St Michael's Church, Ōhaeawai

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St Michael’s Anglican Church near Ōhaeawai occupies part of the site of the pā aorund which the battle was fought in the winter of 1845. 

Kawiti’s 100-strong garrison withstood a week-long bombardment from the British before inflicting heavy casualties on their attackers on 1 July 1845.

Ōhaeawai, the prototype of the ‘modern pā’, was a major advance in the Māori response to new weaponry. The use of firing and communication trenches gave the occupants maximum protection while allowing rapid movement within the pā. Anti-artillery bunkers (rua) were set into the ground and covered with logs, stones and matted flax. Each could house 15–20 men in relative safety. 

The church was built by local Māori as a symbol of peace and a tribute to Pākehā who had died in battle on the site in 1845. It was dedicated by Bishop Cowie on 21 April 1871.

A local chief, Heta Te Haara, subsequently obtained permission to reinter the British soldiers killed at Ōhaeawai in the churchyard. A burial service was accordingly conducted on 1 July 1872 and a memorial cross erected. The cross bears a dedicatory inscription in Māori, but no names (the names of the 47 dead interred at the site are listed inside the church).

A framed account of the battle and a plan of the pā presented by the New Zealand Army on the church’s centenary in 1971 are also on display in the church. A brass plaque set into a boulder inside the churchyard gate commemorates the battle, the making of peace, the laying out of the cemetery and the construction of the church. This was unveiled on 1 July 1995.

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Ex-Sapper

Posted: 12 May 2010

The tall column with the Celtic Cross that is clearly seen in this photo, is the Memorial to all of Despard's Forces who perished in this folly. In the early 1970s, a small party of which I was one, went on a Tour-of-Duty to the Pa site, from 1 Construction Squadron, Royal New Zealand Engineers - then based at Papakura Military Camp, to restore the Memorial with a new foundation, back to a vertical position. It was previously in imminent danger of toppling over, and from the photo, it appears that the work done has served the purpose well. All of the Sappers on the task were quartered as guests of a few families in the close vicinity of the Pa and Church. I spent a most memorable week as the guest of Mr. Froggie and Mrs Hannah Clarke, and years later visited the site once again, to pay my respects to Hannah, who on her death was buried in this Church Yard. Soon after returning to Papakura, I prepared and draughted a large illustrated scroll, which gave a brief description of the battle that had taken place at that site in June of 1845, and listed all the British Forces who died in battle. This was later handed over to the local whanau at the Church by the Adjutant of A Company, 3 Auckland and Northland Battalion, RNZIR, from Whangarei, and then ceremonially hung in the Church. I still have a photograph of that handover.