Rāwiri Puhirake NZ Wars memorial

Mission Cemetery – also known as Military, or Old Military, Cemetery – is the oldest European burial ground in the Bay of Plenty city of Tauranga. Located on Marsh St (near the harbour bridge) at the northern end of Te Papa peninsula, the cemetery is situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the harbour. It stands on the site once occupied by the Ngāi Te Rangi pā of Otamataha.

The cemetery is thought to contain the remains of about 100 imperial and colonial troops and Māori fighters who died on active service in the Tauranga district during the New Zealand Wars. This memorial marks the grave of the Ngāi Te Rangi leader Rāwiri Puhirake, who wa killed at Te Ranga on 21 June 1864.

Rāwiri Puhirake – also known as Rāwiri Tuaia and Whakatauhoe – was of the Ngāi Tukairangi hapū of Ngāi Te Rangi from Matapihi, a peninsula on the eastern side of Tauranga Harbour. By the 1850s he was a leader of his iwi.

Puhirake is thought to have remained neutral during the first six months of the Waikato War (1863–64). His position changed dramatically when on 22 January 1864, Colonel George Carey landed at Te Papa with about 600 men – and orders not to antagonise the local Māori. Monmouth and Durham redoubts were constructed to protect the large military camp at Te Papa (now the Tauranga CBD). Puhirake saw these developments as a direct threat to Māori land ownership in the district.

Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui men who had been fighting in Waikato now returned home to Tauranga. Led by Puhirake, they began trying to provoke the British force at Te Papa to attack them at a place of their choosing.

Puhirake’s men built two well-fortified pā. The first, at Te Waoku near the Waimapu River, was some way inland and the British ignored it. The second, Pukehinahina, was only 4 km from the British camp. Situated on the boundary between mission land and Māori territory, it became known as Gate Pā.

The British commander in New Zealand, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron, now arrived from Auckland with reinforcements. By 26 April, 1700 troops had assembled at Te Papa. Two days later the British force surrounded Gate Pā. Its 235 defenders were led by Puhirake. Most were Ngāi Te Rangi, supported by Ngāti Pāoa and other men from Hauraki and Waikato.

British artillery began bombarding Gate Pā on the afternoon of 28 April. Twenty-four hours later, Cameron ordered a frontal assault by 300 men. The attackers soon got into the pā, but standing on top of the earthworks they were vulnerable to fire from defenders hidden in underground bunkers and trenches.

Many officers, including Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Booth of the 43rd Regiment, were quickly killed or wounded. Some Māori, prevented from retreating by men of the 68th Regiment positioned behind the pā, rushed back inside the defences. In the confusion, and having lost much of their leadership, the attackers fled and became mixed up with reserves who had been sent forward in support. Cameron was forced to call off the attack.

Earlier in the year, Ngāi Te Rangi leaders had drawn up a code of conduct for war. This stipulated that women, children and unarmed Pākehā men would not be attacked, and that the lives of captured soldiers would be spared. In the aftermath of the battle, Puhirake ordered his men to follow this code:

The defenders … treated the wounded British with a humanity and chivalry that surprised their foes. With few exceptions, they did not despoil them of anything but their arms and such articles as naval officers’ telescopes; they did not tomahawk them after they had fallen, and they gave water to the wounded lying in their lines.

Gate Pā’s defenders escaped through the British lines during the night after the battle. The British had lost 35 men dead or mortally wounded, with another 75 wounded. Between 20 and 25 Māori men are thought to have been killed. The scale of the defeat shocked New Zealand’s settler community and its military and political establishment. However, the British would soon get their revenge.

On the morning of 21 June, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Greer left Te Papa with a force of 600 men. They discovered that a similar number of Māori were working on defensive earthworks at Te Ranga, 5 km inland from Gate Pā. Again led by Puhirake, they comprised Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui, supported by Ngāti Porou from the East Coast and Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Rangiwewehi from Rotorua. Early in the afternoon, after calling up reinforcements, Greer ordered his men to attack.

The battle that followed was among the bloodiest of the New Zealand Wars. In desperate hand-to-hand fighting, the British exacted terrible vengeance for Gate Pā. The Māori garrison was unable to hold the incomplete defences and, when Puhirake was killed, those able to retreat did so.

British casualties were nine dead and 39 wounded. More than 100 defenders were buried in the trenches at Te Ranga – Puhirake among them. Such was their regard for him that British officers gathered to pay Puhirake their last respects when he was buried the day after the battle.

This one-sided battle largely crushed resistance in the vicinity of Tauranga Harbour. Some Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui surrendered arms to the British at Te Papa in ceremonies on 21 and 25 July. Much of their land was subsequently confiscated.

Puhirake’s remains were exhumed on 13 August 1874, 10 years after his death. He was returned to Matapihi to be mourned by his people before being reburied in Mission Cemetery. According to a later newspaper report, the government promised a tombstone for Puhirake’s grave at this time, but failed to provide it.

The 1st Waikato Militia memorial was unveiled at Mission Cemetery on 11 July 1909. In an address to the Tauranga Mounted Rifles and Opotiki Mounted Rifles, Captain A.C. Turner, a veteran of Gate Pā and Te Ranga, suggested that Puhirake’s memory be perpetuated. The Bay of Plenty Times offered a tentative endorsement of the idea:

A few yards away from the two monuments [1st Waikato memorial and 43rd Regiment memorial] … is the resting-place of the remains of Rawiri Puhiraki, but no headstone marks the grave of the Ngaiterangi chief who led the natives against the Europeans at the Gate Pa engagement. From what history tells us this man was not a savage.

This imposing red granite memorial, crafted by W. Parkinson & Co. of Auckland, was erected over Puhirake’s grave five years later. It was unveiled on 21 June 1914 – the 50th anniversary of Puhirake’s death – by Colonel Robert Logan, the officer commanding the Auckland military district. Although the opening of Parliament prevented Cabinet ministers and the governor attending, about 1000 people – including Māori leaders, prominent local Europeans and New Zealand Wars veterans – took part in the proceedings.

The Bay of Plenty Times praised ‘the united efforts of Europeans and Maoris’ to perpetuate the memory of a ‘clever and chivalrous warrior’. According to the newspaper, ‘leading natives’ had asked Lieutenant-Colonel G. Arnold Ward and J.C. Adams (chairman of the Military Cemetery Committee of the Tauranga Borough Council) to manage the project; both men had been instrumental in the erection of the 1st Waikato memorial. Donations from local Māori were supplemented by contributions from ‘European sympathisers’, and Native Minister W.H. Herries promised a ‘substantial’ government subsidy.

The ‘striking’ memorial, ‘the most imposing of its kind in the Military Cemetery’, bears a white marble frieze showing a scene at Gate Pā after the battle. A British officer – said to be the mortally wounded Booth – lies at Puhirake’s feet. The Ngāi Te Rangi leader gestures to his men for water, which is being brought in a gourd.

The frieze symbolises Puhirake’s command to show mercy to wounded enemy soldiers, but does not depict actual events. This act of humanity towards Booth, sometimes attributed to a man named Te Ipu, was actually undertaken by a woman, Hēni Te Kiri Karamū, using an old iron nail-can.

Additional images

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Inscription

He tohu / whakamaharatanga / mo / Rawiri Puhiraki / he rangatira no Ngaitirangi / mana i arataki te pakanga a te Maori ki te Pakeha e te pa I Pukehinahina i te 29 o Aperira / 1864, i te pa ano huri i Te Ranga i / te 21 o Hune 1864, a i hinga ia i / Te Parekura i Te Ranga. / He rangatira a Rawiri I aromatia / kuitia e ona iwi Maori katoa me te / tino whakamoemiti hoki o nga Pakeha katoa ki a ia i runga i tona. / Toa ki te riri mo tana aroha ano hoki ki / Nga Pakeha i tu a kiko me Nga Pakeha i noho noa / iho, ka waiho ra nga mahi rangaitira a nunui ma / hei tauira mo te whakahaerenga o a matou mahi a / muri mei koia I whakaturia ai e matou tenei kowhatu / hei tohu whakamaharatanga tonutanga mona / hei tonu hoki mo to matou aroha me te nui o to / matou whakameomiti ki tenei rangatira nui.

Sacred / to the memory of / Rawiri Puhiraki / a chief of the Ngaiterangi tribe / who led the Maoris in battle at Gate Pa / on April 29th and at Te Ranga on June 21st / 1864, being killed in the latter engagement. / This monument was erected / on the fiftieth anniversary of his death / by people of the British and Maori races / to commemorate his chivalrous and / humane orders for the protection of unarmed / or wounded men who fell into the hands of / the Maoris and for the respectful treatment / of the bodies of any of their enemies slain / in battle. This order framed by Rawiri / with the assistance and approval of Henare Taratoa / and other Chiefs, was loyally observed by his / followers, and after the repulse of the assault / on Gate Pa, the British wounded who lay all / night in and around the Pa were given water and / treated with kindness. / This chivalrous conduct of the Maori leader and / his people so impressed their contemporaries / that Rawiri’s body was exhumed in 1870 from the / trenches at Te Ranga and was reinterred at this spot / with befitting ceremonies. / The seeds of better feeling between the two races / thus sown on the battlefield have since borne ample / fruit: disaffection has given place to loyalty, / and hostility to friendship, British and Maori now / living together as one united people. / June 21st 1914.

Reverse:

In memory / of / Henare Taratoa / killed at Te Ranga / June 21st 1864

Further information

  • Bay of Plenty Times, 12 July 1909
  • James Belich, ‘The Tauranga Campaign’, in The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict, Penguin, Auckland, 1998, pp. 177–200
  • A.C. Bellamy, Tauranga: 1882–1982, Publicity Printing Ltd, Tauranga, 1982
  • Ernest E. Bush, ‘These Things We Must Not Forget’, Te Ao Hou, no. 76 (June 1975), pp. 38–40
  • James Cowan, ‘Gate Pa and Te Ranga’, 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. 421–40
  • Gilbert Mair, The story of Gate Pa, April 29th, 1864, Bay of Plenty Times, Tauranga, 1937.
  • Nigel Prickett, ‘The Tauranga Campaign, 1864’, in Landscapes of conflict: a field guide to the New Zealand Wars, Random House, Auckland, 2002, pp. 87–95
  • Nigel Prickett, ‘Maori Casualties at Pukehinahina (Gate Pa), 29 April 1864’, Records of the Auckland Museum, vol. 41, 2004, pp. 37–52
  • Chris Pugsley, ‘Walking the Waikato Wars: Maori Triumph at Gate Pa: 29 April 1864’, New Zealand Defence Quarterly, no. 19 (Summer 1997), pp. 32–8
  • Chris Pugsley, ‘Walking the Waikato Wars: The Battle of Te Ranga: 21 June 1864’, New Zealand Defence Quarterly, no. 20 (Autumn 1998), pp. 32–7
  • Jinty Rorke, ‘Puhirake, Rawiri – Biography’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1 September 2010

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