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The fight at Rangiaowhia


The fight at Rangiaohia for the recovery of McHale’s body. February 21 1864, by L.A. Wilson. This artist’s impression of the battle depicts the moment Colonel Marmaduke Nixon (top, second from left) was shot. Captain Thomas McDonnell (left) runs to help Nixon, while Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron and his staff are arriving at right.

On the morning of Sunday 21 February 1864 the inhabitants of Rangiaowhia, the economic heartland of the Kīngitanga, were surprised by the arrival of imperial and colonial soldiers. Rangiaowhia’s fighting men were still at nearby Pāterangi, which Cameron’s force had bypassed overnight. Many inhabitants took refuge in one of Rangiaowhia’s two churches, while others ran for their whare (houses).

Sergeant McHale, ‘an excited cavalryman’, was shot and killed when he fired into one of the whare. So was a soldier of the 65th Regiment. The building was surrounded and two ranks of men opened fire. Those inside returned fire, mortally wounding Colonel Nixon. Then another trooper was shot while trying to retrieve McHale’s body.

Whether by accident or design, the thatch of the building caught fire. An unarmed elderly man came out with a white blanket raised above his head. He was killed by a hail of bullets despite calls from a nearby officer to ‘spare him’. Two more Māori attempting to escape met a similar fate, and eight charred corpses (including that of McHale) were later found in the smoking ruins.


Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: A-109-050
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

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The fight at Rangiaowhia, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated