Topic: The Battles of Gate Pa (Pukehinahina) and Te Ranga

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One of the most often recounted stories of the Land Wars of the 1860s is that of the battle of Gate Pa. It has captured the public imagination for two reasons: because of the resounding defeat of trained British soldiers by a small number of Maori warriors, and because of the honourable conduct of Maori towards the dead and wounded soldiers.

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One of the most often recounted stories of the Land Wars of the 1860s is that of the battle of Gate Pa.  It has captured the public imagination for two reasons: because of the resounding defeat of trained British soldiers by a small number of Maori warriors, and because of the honourable conduct of Maori towards the dead and wounded soldiers. 

Conflict in the Tauranga district between the Imperial troops and Maori warriors became almost inevitable when in January 1864 three ships landed almost 700 soldiers at the tiny settlement known as Te Papa.  At the time the government claimed that its intention was to prevent Maori from Tauranga and the East Coast lending support to the Kingite forces in the Waikato by sending men and supplies to the Waikato.  However, the government was also keen to increase the amount of fertile land available for settlement.  Provoking a fight in the Tauranga district would provide a reason to confiscate productive land.  


Robley Horatio Gordon 1840-1930 :Earthworks and fence of the Gate Pa looking east from the breach.

The build-up of troops continued over the next few months with the arrival of the 68th Durham and 43rd Monmouth Light Infantry.  Troops from these regiments constructed redoubts, or fortified positions, which bore their names, in what is now downtown Tauranga city.  The Monmouth Redoubt still remains at the northern end of The Strand.

Durham Light Infantry  
Durham Light Infantry 1864

The Maori warriors prepared themselves to fight.  They expected the engagement to take place at Te Puna, where there was deep enough water for troops to be brought by boat.  The preparations included not only building fortifications for some 25 kilometres along the edge of the forest from Te Puna to the Waimapu, but also drawing up a code of conduct for the impending battle.  These were written up by a young mission educated man from Rangiwaea Island, named Henare Taratoa. 

Impatient that the soldiers had not taken up their challenge, Maori decided to move closer to the camp. They built a new pa on a narrow ridge between the Waimapu and the Kopurererua rivers, just outside the land purchased from Maori by missionary Alfred Nesbit Brown on behalf of the Church Missionary Society in 1838-39.  At this point a gate in the fence allowed a long established Maori track from Bethlehem and Otumoetai in the north towards the Kaimai ranges in the south to pass through.  The pa was named simply “The Gate Pa”, and that is how the battle got its name.

Gate Pa
Gate Pa Redoubt in 1865, after it had been rebuilt
by soldiers of the 68th Durham Light Infantry

By the end of April the number of troops stationed in Tauranga had reached 2,000.  General Duncan Cameron himself had arrived to take command.  Four “man-o’-war” were in the harbour, Miranda, Curacao, Esk and Harrier.  Guns were landed from them and hauled into position near the pa, on the high land where the hospital now stands.

The ElmsOn the eve of the battle, while the soldiers were taking up their positions around the pa under the cover of darkness, all the officers who could be spared from duty were dining in the pleasant English atmosphere of the Mission House with Archdeacon Brown and his second wife, Christina.  This dedicated missionary had spent almost 30 years teaching and ministering to the Maori of Tauranga and the wider Bay of Plenty area.  He and his wife, people of peace, must have felt sadly torn between loyalty to their fellow countrymen and love of the Maori they had come to know so well. As the Browns and their guests sat down at the oval table in the dining room, none guessed at the slaughter that would take place the following day.  Of the twelve or so officers there that evening only one, Surgeon General Manley, survived the next day’s battle.

How did such a massacre of skilled troops, who outnumbered their enemy by almost ten to one, come about? 

The Imperial troops were stationed around the Maori position on the evening of 28 April.  In spite of the heavy bombardment which began at first light, it was early evening on that rainy autumn day when the signal to advance was given.  The Maori, hidden in the skilfully designed trenches, caused heavy casualties among the officers leading the troops.  The men finally gained the centre of the pa, but the retreating Maori were forced back inside by a contingent of the 68th, placed south of the pa to cut off a retreat. In the ensuing confusion the leaderless British forces, perhaps assuming that reinforcements had arrived, panicked and fled, leaving the pa to the Maori and the dead and wounded British troops. 

During the night the Maori abandoned the pa, but remembering the code of conduct drawn up by Taratoa, not only left the dead and wounded unmolested, but actually tended to their needs.

Jane FoleyPerhaps the most often retold tale of the battle concerns that night.  The wounded, including Lieutenant Colonel Henry Booth of the 43rd Light Infantry, lay in the pa calling for water.  And water was indeed given to them, not by the soldiers, but, so the story goes, by a young Maori woman, Heni Te Kirikaramu also known as Heni Pore or Jane Foley, whose compassion is remembered to this day.  It must, however, be acknowledged that although Colonel Booth is said before he died to have told Dr Manley that a Maori woman who spoke English gave him water, and she too, made this claim some 30 years later, there are those who believe that it was Henare Taratoa who took pity on the wounded.  It is he who is depicted on the monument to the dead of Gate Pa in the mission cemetery, and also in the window of Bishop Selwyn’s Lichfield Cathedral in England. Unfortunately his death at the battle of Te Ranga in June 1864 prevented the confusion from being cleared up.

A grim job faced the survivors next day as they carried their dead and wounded comrades from the field of battle. British casualties were high.  Ten officers were killed or died from wounds.  Twenty eight non-commissioned officers and privates were killed and 73 wounded.  The Maori lost only 25 men.

Of course the British deaths could not go unavenged.  Two months later, on 21 June 1864 Colonel H.H.Greer led a successful attack on a pa that was under construction at Te Ranga, some 6 kilometres south of the previous position.  This time is was Maori who sustained heavy losses.  At least 140 men were killed and 37 wounded were taken prisoner.  Of the British troops, 13 were killed and 39 wounded. Perhaps the most influential Maori leader, Rawiri Puhirake, was killed in this encounter.  When Henare Taratoa’s body was found he still carried in his pocket a piece of paper bearing the rules of conduct.
Colonel Greer
In August the same year, many of the Tauranga Maori surrendered their arms to Colonel Greer and Sir George Grey, Governor of New Zealand.  Large areas of the land in the district were confiscated, surveyed and allocated to the military settlers of the 1st Waikato Regiment, who formed the nucleus of settlers for the new town of Tauranga.  Some of the land formed part of a compulsory purchase, other land was taken without compensation, an act later legitimised by legislation.  Some of the military settlers left after a short time, others stayed on their land and prospered sufficiently to attract further settlers.  And so it was that out of those stormy days the present flourishing city of Tauranga was born.

In 1948 Geoffrey Bridson (of the BBC)  interviewed Major Henry Te Reiwhati Vercoe about the history of the Tauranga area, the Battle of Gate Pa and Major Vercoe's war experiences. He also talked about Maori farming methods. This can requested for a fee from the New Zealand sound archives (click here).


Area including Gate Pa, at Pukehinahina ridge, circa 1864. A group of mounted soldiers is visble. Photographer unidentified

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