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St John's Church NZ Wars memorial

Old St John’s Church, on Arawata Street in Te Awamutu, is Waikato’s oldest surviving building. Constructed in 1853, it was originally part of a Church Missionary Society (CMS) mission station which had been established near Ōtāwhao pā in 1841.

In February 1864, during the Waikato War, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron chose the mission as his frontier headquarters and winter camp. Up to 4000 troops were based at Te Awamutu, which – along with posts nearby – was garrisoned by imperial troops until the end of 1864.

Three redoubts were built in Te Awamutu during 1864. One, constructed by the 65th Regiment on the western side of what is now Albert Park, was located close to St John’s Church. Within the triangle formed by the three redoubts, buildings were erected or commandeered for military use. St John’s itself was used for inter-denominational services.

This memorial stands in the cemetery that surrounds old St John’s Church. Erected by the government in 1888, it is dedicated to the imperial and colonial troops, and kūpapa – Māori fighting alongside government forces – who died during the Waikato War and are buried nearby. Many of the unnamed men are thought to have died as a result of engagements at Rangiaowhia, Hairini and Ōrākau in February and April 1864.

Imperial and colonial forces reached Te Awamutu at dawn on 21 February 1864. More than 1200 troops had outflanked Māori positions along the great Pāterangi defensive line in a daring night march. Cameron immediately pushed on to Rangiaowhia, 4 km to the south-west.

Rangiaowhia, an unfortified Māori settlement, was a vital agricultural centre supplying food to Kīngitanga fighters. With most of the Māori force still holding the Pāterangi line, Rangiaowhia was occupied by some 100 Ngāti Apakura and Ngati Hinetū men, and many women and children.

The Colonial Defence Force Cavalry, led by Colonel Marmaduke Nixon, galloped ahead. When they reached Rangiaowhia, shooting broke out. In the skirmish that followed, Nixon was severely wounded – three months later the wound would prove fatal. Several troops and 10 or more Maori were killed, most of the latter in whare (houses) that caught fire during the fighting. Cameron then withdrew his forces to Te Awamutu.

That night and early the next day, Maori defenders left their positions on the Pāterangi line. They reoccupied Rangiaowhia and began entrenching a defensive position at Hairini Ridge, between Te Awamutu and Rangiaowhia. On the afternoon of 22 February, the British force attacked.

After a brief artillery bombardment, troops rushed the Hairini position. The 400 Māori defenders fell back. British casualties numbered 22, of whom two were killed; the Māori ‘lost’ nine men, at least one of whom was wounded and taken prisoner.

More than a month later, on the morning of 31 March, the British attacked a new fighting pā at Ōrākau, 5 km east of Rangiaowhia. Most of the 300 defenders – up to a third of whom were women – were Tūhoe, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Maniapoto; others represented Waikato and East Coast iwi. They were led by the Ngāti Maniapoto chief, Rewi Maniapoto.

For three days Ōrākau’s defenders repelled all British attacks. However a shortage of food, water and ammunition meant that they could not continue to fight for much longer. Early on the afternoon of 2 April, the British sought their surrender; the defenders responded with their now famous declaration of defiance: ‘Ka whawhai tonu mātou, āke, āke! / We shall fight on forever!’

Soon afterwards, Ōrākau’s defenders left the pā and broke through the British lines. As they fled south towards the Pūniu River, mounted units of the Colonial Defence Force and the Royal Artillery ran them down. The Māori suffered heavy casualties; up to 160 were killed, and 40 wounded. British casualties were 16 killed and 53 wounded, some mortally.

Ōrākau turned out to be the last engagement of the Waikato War. There is evidence that at least 36 British troops who died at Rangiaowhia, Hairini, Ōrākau and Te Awamutu camp were interred in ground to the north of St John’s Church.

Less than 20 years later, local residents expressed concern at the state of the soldiers’ graves in St John’s cemetery. In February 1880, they urged the government to grant a sum ‘sufficient to defray the expenses of erecting a stone obelisk’. Inscribed with soldiers’ names, such a memorial would ‘save from oblivion the memory of those Europeans and friendly natives who lost their lives in the Waikato War.’

In July 1880, concern remained at the ‘sadly neglected state’ of the graves. The Waikato Times reported that ‘several of the memorial slabs have rotted away and now lie underfoot, and unless some steps be taken all record of “the poor inhabitant below” will be lost.’ Reverend J. Phillips continued local efforts to persuade the government to erect a memorial.

Sergeant Joshua Foster of the New Zealand Constabulary Force compiled an official report on soldiers’ burial grounds in Waikato in 1882. At St John’s, the graves of officers and men who had died at Ōrākau were overrun with scrub and nettles and the headboards were dilapidated. Happily, however, the ‘two boards … erected by the soldiers of the 65th Regiment to the memory of the natives who fell in the action at Rangiaohia and Orakau’ were in ‘a good state of preservation only requiring painting and recreating on four new puriri posts’. Later that year, £12 10s was allocated for repairs to the graves.

On 21 October 1884, the Waikato Times reported that two years previously ‘a sergeant and party of A.C. were sent here to improve (?) the graves’. The mounds marking the graves had been levelled – ‘dug over’ – and the headboards inscribed with names removed.

The Times noted that the sergeant in charge had taken a list of the names and regiments of those buried at St John’s. However the party had, in the newspaper’s view, done everything possible to ‘efface the memory of the dead from the minds of the people’. This party was probably six men of the Constabulary Force under Sergeant Foster, who had undertaken similar restoration work at Ngāruawāhia in early August 1882.

To compound matters, the much-anticipated memorial had not been erected. It was ‘still in the quarry, and by all appearances likely to remain there’. The situation had started to draw comments from visitors. One thought it ‘strange that nothing was done to honour the memory of those who lost their lives in the service of their country’, securing thereby ‘the peace of the country’.

In April 1885, a deputation from Te Awamutu’s town board welcomed the visiting Premier, Robert Stout. Mr Teasdale asked the Premier ‘whether an obelisk, or some monument, as promised by a previous Government’, would be erected at St John’s. According to the Waikato Times, Stout ‘went down to the churchyard and took notes on the subject, and said it would be looked into’. This memorial was erected in St John’s cemetery three years later.

Two graves of New Zealand Wars soldiers have been identified in St John’s cemetery. Of these, only Ensign Alfred Chaytor died during the Waikato War. He received a wound ‘in the side’ at Ōrākau on 2 April 1864. Two days later he was reported to be ‘doing well’. However complications set in and he died on 21 April.

Lieutenant and Adjutant Arthur H. Lewis of the 65th Regiment died of typhoid fever at Te Awamutu on 16 March 1865. It appears that the disease, transmitted by the consumption of food or water contaminated with the faeces of an infected person, was prevalent at the camp.

The baptismal recess at old St John’s holds several objects related to the New Zealand Wars. A wooden honours board lists the names of 36 men who died during the New Zealand Wars and are buried in St John’s churchyard. It is possible that these names came from the list made by the ‘sergeant in charge’ in 1882.

Also held here are four wooden headboards that were removed from their graves to ensure their preservation. They carry the names of Horatio Alexander, James Cox, Levi Summerhayes and John C. Brown, three of whom appear on official casualty lists.

Alexander, a corporal in the Colonial Defence Force, died at Rangiaowhia on 21 February 1864. He may have been one of the cavalry who charged into the village that morning with Nixon. Cox, a private in the 40th Regiment, died from wounds he received in action at Ōrākau. According to the casualty lists, Cox died on 6 April; however, the headboard gives his date of death as 11 April. Summerhayes, also a private in the 40th, died on 21 March 1865 of causes unknown. The name of John C. Brown does not appear on the existing official casualty lists.

The baptismal recess also holds two wooden plaques erected by the 65th Regiment. It seems likely that these are the ‘two boards’ mentioned in Sergeant Foster’s 1882 report. The first is dedicated to the Māori who fell at Rangiaowhia and Ōrākau; a Māori translation is on the opposite wall. The second plaque carries a general tribute in both Māori and English from ‘A regiment who had come to respect and were respected by their Maori opponents.’

Additional images




This monument / was erected / by the Colonial Government / in March 1888. / As a memorial of the / officers and men / of the / Imperial, Colonial & friendly / Native troops. / Who died during the Waikato War / 1863–1865. / And were buried in this / churchyard. / Beneath or near this monument. / Rangiaohia. / Hiarini. / Te Awamutu. / Orakau.

Honour board

Sacred to the memory / of the soldiers who died during the Maori / War and were buried in this churchyard A.D. 1864–5

  • Surgeon R. Gillingham*
  • Ensign Alf. Chaytor
  • Lieut & Adj. A.W. Lewis
  • Horatio Alexander
  • William Hawkins
  • Charles Tuck
  • Charles Askew
  • James Butler
  • John Leckie
  • Mich. Bellane
  • Thos. Traynor
  • Hugh Cassidy
  • Chas. Coglan
  • J. Ollington
  • Will’m Taylor
  • Jn. Armstrong
  • J. Barnett
  • Hugh Duncan
  • Thomas Harmon
  • Will’m Lawson
  • Thos. Maskell
  • C. Whitfield
  • Mich. Staunton
  • John O’Donnell
  • James Cox
  • James Ford
  • Jn. C. Brown
  • Richard Jackson
  • C. Thomas
  • James Hall Ede
  • Jn. Bennett
  • Gottlieb Dietrich
  • Thos. Hill
  • Levi Summerhaye
  • Roderick Campbell
  • John O’Brien

* This is possibly an error. There is no record of Surgeon R. Gillingham. This is more likely to be Drummer Robert Gillingham, 65th Regiment, who was killed in action at Ōrākau, 31 March 1864.

Chaytor grave

Beneath / this stone repose the remains of the late / Ensign Alfred Chaytor / H.M. 65th Regt / who died at Awamutu, April 21st 1864 / from the effects of a wound received at / the storm & capture of Orakau / April 2nd. / Requiescat in pace.

Lewis grave

This / tablet was erected by the officers, / non-commissioned officers, / and privates of the 65th Regt. / to the memory of / Lieut. and Adjutant Arthur H. Lewis / who died at Te Awamutu / on 16th March 1865, / aged 29 years.

Cox headboard

Sacred / to the / memory / of / James Cox / 40th Regt. / who died 11th April. From wounds / received in action at Orakau, / 2nd April 1864. / Aged 37 years.

Alexander headboard

Sacred / to the / memory / of / Horatio / Alexander / C D F / Aged 23 years / who was killed / in action / at / Rangiawhia / Feby 21 / 1864

Brown headboard

Sacred / to the / memory of / John C. Brown / [still to confirm remaining text]

65th Regiment Rangiaowhia and Orakau memorial board

This tablet / was erected by the soldiers of H.M. 65th Regiment / as a memorial of the New Zealanders who fell in the / actions at Rangiaohia on the 21st and 22nd February 1864 / and at Orakau on the 31st March 1st and 2nd April 1864 / I say unto you, love your enemies. / A.R. LXV.

He Mea Whakaara / Na Nga Hoia o te Ope 65. Tenei Papa Hei Whakamaharatanga / Ki Nga Tangata Maori i Hinga i te Whawhai i Rangiaohia i / te 21. 22 Pepuere 1864, i Orakau i te 31 Maehe 1. 2 Aperira 1864 / Arohaina o Koutou Hoa Riri.

65th Regiment general tribute board

A tribute from a British Regiment of Foot the 65th, ‘The Royal Tigers’ who arrived in New Zealand in 1847 and did not depart until 1865. A regiment who had come to respect and were respected by their Maori opponents.

Further information


Images: Margaret Marks, 2008 (main image); Church interior: Margaret Marks, 2000 (honour board); Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean, c. 1986 (other interior images).

How to cite this page

St John's Church NZ Wars memorial, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated