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150 years since the Battle of Gate Pā

150 years since the Battle of Gate Pā

The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gate Pā / Pukehinahina will take place in Tauranga tomorrow. The battle was notable as one of the heaviest British defeats of the New Zealand Wars. Thirty-one colonial troops died at Gate Pā, while the number of Māori warriors killed is estimated at 20.

On Tuesday 29 April, there will be a special ceremony on the site where the battle took place. Attendees will include the Māori King, Te Arikinui Tuheitia Kiingi Paki, His Excellency the Governor-General, Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, Minister of Māori Affairs Pita Sharples, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, Chief of Defence Force among other representatives from Government, Iwi and the community.

Tom Roa, Ngāti Apakura elder and Chair of Ngā Pae o Maumahara, the group established to commemorate and raise awareness of the wars that took place 150 years ago in Waikato and Tauranga, notes the significance of the timing.

"On Anzac Day, we remembered those soldiers who gave their lives in the two world wars and later this year we commemorate 100 years since World War I. But as we look towards the 150 year commemoration of Gate Pā, we remember them all, those who fell on home soil and those who fell on foreign soil. Moe mai koutou i te moenga roa," says Roa.

The day’s events will begin at 6am with a dawn blessing at the Gate Pā Reserve. A full military service will be held at 9am at the Mission/Otamataha Cemetery and at noon a pōwhiri for the Maori King, visiting iwi and dignitaries. From 2pm, there will be a commemoration march, wero, reconciliation service and ceremony.

The commemorations began last year by remembering the crossing of the Mangatāwhiri Stream 150 years ago by colonial soldiers, which marked the start of the Waikato War, and the battle of Rangiriri. They continued this year with ceremonies for the battles of Waiari and Rangiaowhia, followed by Ōrākau at the beginning of this month.

In June the last major battle in the sequence, Te Ranga (also in the Tauranga region), will be commemorated.

"It is with great sadness that we have recalled these battles. But as New Zealanders, it's important to remember that this journey has brought us all together as we looked back at this significant turning point in the history of our country. It's given us all the opportunity to reopen the portals and bring our fallen back in spirit and farewell them again 150 years later with the dignity they deserve, soldiers and warriors, Māori and Pākehā. As the chair of Ngā Pae o Maumahara, it has been my privilege to lead all New Zealanders into a new era as we move on guided by 150 years of history. Pai marire ki a tatou katoa!" says Roa.

Historical background

The Battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā)

Fought on 29 April 1864, this was one of the heaviest British defeats of the New Zealand Wars, comparable only to the battle of Ōhaeawai in 1845, during the Northern War. The government force lost 31 soldiers and 80 were wounded at Gate Pā; its Māori opponents had at most 20 dead. The battle was also noteworthy for the ingenuity of the Māori defences and the ethical code observed by the defenders.

Following the British victory at Ōrākau in southern Waikato at the beginning of April, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron considered advancing further into the heartland of the Kīngitanga south and east of the Pūniu River, which was now effectively the border between the opposing sides. Instead, he decided to move troops to Tauranga to stem the flow of warriors and supplies to the Kīngitanga from eastern iwi – these tribes had provided much of the force that fought at Ōrākau.

In April, Ngāi Te Rangi chief Rāwiri Puhirake upped the ante by building a pā beside a gate at Pukehinahina, a low hill on the boundary between mission and Māori land. This was less than 5 kilometres from the British base – a challenge that could not be ignored. Cameron soon shipped in 1700 troops and 17 artillery pieces. Meanwhile, lay preacher Hēnare Taratoa issued a written battlefield code of conduct to the local iwi.

On 29 April, high-calibre artillery shelled the Gate Pā, as it had become known, for most of the day in the heaviest bombardment of the New Zealand Wars. The low-profile defences appeared to have been pulverised, but few of the defenders were hit as they hunkered down in underground bunkers and trenches. In fact, more of the British encircling the pā fell victim to their own misdirected shells and bullets.

When the storming party of 300 seamen, marines and infantry moved forward about 4 p.m., it succeeded in entering the main defences. Then the attack bogged down in the maze of pits and trenches. It is possible that some of the defenders attempted to flee but were forced back into the pā by the troops behind it. Within a few minutes the British retreated, suffering more casualties as they became entangled with a second assault Cameron had just ordered. More than 100 British casualties were left behind. In accordance with Taratoa’s code, the wounded and dying were treated humanely, and given water before Māori evacuated the pā overnight.

This battle convinced Cameron that he had no answer to the problem posed by modern, artillery-resistant pā – he never attacked one front-on again. But Ngāi Te Rangi and their allies were to pay a heavy price for their victory. On 21 June, Puhirake’s force was observed to be building a fighting pā at Te Ranga, 5 kilometres south of Gate Pā. Attacked in their incomplete trenches, they lost about 100 warriors (including Puhirake) and chose to make peace with Governor George Grey in July. The wider Waikato War was now over.

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:

www.battleofgatepa.com
www.thewaikatowar.co.nz
www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/war-in-waikato
http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/war-in-tauranga
www.teara.govt.nz/en/new-zealand-wars
David Green, Battlefields of the New Zealand Wars: A Visitor’s Guide, Penguin, Auckland, 2010

ENDS

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