Topic: Gate Pah (1868) by George Ferguson Bowen

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This extract is taken from 'Thirty Years of Colonial Government: A Selection from the Despatches and Letters of the Right Hon. Sir George Ferguson Bowen' (Vol. 1) (1889) by George Ferguson Bowen (edited by Stanley Lane-Poole).

To the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.

Government House, Wellington : July 1, 1868.

My Lord Duke,

I have the honour to report that I left Auckland on the 5th, and reached Wellington on the 21st ult., after a very interesting voyage, during which I visited the principal ports, English settlements, and native tribes on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand; spending also several days at Napier, the capital of the province of Hawke's Bay. Nothing could exceed the cordiality of my reception alike by the Europeans and by the Maoris on this as on my other official tours. Addresses full of expressions of loyalty to the Queen, and of welcome and goodwill to myself, were everywhere presented by both races.

The harbour of Tauranga is the best between Auckland and Wellington; and the township on its shores is now the centre of one of the military settlements. It will be recollected that the regular troops and naval brigade suffered very severe loss at the assault, in 1864, of the pah erected by the Ngaiterangi tribe three miles from Tauranga, and generally known as the Gate Pah, from its commanding the entrance to the inland districts at a point where the road passes along a narrow tract of firm ground between two extensive swamps.

The Ngaiterangis were afterwards completely defeated at Te Ranga, four miles further in the interior; and they have since, for the most part, returned to their villages, and are living peaceably. Enoka te Whanake ... had commanded the Maoris (less than 400 strong) who garrisoned the Gate Pah, which was besieged by a combined force of some 3,000 soldiers, and seamen of the Naval Brigade.

At the assault, the 43rd Regiment alone lost 14 out of 24 officers; and three officers of the Naval Brigade were also killed. The senior naval officer (afterwards an admiral), while leading on his men very gallantly, fell (luckily for himself) into the Maori rifle-pit, in which was Enoka Te Whanake, from whose lips Sir G. Bowen heard what happened.

The Maori chief said: 'Suddenly the Pakeha captain tumbled in among myself and five of my clansmen; he made a stroke at me with his sword, which I parried with my tomahawk, and he was thrown down by my warriors, when he burst into a loud fit of laughter! Of course we thought him mad, and as we Maoris look on madmen as tapu (sacred), instead of killing him, we crept ourselves into the next rifle-pit, and left him alone; so that when the fighting was over, he was pulled out unhurt by his own men.'

The fact is that Captain J had been formerly wounded severely in the muscles of his throat, and when excited he could not help exploding after the fashion of the 'Laughing Jackass' of Australia; from which bird he derived his sobriquet. His laugh saved his life.

It may here be mentioned that Colonel Booth of the 43rd was mortally wounded inside the Gate Pah, and that a Maori fetched water to slake his dying thirst. When the Maoris evacuated the Pah on the following day, it was found that his body had not been rifled, and that even his watch and purse were safe. This touching incident is thus related by Canon Curteis in his Life of Bishop Selwyn, page 177:

'When our troops had stormed the formidable Gate Pah, and been repulsed, several wounded officers were left inside. One of them was tenderly cared for, all through the dreary night, by one of the Maoris who defended the Pah, Henare Taratoa 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.' 

... others of the principal chiefs who fought against the Crown during the war had assembled to welcome me on my landing at Tauranga; and the English settlers, with excellent taste and good-feeling, invited them to the public dinner which they gave in my honour. Captain Palmer, E.N., and the officers of Her Majesty's ship 'Eosario,' were also present. After the customary loyal and patriotic toasts, and the health of the Governor had been disposed of, the chairman (one of the leading military settlers) gave, 'Our guests, the Maori Chiefs lately our brave enemies in war, and now our friendly neighbours in peace.'

All the Europeans stood up, and applauded heartily; and when the cheering had subsided, the five Maoris rose in succession, and returned thanks, in the English fashion, with the natural fluency, humour, and eloquence of their race. A more cordial feeling could not have been exhibited by English and Russian officers meeting at the close of the Crimean war, than was exhibited at Tauranga by the military settlers and the Maoris, who four years ago had been arrayed in arms against each other. The many high qualities of the Maoris prevent Englishmen from regarding these foemen worthy of their steel with that mingled contempt and dislike with which our countrymen unfortunately too often regard the dark-skinned races in other parts of the British Empire. 


The full-text of this book can be found at this link: Internet Archive




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