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The Battle of Gate Pa - 1864

The Battle of "Gate Pa" (a "pa" is a fortified settlement) is probably the battle which made the greatest impact in the history of the New Zealand Wars. In an effort to cut off reinforcements and food supplies which where filtering through to the Māori rebels in the Waikato area, the British sent their troops to Tauranga, where Gate Pa was situated, in order to attack the fortress.

Gate Pa was situated near the entrance of Tauranga Harbour, and was so named because of a gate which was nearby, and which bordered on land bought by the Church Missionary Society.

Around 200 warriors from the Ngai-te-Rangi tribe were in place one side of the "pa", and around 35 warriors, mainly from the Ngati Koheriki tribe, reinforced the other side. The chief Rawiri Puhirake was in charge.

On 29th April 1864, the 43rd British regiment attacked the Pa. 1.700 soldiers armed with a strong artillery train : 8 mortars, 2 howitzers, 2 naval canon and 5 Armstrong guns. The Armstrong gun was a relatively new weapon, having been invented in 1854. The British troops knew by this time that an extremely well fortified Pa, even manned by armed Māori warriors who were numerically inferior in number, was not a future battle to be taken lightly.

General Cameron was in charge of the Imperial troops. The soldiers opened fire on Gate Pa, and during a short time bombarded it heavily. The following day the troops bombarded again, for a longer period, and this time succeeding in breaking opening a large point of entry to the pa. Cameron then sent an elite assault force to penetrate the breach opened up during the bombardment.

The assault force was made up of the 43rd Regiment and a naval brigade, an approximate total of 300 men. The party advanced, succeeded in entering the pa, but within ten minutes were forced to rapidly withdraw, leaving around 100 dead and wounded soldiers inside the "pa".


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The British had thought their previous heavy bombardment had taken effect, owing to the fact that there had been little response fire from within the pa. However, on entering via the breach, the British troops found themselves being fired on at very close range from Māori in hiding.

A reinforcement group of soldiers was sent to relieve the trapped assault force in the pa. However, the reinforcements found themselves caught up in the retreat from the pa by the first assault force. From two separate areas of the pa, the Māori were firing on the two groups of troops, who were by this time caught up in the deadly crossfire.

During the night the Māori, who had not suffered a particularly heavy loss due to their well-planned strategy, evacuated the pa, taking with them the abandoned British weapons.

After the battle of Gate Pa there was much controversy about the defeat of the elite Imperial troops, heavily armed and far superior in number to the Māori.

The Māori warrior was a magnificent, brave and fierce fighter. Their strong spiritual ties to the land led them to fight with passion and vigour. The British soldiers had much respect for these fierce fighters. However, the Māori eventually and inevitably lost their war and land due to the superior firepower of the British troops, and the ever-continuing arrival of European settlers.

It is worth noting that many Māori were pro-government, and either joined the government troops during the wars, or remained neutral. They welcomed the beneficial economic relations with the European, and preferred to maintain good relations. On the other hand, other tribes joined up with the British or Colonial forces in order to avenge enemy tribes.


Main source of research :
"To Face the Daring Māoris" - Michael Barthorp (Hodder and Stoughton)

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Related Links
 The New Zealand Wars - Official site
New Zealand's 19th Century Wars
New Zealand Wars from HistoryOrb. Includes articles on specific historical events and broad trends from around the world. Additionally contains a searchable archive of important events, famous births and deaths spanning thousands of years.
The battle of Gate Pa
Taranaki wars timeline
Glossary of Māori words


 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.