The Story Of Gate Pa, April 29th, 1864
The Last Resting Place — The Old Mission Cemetery
The Last Resting Place
The Old Mission Cemetery
On the edge of a cliff at the north-eastern extremity of the isthmus on which the town of Tauranga rests, with the placid waters of the harbour lapping at its foot some sixty or seventy feet below, stands the Old Mission Cemetery, very frequently erroneously called the Old Military Cemetery. It never was a “Military” Cemetery, although here lie the Pakeha sailors and soldiers who fell at Gate Pa and Te Ranga and in the later engagements at Irihanga and Whakamarama. It is one of the Dominion's priceless possessions, for here lie missionary, soldier, settler; and among them two chivalrous foes, Rawiri Puhirake and Hori Ngatai.
At the gateway of this historic cemetery is a notice board telling us in simple words that it is
Burial Ground of the
Church Missionary Society
Also of the
Soldiers and Sailors who
fell in the Maori War
The first interment in the cemetery was that of Mrs Wilson, the wife of the Rev. J. A. Wilson, an assistant missionary. She died on November 23rd, 1838. Nearby the second interment took place, but not until seven years later. The grave is that of Archdeacon Brown's son Marsh, who died in his fifteenth year after a long and painful illness. Here, too, in the same plot lie the Archdeacon and his second wife. The Archdeacon died on September 7th, 1884, and his widow died on June 26th, 1887.
Turning for a moment to the Gate Pa engagement, I have been fortunate in securing an illustration from the “Illustrated London News” of July 30th, 1864.
It is here reproduced among the illustrations and the footnote to the illustration in that journal reads:—page 75
“We present an engraving from a sketch with which we have been favoured by Colonel Williams, who is commanding of the artillery in New Zealand. It may best be explained by the following extract from his note:—
“The accompanying rough sketch of the cemetery at Tauranga cannot fail to be of melancholy interest to the families of those brave men who fell in the assault on the Pah of Puke Wharangi on the evening of the 29th of April. This cemetery is situated at the end of a bluff in the harbour of Tauranga. In the sketch, Mount Monganui appears facing the spectator, and the Esk, Harrier, and Jason are seen lying in the harbour. Two weeping willows, and a cabbage-tree with a clump of aloes, mark the spot where the British soldiers and sailors are interred in thirty-two graves, which are disposed in three parallel lines. Lieutenant-Colonel Booth, of the 43rd Regiment, is buried on the left hand, close to the aloes; his men are buried to the right of him. The six officers and sergeant-major of that regiment lie in the centre line of graves. The naval officers and seamen are buried in the line of graves farthest from the spectator, being arranged in their order of seniority, beginning from the left hand side of this view. These graves had all been prepared by the 2nd of May, when the funeral took place. The coffins were, on that day, borne in procession from the marquee which is shown on the left-hand side of the sketch. The ceremonial was conducted with impressive solemnity. General Duncan Cameron, Commodore Sir W. Wiseman, and all the officers who could be spared from duty, attended this service, which was performed by the Ven. Archdeacon Brown.”
From this I have been able to follow and check the graves and the headstones marking them. In the outer line of graves facing the harbour lie from left to right as we look at the illustration reproduced, Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, Commander Edward Hay and Lieut. Charles Hill and then—accepting the account of Colonel Williams in the Illustrated London News as correct—the other ten naval ratings. Then comes the line of graves of Colonel Booth and officers of the 43rd, Monmouth Light Infantry, but no separate stones mark their graves except that of Capt. Mure. There is, however, a monument—shown among the illustrations — where Colonel Booth presumably lies buried, and on the tablets are inscribed the names of the officers and men of the 43rd who fell at Gate Pa and Te Ranga. In line with the 43rd Monument is another, that of the 68th Durham Light Infantry, and on the tablets of this monument are inscribed the names of the Sergeants and Privates of that regiment—and one of the 12th—who fell at Gate Pa and Te Ranga, and of the 1st Waikato Militia who were killed at Irihanga and Whakamarama three years later.
The monument also bears the names of the sailors who were page 76 Killed at Gate Pa. Then, a short distance away, looking out across the harbour where the old-time men-o-war lay peacfully at anchor on that memorable occasion, stands a simple wooden cross—shown among our illustrations—bearing the names of the seamen and marines killed at Gate Pa. Not only does this simple cross stand in this historic cemetery in memory of the fallen men-o-warsmen of that far-off day, but a silent tribute to the fact that although 73 years have elapsed since these men were laid to rest the “Navy” has not forgotten them, for at the foot of the cross is inscribed
“Renovated by H.M.S. Veronica, 17/1/32.”
No attempt is made to erect a finer looking monument, for none is needed. What finer tribute could the ‘Service’ pay to its gallant dead than to keep in repair the simple wooden cross. Without fail, visiting warships to Tauranga see to it from time to time that the cross is repaired, and, as the inscription relates, it was last attended to when the Veronica visited the port early in 1932.
Apart from the 43rd and 68th Monuments are several head-stones marking the graves of the soldiers who lie there. Formerly these graves were marked by wooden ‘headstones,’ but time took its toll of them, a fact carefully noted by the late Mr J. C. Adams, who about the time he was Mayor of the town interested himself in having the graves marked by more permanent ‘stones.’ Through his instrumentality the Government agreed to the Public Works Department providing these stones. A simple design was decided upon, and the new ‘stones’ were duly erected. But apparently some graves have been missed. It seems reasonable to assume that each grave had at its head a simple wooden slab. To-day they are not all marked, either by the earlier slab or the later stone. This omission will, I trust, be repaired.
Some twenty-five years ago the Cemetery bore a rather neglected appearance. Its care was the responsibility of the Tauranga Borough Council. Funds were none too plentiful to keep in fitting order this hallowed and historic last resting place. The Council was not unconcerned, for I well remember repeated references at Council meetings to the state of the Cemetery. At last, when Acting Town Clerk during the war, and the late Mr J. C. Adams was Mayor, opportunity was taken of a visit to the town of the Hon. G. W. Russell, then Minister of Internal Affairs, to take him to the spot, and point out what it was desired to do. Through his instrumentality a grant of £50 was secured, and much good work was done in putting down permanent footpaths and in effecting a much desired improvement generally. Arising out of these initial efforts a local committee was formed consisting of the Mayor of Tauranga, the District Engineer of the Public Works Department, and the late Colonel G. A. Ward, into whose care the page 77 cemetery passed for upkeep and attention. On the death of Colonel Ward, his widow, Mrs Ward, M.B.E., became one of the trustees, and to this Committee, with funds provided by the Government and the Borough Council, we who visit the cemetery from time to time, and the many visitors who find their way there, are gratefully indebted for the care now bestowed upon it. Mrs Ward also made it a labour of love for many years to care for one particular spot.
There yet remains to mention the two fine Maori monuments, one to the memory of Rawiri Puhirake, the Maori leader, and the other in memory of Hori Ngatai, whose story of the Gate Pa battle appears in this booklet.
The monument to Rawiri Puhirake is a fine example of the monumental mason's art. The story of the unveiling and the history of the monument is well told in the following account taken from the Bay of Plenty Times of June 22, 1914.
“The united efforts of Europeans and Maoris to perpetuate the memory of Rawiri Puhirake were consummated yesterday, when the monument erected in honour of the clever and chivalrous warrior was unveiled in the Military Cemetery on the fiftieth anniversary of Rawiri's death. Some time ago, Colonel Ward and Mr J. C. Adams (Chairman of the Military Cemetery Committee of the Tauranga Borough Council), were approached by a number of leading natives—who had subscribed a certain sum towards erecting a monument over Rawiri's grave—and asked to take in hand the management of the project. They readily assented, and were successful not only in raising a considerable sum in subscriptions from European sympathisers. but were also promised a substantial Government subsidy from the Native Minister, the Hon. W. H. Herries. The support received encouraged the promoters to place an order with Messrs Parkinson and Co., of Auckland, for the erection of a red granite monument and the result is that the memorial is the most imposing of its kind in the Military Cemetery.
“Rawiri Puhirake belonged to the Ngaitukairangi hapu of the Ngaiterangi and came of a very good fighting stock. He led the Maoris in the memorable battle at Gate Pa on April 29, 1864, and again at Te Ranga where he met his death on the field of battle on June 21 of the same year.”
The monument was unveiled with befitting ceremony by Colonel Logan, A.D.C., Officer Commanding the Auckland military district, on June 21st, 1914, who, in performing the ceremony, said: “Mr Mayor, Chief of the Maori Race, Ladies and Gentlemen,—I have to thank you, Mr Mayor, for the welcome extended to me to-day. No nation can become great until they do honour to those who have gone before. Lately the graves of the soldiers and sailors who fell in the war have been restored. Some time ago I attended the unveiling of page 78 the monuments at Orakau to the Generals who fought on both sides, General Cameron and Rewi Maniapoto, and the other day I myself unveiled in St. Paul's Church in Auckland, a memorial to the soldiers and sailors who fell in the war. To-day we go a step further, and are here to unveil a memorial to a noble man. A man who defeated us and fifty years ago went to his rest. The warriors of the native race were always noted for great physical courage. In addition to this, Rawiri held a still greater attribute. He had the moral courage to do what he considered right in the face of the opposition of all his race. He insisted that the prisoners of war should be treated with mercy, and at Gate Pa he himself saw to it that his orders were carried out. It is difficult to estimate the moral courage required for an action of this sort. Those of us who act in opposition to public opinion, can form some idea of the difficulty he had in facing the disapproval of his entire race, and the enormous amount of moral courage that was required to do so. No higher example of moral courage can be put before the young of both races than this deed of his. After fifty years his memory is green and his great deed lives, and to-day we are met to do honour to the memory of a great chief, a great general, and a noble Christian gentleman. Let us emulate his noble example and remember that whatver good we do lives, and although it might not be recognised in the immediate present, still, as in this case, in the future it will receive the reward it merits.
“Fifty years have passed since the battle of Gate Pa, and the two races now live together in peace and friendship, and we meet to-day to do honour to this great man who for fifty years has slept amongst his foes. No stone has marked his resting place, and today the descendants of both races meet together to erect this stone.
“I am deputed by the Governor, and by the General of the Army, to come here to-day to unveil this monument. The opening of Parliament prevents the Ministers of the Crown or the Governor from coming here, and because I command the troops in the Auckland district, I am deputed to come here to unveil a monument to a noble foe who fell fighting for his country having the glorious consciousness that he had done his duty.
“For how can man die better
“Than facing fearful odds,
“For the ashes of his fathers
“And the temples of his gods?”
“May his example stimulate us all in the life that we live here. May he rest in peace.”
The account then proceeds:
“The monument is of striking appearance. It is of red granite, and the total height of the column is 20 feet 4 inches, resting on a concrete base of 10 feet square, rising in two steps, the base being page 79 surrounded by black and white marble tiles. The plinth rises from three diminishing square bases, and on the front face of the lowest one is engraved a portrayal of the battlefield. A British officer, presumably Colonel Booth, is lying on the ground close to the stockade. Rawiri is standing over him, ordering his followers to bring the General water, which is being conveyed by the natives in a gourd, thus signifying the kind treatment that was meted out to prisoners. The British camp is seen in the distance, with the hills as a background. On the front of the plinth is engraved a taiaha, or Maori spear, round the shaft of which is entwined a spray of oak as a symbol of strength. The whole column is surrounded by a draped urn.
“On three panels on the western side of the column is the following inscription:—‘Sacred to the memory of Rawiri Puhirake, a chief of the Ngaiterangi tribe, who led the Maoris in battle at Gate Pa on April 29th, and at Te Ranga on June 21st, 1864, being killed in the latter engagement. This monument was erected on the fiftieth anniversary of his death by people of the British and Maori races, to commemorate his chivalrous and humane orders for the protection of unarmed or wounded men who fell into the hands of the Maoris, and for the respectful treatment of the bodies of any of their enemies slain in battle. This order, framed by Rawiri with the assistance and approval of Henare Taratoa and other Chiefs, was loyally observed by his followers, and after the repulse of the assault on Gate Pa, the British wounded, who lay all night in and around the Pa, were given water and treated with kindness. This chivalrous conduct of the Maori leader and his people so impressed their contemporaries that Rawiri's body was exhumed in 1870 from the trenches at Te Ranga, and was reinterred at this spot with befitting ceremonies. The seeds of better feeling between the two races thus sown on the battlefield have since borne ample fruit, disaffection has given place to loyalty, and hostility to friendship, British and Maori now living together as one united people. June 21st., 1914.”
Hori Ngatai's monument, although somewhat less imposing than that of his leader, is a very fine one, and we learn from the inscription that it was erected by the Government and the Maori tribes of Tauranga “to the memory of Hori Ngatai, Chief of the Ngaiterangi tribes who was a man who upheld the law and the Sovereignty of England since the battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga down to the time of his death. He died on the 20th August, 1912, aged 80 years.”
An Episode at the Battle of Gate Pa engraved on the Rawiri Puhirake Monument.
Looking out aeross the harbour from the the old Mission Cemetery. The post-and-rail fence is in fitting association with the memories of pioneer days which the Cemetery itself inspires.
“Two weeping willows and a cabbage-tree with a clump of aloes, mark the spot where the British soldiers and sailors are interred in thirty-two graves.” (See page 75). The cabbage tree alone remains.
The grave of Lieut. Hill of H.M.S. Curacoa, killed in the assault on Gate Pa.
Hori Ngatai's Monument in the old Mission Cemetery at Tauranga
The simple wooden cross to the seamen and marines killed in the assault on Gate Pa.
The grave of Archdeacon Brown, his wife and son, adjoining the military graves in the old Mission Cemetery at Tauranga
The grave of Captain Hamilton, H.M.S. Esk, killed in the assault on Gate Pa.
The grave of Commander Hay. H.M.S. Harrier, killed in the assault on Gate Pa.