Māori King movement - 1860-94

Page 3 – Response to war

The Kīngitanga's response to the Waikato War

The invasion of Waikato unified the factions within the Kīngitanga, whose forces won some victories despite being at an overwhelming disadvantage in terms of manpower and resources. They fought a defensive war, frustrating their opponents and slowing their advance. In the end it was their inability to sustain a year-round effort against a professional army that led to defeat.

Kīngitanga forces blocked the British at Meremere for several months until they were outflanked and forced to withdraw upriver to a second defensive line at Rangiriri. Holding Meremere had been a heavy drain on their resources.

Many fighters had gone home after leaving Meremere, and the defences at Rangiriri were incomplete. When Rangiriri fell on 21 November, the path to Tāwhiao's capital, Ngāruawāhia, lay open to the British, and the undefended settlement was occupied on 8 December 1863.

Grey now offered peace on condition that all land and arms were surrendered. These terms were rejected and the Kīngitanga forces fell back to a third line of defence which protected their key agricultural area around Rangiaowhia, near Te Awamutu. Women and children had been sent there for refuge, and some were killed when the village was attacked on 21 February 1864. These events left a legacy of bitterness and mistrust.

At the end of March 1864, Rewi Maniapoto led a Kīngitanga force that withstood five British assaults over three days at Ōrākau, an incomplete fighting pā 5 km south-east of Te Awamutu. After what was immortalised as 'Rewi's last stand', the Māori force, with little ammunition or water left, broke out of the pā in a body and headed for the Pūniu River, several kilometres away. Many were caught and killed before they could cross the river to safety.

This was the last battle of the Waikato War. General Cameron felt the Kīngitanga could be brought to their knees by cutting off their supply route from Bay of Plenty. The British were humiliated at Gate Pā, Tauranga, in April 1864 before the fighting ended after they defeated Ngāi Te Rangi at nearby Te Ranga in June.

Wiremu Tamihana made his peace with Grey in May 1865, but the bulk of the Kīngitanga forces of Waikato–Maniapoto did not. They had withdrawn to Tokangamutu (Te Kūiti), where they remained undefeated but isolated.

Timeline: key battles of the Waikato War

October 1863: Meremere

Kīngitanga forces held the British here, but were eventually forced to withdraw to a second line of defence at Rangiriri. Maintaining the pā had been a heavy drain on Māori resources.

20/21 November 1863: Rangiriri

With their fortifications incomplete and manpower severely reduced, Kīngitanga forces could not hold Rangiriri. 

8 December 1863: Ngāruawāhia

When the King's capital was captured, Grey offered peace on condition that all land and arms were surrendered. These terms were rejected and the Kīngitanga forces fell back to a third line of defence protecting their key agricultural area around Rangiaowhia, near Te Awamutu.

21 February 1864: Rangiaowhia

The attack on Rangiaowhia left a legacy of bitterness and mistrust. Women and children who had been sent there for refuge were among the victims.

31 March–2 April 1864: Ōrākau

In what was immortalised as 'Rewi's last stand', Rewi Maniapoto led Kīngitanga forces which withstood five British assaults. With little ammunition and water left, they then made a daring daytime breakout towards the Pūniu River. While about half the fugitives found sanctuary in rugged Ngāti Maniapoto territory, many others were hunted down and killed.

This was the last battle of the Waikato War. General Cameron felt the Kīngitanga could be finished off by cutting off their supply route from Bay of Plenty.

29 April 1864: Gate Pā

At Gate Pā, Tauranga, the British army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Ngāi Te Rangi.

21 June 1864: Te Ranga

Gate Pā was avenged when Ngāi Te Rangi fighters were caught in an unfinished pā at Te Ranga, near Tauranga, and overwhelmed, ending the fighting in Bay of Plenty.

Wiremu Tamihana made a separate peace in May 1865. The bulk of the Kīngitanga forces of Waikato–Maniapoto did not. They had withdrawn to Tokangamutu (Te Kūiti), where they remained undefeated but isolated.

How to cite this page

'Response to war', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/maori-king-movement-1860-94/response-to-war, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 30-Sep-2020