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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

The Trenches at Te Ranga

page 435

The Trenches at Te Ranga

During May the troops, with Captain Pye's Colonial Defence Force Cavalry in advance, took possession of the Maoris' abandoned rifle-pits and settlements on the Wairoa Stream. A portion of the British force, with the warships (excepting the “Harrier”) returned to Auckland. The Ngai-te-Rangi meanwhile had received reinforcements from Rotorua, including some of the Ngati-Rangiwewehi, of Puhirua and Awahou villages—a sept of the Arawa who declined to fall in line with the rest of the tribe and espouse the British cause—and also a party of fifty warriors of the Ngati-Hinekura and Ngati-Tamatea-tutahi hapus of Ngati-Pikiao, from Rotoiti. In addition, there was a war-party of Ngati-Porou, chiefly the Whanau-ia-Hinerupe hapu, from Pukemaire, in the Waiapu Valley, East Cape. These determined warriors were headed by Hoera te Mataatai. In June the Kingites resolved to force another trial of strength with the Queen's troops, and a position was taken up on the prolongation of the Puke-hinahina ridge, about three miles inland from the Gate pa. At this place, Te Ranga, the natives entrenched themselves, but were observed by a British reconnoitring-party before they had completed the fortifications. The main track inland to Oropi passed along this long leading ridge—the present road from Tauranga via Pye's pa follows the same route—and Ngai-te-Rangi selected the narrowest part for their entrenchments. On either side of this strategic highway to the interior the ground fell steeply to undulating partly wooded valleys and swamps with watercourses; the descent on the east, the natives' right flank, was very abrupt. Across this narrow neck the Kingites constructed their line of trench, with some flanking rifle-pits on the right front on the edge of the gully. The ridge-top was level of surface. The advance from the coast was along a gentle inclined plane.

On the 21st June a strong reconnoitring column, under Colonel Greer, advancing along the leading ridge from the Gate pa, found the Maoris hard at work on their entrenchments. They were not given time to complete the formidable pa contemplated. Colonel Greer decided to attack at once. He had a force of about six hundred men, composed of detachments of the 43rd Regiment, under Major Synge, the 68th, under Major Shuttleworth, and the 1st Waikato Militia, under Captain Moore. Sending back to the camp for reinforcements and an Armstrong gun, the British commander threw out skirmishers and engaged the native outposts, then opened a heavy fire on the defenders of the trenches. The 43rd and a portion of the 68th were sent out on either side, and kept up a flanking fire. page 436
Plan of the Attack on Te Ranga Entrenchments (21st June, 1864)

Plan of the Attack on Te Ranga Entrenchments (21st June, 1864)

page 437
From a photo about 1860]Henare Taratoa (Killed at Te Ranga.)

From a photo about 1860]
Henare Taratoa
(Killed at Te Ranga.)

After about two hours of this fighting from cover the gun and the infantry reinforcements arrived in support. Colonel Greer then ordered an assault. At the bugle-sound of the “Charge” the 43rd, 68th, and 1st Waikatos advanced cheering, and in a very few minutes had cleared the trenches at the point of the bayonet. Colonel Greer in his report said they carried the rifle-pits “in the most dashing manner.” They charged over the level glacis under a very heavy fire from the Kingite double-barrel guns, but the casualties were comparatively small, as most of the Maoris fired too high. The Ngai-te-Rangi and their allies fought like old heroes. They stood up to meet the bayonet charge unflinchingly, and as they had no time to reload they used gun-butt and tomahawk with desperate bravery. There were many hand-to-hand encounters. Even after being bayoneted some of the Maoris felled their foemen with their tomahawks. But the Kingite valour was of no avail before that rush with the bayonet. Scores of warriors went down under the steel, and the survivors broke for the cover of the gullies and swamps page 438
From a sketch by Major-General Gordon Robley, 1864] Surrender of the Ngai-te-Rangi Tribe

From a sketch by Major-General Gordon Robley, 1864]
Surrender of the Ngai-te-Rangi Tribe

Soon after the defeat of the Kingite tribes at Te Ranga the greater number of the Ngai-te-Rangi came in and made submission to the British authorities at Te Papa, Tauranga, and handed in their arms. The peace pact was loyally observed by all but a few of Ngai-te-Rangi who joined the Piri-rakau Hauhaus in the fighting at Irihanga, Whakamarama, and elsewhere in 1867.

page 439 in the rear. The Colonial Defence Force Cavalry followed them for several miles, but the country was difficult for mounted work.

The British casualties in this short and sharp affair, the final battle of the campaign, were thirteen privates of the 43rd and 68th killed, and six officers and thirty-three non-commissioned officers and privates wounded. The 43rd and their comrades exacted a terrible vengeance for their defeat at the Gate Pa. Quite 120 Maoris were killed, more than half of them with the bayonet; the rest were shot as they fell back gallantly fighting. Rawiri Puhirake, the commander at the Gate Pa, and Henare Taratoa, the Otaki mission teacher who had helped to frame the chivalrous fighting code, were among the killed. On Henare's body was found the “order of the day” for combat, beginning with a prayer and ending with the words in Maori, from Romans xii, 20: “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink.” The small Ngati-Porou contingent resisted to the death; thirty of the party were killed. The contingent of fifty of Ngati-Pikiao from the Lake Rotoiti settlements fell almost to a man. The Ngati-Rangiwewehi war-party also suffered very severely, and their losses at Te Ranga that day greatly influenced the survivors of the clan towards Pai-marire when that fanatic faith reached the lakes country and the East Coast.

Two British soldiers were recommended for the Victoria Cross for their valour in the charge at Te Ranga. One was Captain Smith, of the 43rd, who led the right of the advance and received two wounds; the other was Sergeant Murray, of the 68th, who killed a Maori about to tomahawk a corporal who had just run him through with his bayonet.

A number of the Maori wounded died in hospital at Te Papa. The natives killed on the field were laid out in three long rows—thirty in one row, thirty-three in another, and thirty-four in another. They were buried in the rifle-pits, their self-dug graves. Others were buried where they fell when retreating. Several years later the remains of the gallant patriot Rawiri Puhirake were reinterred in the military cemetery at Tauranga, by the side of his adversary Lieut.-Colonel Booth, killed at the Gate Pa. This tribute to an heroic and knightly foe was a measure of the general admiration exhibited by the British for their Ngai-te-Rangi antagonists. The Tauranga tribes surrendered soon after Te Ranga, and the friendliest relations were established between the fighters of the two races, who esteemed each other for the courage and the humanity which had distinguished the whole conduct of the brief campaign.

page 440

Possibly it was the finding of the Maori “order of the day” on Henare Taratoa's body that gave rise to the report, so widely published, that it was he who gave water to Lieut.-Colonel Booth and other wounded soldiers on the repulse of the British attack on the Gate Pa. Heni Pore says she was not aware at that time of the code framed by Taratoa and his fellow-chiefs. In the private chapel of the Bishop's palace in Lichfield, England, there is a painted window (placed there by the first Bishop Selwyn) commemorating the Gate Pa incident attributed to Henare Taratoa. There is no doubt of Henare's chivalry and high-mindedness, but it is Heni Pore who rightly deserves the credit of this specific deed of humanity in the lines at Puke-hinahina. The episode offers an inspiring historical subject for some of our New Zealand artists.

The present main road from Tauranga to Rotorua cuts through the centre of the Gate Pa works, at a distance of two miles from the town; and the road inland via Pye's Pa—the most direct route to Oropi and Rotorua—also traverses the centre of the entrenchments at Te Ranga. A little memorial church stands by the roadside on the spot once occupied by the trenches of Ngai-te-Rangi at the Gate Pa, but there is nothing to inform the passer-by as to the site of the defences. On the crown of the Puke-hinahina Hill behind the church the lines of the British redoubt erected in 1864 on the remains of the Maori pa are still well marked. The trench and fence on the west side of the road, above the Kopurererua Swamp, indicate the position of the left wing held by the small Koheriki party.

At Te Ranga, alongside the road, there are the remains of the trenches in which more than a hundred Maoris were buried. The road passes through the levelled lines; on each hand, but chiefly on the left, going inland, are the depressions indicating the rifle-pits and ditches of the works. In a paddock on the edge of the sudden descent to the valley, a few yards east of the road, there are trenches overgrown with gorse and fern; these formed the Maori right flank. A Maori monument is to be erected to mark the sacred spot where so many gallant warriors fell.