We are keen to show as many historic accounts of the Battle of Gate Pa (Pukehinana) and Te Ranga as possible. If you have information to add, please email Project Director, Buddy Mikaere at buddy@manataiao.com


The Rules at the Battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga, 1864

By Lt Colonel Cliff Simons (NZ Defence Force)

One of the most remarkable aspects of the battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga were the rules of engagement drafted by Māori chiefs before the battles began. These rules provide an interesting snapshot of dramatic changes in Māori and European society at the time, and confirm that even in the depths of battle, human kindness and mercy can shine through.


1. The letter with the rules of engagement. Once the troops settled in to their occupation Colonel Greer, who was in command, received the following letter penned by Henare Taratoa on behalf of a number of main Tauranga chiefs including Rawiri Puhirake.

To the Colonel,

Friend, salutations to you. The end of that, friend, do you heed our laws for (regulating) the fight.

Rule 1 If wounded or (captured) whole, and butt of the musket or hilt of the sword be turned to me (he) will be saved.

Rule 2 If any Pakeha being a soldier by name, shall be travelling unarmed and meet me, he will be captured, and handed over to the direction of the law.

Rule 3 The soldier who flees, being carried away by his fears, and goes to the house of the priest with his gun (even though carrying arms) will be saved; I will not go there.

Rule 4 The unarmed Pakehas, women and children will be spared.

The end. These are binding laws for Tauranga.

2. These rules were indeed followed. On the night of the battle after the British had unsuccessfully assaulted Gate Pa, soldiers and sailors, including Lieutenant Colonel Booth the Commanding Officer of the 43rd Regiment, were given water and shown kindness as they lay in the trenches dying of their wounds. When the troops came into the abandoned pā the following morning, they found to their relief that none of the wounded soldiers had been harmed. Several wounded Māori found there were taken to the make-shift British hospital for treatment.

3. There is still some debate about who gave water and whether more than one person was involved. It was originally thought that it was Henare Taratoa, and indeed the monument in the Tauranga Mission cemetery and numerous other art works depict him doing so. It is also widely held that the only woman in the pā that night, Heni Te Kirikaramu, was the one who gave water, and she is commemorated with a stained glass window in St George’s Anglican Church on the site of the battle.

4. Why were the rules developed? Gate Pa was the only New Zealand colonial battle where such kindness was shown, but interestingly, the rules drafted by the Tauranga chiefs were very similar to those advocated by Reverend Wilson in Taranaki in 1861. He was concerned that several British soldiers who had been captured (some of whom were wounded) had been subsequently killed, and he urged Māori to adopt the following rules: that all the wounded shall be treated with humanity, that prisoners shall be uninjured and exchanged, that the dead shall be unmolested and buried by their respective people, and that persons approaching under a flag of truce shall be respected.

5. The influence of mercy. Māori had traditionally shown little mercy in battle, so these were new concepts. They reflect the influence of the missionaries and the new religion of Christianity that many Māori had embraced by this time. They were also new concepts for the British. A decade earlier, Florence Nightingale had made the first systematic attempt to care for sick and injured soldiers during the Crimean War. The Swiss Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross Movement, witnessed the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in northern Italy in 1859. 40,000 men were killed or wounded in one day and there was almost no medical care for the thousands of maimed and injured. He was appalled by the suffering of the soldiers and began lobbying governments about the need for medical care in war and the humane treatment of prisoners. He started a movement to establish rules for the treatment of prisoners and casualties and developed the idea of laws of war. An international conference in 1863 adopted a number of proposals and the first Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864, a few months after the Battle of Gate Pa.

6. A change in attitude to casualties of war. It seems more than a coincidence that Wilson was promoting similar ideas in Taranaki in 1861, that Rawiri Puhirake reportedly proposed a set of laws for warfare in Tauranga in 1862, and that in early 1864 Henare Taratoa sent rules for the treatment of soldiers, civilians, wounded and prisoners of war to Colonel Greer, that were later adhered to. What remains clear is that the rules and the humanity shown by Māori after the Battle of Gate Pa were part of a change of thinking about the casualties of warfare for both Māori and British.

7. The death and burial of the chiefs. Both Rawiri Puhirake and Henare Taratoa were killed at the battle of Te Ranga. Archdeacon Brown buried 110 warriors in the trenches the next day and the bodies of the two chiefs were laid in such a way that they could be later indentified. On Taratoa’s body was found a sheet of paper ‘Orders of the Day’ which had as its heading the words from Romans 12:20 ‘If thine enemy hunger feed him, if he thirst give him drink.’ Both he and Rawiri were reburied with much reverence in the Mission Cemetery in consecrated ground in 1870. Bishop Selwyn, who had been Henare’s mentor, later had a stained glass window installed in Lichfield Cathedral chapel to commemorate the giving of water. He used money raised from the British soldiers serving in New Zealand to pay for it.

8. The birth of Tauranga. Out of the ashes of war the fledgling town of Tauranga was established and the countryside began to be converted into farms by settler-soldiers and other new arrivals. Governor Grey had originally confiscated 250,000 acres but he returned 200,000 in recognition of the chivalry shown by Māori at the two battles. As the European community grew the Māori communities continued to struggle from the effects of on-going loss of land and the dislocation of their society.

9. One hundred and fifty years later. Tauranga is now a thriving, vibrant and beautiful city, and finally, a century and a half after the battles, Māori and the government are in the process of agreeing upon compensation for the land confiscated and other grievances. All of the people of Tauranga are able to move forward. The kindness and mercy shown at Gate Pa is a beacon for us all on that journey.


*Lt Colonel Cliff Simons will be presenting a Lecture Series with local Kaumatua Des Tata at St George's Church, Gate Pa from 21 April 2014.