The Story Of Gate Pa, April 29th, 1864
Gate Pa, or Pukehinahina — Captain Mair's Graphic Account of the Memorable Battle
Gate Pa, or Pukehinahina
Captain Mair's Graphic Account of the Memorable Battle
No satisfactory explanation has yet been given, how it happened that nearly two thousand men of Her Majesty's forces, the finest troops known, amply provided with the best artillery and arms of precision in the world, were singlely defeated by less than two hundred and fifty Ngaiterangi warriors, whose only weapons consisted of old flint tower muskets, Brummagem double and single barrelled shot guns and long-handled tomahawks.
Up to this time, the Ngaiterangi, as a tribe, had committed no overt acts against the Queen's sovereignty, beyond permitting intermittent parties of young hot-bloods to join their kinsmen and hereditary allies then fighting against the Pakeha at Waikato, and though in general sympathy with the Maori King movement, yet were living in perfect amity with the missionaries and Europeans in their midst. But it was rumoured that a force of fourteen or fifteen hundred well armed rebels from the East Cape districts, projected breaking through the loyal Arawa territory to join the Waikato insurgents. This may have been one of the factors that induced Governor Grey and his responsible Ministers to take strong measures. Accordingly on January 21st, 1864, three men-o-war were seen entering the Whanganui channel at Tauranga Heads, and shortly afterwards dropped anchor off Maketu Mound, now known as “The Man-o-war Anchorage.” A force of seven hundred men under Colonel (afterwards Brigadier-General) Carey was landed at Te Papa in two small colonial vessels, the “Corio,” 115 tons, and the P.S. “Sandfly,” and immediately entrenched at the place known as “The Camp,” the natives in large numbers looking on with friendly curiosity and wonderment.
Shortly afterwards H.M.S. “Miranda,” with the 68th Durham Light Infantry, under Colonel Meurant, and the 43rd under Colonel Booth, arrived, and directed by Colonel Mould, R.E., built and gar- page 10 risoned the Durham and Monmouth redoubts respectively, each being defended by 12 and 6 pounder Armstrong field pieces.
Then the Flying Column of 500 men, consisting of drafts from the 12th., 14th., 50th., 65th., and 70th., under Major Ryan, arrived, also the medical ambulance transport, and all other necessary services.
Natives' Chivalrous Fighting Rules
Prior to this the disaffected natives had held a general meeting at Potiriwhi (Port of Relief) at Wairoa, and promulgated a most chivalrous and humane code to be observed in the fighting. They then dispersed to their respective stations along their front, the edge of the great forest extending sixteen miles from Te Puna (where they confidently expected an attack owing to its deep water facilities) to the head of the Waimapu, where they re-built an old pa named Waoku (the Silent Forest Shade). From here their leader, the chief Rawiri Puhirake, despatched a formal message notifying the commanding officer of the position they had occupied, and that if attacked there would accept the ordeal of battle. They further detailed the solemn rules* for governing the fighting, namely, that civilians would not be interfered with; that soldiers captured would be disarmed and handed over to the authorities; that even if armed, and they fled through fear to the House of God or the Priest, they would not be followed; the wounded would be treated with kindness; and the dead would not be mutilated. The message further stated that with a view to lessening the fatigue page 11 of the Queen's soldiers, they had prepared eight miles of road leading to Waoku. These noble sentiments were written out by an enlightened young mission student named Henare Taratoa, who had been educated by Archdeacon (afterwards Bishop) Hadfield of Otaki. Six weeks after the battle of Gate Pa, Henare fell at Te Ranga, and on his body were found copies of the chivalrous rules above quoted, headed with the Scriptural injunction:— “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.” Many weeks passed and further accessions of troops were made. Some of the officers used to go out shooting on the Waimapu and Judea swamps, which brought a protest from Rawiri warning the General against permitting anyone under his command to wander at large, concluding by saying:—”In future all the hills and plains, valleys and streams may be trodden on by our feet and should harm befall those persons the Maoris would be blamed unjustly.”
The young men began to get weary of idleness and it was proposed to make an attack on the camp—a sort of feeler. Accordingly small detachments from the various defensive points collected, and a mild attack was made on the camp. A gun, accidentally discharged, wounded one of their number, which was considered an evil portent, and when the troops advanced in large numbers, opening fire from 12-pounder Armstrongs, the enemy retired, two soldiers only being wounded. A verbal message was sent to Te Papa, saying that as their position inland was evidently too far off for the troops to march, the natives proposed to take up a position nearer Te Papa. The above skirmish had occurred on April 2nd., and the next day the enemy was observed energetically entrenching on Pukehinahina Ridge (a narrow neck where swamps from the Waimapu and Waikareao branches of the harbour were about 300 yards apart). The missionaries had built a deep ditch and high bank across, on which a gate was placed; hence the name of Gate Pa.
East Coast Rebels Arrive.
About this time the large body of East Coast rebels above alluded to, had landed from their war canoes at Otamarakau, and marched inland, but were driven back by the Arawa with severe loss from Tarua, Rotoiki Lake, after three days' fighting. They resumed their march, and brushing aside the weak resistance of the Arawa, crossed the Waihi lagoon, and took up a position facing Pukemaire Pa on the Whareo Te Rangimarere ridge. Fired on page 12 by loyal natives and by the Armstrong guns, and shelled by H.M.S. “Falcon” from seaward at 1600 yards, they were driven back along the beach, followed by about 400 Arawa, who attacked them in the act of embarking at Otamarakau, and forced them to retreat. They lost their finest war canoes, and finally took up a strong position along a deep stream from the foot of the 600 feet high cliffs to the sea beach, 150 yards in length, near where the Matata railway station is now situated. Here they gave battle, and this fight is known as the Kaokaoroa (the “long ribs.”) The Arawa were directed by their grand old chief, Tohi Te Uruangi, from the top of a small sandhill. He fell mortally wounded; then a brave young Taupo chief, Para Pahupahu, broke through the enemy's line, killing two men with his Taiaha. They were then pursued as far as Matata, where they lost the remainder of their canoes. Their total killed during this expedition was about 125 men, including their noted chief Te Aporotanga, who was shot by Mata, the widow of Tohi Te Uruangi, in revenge for her husband. By this time the First Waikato Regiment, under Colonel Harington, had arrived at Te Papa, increasing the force there to 2000 men.
General Cameron Reaches Tauranga.
On April 21st., General Cameron and staff arrived by H.M.S. “Esk,” and on the 26th, 600 navals and marines were disembarked from H.M.S. “Miranda,” “Curacoa,” “Esk,” and “Harrier.” Also one 110-pounder Armstrong gun, and two 40-pounder Armstrong guns from the “Esk,” which with fourteen other guns, landed previously, were taken out by 800 troops to within easy distance of the Gate Pa and fixed in emplacements on Pukereia (Green Hill), and other points of advantage. Light defences were erected around the guns which were carefully blinded by newly cut fern.
Gate Pa Defences Erected.
During the interval from their first occupation of the Gate Pa, the rebels, energetically assisted by their women folk in the heaviest work, and being entirely unmolested, had converted a harmless looking grassy knoll into a work that was to test the calibre of British troops to the utmost. Probably there never was an instance in modern warfare where more deliberate and carefully conceived plans had been devised for securing a crushing defeat of the enemy. From the extended length of their front along the edge of the forest from Te Puna (over sixteen miles), the Gate Pa garrison never exceeded 230 men—General Robley is very emphatic on this point.page 13
The old missionary ditch running across the ridge from swamp to swamp had been enlarged and strengthened. On the western slope, just on the crest of the ridge, a small oblong redoubt about 25 paces by 18 had been built and garrisoned by the chief Heta and twenty-six men of the Pirirakau, Ranginui and Ohoheriki tribes, then a clear space of about 30 paces intervened, consisting of the aforesaid ditch only. This gap had been left as the point of honour in expectation of six hundred Ngatihaua and Waikato natives—who, however, never came—occupying it. Here was constructed the citadel, or main work, extending eastward 40 or 50 paces, decreasing in strength and width toward the eastern extremity, to where the ditch connected with the swamp and water supply. The whole of the main works were enclosed by a single light fence lashed to two rails with flax, the interior being a network of traverses, covered ways and shelters, cleverly covered over with a scanty supply of timber, and blinded with flax and titree and earth, hardly any proper timber being available, except some house building material and a dismantled stockyard.
Sham Attack Launched.
On the afternoon of the 28th., General Cameron, having completed all arrangements, a sham attack was launched at the enemy's position, and continued till dark, from which no casualties to either side resulted. But the Waimapu contingent, conceiving the attack to be real, rushed to join their countrymen, thus enabling Colonel Greer, with about 700 men of the 68th Regiment, to leave camp at 9 p.m., guided by a young settler, Mr William Purvis, and travelling along the mudflats unobserved, they took up a position several yards in the enemy's rear, completely cutting off their retreat inland. It was raining heavily, and throughout the night the 68th could hear the enemy talking in their trenches. About midnight, the General became anxious at receiving no report from Colonel Greer, so despatched Deputy Assistant-Quartermaster-General, Colonel Gamble, with a detachment of sixty blue-jackets from H.M.S. “Curacoa,” under Lieutenant Charles Hotham (now Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Hotham), to ascertain the position. Colonel Gamble, finding the 68th stationed in their proper position, posted the naval detachment on the enemy's extreme right, where they performed excellent service in preventing reinforcements coming in from the east or those in the pa making their escape during the attack next day. Colonel Gamble returned alone at dawn, reporting all well, much to the General's satisfaction.
The Attack Commences.
At daybreak on the 29th, fire was opened on the enemy's position, and continued without intermission till noon, when a 6-pounder Armstrong field piece, having been taken across the swamp and placed in position on a high ridge, completely enfiladed the enemy's left defences, crumpling them up to the small redoubt on the crest of the hill aforesaid. Up to that time our fire had been directed at the flagstaff on a rise 60 yards in the rear, and not having been effectual, the range was shortened and all guns concentrated on the right hand corner of the main citadel. At times our fire was rather wild, but the practice of the 24-pounder howitzers, 8-inch mortars, and 6-inch cohorns, under Captain Smith, R.A., was admirable, and the continuous rain, converting the light soil of the defences into mud, the slender fences were soon demolished. About 3 p.m. the 110 pounder ceased firing, having expended 100 rounds. Later on a considerable body of the enemy attempted to escape on their extreme right, but the 68th extended, and supported by Lieutenant Hotham's Naval Brigade, they were driven back with considerable loss. At 4 p.m. the assaulting column of 150 men of the 43rd., under Colonel Booth, and the same number of the Naval Brigade led by Commander Hay, H.M.S. “Harrier,” formed up on our extreme right, where the contour of the ground sheltered it from the fire of the small redoubt. At the same time the 170 men of the 70th under Major Ryan marched to the right under cover of batteries, and lay concealed in the fern to keep down the enemy's fire, with instructions to later on follow the stormers into the breach. The 300 of the 43rd, seamen and marines under Captain C. F. Hamilton, H.M.S. “Esk,” comprised the reserve, which was also to follow into the works.
The covering party in the fern were only 100 yards from the Pa. The signal—a rocket—having been fired, the storming party, four abreast, (two soldiers and two sailors), with their officers at the flanks, at once, with hurrahs and cheers, rushed at the double toward the breach. The two companies of the 70th then opened up a tremendous fire, and the 68th, with answering cheers, closed up at the rear with heavy fire. In a few minutes, the storming party, gallantly led by their officers, was in the centre of the Pa. The natives, falling back and endeavouring to escape at their rear, were driven in by the tremendous fire of the 68th, and being between two fires which must have inflicted losses on friend and foe alike, the natives sought shelter in their covered ways, traverses and underground shelters, from whence they opened a severe fire on our troops. At this time the enemy from their extreme right, were seen jumping and leaping as they rushed to attack our forces. It was now almost dark, and most of the officers had fallen; page 15 the assaulting column supports and reserves were all crowded into a small space, and appeared to have lost control, and a panic ensued, caused, it is said, by a subaltern calling out:—”My God, here they come in thousands!” Others again say the order “Retire! Retire!” was given. But whatever the cause, the disordered mass, instead of holding on to the earthworks already won, retreated, despite the heroic efforts of their gallant officers, who freely sacrificed their lives in their vain attempts to stem the panic.
General Cameron, from the nearest and most exposed point, with all his staff, believed the position had been won, and immediately ordered up the supports, led by Captain T. C. Hamilton and Captain (afterwards Commodore) Robert Jenkins (the latter though senior, having consented to serve under his junior officer). Captain Hamilton had only reached the second trench when he fell dead, and the whole force fell back outside, the enemy pursuing, and at the same time keeping up a severe cross fire from the detached small redoubt, thus taking a heavy toll of our men.
General Cameron, having rallied his men, threw up earthworks within a hundred yards of the enemy's position just about dark, and waited anxiously for daylight. Captain Jenkins and Dr. Manley were the last men to leave the Pa. Captain Jenkins had a very narrow escape through falling into a deep trench full of Maoris who were so tightly packed they could neither load their guns, nor use their long-handled tomahawks. Meanwhile he belaboured them viciously with his long heavy naval spying glass and uttered terrible yells, which quite unnerved them. The remains of the spyglass were returned to him after the fight.
At midnight, Major Greaves, creeping up to the works, reported that he believed the enemy had retired, and at 5 a.m. a sailor belonging to H.M.S. “Harrier” entered and found the place had been abandoned by the defenders, who had crept through the spaces between the lines of the 68th during the darkness.
A Sad Spectacle.
When the troops took possession in the morning a sad spectacle presented itself. A correspondent (Mr Wilkinson) thus describes the scene:—
“Three men of the 43rd L.I. were lying dead against the inner paling of the fence. On entering the Pa, within a few yards the bodies of four Captains of the 43rd were lying, and further on in line with the others, Colonel Booth of the same regiment was leaning against the rear palisade of the Pa, his spine smashed by a big Tower musket ball, and his arm broken. He was still living, and on being carried out saluted his General, and expressed his page 16 regret at not having succeeded in carrying out his orders. Officers of the ships were lying stark dead in line with the others in the same trenches, and as they were alone must have been in advance of their men and fell while nobly leading them. Captain Hamilton, H.M.S. “Esk,” and Captain Muir of the 43rd, lay in the same trench, having fallen while leading their men. Captain Hamilton, of the 43rd., was lying against the fence, and was still breathing. He had been mortally wounded and left lying in the Pa all night amongst the enemy. Close by him were the bodies of Captains Glover and Utterton of the same regiment. In the centre rifle pit lay Lieutenant Hill of H.M.S. “Curacoa,” who was the senior surviving officer of H.M.S. “Orpheus,” lost on the Manukau Bar, February 7th., 1863. Poor Hill had lived long enough to bind up his wounds with strips of his handkerchief, though shot through the centre of the neck and both cheeks. The dead body of a sailor lay in the second trench, the head split in two across the face by a tomahawk blow, entirely emptying the brain. The Gunner of H.M.S. “Miranda,” (Mr Watt) had his head severed from crown to lower jaw by one cut from a tomahawk, the cut passing straight through the nose. Captain Hamilton, H.M.S. “Esk,” lay with a gun shot wound in the temple through which the brain was protruding, but still alive.”
The rings, watches, money, trinkets, clothing, etc., of our dead, were untouched. This was the finest action of the enemy through the struggle. No one expected it, or could have believed that the exultant rebels would refrain from satiating their passion for revenge by mutilating the helpless bodies. But thank God; it was not so. They had previously determined on a chivalrous and honourable method of carrying on the war, and most scrupulously observed it.
Treatment of the Dead and Wounded
The old Mission House at “The Elms,” Tauranga. Its erection was commenced in 1838 and completed in 1845. Except for a roofing of iron over the shingles and a few minor repairs, the building has been lovingly preserved by its present owner, Miss Alice Maxwell, in its original state.
Archdeacon Brown's Library at “The Elms,” the old Mission Station at Tauranga. Interestingly described by E. Maxwell in “Recollections and Reflections of an Old New Zealander,” p.p. 167–189.
[Photo. by R. J. Smith, A.R.P.S.]
The date of this photograph of Tauranga is uncertain but presumably it was taken at about the time of the arrival of the troops in 1864.
Only twenty of the enemy dead were found in the Pa, but nine more were collected, making twenty-nine who were buried on the west side of Cameron Road, between it and the swamp in the grove of trees there. A fortnight afterwards Piwharangi, another Ngaiterangi, was found and placed with the others, making thirty in all. The Venerable Archdeacon Brown conducted the service. No stone marks these gallant dead. When the fatigue party were laying the dead in one grave, the Maoris, who came in at the General's invitation, objected, making the soldiers place the plebians first, then laying the chiefs across their breasts, saying:—”Kati ano kia Waiho hei whariki mo a matou rangatira (It is well that they should be a couch whereon our chiefs may rest). Including those who died from wounds subsequently, I should put the total Maori loss at about forty-five.
Regarding the debacle of the Gate Pa, the position was practically in our hands when three unforseen contingencies arose, darkness (which might have been obviated) being certainly one. Had the most ordinary forethought been used of ascertaining the exact range for the heavy artillery, a better breach might then have been made several hours before, and a large quantity of expensive ammunition expended to better purpose. The big 156lb. shells fired from the 110lb. Armstrong gun had concussion detonators, and coming into contact with light earth failed to explode, but, after ricochetting fell harmlessly miles beyond. It was a fatal mis- page 18 take delivering the attack so late in the day, the rain and battle smoke combining to destroy all visibility.
It is also agreed that an unmixed force would have shown greater cohesion and unity of purpose. There was no apparent reason why, with the large force available, a counter demonstration could not have been made against the eastern and western portion of the rebel position, to be pressed home or not. It seems certain that immediately the assault developed the enemy concentrated at the portion threatened.
Killed and Wounded
The British casualties numbered more than one-third of the total force composing the storming party. Ten officers were killed or died from wounds. Of non-commissioned officers and privates, twenty-eight were killed and seventy-three wounded. Total killed and wounded, one hundred and eleven officers and men. The 43rd Regiment lost their colonel, four captains and one lieutenant, and two ensigns were severely wounded. Among the killed were two brothers, Captain and Lieutenant Glover, sons of that distinguished Colonel Glover, who rendered such important assistance to General Sir Garnet Wolseley at the taking of Coomassie.
Nearly all the naval brigade officers were killed or wounded, viz., killed: Captain Hamilton (H.M.S. Esk), Lieutenant Hill (H.M.S. Curacoa), Mr Watt, gunner (H.M.S. Miranda); wounded: Commander Hay—mortally (H.M.S. Harrier), Lieutenant Hammick— severely (H.M.S. Miranda), Lieutenant Duff—severely (H.M.S. Esk).
43rd Regiment—Killed:—Captain R. C. Glover, Captain C. R. Mure (tomahawk), Captain R. Hamilton, Captain E. Utterton, Lieutenant C. Langland; Wounded, Colonel Booth (mortally) spine smashed, right arm broken, Lieutenant F. G. E. Glover (mortally), Ensign W. Clarke (severely), Ensign S. P. T. Nichol (slightly).
Employed in the Attack
(Taken from General Cameron's Official Despatch.)
General Staff—4 field officers, 1 subaltern.
Medical Staff—2 field officers, 1 subaltern.
Naval Brigade—4 field officers, 6 captains, 7 subalterns, 36 sergeants, 5 drummers, 371 rank and file.
Royal Artillery—1 field officer, 1 captain, 3 subalterns, 1 staff, 1 sergeant, 43 rank and file.
Royal Engineers—2 rank and file.
Moveable Column—1 field officer, 2 captains, 3 subalterns, 1 staff, 6 sergeants, 4 drummers, 164 rank and file.page 19
43rd Regiment—1 field officer, 5 captains, 5 subalterns, 3 staff, 17 sergeants, 12 drummers, 250 rank and file.
68th Regiment—3 field officers, 6 captains, 15 subalterns, 3 staff, 34 sergeants, 21 drummers, 650 rank and file.
Total:—16 field officers, 20 captains, 35 subalterns, 8 staff. 94 sergeants, 42 drummers, 1480 rank and file.
In addition to which were the First Battalion and First Waikato Regiment, about six or eight hundred strong.
1, 110-pounder Armstrong; 2, 40-pounder Armstrongs; 2, 6-pounder Armstrongs; 2, 24-pounder howitzers; 2, 8-inch mortars; and 6 cohorn mortars. Total, 15 guns.
Prior to the Fight
Fraternising with the Natives
During the several months our troops were stationed in Te Papa prior to actual hostilities, the Tommies, aye, all the officers too, had closely fraternised with the hospitable and chivalrous Ngaiterangi, and a strong mutual regard and admiration had grown up between the two races; hence, as the hour of battle drew nearer, none of the Imperial troops looked forward to it with eagerness and enthusiasm. Whether this feeling had any co-relation to the subsequent defeat I cannot say, but certain it is that the men had gloomy anticipations and all felt the deep seriousness and uncertainty of the adventure they were about to participate in. This being so, the greatest care was exercised by the General and staff in selecting the assaulting column, the details of which were known at least two days previously.
Special Service and Supper
The Venerable Archdeacon Brown, a courtly, scholarly English gentleman, loyal to his Queen, yet deeply attached to his native flock, most of whom he had baptised and taught during thirty-five years of his incumbency, had a difficult role to fill. Yet his integrity and impartiality were never questioned, and he and his tenderhearted wife, in their beautiful home, exercised a noble influence over the young officers, as was evidenced by the many touching and grateful letters they received in after years when those young men had attained high rank and grown into war-worn warriors in other climes. It was my privilege to peruse these attributes of affection. The same gracious solicitude prompted the Archdeacon and page 20 his wife to invite those chosen to lead the assault to a special service and supper on the evening of April 28. All who could attend did so, including the General himself. Dr. Manley, who had a high reputation as a surgeon, whom I knew very well through meeting him frequently at Bishop's Court and at my sister's in Parnell, was, I believe, the only one present on that historic occasion who came out alive. He used to speak with deep emotion of the beautiful address made by the Archdeacon during that memorable evening. He won the Victoria Cross next day for having remained in the Pa in his endeavour to save a soldier from bleeding to death, and had to fight his way out, shooting with his revolver, it is said, a native chief who tried to take him prisoner. Medical men in those days were ranked as combatants and bore arms. It was before the Geneva Conference.
The last message sent in by the rebel leader was an intimation to the General that if nothing occurred he proposed to go into Te Papa for breakfast. Our attack was made the next day and the Maoris believed that this note hastened the climax. Rawiri Puhirake was experiencing the greatest difficulty in keeping his young men together during such a long period of inactivity.
* Potiriwhi District of Tauranga,
March 28, 1864
To the Colonel,
Friend, salutations to you. The end of that, friend, do you give heed to our laws for (regulating) the fight.
Rule 1. If wounded or (captured) whole, and butt of the musket or hilt of the sword be turned to me (he) will be saved.
Rule 2. If any Pakeha being a soldier by name, shall be travelling unarmed and meet me, he will be captured, and handed over to the direction of the law.
Rule 3. The soldier who flees, being carried away by his fears, and goes to the house of the priest with his gun (even though carrying arms) will be saved; I will not go there.
Rule 4. The unarmed Pakehas, women and children will be spared.
The end. These are binding laws for Tauranga.
By TEREA PUIMANUKA
Or rather by all the Catholics at Tauranga.