The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 7 (October 1, 1937.)
Historic Maketu — Bledisloe Park And Its Associations
In 1935 the Arawa Trust Board set aside an area of ten acres at Maketu as a public domain on the historic site of the landing of the Arawa Canoe. It was proposed that the domain be called “Bledisloe Park” in order to commemorate the appreciation of the Arawa tribe of the interest taken in the Maori race by the then Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe, and Lady Bledisloe, and to vest the area as a gift to Their Excellencies in trust for the people of New Zealand.
This gesture was typical of the Arawa, who have ever been generous and public-spirited.
There is an unusual sequence connected with the gift by the Arawa Trust Board of this particular area of land. Two members of the Arawa Trust Board are the direct descendants of two of the chief characters who made history on this identical spot over seventy years ago.
Seventy years ago Maketu was vastly different from what it is now. To-day it is just a quiet summer-watering place with a small permanent mixed population of pakeha and Maori. Seventy years ago Maketu boasted a resident magistrate, courthouse, and a detachment of Armed Constabulary, besides such amenities as Post and Telegraph office, and of course, a public house. The present Anglican Church was built about this time through the efforts of the Rev. S. M. Spencer and his Maori missionary followers. The mission house occupied a beautiful site planted with numerous varieties of English trees. The valleys and hillsides everywhere in springtime were a mass of peach blossom. On Puke-maire (re-named Fort Colvile) the 43rd Regiment had turned a Maori fighting pa into a fortified redoubt. There were various other redoubts in the vicinity (traces of them still remain), made originally before the Europeans took formal possession of New Zealand. The native population of Maketu in those days numbered several hundreds, mostly belonging to either the Ngatipikiao or the Ngati-whakaue hapus, sub-tribes of the Arawa. The paramount chief of the Ngatipikiao was Te Pokiha Taranui, or Major Fox as he was later called. Winiata Tohi Tururangi was the fighting leader of the Ngatiwhakaue. Both men were loyal and staunch supporters of the Queen's Army.
On April 22nd, 1864 (a few days before the Gate Pa defeat) 800 men of the Ngatiawa, Whakatohea, Ngatipukeko and Ngatiporou invaded the Maketu country. They had been turned back at Lake Rotoiti, in an effort to break through to aid the Waikato Maoris, so they made another attempt via Maketu and Tauranga. The men and officers of the 43rd under Major Colvile were hastily recalled to the fort. The fighting men of the pa were mustered without loss of time and a body of the Arawa under their chief, Pokiha, took possession of a redoubt on a perpendicular cliff 80 to 90 feet high above the Waihi River estuary and overlooking the sandhills that stretch without break as far as Matata.
Some of the 43rd Regiment under Major Colvile, and some of the Colonial Defence Force under Major Drummond Hay and Captain (later Colonel) T. McDonnell strengthened the Arawa resistance.
Group taken on the occasion of the celebrations by the Wanganui Railway Social Hall Committee, of its Silver Jubilee, April 10th, 1937.
Back Row (from left to right): Messrs. E. Ansley, H. A. Gilmore, R. W. Frost, R. P. Andrews, G. N. Walton, W. W. Work and J. R. Ritchie.
Centre Row: W. Fibbs, R. Schumacher, N. A. Creswell, W. G. McLeod, F. Paddy, E. M. Frank (Hon. Secretary and Treasurer).
Front Row: His Worship the Mayor (Mr. W. J. Rogers), Mr. S. J. Barry (Chairman), The Hon. D. G. Sullivan (Minister of Railways), Mr. G. H. Mackley (General Manager of Railways), and Mr. W. A. Veitch.
Absent: Messrs. J. Batt, A. W. Southern and W. D. Bowra.
An Arawa narrator states that Major Colvile ordered Retreat Tapsell, a Sergeant in the Armed Constabulary, and another native to ride post-haste to Tauranga with a message to Colonel Booth, requesting the immediate assistance of H.M.S. Esk. Retreat and his companion had the greatest difficulty in delivering Major Colvile's message, for they were promptly arrested by the sentry when they tried to force an entrance into the Camp, after a gruelling and dangerous ride along the Ocean Beach.
After much firing from the cliffs upon the enemy entrenched in riflepits on the sandhills below and across the river, Major Colvile ordered Captain McDonnell and nine men of the Colonial Defence Force, to take possession of a rifle-pit under the cliffs on the near side of the river. The enemy were only 350 yards away from this pit and it meant traversing 500 yards exposed to a raking fire. The garrison on the cliff opened an extra heavy fire to cover this movement. It was the intention later in the day when the tide was low and the river fordable to make a general attack on the enemy but after McDonnell and his men had been in the pit (a trench 20 ft. by 6 ft. by 3 ft. deep), some little time, the firing on the cliffs above ceased. Shortly afterwards the bugle sounded the recall, but no movement was made to cover their return. They were short of ammunition.
Suddenly the cliffs were ringing from left to right with the sound of page 38 a tremendous volley. Across the 500 yards of open space ran Pokiha Taranui at a trot with his rifle at the trail.
Leaping into the rifle-pit, he said to McDonnell: “That was meant for me. Take no notice of that bugle, you cannot get all your men out of here alive. Wait until sundown and I will take you back.”
Realizing their danger and leaving his men on the cliffs above, this gallant warrior and gentleman had risked his life for the pakeha and won. At nightfall those men fled back to safety with bullets snipping off the toetoe all around them as they ran. Pokiha and McDonnell were the last to leave.
Te Pokiha Taranui was recommended for the New Zealand Cross, but did not receive it. Later, when Major Jackson, of the Waikato, had to present a repeating rifle to the bravest man in the force, it was awarded to old Pokiha with acclamation.
That night the invaders crossed the river and took the rifle-pit McDonnell and his men had evacuated, and for nearly a week fighting took place daily between them and the Arawa. The British went back to Fort Colvile, leaving McDonnell and a few men with the Arawa. Then a man-of-war appeared, firing shells at the enemy from the sea. None were hit but instead the firing afforded the invaders an opportunity to retreat and prevented the Arawa from following.
That night the enemy had retreated as far as Otamarakau where the little gun-boat Sandfly had them at her mercy.
Next morning, the fleeing enemy were, in their turn, surprised to find the Arawa—over 300 of them—under their veteran leader, Winiata, upon them. Winiata, as he had predicted previously, was the only one killed in this final defeat of the invaders. Later the Government of the day erected a handsome memorial stone in the churchyard at Maketu as a token of esteem and gratitude for services nobly rendered, although the body of this old Ngatiwhakaue rangatira lies under the floor of the Maori Anglican Church at Ohinemutu. His death on the field of battle occurred on April 28th, 1864.