the dying soldiers or warriors and the Maori woman giving water to the dying Colonel Booth is a sad and loving act of kindness.  Again because my family and I are recent immigrants from SA everything about New Zealand history is fascinating and exciting!  I also find the Battle of Gate Pa a bit of a mystery as all the facts don’t line up.  There is still much to learn about it and the things that are ‘facts’ may not actually have happened.

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