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Kainaha cemetery NZ Wars memorials

Kainaha Cemetery Historical Reserve – formerly Tatahoata Cemetery Reserve – stands on Mataatua Road near Ruatāhuna, a small settlement on State Highway 38 north-west of Lake Waikaremoana. The reserve contains two memorials dedicated to government officers and men who died nearby in May 1869.

During the second half of 1868, Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki managed to evade pursuing Armed Constabulary, local volunteers and kūpapa (Māori fighting alongside the government). After the battle at Ngatapa in January 1869, he and his followers retreated into the Urewera Ranges.

The government hoped that Te Kooti would remain peaceful. However, raids on Whakatāne and Mōhaka in March and April 1869 convinced Colonel George Whitmore that an invasion of the Urewera was necessary. Destroying food sources and pā would force Te Kooti down into open country.

Three columns of government forces invaded the Urewera in April and May 1869. One, comprising more than 400 men led by Lieutenant-Colonel J.H.H. St John, entered the Urewera from the north – up the Whakatāne River – on 4 May. Another, of more than 300 men led by Major J.M. Roberts and accompanied by Whitmore, advanced inland from Matatā. This column constructed a chain of forts as far as Tauaroa (Fort Galatea) before entering the Urewera from the west.

Both columns reached the Ruatāhuna Valley on 8 May. On the way, each column lost men in ambushes but destroyed several Tūhoe settlements. Three of the men who died on the march to Ruatāhuna are commemorated on the Kainaha memorials. Two of them – Hemi Te Waka and Maehe – were members of the Native Auxiliaries.

Hemi Te Waka – also known as Jim Walker, ‘Big Jim’ or ‘Taranaki Jim’ – had fought against the government in Taranaki in 1860. He later changed sides, acting as a guide and scout in the Waitara district. In May 1869 Te Waka was attached to the Roberts/Whitmore column. Mortally wounded in an ambush at Manawa-hiwi (near Ngaputahi, 18 km west of Ruatāhuna) on 7 May, Te Waka was buried near where he fell.

St John’s column included a 180-strong Native Contingent commanded by Major William Mair. One of their number, Maehe of Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Tai, was mortally wounded at Hukanui Hill on 7 May. Later that day Ngai Tai took their revenge. After their victory at Te Whenuanui’s pa, Tahora, the men desecrated the grave of a revered Urewera ancestor by cooking their evening meal in an umu (earth-oven) on the sacred site.

Earlier on 7 May, St John’s column had also lost Lieutenant David White of the Opotiki Volunteers. White had been mortally wounded as he began to ford the upper Whakatāne River at Te Paripari, ‘The Cliffs’. (He was not killed at Orangakiwa, as indicated on one of the Kainaha memorials.) White’s body was buried near where he fell, on a mānuka-covered flat beside the river.

The only heavy fighting of this Urewera campaign occurred on 8 May at Orangikawa, the pā protecting the kāinga (village) of Tatahoata in the Ruatāhuna Valley. Five men from St John’s column were killed and six wounded before Tūhoe evacuated the pā. The casualties included Sub-Inspector Henry Boyle Travers, who is said to have fallen shortly after uttering the famous last words, ‘A British officer never takes cover’. Māori casualties appear to have been similar to those of the government forces.

According to one of the Kainaha memorials, the five men died at Orangikawa on 6 and 7 May. This is almost certainly incorrect: both contemporary newspaper reports and historical research suggest that Travers, Lance-Corporal Edward Kelly (or Kelty), Constables John Parkinson and Robert Davis, and Constable Pearson were killed on 8 May. It is possible that Davis and Pearson died of their wounds the following day.

After the engagement at Orangikawa, the two columns remained at Ruatāhuna for several days, systematically destroying crops and villages. Travers and the other men killed at Orangikawa were buried on 9 May ‘just outside the front gateway of the pa, on the east-north-east side, facing the hills.’ Later, Tūhoe seized the opportunity for revenge:

After the [government] force left the district the Urewera [Tuhoe] disinterred the bodies, … decapitated them and decorated their palisade posts with the heads. When Captain Gilbert Mair [the brother of William Mair] and Captain [George] Preece entered Ruatahuna with their Arawa column [of the Armed Constabulary] in 1871 they found some of the skulls stuck on the posts. That of Captain Travers … Mair recognized by the gold-filled teeth. The remains were collected and buried in a grave 10 feet deep, Mair reading the burial service and the Maoris firing three volleys over the grave.

Historian James Cowan visited the gravesite with Gilbert Mair in 1921. The spot was then marked by a tall poplar, one of two trees which Mair had planted in 1872. In mid-1923, only months before his death, Mair made a public appeal for a stone to be erected over the Orangikawa grave. It is unclear exactly when these two memorials were erected.

Kainaha Cemetery was vested in the Crown in 1927. Takurua Tamarau, a chief of the Ngāti Hinekura sub-tribe, had indicated his people’s desire to donate the pā site (including the graves) as a scenic or other reserve in a letter to Native Minister J.G. Coates in early 1924. The Department of Conservation now manages the Kainaha Cemetery Historic Reserve.

Additional images



Orangikawa memorial

In memory of / Sub-Inspector H.B. Travers / Lance Corp. E. Kelly / Constable J. Parkinson / killed 6–5–1869 / Constable R. Davis / [Constable] [?] Pearson / killed 7–5–1869 / All of the / N.Z. Armed Constabulary. / Also / Lieut. D. White / killed 7–5–1869 / of the Opotiki Volunteers. / All killed in action at / Orangikawa Pah / Ruaturunawa [sic].

Native Auxiliaries memorial

In memory / of / Native Auxiliaries / of H.M. Forces / Hemi Te Waka Guide / killed at Ngaputahi / 7–5–1869 / and / Maehe of the Ngati-Awa / and Ngai-Tai Tribes / killed at Hukanui Hill / 8–5–1869 / Erected by the N.Z. Govt.

Further information


Images: Margaret Marks, 2007 and 2009

How to cite this page

Kainaha cemetery NZ Wars memorials, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated