War in Taranaki 1860-63

Page 7 – Stalemate

The ‘last bastion’

From December 1860 Major General Pratt's attention turned to the pre-European pā of Pukerangiora. Standing high above the left bank of the Waitara River, it was here that Te Ātiawa had suffered a major defeat at the hands of Waikato iwi in 1831. It was behind Hapurona’s defensive line on the edge of the forest east of New Plymouth. These defences were centred initially on two strong pā - Matarikoriko and Huirangi – with a third pā, Te Ārei (The Barrier), providing what military historian Chris Pugsley has described as the ‘last bastion' of Te Ātiawa.

'Depressed and hopeless'

In March 1861 J.C. Richmond wrote to his wife Mary:

'We are all, I think, more depressed and hopeless than ever. General Pratt’s conduct looks more and more idiotic. Our men on the great cannonading days fire from morning till night at a great fern-covered hill which presents no mark in one part more than another. The ammunition fired away must be astounding, and the labor to the men excessive; they keep loading and firing without any aim the whole day. Occasionally the General appears clapping his hands and crying ‘give it to them my lads – that’s it!’ Then he gets in a rage, stamps and storms, and next he retires and goes to sleep. … Our men are dribbled off daily.'

Progress was slow, but it was being made. By the end of January 1861 Māori had abandoned both Matarikoriko and Huirangi. On 23 January a combined Te Ātiawa-Waikato force suffered a heavy defeat in a desperate attack on No. 3 Redoubt.

By 10 February 1200 British troops had established No. 6 Redoubt 750 metres from Te Ārei. A month later the distance was down to 100 metres but victory remained elusive. While another line of defence was being constructed behind Te Ārei, this was the last position overlooking the disputed land at Waitara.

Peace breaks out

As the first anniversary of the war beginning approached Governor Gore Browne could see little likelihood of victory coming any time soon. Pratt was resistant to the notion of a truce. A circuit breaker arrived in the shape of Ngāti Hauā leader Wiremu Tāmihana. Kīngi agreed to leave negotiations in Tāmihana’s hands but insisted that Waitara had to be the subject of a judicial inquiry; he would not make peace until Waitara was returned. Tāmihana successfully concluded a truce on 18 March 1861. While Kīngi did not sign the 'terms of peace' that followed, Hapurona did.

Under the terms of the truce agreement, Taranaki Māori were to hand over plundered property and give up those who had killed unarmed civilians. They were also expected to formally submit to the Queen's authority. For its part, the Crown agreed to investigate the Waitara purchase. In reality few Te Ātiawa ever took the Oath and there was no sign of plunder being returned or murderers given up. Europeans were denied access across Māori land - hardly an acknowledgement of the Queen’s authority. The 4000-acre Tātaraimaka block south-west of New Plymouth was seized by Māori as a bargaining chip while Waitara was investigated.

Costs of war

Many settlers had initially supported the war as a way of breaking the deadlock in Taranaki. Some now questioned the cost in money and lives. The local economy was in tatters. British military casualties were 238 killed or wounded. Some 200 settler farms had been destroyed along with £200,000 worth of property. The cramped conditions in New Plymouth contributed to the spread of disease which claimed 120 lives. Emigration to New Zealand slowed dramatically. Despite these costs, the original reasons for fighting remained largely unresolved.

Māori had also lost kāinga, crops and lives. Though Māori casualties were often exaggerated by the authorities it is likely that the number of Māori killed or wounded exceded that of their foe.

Historian Danny Keenan maintains that ‘the assertion of mana whenua – the sovereign ownership of land – was integral to Kīngi’s stance … [while] to Gore Browne, the issue was simple: the customary rights of Māori, as expressed through the land, must give way to the Crown’s authority.’ Believing that a long-term solution would require subduing the Waikato, Gore Browne started preparing to invade the heart of the Kīngitanga. But he was dismissed and replaced by George Grey before he could do so.

How to cite this page

'Stalemate', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/taranaki-wars/peace-breaks-out, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2016