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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 the defences on the twin pā sites of Puketakauere and Onukukaitara, which could be seen from Camp Waitara. Epiha Tokohihi and men from Ngāti Maniapoto had arrived to bolster the Te Ātiawa force. While the involvement of Kīngitanga fighters concerned some settlers, others welcomed this 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 men 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 which would 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 ‘withering fire’ from the hidden rifle pits. 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 again, Māori casualties were inflated. The five to eight actually killed became ‘between 130 and 150’. Leaving the dead and wounded in the field was a black mark against Gold’s leadership. In August he was replaced by Major-General Thomas Simson Pratt.

How to cite this page

Puketakauere, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated