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The Story Of Gate Pa, April 29th, 1864

A Few Reflections — Where Is Gate Pa?

page 65

A Few Reflections
Where Is Gate Pa?

“Where is the site of Gate Pa?” is the natural inquiry of every visitor to Tauranga at all interested in New Zealand's history. It is perhaps natural that one would expect to find on the site some relic of the pa in which the Maoris put up such a gallant resistance, but unfortunately little remains to-day to remind us of that grim fight. Here and there the line of trenches can be traced and in the road cutting which runs through the site one or two trenches—now filled in—can be distinctly seen. From time to time attempts have been made to have the Pa restored, and a few years ago the Church of England authorities were approached with a view to ascertaining whether it would be possible to move the Church which now stands on the left-hand side of the road from Tauranga, to another site. This would not be an easy task, although not an insuperable one, but no definite action has been taken.

Regret is repeatedly expressed that the Pa with its trenches and traverses was not preserved in its original state, but this was hardly possible. The bombardment on the day of the battle must have wrought considerable havoc, and much filling in was done on the day following the battle. Then, some years later, a nearby settler, whose cows grazed over the area, completed the job of filling in. He was prosecuted and fined for his trouble, and there the matter ended. The pa and an adjoining area was at some date which we are unable to trace made a Domain. When the building of the Church was contemplated an exchange of sites was made, with the result that the Church of England shown in our illustration stands on the site of the Pa and the Domain is on the opposite side of the road a little nearer Tauranga.

Captain Mair in his story describes the situation of the pa in detail. He states that on the western slope, just on the crest of the ridge, a small oblong redoubt was built. Then came a clear space of some thirty paces, then the citadel extending eastward some forty or fifty paces to where the ditch—built by the missionaries across the isthmus from swamp to swamp—connected with the swamp and water supply. This places the water supply on the page 66 eastward of the citadel or redoubt. The plan of the Pa shown among the illustrations in this booklet shows the water supply as on the western side of the pa.

It is interesting, too, to reflect on that portion of Captain Mair's story in which he tells us that Colonel Greer, with about 700 men of the 68th, left camp Puke Wharangi-whence they had moved from Tauranga on the 27th—about 9 p.m. on the 28th., and that it was then raining heavily. Continuing his narrative he records that throughout the day of the battle there was continuous rain.

General Cameron, in his despatch to His Excellency the Governor, Sir George Grey, reports that on the 27th—the day after all the reinforcements had been landed at the Mission Station, and two days before the battle—he moved the 68th Regiment under Colonel Greer, and a mixed detachment of 170 men under Major Ryan to within about 1200 yards of the enemy's position, and on that and the following day the guns and mortars and more men were moved up to this camp. From here, as reported by himself to the Deputy Adjutant General, Colonel Greer marched out of camp at 6.45 p.m. on the 28th with the 68th., the men carrying one day's cooked rations and a greatcoat each, with the object of getting in the rear of the enemy. This objective was not reached until 3 a.m. on the 29th. It was then dark and raining. The men were on the alert the whole of the next day, the day of the battle, and we are told it rained nearly all that day. At 5 p.m. came the engagement with the Maoris attempting to escape from the Pa, and throughout the night the men were still on the alert for escaping Maoris. Colonel Greer reports:—”On such a wet, dark night as that was nothing but a close chain of sentries strongly supported round the whole rear and flanks could have kept the Maoris in,” and then concludes his report with the terse sentence “The whole of the 68th was back in Camp at 6 p.m. yesterday” (the 30th).

We thus find that with “one day's cooked rations and a great-coat each,” the men of the 68th left their camp at 7 o'clock on the evening of the 28th and were not back in camp till 6 o'clock on the afternoon of the 30th, two nights and two days in almost continuous rain, on short rations—no mean test of human endurance and no mean contribution to the peace and good-feeling between Maori and Pakeha that we now enjoy.

As to whether any controversy will arise concerning the episode in the pa on the night following the battle when someone brought to the wounded British soldiers a drink of water we cannot say, but there is an evident conflict of opinion as to who performed this humane act. Captain Mair does not mention it. Hori Ngatai in his narrative, describing the erection of the pa, states:— “Our women were with us, working as hard as the men, carrying back loads of material for the defences, and food for the warriors. page 67 We sent them away to safety before the fighting began.” James Cowan in his “Hero Stories of New Zealand,” p. 122, states that the only woman permitted to remain in the pa on the day of the battle was a young half-caste wahine Heni te Kiri-Karamu, and at p. 129, “Much that is quite inaccurate has been written of Taratoa's deeds at the Gate Pa. It was not he who was the hero of this episode of giving water to the dying officer. Heni Pore—as she became known in later years—was the person to whom credit is rightfully due.” One gathers from his story that Cowan's informant was Hori Ngatai. The Rev. Tucker in his “Memoir of the Life and Episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn, D.D.,” elsewhere referred to in this publication, states:—

“One dying of his wounds was tended all night by Henare Taratoa … . and Henare Taratoa crept down amongst the fern within reach of the sentries, and filled a calabash with water, which he successfully carried back to refresh the parched lips of his enemy. The English officers told this story.”

It must not be forgotten that not only is the pa—or what remains of it—as we know it to-day the site of the memorable engagement, but nearby is the last resting place of the Maoris who were killed in the Gate Pa battle. Would it not be fitting to have placed in the Church which now stands on the site a tablet to record the fact that thereabouts these chivalrous foes lie buried?

At Te Ranga there is nothing whatever to note or indicate the site. It is now the property of Mr William Merrick and both he and Mrs Merrick at all times courteously permit visitors to wander over the field and endeavour to discover traces of the trenches in which so many Maoris were slain. The trenches evidently run along the edge of a steep bank, and the illustration given elsewhere is from a photograph taken from the site of the trenches looking out on the country below and beyond in the direction in which the Maori survivors fled, pursued by Captain A. C. Turner and a small detachment of the Defence Force.