Assault on Gate Pā

29 April 1864

Horatio Robley’s watercolour depicts the attack on Gate Pā (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-019993-G)

The British attacked the Ngāi Te Rangi stronghold of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā), defended by just 230 warriors, after a heavy artillery bombardment.

When Gate Pā was built within 5 km of Tauranga to provoke a British response, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron duly arrived from Auckland with reinforcements. On 28 April, 1700 troops marched towards the pā, which was shelled from daybreak next day.

The artillery bombardment was the heaviest of the New Zealand Wars, with huge Armstrong guns supported by howitzers. But Gate Pā withstood the barrage. Firing few shots, the defenders created the impression that the shelling had largely wiped them out.

In fact, 15 Māori at most were killed by the bombardment. When a British raiding party assaulted the pā, the men became disoriented in a maze of trenches and were routed by warriors firing from concealed positions. Within 10 minutes, the storming party suffered 100 casualties and fled.

The disaster required scapegoats. The assault party were branded as cowards, the army blamed naval troops, and Cameron was accused of being either too rash or too timid.