The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)
When the main stronghold at Waoku had been completed the chief Rawiri Tuaia (otherwise Puhirake), who afterwards fell at Te Ranga, wrote a letter to the British General at Tauranga, informing him that he and his people had built a pa and had made a road up to it from the harbour—the distance was ten or eleven miles—so that the soldiers would not be too weary to fight (“kei ngenge te hoia”) when they reached it. To this knightly challenge Rawiri, to his disappointment, received no reply. Becoming weary of waiting, Ngai-te-Rangi decided to move nearer to the troops and to take the aggressive. A pa was fortified at Poteriwhi, on the Wairoa, and a letter equivalent to a challenge was also sent from there. The chiefs—among whom was Henare Taratoa (Ngati-Raukawa), who had been the teacher in charge of the mission school at Otaki—drew up a code of regulations for the conduct of the fighting. It was agreed that barbarous customs should not be practised, that the wounded should be spared, and the dead not mutilated; also that non-combatants or unarmed persons should not be harmed. These regulations were put into writing; the document was found by the troops a few weeks later in the trenches at Te Ranga.
As there was no sign of the British accepting the challenge to march inland, the Ngati-te-Rangi, after some of their advance skirmishers had exchanged shots with the soldiers near Te Papa, decided to move down closer to the troops. In April, 1864, they page 423 occupied and fortified a position on the Puke-hinahina ridge, two miles from the Tauranga Landing. The place was called “The Gate” by the Europeans at Tauranga, because on this spot, the crown of the ridge, there was a gateway through a post-and-rail fence and ditch and bank which ran across the hill from swamp to swamp. The fence was on the boundary-line between the European and Native land, and had originally been built by the Maoris to block the way against pakeha trespassers. The Church Mission authorities had then arranged with the Maoris that a gateway should be made where the track passed along the spur, so that carts could go in and out, and it was from the circumstance of Rawiri's fort being built at this spot that it came to be called the “Gate Pa.”
The trench and bank of the fence-line were enlarged, and on the summit—where the little memorial church stands to-day, by the roadside—the Ngai-te-Rangi built their redoubt. The land sloped quickly on either side to the swamps that run up from the tidal arms of Tauranga Harbour, the Waimapu and the Waikareao. Timber was scarce there, and so the palisading was of the frailest—manuka stakes, tupakihi, and even korari or flax-sticks, with some posts and rails from a settler's stockyard and fences near the British camp. Trenches were dug and traversed against enfilading fire, underground ruas were made for shelter against shell-fire, and covered ways connected inner and outer trenches and rifle-pits. The main redoubt, in the form of a rough oblong, was on the highest part of the neck of land; on its left flank (the western side) the defences were continued by the construction of a smaller pa, which was not completed when the attack was delivered. The irregular line of fence along the whole front gave a fictitious appearance of strength to the position. The main pa, separated from the lower one by a ditch and parapet, was garrisoned by about two hundred warriors of Ngai-te-Rangi with a few men of the Piri-Rakau and other tribes. The small pa was occupied by the party of Koheriki, under Wi Koka, of Maraetai, who had been in Tawhitinui after leaving the Waikato. With them were about ten men of various tribes, chiefly Piri-Rakau. This wing of the Gate Pa was defended by not more than forty men, besides a brave young half-caste woman, Heni te Kiri-karamu (Heni Pore), already mentioned as having shared in the bush adventures of the Koheriki in the Wairoa Ranges; so that the total garrison of Puke-hinahina did not exceed two hundred and fifty.
A demand had been made by Colonel Greer that the Ngai-te-Rangi should cease their hostilities and give up their guns. To this demand Rawiri replied, “E kore au e whakaae kia hoatu aku pu; engari ka aea atu koe a ka parakuhi au ki Te Papa” (“I cannot consent to give up my guns, but if you so wish I shall take breakfast with you in Te Papa”). It was Rawiri's half-jocular way of announcing his intention of attacking the British camp.
The Maoris soon discovered the reason for the apparent reluctance of the British commander to attack. He had been awaiting reinforcements from Auckland. General Cameron arrived at Tauranga on the 21st April in H.M.S. “Esk,” and established his headquarters at Te Papa. H.M.S. “Falcon,” as well as the “Esk,” brought reinforcements, and towards the end of April the General considered he had sufficient forces to march against the fortification challenging his front. On the 27th and 28th April General Cameron moved his troops and guns forward to Pukereia Hill, about 1,200 yards from the pa. On the night of the 28th Colonel Greer, with the 68th Regiment, numbering about seven hundred, moved across the swamp below the pa on the east side, and under cover of the darkness and rain took up a position well in rear of the native lines. A detachment of the Naval Brigade from the warships “Miranda,” “Esk,” and “Falcon,” under Lieutenant Hotham (afterwards Admiral), joined the 68th; and the forces in rear were disposed so as to cut off the Maoris' retreat. In order to divert the natives' attention from the rear a feigned attack had been made on the front on the 28th.
The troops employed in the attack on the following day totalled about 1,650 officers and men, made up of a Naval Brigade of about 420, fifty Royal Artillery, 300 of the 43rd Regiment, and 700 of the 68th, besides 180 of a movable column consisting of detachments of the 12th, 14th, 40th, and 65th Regiments.
Soon after daybreak on the morning of the 29th the guns and mortars assembled at Pukereia opened fire on the entrenchment. The batteries were the heaviest used in the war of 1863–64—extraordinarily heavy, indeed, when the really weak character of the defences is considered. The artillery employed consisted of a 110-pounder Armstrong gun, two 40-pounder and two 6-pounder Armstrongs, two 24-pounder howitzers, two 8-inch mortars, and six Coehorn mortars. The fire was directed chiefly page 426 against the left angle of the main redoubt, in order to make a breach for an assaulting-party. About noon a 6-pounder Armstrong was taken across an arm of the Kopurererua Swamp by means of laying down fascines and planks, and was hauled up to a position on the hill above. This enabled an enfilading fire to be delivered on the Maoris' left flank. The frail stockade soon began to vanish before the storm of projectiles, and the earth of the parapets was sent flying in showers. In rear of the main pa the Kingite flag was displayed on a tall flagstaff. Many shots were directed at it by the gunners, and some of the shells, passing over the fort, fell close to the 68th lines in the rear.
Rawiri strode fearlessly up and down the parapets encouraging his people. “Kia u, kia u,” he cried; “kaore e tae mai te pakeha!” (“Stand fast, stand fast; the white men will not reach us!”) When the big guns opened fire on the pa he called, addressing the artillery, “Tena, tena, e mahi i to mahi!” (“Go on, go on, with your work!”). To his tribesmen he cried reassuringly, in the height of the cannonade, “Ko te manawa-rere, ko te manawa-rere, kia u, kia u!” (Trembling hearts, be firm, be firm!”)
From sketches and plan by Lieutenant G. Robley, 68th Regt.]
The Gate Pa, Tauranga
“We did not pull trigger for some time after this,” continued Heni. “When some of the infantry had advanced within range we all fired a volley together, at Rawiri's order ‘Puhia.’ I fired several shots. It took some time to load, as the trench was not deep and we had to crouch down to ram home the charge, so that we should not be exposed.”
At 4 o'clock in the afternoon the breach at the left angle of the main work was considered large enough for the entrance of a storming-party, and General Cameron ordered an assault. The storming-party consisted of 150 seamen and marines, under Commander Hay, of H.M.S. “Harrier,” and an equal number of the 43rd Regiment, under Lieut.-Colonel H. G. Booth. The stormers advanced four abreast—two sailors and two soldiers. Major Ryan's movable column was extended close to the front of the pa to keep down the fire from the rifle-pits, with orders to follow the assaulting column. The rest of the Naval Brigade and the 43rd Regiment, totalling about three hundred men, followed as a reserve. At the same time the 68th Regiment, warned by a rocket sent up as a signal for the assault, moved up closer to the rear of the pa and opened up a heavy fire.
The venerable Heni now tells the story of the assault:—
“Some soldiers,” she said, “attempted to storm our wing of the pa, while the bluejackets attacked the central redoubt. Colonel Booth was the officer who commanded the attack on our defences; of course we did not know who it was until long afterwards. The top rail of our fence had been smashed by the shells, and the officer leading came over this, and leaped the trench, sword in hand. He was thrusting at our men with his sword. We all jumped out of our trenches to meet the assault, and then there was a terrible combat hand to hand. Some of our men were firing, some were using their tomahawks, others the butt ends of their guns. My brother and I were side by side. Not many soldiers got into the section of trench where we fought. I did not club my gun, but jumped into the trench again and was loading when the troops were driven out, leaving their leader and several men lying wounded within our lines. The Maoris rushed out of the pa and fired upon the soldiers and bluejackets, who fell back in disorder. Wi Koka, leading us, was using a long-handled tomahawk. The officer, who we afterwards learned was Colonel Booth, was felled by a young man named Piha, one of our Koheriki. When the Colonel fell, 8 or 10 yards in rear of our front trench, Piha stooped down over him and took the sword which the officer page 429 held out to him, and also took a watch from him. He afterwards said he wanted a watch or a ring as a trophy, and he intended to kill the Colonel, but before he could do so the order was given to man the trenches again.
“We had all gone outside the fence in the excitement of the battle, following the retreating soldiers, when we were recalled, and firing began again. I fired several shots after we re-entered the ditch. All this time there was a cloud of gunpowder-smoke over the pa, and a small drizzly rain began to fall. It seemed to be almost dark.”
In the meantime the greater number of the storming-party had rushed cheering into the left angle of the main redoubt, and a desperate combat was waged. Navy cutlass met long-handled tomahawk—tupara was clubbed to counter bayonet and rifle. Skulls were cloven—Maoris were bayoneted—Ngai-te-Rangi tomahawks bit into pakeha limbs. The defenders, forced back by the first rush of the Naval Brigade, were temporarily dispossessed of the greater part of the pa, but at the rear they were driven back again by the heavy fire of the 68th Regiment, a fire which probably was fatal to some of the troops as well as the Maoris themselves.
This was the critical moment that decided the battle. The Maoris, driven back in the rear, met the sailors and soldiers, who were confused by the intricate character of the works with their crooked trenches and roofed - over pits. Many of the officers had been shot down in the first charge, and sailors and soldiers were crowded together, striking at their foes, but hampered by the restricted space and the maze of entrenchment. It was terrible work, but soon over. The stormers fell back in confusion before the bullets and the tomahawks of the garrison. The Naval reserves, under Captain Hamilton, of the “Esk,” made an heroic effort to stay the panic, but the commander was shot on the top of the outer parapet when calling on his men to advance, and the whole force rushed down the glacis.
Commander Hay was mortally wounded, and nearly every other officer fell. Four captains of the 43rd lay close to each other just within the pa. Lieutenant Hill, of H.M.S. “Curaçoa”—the senior officer saved from the wreck of H.M.S. “Orpheus” at the Manukau in 1863—was shot when he had reached the centre of the fort. More than a hundred of the assaulting column were casualties, and the glacis and the interior of the pa were strewn with dead or dying. The Maoris suffered too, but not so severely.
After the Battle
This sketch, by Lieutenant (afterwards Major-General) Gordon Robley, shows the interior of the Gate Pa on the morning of the 30th April, 1864, the day following the attack.
Hori Ngatai, of Tauranga (Died 1912)
Hori Ngatai, head of the Ngai-te-Rangi Tribe, was an excellent type of the Maori chief and warrior of the past generation. In 1863 he and some of his tribe fought at Meremere, on the Waikato River, and at Otau, Wairoa South. He was one of the defenders of the Gate Pa, and in 1901 described the battle to the writer of this History. In his later years Hori Ngatai worthily led his tribe in the farming industry at Whareroa, Tauranga Harbour. At one time he was the largest grower of wheat and maize at Tauranga.
Evening had now descended on the battlefield. The Koheriki discovered that Ngai-te-Rangi, after repulsing the bluejackets, had abandoned their pa, having exhausted their ammunition. The left - wing defenders concluded, therefore, that the wisest course for them also was to retire. Their position was a very weak one, and was sure to be stormed next day, as there were so few to hold it, and the artillery had so thoroughly battered the defences. So that night, under cover of the darkness, page 433 they took to the Kopurererua Swamp on their left. Before leaving, Heni gave another drink to the mortally wounded officer, and left the water-can by his side. As for Ngai-te-Rangi, they had retreated in good spirits, after collecting arms and accoutrements from the British dead and wounded. They broke into small parties and made their way skilfully through the lines of the 68th. The soldiers fired on them, but the garrison escaped with only a few wounded. They travelled inland to the Waoku pa, and thence dispersed to their various stations along the edge of the forest; and the Koheriki, after many adventures, made their way inland to Poripori.
The British casualties numbered more than one-third of the total force composing the storming-party. Ten officers were killed or died from wounds, and four were wounded; of non-commissioned officers and privates twenty-one were killed and seventy-six wounded; total killed and wounded, 111 officers and men.
The 43rd Regiment lost their colonel, four captains, and one lieutenant killed, and a lieutenant and two ensigns severely wounded. Among the killed were two brothers, Captain and Lieutenant Glover. Nearly all the Naval Brigade officers were killed or wounded. The official return of officers killed and wounded was as follows:—
Naval Brigade: Killed—Captain Hamilton, H.M.S. “Esk”; Lieutenant Hill (late of “Orpheus”), H.M.S. “Curaçoa”; Mr. Watts, gunner H.M.S. “Miranda.” Wounded—Commander Hay (abdomen, mortally), H.M.S. “Harrier”; Lieutenant Hammick (shoulder, severe), H.M.S. “Miranda”; Lieutenant Duff (back, two places, severe), H.M.S. “Esk.”
43rd Regiment: Killed—Captain R. C. Glover (head); Captain C. R. Muir (or Mure) (tomahawk, right axilla); Captain R. T. Hamilton (head); Captain A. E. Utterton (neck); Lieutenant C. J. Langlands (chest). Wounded—Lieut.-Colonel Booth (spine and right arm, mortally); Lieutenant T. G. E. Glover (abdomen, mortally); Ensign W. Clark (right arm, severe); Ensign S. P. T. Nicholl (scalp, slight).
A bluejacket named Samuel Mitchell, captain of the foretop of H.M.S. “Harrier,” was recommended for the Victoria Cross for carrying Commander Hay, who was mortally wounded, out of the pa.
The Maori losses in killed totalled about twenty-five, including the Ngai-te-Rangi chiefs Te Reweti, Eru Puhirake, Tikitu, Te Kani, Te Rangihau, and Te Wharepouri. Te Moana-nui received three gunshot-wounds. Te Ipu was another warrior badly wounded. Te Reweti received six or seven bullet-wounds and had his legs broken.page 434