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The Story Of Gate Pa, April 29th, 1864

A Contemporary Story — The Battle of Gate Pa

page 68

A Contemporary Story
The Battle of Gate Pa

I have been fortunate in securing several engravings of local interest from old numbers of the “Illustrated London News.” Among them is one from a sketch by Brigadier-General G. V. Carey, of Tauranga and its harbour when the troops were encamped here in 1864. Another is from a sketch by Major-General (then Lieutenant) H. Robley, of the Gate Pa trenches the morning after the engagement.

Accompanying these engravings is an interesting account published at the time of the Battle of Gate Pa. Differing in some respects from that of Captain Mair, I have thought fit to give it a place in this publication. The account is as follows:—

The War in New Zealand

“We have in the last twelve months been abundantly supplied with illustrations of the Maori war by the courtesy of many of our correspondents belonging to the military or naval services employed in that tedious and difficult undertaking.

“We are this week enabled to avail ourselves of a sketch by Brigadier-General G. V. Carey, an officer well known in New Zealand, which the news brought by last mail has rendered more valuable than when we received it two months ago. It is a view of the harbour of Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, on the eastern coast of the North Island, and of the camp at the Church Mission village of Te Papa, occupied by the headquarters of the 68th and part of the 43rd Regiments, with detachments of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, and Waikato Militia. Lieutenant-Colonel Carey, of the 18th Royal Irish (now Brigadier-General) then commanded the Tauranga expeditionary force, by whom this important military establishment was formed about the beginning of the year. We find in one of the Auckland newspapers a letter from a gentleman who visited Tauranga in February last. The writer bears testimony to the excellent arrangements there made for a new basis of General Cameron's operations in the interior. It should first be explained that, since the reduction of Maungatautiri, the last remaining strong-hold of the Maoris on the Upper Waikato River, General Cameron page 69 has turned his attention to the eastern side of the country, where a large part of the hostile forces now appears to have collected itself. The plan which the General has concerted with Governor Sir George Grey for the permanent subjugation of the Maoris is to construct a great military road across the entire breadth of the Island-from Raglan on the west coast to Tauranga on the east, inclosing the spacious plains of the Waikato, and forming a cordon some 120 or 150 miles southward of the town of Auckland, so as to protect the outlying settlers of that province from any future incursions of the wild Maori tribes inhabiting the mountainous district further south. The port of Raglan, with a new road partly made to the Waipa, a tributary of the Waikato, is situated in the neighbourhood of some friendly tribes; this station is comparatively secure. Tauranga on the other hand, though its territory when forfeited by the rebellion fell into our possession without resistance, was occupied in the full expectation of an early attack. We now learn that this attack has been anticipated by the assault which was made by our troops on the 29th April upon the formidable pa or Maori fortress at Puke Wharangi, or “The Gate.” That stronghold, consisting of a series of formidable earthworks, was situated upon a narrow neck of land forming one side of Tauranga harbour. Some of our troops were quartered on the peninsula, which is connected by this isthmus with the mainland. The Maoris had, during the month of April, thrown up intrenchments across the Puke Wharangi isthmus. They even sometimes approached our camp at Te Papa, which they would fire into at night. This state of things at Tauranga being reported to General Cameron, he immediately left Auckland, with strong reinforcements, and upon his arrival made preparations to dislodge the enemy from the Puke Wharangi pa. The engraving on our front page is from a drawing made by Lieutenant H. Robley, of the 68th Regiment, on the day after the attempt to storm the pa. It represents the scene of that fierce conflict in which Lieutenant-Colonel H. I. P. Booth, of the 43rd; Captains R. F. Hamilton, R. C. Glover, C. R. Muir, Edwin Utterton, and Lieutenant Langlands, of the same regiment; Lieutenant Hill, of H.M.S. Curacoa, Captain Hamilton, of H.M.S. Esk, and about twenty other British soldiers and sailors were killed, whilst Commander Hay, of H.M.S. Harrier, Lieutenant Hammick of the Miranda, Lieutenant Duff of the Esk, Lieutenant F. G. Glover of the Ensign and W. Clarke of the 43rd Regiment, were most severely wounded. The total number of wounded was not less than eighty, besides thirty killed—a large proportion, especially of the officers, who were engaged. This took place on the 29th April. The affair of Puke Wharangi is not considered to have done much credit to our arms. The assault, though preceded and supported by the fire of our heaviest artillery, was a disastrous failure. The enemy was not defeated or page 70 expelled by the valour of our troops, but allowed to retreat quietly in the night.

It seems that General Cameron had, on the 27th, examined the position of the Maoris, and laid his plan of attack. A force composed of the head-quarter companies of the 43rd Light Infantry, under Colonel Booth, 68th under Colonel Greer, and Naval Brigade, came out of Te Papa at nightfall on the 28th, and lay close to the pa, which was a series of earthworks or redoubts, on the crest of a hill, connected with each other by a perfect labyrinth of trenches and subterranean passages, which the Maoris had burrowed in the ground. The officers and men of our ships of war, during the same night of the 28th, having landed a 110-pounder and two 40-pounder Armstrong guns, placed them as a siege battery within range of the enemy's fortifications, while two 5-inch mortars and one 6-pounder (Armstrong) were set in position behind the earthworks we constructed on a hill to our right; and a small breastwork, with two 8-inch mortars, another 6-pounder (Armstrong), and two 24-pounder howitzers, were erected in front of the pa. They must have worked hard, for many hours, to complete these formidable preparations. When the morning dawned General Cameron gave orders to open fire from our batteries. It was kept up without cessation from seven o'clock till four in the afternoon. Still the Maoris did not show themselves; there was no sign of life in the pa. A rumour then arose in our camp that the enemy were escaping from behind it. The order to “cease fire” was sounded, and the 68th advanced in skirmishing order, on our extreme right, far in the rear of the pa. It was apparent that a breach had been made in the enemy's works. The evening was wearing on. It was at length resolved upon to storm the pa, and two companies of the flying column marched out to the right, under cover of the batteries. They lay concealed in the fern until the storming party and support, composed of the Naval Brigade and 43rd Light Infantry, were formed into line and advanced from the centre battery. Commander Hay, of the Harrier, led the storming party. The covering party advanced in front of the pa, within 100 yards of its outer face, and opened fire. The defenders of the pa replied almost instantly. The Maoris had leaped from their cover to defend their works, and gallantly and well they fought. While the fire in front was at its height, the stormers advanced in column at the double, and with a cheer carried the breach. The stormers were in the pa, and a desperate conflict took place. The General, who was in the advanced trench of his position, ordered up the supports while the storming party rushed into the breach. The second division of blue jackets and the 43rd., led by Captain Hamilton of the Esk, advanced with a cheer. They arrived at a critical moment. The storming party, exposed to a murderous fire on all sides, and from hidden assail- page 71 ants beneath, and without an officer left to lead them, were wavering; part were outside the pa. Captain Hamilton sprang on the parapet, and, shouting, “Follow me, men!” fell dead with a bullet through the brain; many of his officers shared the same fate, one half of the reserve stood outside the works. There was a momentary lull, broken only by a dropping shot. The next moment both English and Maoris poured out of the pa through the breach, while a destructive fire was opened from the pa and rifle pits. The stormers were repulsed in front with severe loss, and in the rear the 68th had also been compelled to retire. Thrice the 68th attempted to charge up to the proper right of the enemy's position to take it in reverse, and thrice they reeled and fell back. Our men partially rallied several times in front of the pa, and returned the enemy's fire; they were soon reformed on the plain and marched under cover. The General rallied the broken column; the ground in front was occupied by skirmishers, and a small mortar was advanced within short range of the ditch. Two 32-pounder guns and supplies of ammunition were sent for, as well as every available man in Tauranga. Meantime, the Maoris were exulting at their success, and challenged the troops to advance. They were heard to boast that a great number of pakehas were slain. The bodies of many of our killed and wounded remained in the enemy's works; but many wounded men had been carried into camp. The pa was evacuated, however, during the night of the 29th of April, and the great body of the enemy escaped. The pa was entered at daylight on the 30th, when the bodies of Colonel Booth, Captain Hamilton, and other British officers, were recovered. About twenty dead or wounded Maoris were found there, accompanied by several of their dogs. Lieutenant Robley, who had carried his sketchbook in his haversack while marching and fighting on the previous day, then made his sketches of the interior of the pa. He describes it as consisting of a large and a small enclosure, connected with each other, containing a maze of trenches and covered passages, running a length of ninety paces; the whole surrounded by a wooden fence, in which were apertures close to the ground, at intervals of about five paces, so that the garrison could fire through. The inner space was full of hiding-holes dug in the ground, from which the Maoris had shot down our soldiers. One of these holes is shown in the foreground of our view, on the extreme left. In the centre are the ruins of a small house, with the flagstaff that bore the fighting flag of the Bay of Plenty natives.

Tauranga and the Te Papa Station

We will now give some description of the place shown in our larger Engraving, which is from Colonel Carey's sketch of Tau- page 72 ranga as it appeared in February. We may quote, from the Auckland newspaper above referred to, a paragraph which attests the value of this illustration:—”Colonel Carey,” says our Auckland contemporary, “as he did during the Thames expedition, has likewise done in this. He has made graphic illustrations of every bay, post and redoubt. His panoramic picture of Tauranga is superb, accurate, attractive, and lifelike; and as we have reason to suppose that it and others are to be sent to the Illustrated London News (which in a recent issue has treated the New Zealand question in a sound and sensible manner), the British public will be afforded the opportunity of beholding one of the finest natural havens and one of the greatest future cities of the north island of New Zealand.” In his letter of explanation which accompanies this sketch, Colonel Carey says:—”The Durham and Monmouth Redoubts appear here at opposite angles of the ground taken up for the encampment, enclosing the buildings of the Mission Station. H.M.S. Miranda is seen lying at anchor, having disembarked a portion of the Tauranga field force; vessels of 300 or 400 tons may come up at all tides to the landing-place in front of the camp. The surrounding country is extensively cultivated, the principal crops being wheat, Indian corn, and potatoes; peaches also abound, and abundance of fish is caught in the harbour.” The singularly-shaped mountain which overlooks the water is Mount Maunganui—a landmark visible far away. The entrance of the harbour is much obstructed in certain states of the tide by a reef of rocks, over which the sea “fumes and foams like a boiling cauldron” when the ebb is running strongly. This reef, however, is to be removed by blasting, some day. The harbour itself is magnificent, with accommodation for an immense amount of shipping. Te Papa, which in 1857 contained only the house of Archdeacon Brown, with the chapels and schools of the Church Missionary Society, besides a few scattered warehouses of the traders, has now assumed the character of a thriving village. Several substantial and handsome houses have been erected, the central edifice, with a rather imposing front, having some architectural pretensions. It was built for a mission schoolhouse, but is at present occupied as a commissariat store. The camp is pitched in a commanding situation. The tents of the soldiery are placed on the incline of a fine clover-clad bank. The brush and scrub have been cleared and burnt off all around. Ditches have been transformed to lines of rifle-pits, communicating with the Durham and Monmouth Redoubts, which are constructed to command and support each other and sweep the outer approaches. The Monmouth Redoubt has been formed from an old Maori pa. It is situated on the edge of the cliff that overhangs the beach, three of its faces being surmounted with parapets with bastions, on one of which a 12-pounder Armstrong gun is posted; the fourth face, being on the
From an engraving in the Illustrated London News of July 30th, 1864, showing the graves in the old Mission Cemetery at Tauranga of British soldiers and sailors who fell at Gate Pa, April 20th, 1864

From an engraving in the Illustrated London News of July 30th, 1864, showing the graves in the old Mission
Cemetery at Tauranga of British soldiers and sailors who fell at Gate Pa, April 20th, 1864

Tauranga— Taken from an engravin in the Illustrated London News of July 23rd, 1864.

Tauranga— Taken from an engravin in the Illustrated London News of July 23rd, 1864.

page 73 edge of the cliff, has been left open. The ditches are to be deepened and widened. Lieutenant Talbot, 43rd Regiment, commands the Monmouth Redoubt. To the left of this redoubt, looking seaward, there are the rugged and broken remains of an old native work called The Tombs. They are situated near Archdeacon Brown's orchard and dwelling, are full of old potato holes, and bordered by numerous ditches and whitethorn fences, some of them very close and upwards of twenty feet high. Besides these, there are clumps of willows and elms, which, beautiful as they are, it might be well to clear away, as they could not but afford cover to a crawling, creeping foe, stealing from various points of the surrounding creeks and water-courses. The Tombs have been appropriately named, for hard by is the burying-ground where, underneath a large and handsome willow-tree, are deposited the remains of the first Mrs Brown; beside her lie those of the wife of the Rev. J. A. Wilson. The Durham Redoubt is to the rear of Colonel Carey's quarters, the rifle-pits which line the outer enclosure of the garden communicating with the work. The redoubt is like its fellow. It faces the ranges, and commands the creek and tidal basin in the rear. It has pretty deep ditches, and has flanking angles, on one of which a 12-pounder Armstrong gun is mounted. Lieutenant Marshall, 68th, is in command.”