General Cameron at Gate Pā

General Duncan Cameron (fifth from right in the front row, leaning on the wheel of the gun carriage) with soldiers of the Colonial Defence Force. Taken at sunrise on 29 April 1864, the day of the attack on Gate Pā.

Following his victory at Ōrākau, Cameron arrived in Tauranga with reinforcements on 21 April 1864. A week later he led 1700 men out of camp at Te Papa. Expectations of victory were high. The heaviest artillery bombardment of the war was unleashed on Gate Pā. After eight hours there was no sign of life in the pā, and at 4 p.m. Cameron gave the order to attack. Most of the defenders had survived the shelling by sheltering in underground bunkers and they inflicted a crushing defeat on the British force. In the wake of this disaster Cameron was accused by some of being too rash and by others of being overly cautious.

Cameron struggled to get to grips with the defeat. It significantly dented his reputation and influenced his approach to future campaigns In 1865, while confronting the Pai Mārire threat in Whanganui and south Taranaki, Cameron clashed with Governor George Grey, who considered his tactics to be too cautious. All too well aware of the risks involved in attacking pā directly, Cameron kept his men in the open country near the coast. Māori allegedly nicknamed him the ‘Lame Seagull’. Despite Grey’s discontent, Cameron’s operations were largely effective. But when he refused to attack the modern pā of Weraroa, his relationship with Grey collapsed. Cameron left New Zealand in August 1865 after Grey accepted his resignation.

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