Naval attack at Rangiriri

This sketch by Charles Heaphy shows a Royal Navy storming party attacking the central redoubt at Rangiriri.

A combined British naval and land force of 1400 men assaulted Rangiriri on 20 November 1863. The pā’s 500 defenders fought off repeated attacks and the fighting ground to a halt at nightfall. Overnight a number of Māori, including Wiremu Tāmihana and King Tāwhiao, were evacuated from the pā. At dawn Māori raised a white flag, apparently not as an act of surrender but to request negotiations. The British, facing no resistance, moved into the redoubt and in the confusion that followed ordered the remaining defenders to surrender their weapons.

Both sides suffered heavy casualties in the battle. In addition to those killed and wounded, 183 Kingite fighters – including a number of chiefs – were captured along with their weapons. The British now had a clear run upriver to the King’s capital, Ngāruawāhia.

Charles Heaphy, who drew this sketch, made quite an impact on colonial New Zealand. Artist, explorer, soldier and colonial administrator, he was the first colonial soldier to win the Victoria Cross, for his bravery at Waiari, near Te Awamutu, in February 1864.

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