Rangiriri NZ Wars army memorial

Rangiriri is a small town on State Highway 1, 17 km north of Huntly in Waikato. Here, on 20 November 1863, British troops and Waikato Māori sustained more casualties than in any other engagement during the New Zealand Wars. ‘Bloody Rangiriri’ was the decisive battle of the Waikato War.

This memorial obelisk is situated in the Rangiriri cemetery. It records the names of 42 men from the Royal Artillery, 1st Battalion 12th Regiment, 2nd Battalion 14th Regiment, 40th Regiment and 65th Regiment who died as a result of the battle at Rangiriri.

On the afternoon of 20 November, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron attacked Rangiriri with about 1400 imperial troops. According to one report these included 386 men of the 65th Regiment. 320 of the 40th, 186 of the 14th, 112 of the 12th, 54 Royal Artillery and 15 Royal Engineers, as well as 200 officers and men of the Royal Navy.

The Rangiriri line was manned by about 500 defenders from tribes including Ngāti Mahuta, Ngātiteata, Ngāti Hine, Patupou, Ngāti Pāoa and Ngati Hauā. Despite success elsewhere along the line, the British failed in at least eight attempts to take the central redoubt before nightfall. The remaining defenders were tricked into surrendering the following morning.

The British suffered 130 casualties at Rangiriri. Of these, six officers and 41 men were killed in action or died later from their wounds. The officers, who included Captain Henry Mercer of the Royal Artillery; Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Austen, Lieutenant William Murphy and Captain John Phelps of the 14th Regiment; and Ensign A. Ducrow of the 40th Regiment, were buried in Auckland’s Grafton Cemetery.

Many of the troops were buried at Rangiriri, probably according to regiment. It was later reported that ‘the dead were sewn up in blankets, and buried in rows only divided by a small space form the last resting-place of the enemy’s slain. Side by side they sleep in peace.’ The Māori church adjacent to the burial ground in Daniel Manders Beere’s 1864 photograph was built some time before the battle.

There were ongoing concerns regarding the maintenance of the Rangiriri burial ground. The Armed Constabulary inspected Rangiriri in 1882 after similar complaints regarding the burial ground at Ngāruawāhia. Rangiriri’s fences were repaired and the ground cover cleared.

Five years later, however, Rangiriri was the subject of a parliamentary question by Waikato MP John Whyte. The resulting report, submitted by Constable Hutchison on 5 July 1887, detailed the ‘most dilapidated’ condition of the cemetery. The fence was decayed and rotten, the headstones had fallen down and the cemetery was covered in weeds.

One writer who visited the scene around this time described ‘wide gaps in the fence, and pigs roam[ing] at will over the graves. The simple memorials which the soldiers had placed over their dead comrades had rotted away beyond recognition; the whole place was a wilderness of furze and high fern.’ The writer also alleged that funds voted by Parliament for repairs to military cemeteries during Sir George Grey’s tenure as Treasurer had been ‘diverted to the repair of roads and bridges’.

This description closely resembles that by Constable Murray, a policeman from Hamilton East, who produced a more detailed report two months after Hutchison. On 1 September, he reported that the cemetery was completely overgrown with six-foot-high briars. The wooden slabs were rotten – most had fallen down, and only about half had legible inscriptions.

Murray made one of the first official recommendations for a memorial on the site.

The renewal of the slabs is a large item, and would in my opinion be a useless expenditure as in a great many instances the slabs have either disappeared altogether or are so far beyond recognition as would make it impossible to replace them… I therefore think it would be a mistake to replace them with wood. The names could be obtained of all those who fell in action and were buried in the Rangiriri Cemetery and a good sized stone erected which would contain all the names. This could be done at considerably less cost than the renewal of the few remaining slabs.

Murray’s follow-up report was dated 12 December 1887. While the fencing and cleaning had been completed, the wooden slabs had not yet been replaced. Again, Murray strongly recommended the erection of a stone monument.

Nearly six years later, Rangiriri became an imperial concern. In the British House of Commons on 18 September 1893, MP for Cambridge University Sir John Worst questioned Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies Sydney Buxton about the ‘alleged ruinous and neglected state’ of the British seamen’s and soldiers’ graves at Rangiriri.

Worst’s enquiry was prompted by a letter that appeared in the St James Gazette on 11 September. The correspondent, ‘Hora’, had visited Rangiriri and found the soldiers’ graves ‘shamefully neglected’ due to New Zealand’s ‘stinginess’. ‘It ought’, wrote Hora, ‘surely to be the duty of a prosperous colony … to perpetuate the memory of men who lost their lives in its service and for its direct benefit’.

Hora’s comments were echoed by the Broad Arrow. This long-standing, London-based publication for the armed services bristled at the ‘meanness and ingratitude of the New Zealand Government and people’.

In response to this criticism, the New Zealand government asked the Police Commissioner, Colonel Arthur Hume, to investigate the state of Rangiriri. On 8 December 1893, Hume reported that the cemetery was overgrown, the wooden slabs were flat and decaying, and the unpainted wooden fence was beginning to rot. He recommended clearing the ground and painting the fence, work which was completed in July the following year.

Hume stated that the British soldiers were buried according to regiment in four different areas. He therefore recommended that a four-sided memorial be placed in the centre of the cemetery with a tablet for each regiment inscribed with names.

In a letter to the government the following year, Hume observed that the headstones were illegible. In his opinion, the only possible course of action was to erect a memorial that recorded the names of all the British soldiers – officers and men – who died at Rangiriri, regardless of whether they were actually interred at the cemetery.

Hume went on to recommend that the cost of the memorial, about £100, be raised by the regiments. By 28 July 1894, subscriptions had been received from each of the regiments. The amounts included £8 15s 3d from the 12th Regiment, £8 16s 5d from the 14th Regiment and £6 from the 40th Regiment.

Rangiriri’s military memorial was erected in the autumn of 1896. The final arrangements had been made by Major Edward Elliott, Private Secretary to the Governor, the Earl of Glasgow. The press reported that agitation for such a memorial had been initiated by Captain Hunter-Blair, formerly of Glasgow’s staff.

Nearly 20 years later, on 14 January 1914, the Inspector of Old Soldiers’ Graves for the Department of Internal Affairs, Edith Statham, reported that there were ‘several stones and two very nice monuments’ at Rangiriri. The second memorial, erected prior to 1896 by the Royal Navy, was dedicated to the sailors and marines who died on 20 November 1863.

Another 13 years passed before the Rangiriri cemetery was fully restored. The unveiling of a memorial gateway on 13 April 1927 marked the completion of further work on the cemetery that had begun in 1925.

Additional images

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Front face [A]:
Sacred / to / the memory / of / officers & men / who fell at the / battle / of Rangariri [sic] / in the / New Zealand War / 20th Novr. 1863

R[oyal]. A[rtillery].
Capt. H. Mercer
B[ombardie]r. W. Martin
G[unne]r. Culverwell
[Gunner] Kevan

1st B[attalio]n 12th Regt.
Lt. W.L. Murphy
Corp. T. Payne
Pte. R. Needham
[Pte.] T. Osburne
[Pte.] J. Sayers
[Pte.] D. Shea
[Pte.] C. Smith
[Pte.] J. Wood

This monument / is erected / by subscriptions from / the Regiments. / 1896 / Tait Bros / Auckland

Face [B]:
2nd Bn. 14th Regt.
Lt. Col. C.W. Austen
Capt. J.S. Phelps
Lce. Corp. Burrell
Pte. T. Bellew
[Pte.] R. McCrery
[Pte.] R. Nolan
[Pte.] H. Russell

Face [C]:
40th Regt.
Ens[ign]. A. Ducrow
Pte. E. Lauchlan
[Pte.] E. Barber
[Pte.] E. Hone
[Pte.] J. Daley
[Pte.] E. Goldsborough
[Pte.] J. McNalley / "
[Pte.] J. Jones

Face [D]:
65th Regt.
Pte. J. Bell
[Pte.] P. Manley
[Pte.] T. Blackham
[Pte.] J. Cavanach
[Pte.] R. Clark
[Pte.] A. Hepburn
[Pte.] Mooney
[Pte.] W. Johnston
[Pte.] J. Neat
[Pte.] A. McClelland
[Pte.] P. King
[Pte.] T. Roberts
[Pte.] E. Brown
[Pte.] J. McCausland
[Pte.] J. Cain


This stone / is erected by / Lieut. General Cameron C. B. / commanding the forces in / New Zealand / to the memory of his Orderly / Edward Lauchlan / Private in H. M. 40th Regiment / who was killed in the attack / on the Maori position at / Rangiriri / on the / 20th November / 1863.

Further information

  • Extract from ‘Local and General News’, Marlborough Express, 4 November 1893
  • Extract from ‘London’, Tuapeka Times, 15 November 1893
  • Extract from ‘Local & General’, Otago Witness, 26 March 1896
  • Waikato War Heroes’, Evening Post, 27 May 1896
  • The Battle of Rangiriri’, Evening Post, 6 June 1896
  • James Belich, ‘Rangiriri’, in The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict, Penguin, Auckland, 1998, pp. 142–57
  • James Cowan, ‘The Battle of Rangiriri’, in The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Maori campaigns and the pioneering period: volume I: 1845–1864, R.E. Owen, Wellington, 1955, pp. 326–35 (includes a plan of the Maori entrenchments and a cross-section of the central redoubt, pp. 328–9)
  • Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials, GP Books, Wellington, 1990, pp. 25–6, 39
  • Nigel Prickett, ‘The Waikato War, 1863–64’, in Landscapes of conflict: a field guide to the New Zealand Wars, Random House, Auckland, 2002, pp. 69–86
  • Chris Pugsley, ‘Walking the Waikato Wars: Controversy at Rangiriri: 20 November 1863’, New Zealand Defence Quarterly, no. 15 (Summer 1996), pp. 31–7

Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about Rangiriri NZ Wars army memorial

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Shilong Yang

Posted: 20 Feb 2013

I am a intermediate school student who has a project about Waikato history. We have to visit a site that is historically famous for an event and I have chosen Rangariri. I need imformation for this project and if you could help me please contact me asap. thank you