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First Taranaki War erupts at Waitara

17 March 1860

Painting of the 65th Regiment camp at Waitara, 1860
Painting of the 65th Regiment camp at Waitara, 1860 (Alexander Turnbull Library, B-103-01)

The opening shots of the first Taranaki War were fired when British troops attacked a pā built by Te Āti Awa at Te Kohia, Waitara.

A minor Te Āti Awa chief, Te Teira Mānuka, had offered to sell Governor Thomas Gore Browne land in 1859. The rangatira Te Rangitāke (also known as Wiremu Kīngi) denied the validity of the sale and his supporters erected a flagstaff to mark their boundary.

Gore Browne overturned previous policy by pursuing a contested land sale. He hoped to win support from New Plymouth settlers desperate for land. When Gore Browne ordered surveyors onto the contested Pekapeka block, Te Āti Awa pulled up their pegs. The governor declared martial law and sent in British troops.

Te Rangitake’s L-shaped pā incorporated anti-artillery bunkers. Built overnight just inside the disputed land, it withstood 200 artillery rounds and close-range fire from 500 troops. No Māori had been killed by the time Te Rangitāke and his 70 men abandoned the pā that night.

Māori often constructed L-shaped pā in the 1860s to provoke attack by the British. They were durable but could be built quickly and so were expendable.

The war dragged on until March 1861, with neither side winning a decisive victory. There was more fighting near New Plymouth in 1863.

New Plymouth District Council purchased the Te Kohia site in 2016.

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First Taranaki War erupts at Waitara, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated