War in Taranaki 1860-63

Page 5 – Puketakauere

On 27 June 1860 the British suffered a heavy defeat near Waitara. The Te Ātiawa chief Hapurona had strengthened defences on the twin pa sites of Puketakauere and Onukukaitara, which could be seen from Camp Waitara. Epiha Tokohihi and warriors from Ngāti Maniapoto arrived from Waikato to bolster the Te Ātiawa force. While the involvement of Kingite warriors concerned some settlers, others welcomed the opportunity to crush all the 'dissident elements'.

Major Thomas Nelson led 350 men out of Camp Waitara on the morning of 27 June. He was determined to ‘teach the troublesome natives' at Puketakauere a lesson they would never forget. No more than 200 warriors occupied the pā. The real strength of the Māori position lay in the rifle pits in front of nearby Onukukaitara. Here and in the gullies on each side of the approach to Puketakauere another 150 men were positioned. Nelson failed to take account of these positions in planning the assault. One British officer noted that the pā 'looked innocent enough as seen from the camp'.

Nelson split his men into three groups. He wanted to surround the pā and prevent any of its occupants from escaping. Following an artillery bombardment an assault was ordered. ‘Soldiers and sailors vied [with] each other to get in first’. Optimism quickly evaporated as they were cut down by a ‘withering fire’ from the rifle pits outside Puketakauere. Nelson’s frontal attack was repulsed and the local militia attacking from the rear became bogged down in a swamp. Thirty soldiers were killed and another 34 wounded. Many lay where they fell as the British retreated.

Gold and a party of reinforcements from New Plymouth had been prevented from reaching the battle by the swollen Waiongana River. While Nelson blamed the defeat on the failure of these reinforcements to arrive, he had not signalled Gold that the assault had begun. Once more Māori casualties were inflated. The five to eight actually killed became 'between 130 and 150'. Leaving the dead and wounded in the field called into question Gold’s leadership. In August he was replaced by Major-General Thomas Pratt.

How to cite this page

'Puketakauere', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/taranaki-wars/puketakauere, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 23-Jun-2014