War in Wellington

Page 6 – Last battles

The arrest of Te Rauparaha

In mid-1846, Governor George Grey decided to neutralise the Ngāti Toa threat in the Wellington region by arresting Te Rauparaha. Though the senior chief had encouraged Māori to leave Hutt Valley, Grey did not trust him to remain neutral. Removing Te Rauparaha from the area would weaken Ngāti Toa and elevate Grey’s authority over the chief’s mana. Grey also wanted to avoid forcing Te Rauparaha to make a choice between his nephew and the settlers.

A small naval party landed at Te Rauparaha’s pā at Taupō (Plimmerton) at dawn on 23 July. The elderly chief appeared from his dwelling and grabbed a taiaha. His attempted blows were deflected, and he was seized and taken to HMS Driver. He was informed that he was under arrest for supplying weapons to Māori deemed to be in open rebellion against the Crown. No charges were actually laid and his continued detention was illegal. Te Rauparaha, like Te Kāeaea before him, was sent to Auckland. By the time he was released in January 1848, his mana and that of his tribe had diminished.

The British built a stockade not far from Te Rauparaha’s pā. The campaign to pacify the region now switched its focus to Te Rangihaeata and his positions in the nearby Pāuatahanui inlet.

Battle Hill

When the British advanced on Te Rangihaeata’s pā at Pāuatahanui (where St Alban’s church stands today), the chief withdrew north to a position in the hills east of the Horokiri Stream. More than 300 Ngāti Toa, including women and children, took shelter behind a fortified position on a high ridgeline. The abandoned pā at Pāuatahanui was later turned into a British military post. It was garrisoned by detachments of regular troops and provided protection to the Europeans who settled around the inlet.

The fight at Battle Hill

The fight at Battle Hill

The arrival of British reinforcements enabled an assault on Te Rangihaeata’s new position, now known as Battle Hill. The attack began on 6 August 1846 in freezing rain. The assault force comprised 250 British soldiers, militia and armed police. They were joined by 150 Te Ātiawa led by Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke, and 100 dissident Ngāti Toa whom the British distrusted.

The government force moved up close to Te Rangihaeata’s position but pulled back after three men were killed, including Ensign H.M. Blackburn. A frontal assault was considered but quickly dismissed by officers mindful of the disastrous attack at Ōhaeawai the previous winter. The terrain and vegetation prevented a flanking manoeuvre, and thousands of rounds of musket fire failed to make any impression on the defenders.

On 7 August two small mortars were dragged up to about a kilometre from the fortification. Approximately 80 shells were fired, many landing in or near Te Rangihaeata’s position. Reluctant to advance and fearful of a counter-attack, the British decided to withdraw their regular troops. From 10 August it was left to Te Ātiawa to launch occasional raids. On the 13th it was discovered that Te Rangihaeata had slipped away under cover of darkness and rain.

Te Rangihaeata’s groups were pursued by their Māori foes. A long retreat into the neighbouring Horowhenua district, in appalling conditions, effectively ended the Hutt Valley campaign.

Eventually Te Rangihaeata settled in the Poroutawhao swamp, south of present-day Foxton. His people suffered great hardships over the next few years but generally did not obstruct further European settlement. The government chose to leave Te Rangihaeata alone, declining to take action even when he imposed tolls on travellers on the beach road between Foxton and Levin.

Te Rangihaeata died in November 1855.

Significance of the war in Wellington

The Wellington campaign claimed few lives. Its real significance was the reassurance it gave settlers that their needs were slowly but surely being met by the Crown. Coming so quickly after the conclusion of the fighting in the Bay of Islands, the pacification of Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata did much to enhance Grey’s reputation with the settler population. Conflict in two key areas of European settlement had been resolved.

How to cite this page

'Last battles', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/wellington-war/last-battles, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 19-Oct-2021