War in Tauranga

Page 5 – Te Ranga

In the early winter of 1864, Rawiri Puhirake’s fighting force was bolstered by the arrival of allies from Ngāti Rangiwewehi (Rotorua), Ngāti Pikiao (Rotoiti) and Ngāti Porou. With 500 men at his disposal, he made plans to build a new pā inland from Gate Pā.

It seems that Puhirake had concerns about the site eventually chosen at Te Ranga. One of those present, Hōri Ngātai, described how 'some of us dug without spirit because Rawiri did not like that position for a pā ... Te Ranga was chosen by Reha.'

Its main advantage was that as the narrowest part of a ridge and with steep gullies on either side it would force the British to mount a frontal assault. However, it lacked a protected escape route – the ridge continued inland for some distance. When Greer received reports that Ngāi Te Rangi were planning an attack, the withdrawal of the 43rd and 3rd Waikato regiments from Tauranga was postponed.

The Māori force arrived at Te Ranga late on 20 June 1864 and immediately set to work digging rifle pits. As Cameron had predicted, fortifying Te Ranga was intended to draw the British out from Te Papa. Puhirake planned to make a simultaneous attack on the India Redoubt, near Te Papa, which would force the British to divide their forces.

This time, Puhirake’s plan failed. Some accounts say the British ‘stumbled’ across the Māori force before they had a chance to complete their defences. Chris Pugsley, on the other hand, believes that Greer had good intelligence on developments at Te Ranga. To Pugsley, it ‘seems more than coincidental’ that Greer chose the morning of 21 June to leave Te Papa with 530 men and a 6-pounder Armstrong field gun. Hori Ngātai described tersely what happened next: ‘we worked on till the sun was high. The soldiers were then seen advancing. Enough. We fought.’

When Greer’s column arrived in mid-morning, it was confronted by a connected line of 2-m-long rifle pits that were roughly 1.5 m deep and wide. Over the next two hours a skirmishing party of 80 men and the Armstrong gun prevented the Māori from completing their defences, which Greer believed to be ‘the commencement of a formidable pa’. He called for reinforcements from Te Papa, while Puhirake waited for the sounds of gunfire from the India Redoubt. Nothing had been heard by the time Greer’s reinforcements, including a second 6-pounder, arrived around noon.

Gate Pā avenged

Greer prepared his men for the attack. Unlike at Gate Pā, where the British assault had been concentrated on two points, at Te Ranga the British were able to attack all along the line of trenches. The defenders got a couple of shots off at most before the assault party was upon them. The 43rd and 68th regiments, which had suffered badly at Gate Pā, were determined to avenge their dead comrades and their regiments’ reputation. As a result of their bravery during fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the twice-wounded Captain Frederick Smith of the 43rd and Sergeant John Murray of the 68th were both awarded the Victoria Cross.

Puhirake continued to listen in vain for the sounds of gunfire from the India Redoubt that would have eased the pressure on his force. He and Hēnare Taratoa fell together at Te Ranga. Forced into a fighting retreat, the defenders suffered terrible casualties as the British fired at them from the trenches they now controlled. James Belich thinks that Ngāi Te Rangi and their allies chose to stay and fight when escape was practicable because they were expecting reinforcements. By the time these finally arrived, their comrades had been forced to retreat.

Te Ranga was a resounding British victory. The following day the rifle pits became a mass grave for 108 Māori found dead in and around the trenches. Another 43 were taken prisoner, 32 of them wounded – 15 later died from their wounds.

How to cite this page

'Te Ranga', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/war-in-tauranga/te-ranga, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 22-Oct-2021