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150 years since the Battle of Te Ranga

150 years since the Battle of Te Ranga

The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Te Ranga will take place tomorrow, Saturday 21 June. The event at Te Ranga is the final event in the series commemorating the war which took place in Waikato and Tauranga in 1863-64. Commemorations have already been held at Rangiriri, Waiari, Rangiaowhia, Ōrākau, and Pukehinahina/Gate Pā.

“The commemorations have extended the consciousness of all New Zealanders about our shared history, with new memorials placed at several sites for those who died in battle," says Tom Roa, Ngāti Apakura elder and Chair of Ngā Pae o Maumahara, the group established to commemorate and raise awareness of the war.
More than 100 Māori warriors were killed, and 13 British soldiers died, at Te Ranga, which was the last major battle in the Waikato and Tauranga campaigns. On Saturday 21 June, a special service will be held at the site in Te Ranga (located 10km south of Tauranga), where the battle took place.

To mark this day, there will be a mihi and karakia at 7am, and a recounting of the events of 21 June 1864 in kapa haka and song at 11am. The ceremony will conclude with a memorial service and wreath-laying at 11:30am.

The 150th anniversary commemorations were supported by Ngā Pae o Maumahara, local iwi and communities, local government, Te Puni Kōkiri, New Zealand Defence Force, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, and Manatū Taonga the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

“The commemoration this weekend is about remembering those who lost their lives at Te Ranga and the memorial service will allow their descendants time to remember them in prayer and waiata,” says Roa.

Historical background

The Battle of Te Ranga

Fought on the shortest day of 1864, 21 June, the battle of Te Ranga was the sequel to the battle of Gate Pā (Pukehinahina) eight weeks earlier. This time the outcome was very different: more than 100 Māori warriors were killed, while 13 British soldiers died.

After their disastrous defeat at Gate Pā, many of the imperial troops and their commander, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron, had returned to Auckland. Meanwhile, Ngāi Te Rangi were reinforced by men of Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Porou.

The soldiers were now led by Lieutenant-Colonel H.H. Greer, whose instructions were to patrol around Tauranga harbour in strength in the hope of catching a Māori force in the open. Hundreds of troops regularly marched across the lowlands and Colonial Defence Force cavalry ranged more widely. At the same time, Greer had to be careful not to leave his base at Te Papa (now downtown Tauranga) vulnerable to attack.

A 600-strong expedition sent out on the morning of the 21st found hundreds of Māori digging trenches and throwing up earthworks on a gently sloping ridge at Te Ranga, about 5 kilometres south of Gate Pā. They had time to abandon this incomplete redoubt before the attack was pressed home, and some did – but many chose to stay and fight.

After two hours of skirmishing and shelling, the 220 reinforcements Greer had sent for were in sight and he ordered units of the 43rd and 68th regiments to advance. These men were burning to avenge their humiliation at Gate Pā, and some of the most violent hand-to-hand fighting of the New Zealand Wars ensued before the Māori retreated towards nearby bush and gullies, pursued on foot and then by the colonial horsemen.

107 Māori were reported to have been buried in the trenches. Among them were the Ngāi Te Rangi leaders Rāwiri Puhirake – the victor of Gate Pā – and Hēnare Taratoa, whose Christian code of conduct had guided the Maori fighters. Nine British soldiers were killed outright and four died later of their wounds, as did about 12 Māori prisoners.

Over the next two months, several hundred Ngāi Te Rangi warriors came in to Te Papa and made peace. Governor Sir George Grey was quick to interpret this as ‘submission’. But most of these men did not surrender their guns – and most of the weapons that were handed over were rusty muskets. Ngāi Te Rangi and the other Tauranga iwi were still capable of fighting. 20,000 hectares of land around Tauranga was eventually confiscated, a fraction of the total area. The defeat at Te Ranga had not entirely negated the victory at Gate Pā.

The Waikato War

The Waikato War was the key campaign in a long conflict which is known today as the New Zealand Wars.

The New Zealand Wars were in large part fought over land. In the decades after 1840, the European population grew rapidly. Māori land ownership was recognised by the Treaty of Waitangi, and many Māori had no wish to sell their land so newcomers could settle on it.

The Kīngitanga (King Movement) was founded in the 1850s to unify those opposed to land sales, and to assert Māori authority and mana over their land. From 1860 there was open warfare as British and colonial forces fought to open up the North Island for settlement by Europeans.

The Waikato War began in July 1863. Over the following months British forces fought their way south towards the Kīngitanga’s agricultural base around Rangiaowhia and Te Awamutu. On the way they outflanked formidable modern pā at Meremere and Pāterangi, and captured the pā at Rangiriri.

In April 1864 Kīngitanga warriors under Rewi Maniapoto were heavily defeated at Ōrākau in the last battle in Waikato. By mid-1864, 400,000 hectares of Waikato land had passed under Crown control.

Up to 3000 people died during the New Zealand Wars – the majority of them Māori. And for many Māori the wars were only a prelude to the loss of their land through confiscation or the operations of the Native Land Court.

This loss of land had particularly devastating economic, social, environmental and cultural consequences for Waikato–Tainui. But the iwi always upheld its mana and asserted its right to compensation in the face of official indifference.

Since the 1990s, the Crown has negotiated Treaty Settlements to redress the historical grievances in the Waikato region and New Zealand as a whole.

In 1995 the first major settlement of an historical confiscation, or raupatu, claim was agreed between the Crown and Waikato-Tainui. The claim was settled for a package worth $170 million, in a mixture of money and Crown-owned land.

The settlement was accompanied by a formal apology, delivered by Queen Elizabeth II in person during her 1995 visit to New Zealand. The Crown apologised for the invasion of the Waikato and the subsequent indiscriminate confiscation of land.

For more information about the Waikato War and the New Zealand Wars see:
David Green, Battlefields of the New Zealand Wars: A Visitor’s Guide, Penguin, Auckland, 2010


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