Tauranga naval NZ Wars memorial

Tauranga naval NZ Wars memorial

Naval Memorial, Mission (Old Military) Cemetery, Tauranga.

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 14 Maori fighters who died on active service in the Tauranga district during the New Zealand Wars. This memorial cross is dedicated to 10 seamen and marines from HMSs Curacoa, Esk, Harrier and Eclipse who were killed in action or died of wounds received in the heavy British defeat at Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) on 29 April 1864.

The government sent troops to Tauranga in early 1864 to prevent reinforcements and supplies reaching Kīngitanga forces in Waikato via Bay of Plenty. Colonel George Carey landed at Te Papa on 22 January with some 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).

In response, Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui men fighting in Waikato returned home to Tauranga. Led by Rāwiri Puhirake of Ngāi Te Rangi, they began a campaign of provocation designed to entice the British force 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 distance inland and failed to elicit a British response. 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.

General Duncan Cameron came to Tauranga with reinforcements. By 26 April 1864 he commanded 1700 troops at Te Papa. Two days later the British force, including a 420-strong Naval Brigade, surrounded Gate Pā. They faced about 235 defenders – mostly Ngāi Te Rangi supported by Ngāti Pāoa and other Hauraki and Waikato men – led by Puhirake.

British artillery began bombarding Gate Pā on the afternoon of 28 April. Twenty-four hours later, Cameron ordered a frontal assault by 300 men, among whom were 150 sailors and marines led by Commander Edward Hay of HMS Harrier. 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 were quickly killed or wounded. High-ranking naval fatalities included Hay, Captain John Hamilton of HMS Esk, and Lieutenant Charles Hill of HMS Curacoa. Their graves are in Mission Cemetery.

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 withdraw all his troops.

That night, Gate Pā’s defenders escaped through the British lines. British casualties included 35 men dead or mortally wounded, and another 75 wounded. Māori reports put their dead at 20 to 25 men.

The extent of the defeat shocked New Zealand’s settler community and the military and political establishment. However the British soon exacted terrible vengeance, crushing Puhirake’s forces at Te Ranga on 21 June.

Thirty-three British casualties of Gate Pā were buried at Mission Cemetery on 2 May 1864. A wooden memorial cross commemorating 10 seamen and marines killed at Gate Pā is believed to have been erected by 1870. Some 60 years later, on 6 August 1931, the naval secretary in Wellington complained about its condition. Later that month district engineers – convinced that the cross would soon collapse – recommended its replacement by a concrete slab. With no money available, the cross was instead repaired by seamen from HMS Veronica on 17 January 1932.

After more complaints from the Navy Department, the erection of a replacement memorial was approved in November 1941. Yet on 3 August 1960 the wooden cross was reported to be still standing but in bad shape. Its replacement was again approved on 16 January 1961.

This 2-m-high concrete cross was finally erected in 1964, 33 years after a replacement memorial had first been approved. The wooden cross was removed to the private chapel of the former mission station, now known as The Elms, where it remains today.

The 10 men commemorated on the plaque are: Ordinary Seaman James Harris from HMS Curacoa; Royal Marines Light Infantry Sergeant J. (or Henry) Harding from HMS Eclipse; Quartermaster William Dalton, Ordinary Seaman Richard Fuller and Stoker William C. Leigh (or Eigh) from HMS Esk; Ordinary Seaman (or Boy) Henry Clark, Stoker Andrew Greenem (possibly Greenhorn or Greenham) and Able Seaman George Young from HMS Harrier; and Gunner George Watt and Royal Marines Light Infantry Private Levi Kent from HMS Miranda.

Of these men, only George Watt is also commemorated with a memorial ground plaque in Mission Cemetery. However, the names of all 10 also appear on the 1st Waikato Militia memorial, which stands nearby. Nine of the names (the exception is Levi Kent) are found on official casualty lists.

Additional images

Kainaha NZ Wars memorial Kainaha NZ Wars memorial


Sacred / to / the memory of the seamen and / marines who were killed or died / of wounds received in action / at / Pukehinahina / April 29th 1864 / J. Harris  L. Kent / W. Dalton  G. Watt / R. Fuller  W. Leigh / A. Greenem  H. Clark / H. Harding  P. Young / This cross was erected in 1964 to replace the / original wooden cross faithfully maintained / for 100 years by the officers and men of the / Royal Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy

Further information

  • The Attack on the Gate Pa. Further Particulars. (From our Special Correspondent)’, Daily Southern Cross, 31 May 1864
  • 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
  • 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
  • Chris Pugsley, ‘Walking the Waikato Wars: The Maori Triumph at Gate Pa: 29 April 1864’, New Zealand Defence Quarterly, no. 19 (Summer 1997), pp. 32–8
  • Jinty Rorke, ‘Puhirake, Rawiri - Biography’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1 September 2010.
  • The Elms Foundation, ‘The Elms Mission Station’, The Elms Historic Heritage Site

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