Maori Wars Battlefield Photos
Part II: The Waikato

Pukekohe East Presbyterian Church
    Commentary
    Photos
Meremere
    Commentary
    Photos
Rangiriri
   Commentary
    Photos

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Pukekohe East Presbyterian Church

Commentary
Here one of the early actions of the Waikato War took place on 14 September, 1863, when about 200 Ngati Maniapoto attacked Pukekohe East. The church was then fortified with a five-foot stocade  of logs laid horizontally on top of one another, and served as a rallying point for the settlers of the town in case of attack. At 8:00 on 14 September it was garrisoned by 17 men of the Forest Rifle Volunteers under Sergeant Perry. With a party of 32 Waikato Militia under Lieutenant Grierson reinforcing the garrison at 1:00 pm and another supporting from the edge of the bush clearing the church was then in, they managed to hold off the attack for 8 hours. Finally, at 4:00 pm a force of 150 men of the 18th Royal Irish and 65th Regiments from the Alexandra Redoubt at Tuakau came and swept the clearing, driving of the remaining Maoris with the loss of three dead and eight wounded.

I visited this place in late June 2003 at about dawn. The log stockade was torn down over a century ago, but the church itself has hardly changed at all, save for the addition of a vestry and water tank to the rear. The main church building is only one room. The grave of six of the Maoris killed there on the day of the battle is there. I don't imagine any of the graves would have been there in '63, for the church was only founded in april of that year. The place was very peaceful, quiet, and neat when I was there, and one can easily imagine what it must have looked like 140 Years ago. In parts of the church bullet holes can still be seen, long since painted over.

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Photos:

Photo Above: An overview of the scene.


Photo Above: The right of the Church


Photo Above: Looking from the doorstep to the right - the Cemetary.


Photo Above: The Church in profile.


Photo Above: From the left of the Church

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Meremere

Commentary:
Meremere was a large Maori pa overlooking the Waikato River which General Cameron and his flotilla had to pass on the way to the Maori King's capitol at Ngaruawahia. During the Waikato War it housed 1000-2000 Kingite warriors, with three antique cannon firing cannisters of nails, lengths of chain or anything else that was handy. On 20 August, 1863, the Gunboat Avon made an early sortie against the pa, and fought an action using its 12-pound gun and rockets before withdrawing. Later, on 29 and 30 September, the gunboat Pioneer with General Cameron himself on board bombarded the pa, anchoring about 300 yards off from the entrenchments. For two hours an artillery duel took place between the three Maori guns and the two 12-pound Armstrongs of the Pioneer, supported by two 40-pound Armstrongs at the Whangamarino Redoubt to the north. At one point a 7-pound weight fired by one of the Maori cannon penetrated the Pioneer's hull, but it merely lodged itself in a beef barrel and did no further damage. The British bombardment apparently did its work, for when 1200 troops were landed next day at points a few miles distant from the redoubt in order to surround it, they found the place deserted, the defenders having abandoned during the night. Cameron then made Meremere his advanced base for the push to Rangiriri.

The pa was never palisaded, but features quite extensive earthworks which still survive. From the top you can still see where the Pioneer lay at anchor and the area of the Whangamarino redoubt some miles distant, though the natural scene is interrupted somewhat by the large coal power station and worker's habitations in the township of Meremere. Happily for us, the station's turbines have long since ceased to whir and many of the buildings are abandoned, rendering an eerie silence over the place.

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Photos:


Photo Above: Looking up at the pa from the North


Photo Above: Looking North from atop the pa. The Waikato River is on the left and the Whangamarino Redoubt would habe been on the hill behind the power station at right.


Photo Above: Entrenchments facing the river - Southwest


Photo Above: Entrenchments facing the river -- West


Photo Above: Northeastern entrenchments


Photo Above: Southern entrenchments

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Rangiriri "The Angry Sky"

Commentary
Rangiriri was the scene of the climactic battle of the Waikato War, which took place on 20 November, 1863. The Maori King Tawhiao knew the British force would have to pass through a bottlneck on their line of march between the Waikato River and Lake Waikare, and set up a defensive line of earthworks between them at Rangiriri garrisoned by 400-500 Maori with himself and Wiremu Tameha in personal command.

General Cameron did not want the defenders to escape as they had at Meremere, and so he divided his force. 770 men of his force were to attack frontally while another 500 were to sail with the gunboat flotilla consisting of the Pioneer, the Avon, and a number of armed barges in tow, behind the Maori position to cut off the Kingite retreat. At 3:00 pm on 20 November, he began his preliminary bombardment with his two 12-pounder Armstong guns and the guns on the Avon and Pioneer. There is some controversy over the effectiveness of this hour-and-a-half bombardment, but the earthworks were apparently well-prepared for it. The men on board the flotilla were delayed by the contrary currents of the Waikato River, and did not get into position until quite late.

Meanwhile the frontal assault commenced. After some heavy fighting the troops managed to carry all the entrenchments but the central redoubt. This redoubt consisted of an entrance which "was more of a trap than a door" as one historian aptly puts it, protected by flankers and a deep ditch not easily visible from the north, from the bottom of which the ramparts rose over 20 feet. Seventy-two men of the 65th Regiment ladder party were the first to storm it, but found their ladders would not reach the top and were driven back. Then Cameron sent his only trained corps of artillerists, 36 men under Captain Mercer, RA, armed with pistols and swords, against the towering wall of earth. They met with the same problem as the 65th, and were enfiladed by a devastating fire from the defenders above. Mercer himself was killed, and the Artillerymen were driven off with severe losses. Finally two more brave assaults were made by 90 sailors under Commander Mayne, RN, which both met with similar failure.

Cameron broke off the engagement, content to sit back and try to prevent the garrison's escape. During the night most of the Kingites did escape including King Tawhiao and Wiremu Tamehana, leaving 183 to surrender next day, out of ammunition. For his part, Cameron had suffered over 130 casualties, in one of the costliest battles of the New Zealand Wars.

All of the battlefield that survives today is a small fenced-off area, the remains of the central redoubt, much reduced by weather and trampling by livestock. Still, one can tell that these were once mighty fortifications, and can readily understand the surprise the British assault parties must have felt stumbling upon the trench. If you go there, be sure to visit the tea shop at Rangiriri, which includes a small museum and an excellent audiovisual presentation on the Waikato war, as well as the cemetary accross the street, where many of the slain are buried.

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Photos:


Photo Above: Brits' eye view of the front of the central redoubt


Photo Above: Looking East down the lines to Lake Waikare


Photo Above: Looking West along the lines to the Waikato River


Photo Above: The Central Redoubt viewed from the bottom of the fosse.

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For Questions or comments, please email Web Page Author Trevor Brabyn