Ōhaeawai NZ Wars memorial

Ōhaeawai NZ Wars memorial

Memorial for William Stewart and Matthew Hodgkins, who were killed at Ōhaeawai. Most of the men from the British forces killed or fatally wounded at the Battle of Ōhaeawai on 1 July 1845 were buried near the site of the battle (see Ōhaeawai NZ Wars memorial cross). However, five men - Captain William E. Grant, Lieutenant Edward Beattie, Lieutenant George Philpotts, and Privates William Stewart and Matthew Hodgkins - were buried in the graveyard of the Church of St John the Baptist, Waimate North. The wooden headstone erected to mark the last two men's graves was in recent years moved to the shelter of the lych-gate to ensure its preservation.

British commander Henry Despard’s decision to assault the modern pā of Ōhaeawai on 1 July 1845 was roundly criticised in terms ranging from ‘stupidity’ to ‘lunacy’. Major Cyprian Bridge recorded that after the assault he and his men were ‘tired and dispirited and disgusted beyond expression at having been defeated by a mob of savages and with such fearful cost’. Bridge criticised Despard for not attacking the pā at its most vulnerable point, but to be fair to the colonel the level of concealment achieved by the outer fence made it difficult to identify this weak point.

Despard was nearly 60, had not seen active service for almost 30 years, and was perhaps not up to running a campaign. Despite the criticisms of some of those who survived the assault, he continued to enjoy the support of his Australian-based superior, General Sir Maurice O’Connell, and New Zealand’s Governor Robert FitzRoy.

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