Tauranga Campaign

From Academic Kids

The Tauranga Campaign took place in New Zealand, from January 21 1864 to June 21 1864, during the Maori Wars.


The origins of The Tauranga Campaign

This campaign started as a side show to the Invasion of the Waikato, where British Imperial Troops, on behalf of the New Zealand Colonial Government, were fighting a confederation of Maori tribes known as the King Movement. The Kingites were receiving assistance, both materials and recruits, from many of the tribes in the North Island. In an effort to curb this flow of support the British sent an expedition to Tauranga a major harbour in the Bay of Plenty, some 100 km east of the conflict in the Waikato.

Their intention was merely to establish a base and adopt a defensive posture. However the local Maori, Ngai Te Rangi, could not afford to assume that this would always be the case. They responded with threats, insults, abuse, a programme of increasing provocation and then began raiding the British camp. Finally they built a strong Pa, a fortress or defensive position only 5km from the British camp.

The British commander, Colonel Greer, could not ignore this. It not only restricted his freedom of movement but also limited his control of Tauranga Harbour. He applied to Auckland for reinforcements so he could go on the offensive. His request arrived in Auckland just as the active conflict Waikato ended. The British commander, General Duncan Cameron, had just returned to Auckland where he was experiencing a lot of criticism from the Press and the Colonial government who saw the Waikato Campaign as a failure. True they had conquered and annexed a lot of territory but this had always been only the unspoken objective. The ostensible reason for invading the Waikato had been decisively beat the Maori in battle and make an end to the King Movement. This hadn't happened. It seems that Cameron saw in Tauranga a chance to achieve his decisive victory. Whatever the reasons he immediately sailed for Tauranga with his entire reserve bringing the garrison up to 1700 men.

Meanwhile fighting had already broken out nearby. A large contingent of East Coast Maori, possibly as many as 700 warriors were making their way towards the conflict in the Waikato. The route they chose took them through the territory of a tribe which saw themselves as allies of the Pakeha, the Arawa tribe based around Rotorua. Forewarned of this the Arawa chiefs called home their tribesmen, many of whom were working in Auckland or further north. Pausing only in Tauranga to borrow what guns they could from the British, they hastened onward to Rotorua. Four hundred warriors of the tribe were mobilized, they met and held the East Coast Maori on 7 April in a two day battle on the shores of Lake Rotoiti.


The invaders fell back towards Maketu, a small settlement on the coast south east of Tauranga. A contingent of British troops and Colonial Militia hastily occupied the area and built a substantial redoubt on a nearby hilltop. In the event the enemy did not arrive for two weeks, until 27 April by which time a pair of field guns had also been installed. When they eventually arrived the East Coast Maori surrounded the redoubt and began digging trenches. The rest of the day was spent in desultory gun fire that achieved very little.

The following day reinforcements for the defenders arrived in the form of 300 Te Arawa warriors and two British naval steamships, one of them a heavily armed corvette. These were able to anchor close in to shore and bombard the attackers at will. The East Coast Maori soon found their position untenable and had to retreat. They tried to dig in further down the coast but were promptly attacked by the militia, the New Zealand Forest Rangers led by Captain Thomas McDonnell. A running fight through the sand dunes ensued and continued until dusk and was then resumed in the morning with the Arawa Maori lending enthusiastic assistance. Meanwhile the two naval ships kept pace with the fighting and any of the enemy Maori coming too close to the shore line was met with cannon fire.

Eventually the East Coast Maori dispersed into the swamps and returned home.

The Battle of Gate Pa

Gate Pa is the name given to provocative fortress the Maori built only 5km from the main British base at Tauranga. The name comes from it appearance, the palisade looked liked a picket fence while a higher part in the middle resembled a gate. By the end of April the British were ready to attack. They had 1700 men and were opposed by merely 230 Maori, it looked like a good opportunity to score a decisive victory.

A heavy bombardment was begun at daybreak on 29 April 1864 and continued for eight hours; the British had 15 artillery pieces including one of 110 pounds (50 kg). By mid afternoon the Pa looked as if it had been demolished and there was a large breach in the center of the palisade. At 4 p.m. the barrage was lifted and 300 troops were sent up to capture and secure the position.

Within ten minutes well over a hundred of them were dead or wounded. There was no second assault. During the night the Maori gave assistance to the wounded and collected their weapons; by day break they had abandoned the position.

Gate Pa was the single most devastating defeat suffered by the British military in the whole of the Maori Wars. What happened?

General Cameron was probably the most able of the different commanders of the Imperial forces to serve in New Zealand. He knew from experience the likely cost of making a frontal assault on a defended Pa and he was usually very careful with his men's lives. But a frontal assault is what he ordered. It seems likely that he believed the bombardment had been long enough and intense enough to extinguish all resistance from within the Pa. One historian calculated that Gate Pa absorbed in eight hours a greater weight of explosive per square metre than did the German trenches in the week long bombardment leading up to the Battle of the Somme in World War I. If true then Cameron's assumption seems to have been a reasonable one.

But Gate Pa wasn't quite what it appeared to be. From the British positions it looked like fairly large strongpoint occupying the entire hill top. In fact it was much smaller being two low redoubts on either side of the ridge joined by a deep trench about forty metres long and the whole shielded by a strong wooden palisade. It seems likely that British concentrated their barrage towards the center, that is where the palisade had collapsed and that is where the attack went in. Meanwhile the two redoubts had been built very strong with deep and effective bomb proof shelters. The Maori may have been deafened by the bombardment but as soon as it ended they were able to unleash a devastating ambush.

To contemporaries Gate Pa was seen as a shattering defeat. Indeed it was. The perception was that 1700 elite British troops had been defeated by 230 half naked savages. The arrogance of the settlers and the hubris of the British Empire took a serious blow. Governor George Grey came down to Tauranga and began peace negotiations. Cameron returned to Auckland leaving Colonel Greer in command, strictly on the defensive.

The Battle of Te Ranga

The Tauranga campaign seemed to be over and then suddenly balance swung once again. Colonel Greer was conducting patrols around his base, in strength, i.e. with 600 men. On 21 June he came upon a force of about 500 Maori building a new Pa at Te Ranga, some seven kilometers from his base. They had done little more than dig a few trenches. However Greer had sufficient respect for his enemy that he immediately called for reinforcements. This was the opportunity Cameron had always been looking for, to be able to meet the Maori in the open. The Maori fought desperately but they were overwhelmed by the British soldiery. They only broke and fled when their commander, Rawiri, was killed.

The success at Te Ranga was hailed as a great British victory, one that wiped out the shame of the defeat at Gate Pa. It certainly did a great deal to restore British morale particularly for the 43rd Regiment which was involved in both engagements and had lost many men at Gate Pa.

Peace negotiations were resumed but for once the Pakeha were negotiating on equitable terms, they were not in a position to insist on an unconditional surrender. A few firearms were surrendered, mostly old and rusty muskets. Some land was confiscated but very little compared with what was happening in the Waikato. Also the Government agreed to supply the Maori with food and seed until they got their crops reestablished.

At the time it was said that the Maori achieved this favourable settlement only because Governor Grey had a Ngai Te Rangi girlfriend. Possibly, although it might have been because General Cameron withdrew the British Imperial Troops from Tauranga and would allow them no further involvement.

Furthermore they were needed in the Wanganui area. By now the Second Taranaki War was well underway and the New Zealand government was fighting on two fronts.

The Battle of Te Ranga, 21 June 1864 was the last serious engagement of the Tauranga campaign. In so far as the Tauranga Campaign was a sideshow of the Waikato War it also marks the tacit end of that conflict. There was no real peace treaty or truce, the two sides just stopped fighting each other.

Further reading

  • Belich, James (1988). The New Zealand wars. Penguin.
  • Belich, James (1996) Making peoples. Penguin Press.
  • Cowan, J., & Hasselberg, P. D. (1983) The New Zealand wars. New Zealand Government Printer. (Originally published 1922)
  • Maxwell, Peter (2000). Frontier, the battle for the North Island of New Zealand. Celebrity Books.
  • Simpson, Tony (1979). Te Riri Pakeha. Hodder and Stoughton.
  • Sinclair, Keith (ed.) (1996). The Oxford illustrated history of New Zealand (2nd ed.) Wellington: Oxford University Press.
  • Vaggioli, Dom Felici (2000). History of New Zealand and its inhabitants, Trans. J. Crockett. Dunedin: University of Otago Press. Original Italian publication, 1896.
  • "The people of many peaks: The Māori biographies". (1990). From The dictionary of New Zealand biographies, Vol. 1, 1769-1869. Bridget Williams Books and Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand.

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