The Tauranga Campaign was a six-month-long armed conflict in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty in early 1864. It was part of the New Zealand wars that were fought over issues of land ownership and sovereignty.
British forces suffered a humiliating defeat in the Battle of Gate Pā (Pukehinahina) on 29 April 1864, with 31 killed and 80 wounded despite vastly outnumbering their Māori foe. They saved face seven weeks later by routing their enemy at the Battle of Te Ranga, in which more than 80 Māori were killed or fatally wounded, including their commander, Rawiri Puhirake.
The New Zealand Wars are an indelible part of the history of Aotearoa and, as such, an ingredient in the shaping of national identity.
The Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina (puke hill, hinahina or mahoe tree) on 29 April
1864 is remembered as the battle where hugely outnumbered Māori defenders managed
to repulse an experienced British force and secure what many regard as a famous Māori
victory. Historian James Belich (1998) said; ‘The Battle of Gate Pā was arguably the most
important battle of the New Zealand Wars’.
The early months of 1864 began with British troops landing at the northern end of Te Papa,
an action seen by Māori as an invasion. They met and resolved to fight the invaders and
drew up a Code of Conduct – rules governing the forthcoming fight. The code was agreed
to by the Māori leaders who then issued a challenge to the British. When it was ignored
Māori selected a site on the Pukehinahina ridge where they designed and built a radical new
Building the Gate Pā began on 3 April 1864. The fortifications were engineered by Pene
Taka Tuaia who is lauded by historians as someone who ‘deserves to rank as an innovative
master of field-fortification’ (Belich). The old cattle ditch was enlarged, trenches dug and
fortifications constructed. The years of the Musket Wars had led to a major change in
traditional pā design to one of protection against new military technologies such as artillery
and rockets. The British were unaware of the complexity of Gate Pā as attested to by James
Belich. He wrote that ‘inside, the redoubt was less a fortification than a killing ground, as
soldiers who inspected the redoubt after the battle attested’.
Ngāi Te Rangi leader Rāwiri Tuaia Puhirake soon realised the reason for the delay in
accepting their challenge to fight when British reinforcements arrived from Auckland. The
68th (Durham) Regiment and 43rd Monmouth (Monmouthshire) Regiments arrived and
constructed the Monmouth and Durham redoubts as protection for Camp Te Papa. By the
end of April 1864, 2000 troops had assembled.
General Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron (1808-1888), commander throughout the Waikato
War of 1863-1864, arrived on April 21 to take overall command. On April 26 600 sailors and
Royal Marines disembarked from HMS Harrier, Curacoa, Esk and Miranda. A 110-pounder
Armstrong gun, two 40-pounder and two 6-pounder Armstrong guns plus smaller artillery
pieces were unloaded and taken to within firing distance of Gate Pā at Pukereia (Green Hill).
Cameron moved his forces out from Te Papa and stationed them around Gate Pā on April
27 and 28. Expectations of victory were high. Army personnel were joined by sailors and
marines from the ships still lying in the Tauranga harbour. A ‘feigned attack’ was made on
April 28 to divert Māori attention whilst Colonel Greer led the 730 men of the 68th over the
eastern mudflats under cover of darkness to take up position at the rear and cut off Māori
escape and water supply. It rained heavily throughout that night.
At first light on April 29 an intense barrage began. It was said to have been the heaviest
artillery bombardment of the New Zealand Wars. At 4pm, after nine hours and with a
breach in the pekerangi or palisade having been made, Cameron gave the order to attack.
“April 29 was a misty, unpleasant day...all day his guns pounded the fortification
till about mid-afternoon a breach was made. Cameron moved his men up for an
assault upon the pā. Led by their officers (who thus were the first to be struck down
by the Māori warriors) the men swarmed into the trenches, and began to drive
out the defenders. But Greer’s men were at the exits, and the Māori’s poured back
into the trenches. The soldiers and sailors now in the pā believed this rush to be
reinforcements. Without the leadership of their officers, they fled the pā, still held by
Ngāiterangi and their allies.”
~ (Ernest Edward Bush)
Many officers were killed or wounded during the initial assault. As well as volleys from
hidden bunkers beneath their feet, British were ‘subjected to galling crossfire from the two
redoubts’ (Belich). Cameron was forced to call off the attack and a disorderly retreat ensued
leaving a hundred dead and wounded soldiers behind.
‘It was a triumph of military construction for the Māori and a disaster for the
~ (Alistair Matheson).
During the night, out of ammunication and without the supplies to withstand a long siege,
Māori quietly abandoned the pā which had served their purpose. They took their wounded
along with British muskets and disappeared. Honouring the Poteriwhi Code of Conduct the
wounded soldiers were not maltreated, looted or mutilated, but instead given water before
they left. Those who received succour included the leader of the assault Lt Colonel Henry
Booth who had been shot through the spine and who later died from his wounds.
At 5am on April 30th, a sailor from Harrier crept up to the pā and found it deserted. The
dead and wounded were then carried from the battlefield. There was a great outcry, both
in New Zealand and England, that a force of 1,689 soldiers and sailors could have been
defeated by 230 Māori.
Two months later, the British were to have their utu, revenge, when they attacked
unprepared Māori on 21 June 1864 in what has become known as the Battle of Te Ranga.
On that morning Greer discovered 500 Māori working on a new fortification five kilometres
inland from Gate Pā. He sent for reinforcements and when an extra 220 men arrived
two hours later the British charged. Unlike Gate Pā they charged across the whole of the
Māori line. The battle rates amongst the bloodiest of the New Zealand Wars. In desperate
hand-to-hand fighting, ‘British troops exacted terrible vengeance for their defeat at Gate
Pā’ (Cowan). The Māori garrison was unable to hold the incomplete defences and retreated.
Both Puhirake and the man said to have authored the code of conduct, Henare Taratoa, were
The defeat at Te Ranga broke the resistance of local Māori and in July 1864 they came to
Te Papa surrendering weapons and pledging peace to Governor Grey. In August of that
same year formal peacemaking was carried out which included Raupatu (confiscation of
Māori land by government during the 1860s) of 290,000 acres of Māori land. Some land was
acquired as part of an enforced sale; other land was taken without payment and legitimised
through legislation. The land was surveyed and distributed to military settlers, founding the
new town of Tauranga.
Māori response to surveying of confiscated land was to ‘interfere’ with the process, in some
cases threatening the surveyors themselves. This resulted in a small-scale conflict, known as
the Tauranga Bush Campaign of 1867. The Waitangi Tribunal (2004) found that:
‘The actions of Crown forces in burning villages and destroying cultivations were
excessive in relation to the declared aim of the campaign which was to apprehend
individuals who had interfered with surveys and threatened surveyors working on
the confiscated blocks’.
This campaign signalled the end of the physical fighting in Tauranga Moana.
The confiscation of Māori land in Tauranga has been the main reason behind the grievances
that have been the subject of debate and discussion for decades and it is only in recent times
that the work of the Waitangi Tribunal has finally led to the settlement of those grievances.
Far from being regarded as patriots defending their lands Māori were instead branded
as rebels and under the pernicious Native Settlements Act of 1863 had their lands taken
from them for that reason. For some the injustice of what happened still grates. It is an
extraordinary expression of a generosity of spirit that Māori have been able to move past
the maemae, the hurt and suffering of their forbears to be able to participate fully in this
commemoration. Nga mihi aroha ki a koutou.
On 29 April 2007, a carved tomokanga (a welcome to all people onto a sacred place) was
added to the Gate Pā to commemorate the battle. The amo (vertical figures) depict Tu, the
God of War, and Rongo, the God of Peace. The maihi (barge boards) symbolise the hokioi
(now an extinct bird). For this 150th commemoration eight carved pou have been added to
the site along with a marae atea platform and two carved trees flanking the new flagpole.
These enhancements to this sacred place are further reminders of what happened here
150 years ago. They serve to reinforce to us our duty to remember those events and to
acknowledge and embrace them as being an important part of our heritage. The real
challenge of moving forward as a united community now lies before us.
The following websites have more indepth information about the Battle of Gate Pa (Pukehinahina):