Puketakauere (1860)

Te Ātiawa tweaks Britannia

The First Taranaki War began in March 1860, sparked by rivalry within Te Ātiawa and Governor Thomas Gore Browne’s unwise purchase of ‘the Waitara Block’ from chief Teira over the wishes of the more senior Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake. It escalated rapidly after Māori disrupted surveying and the British provocatively built ‘Camp Waitara’ atop an ancient pā in the centre of the disputed block. That month government forces ‘captured’ Te Kohia pā, which Te Ātiawa had abandoned after a one-day siege, and won the ‘Battle of Waireka’, a much-exaggerated skirmish on the other side of New Plymouth.

Three months later, however, the war became real and bloody. British forces learned that Māori - Te Ātiawa supported by Ngāti Maniapoto - were fortifying two old pā (Puketakauere and Onukukaitara) within sight of Camp Waitata. The new pā took account of British artillery and tactics. Onukukaitara had the traditional (now vulnerable) wooden palisades but the real defences were encircling rifle pits and underground shelters, hidden obstacles to British post-bombardment assaults. On the wet winter morning of 27 June Major Thomas Nelson, ordered to ‘teach the troublesome Natives a lesson they will not easily forget’, ordered the bombardment of the pā, concentrating on the more conspicuous decoy, Onukukaitara. Then the infantry attacked. Well-directed musket and shotgun fire from the rifle pits and trenches was cutting down the men of the Grenadier and Light companies of the 40th Regiment even before Te Ātiawa reinforcements closed in. The British lost 32 dead and as many wounded; fewer than a dozen Māori died.

The defenders abandoned the pā soon after the battle. In September troops moved in, destroying the defences and building a small ‘Puketakauere Stockade’ on Onukukaitara (this burned down and was abandoned a few years later, during the Second Taranaki War). Puketakauere, as the wider site is known, has been an historic reserve for several decades.

Further information

This site is item number 26 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.



  • James Belich, The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1986
  • David Green, Battlefields of the New Zealand Wars: a visitor’s guide, Penguin, Auckland, 2010
  • Matthew Wright, Two peoples, one land: the New Zealand Wars, Reed Books, Auckland, 2006

Community contributions

No comments have been posted about Puketakauere

What do you know?