the BATTLE of RANGIRIRI - 1863
taken from Battle of Rangiriri
The Battle of Rangiriri (1863) occurred during the New Zealand land wars (18451872), which were fought between the Waikato Kingitanga forces and the British colonial forces. Rewi Maniapoto and the Maniapoto iwi, after being soundly beaten in a number of previous conflicts, argued with the Waikato chiefs such as Te Wharepu, about the wisdom of defending Rangiriri . The wars were sparked by a number of issues, but at its core was the establishment of the Maori King Movement as an alternative to the British government; its main policy was to stop Maori selling land to the government.
In Taranaki this had meant the killing of Maori who had attempted to sell land.
Following the Kingitanga defeats in Auckland and at Meremere in November 1863, the Maori retreated south to Rangiriri. In Rangiriri Te Wharepu designed a line of fortifications, stretching from the Waikato River to Lake Waikare, in preparation for a British attack.
The British force totaled 1400 men and the Kingitanga rebels about 500. (Nz Herald nov 13, 1863)
On November 20, 1863 around 860 British forces, led by
General Duncan Alexander CAMERON, attacked the fortifications at 4.45pm, after a bombardment that began at 3.00pm. Gunboats on the river attacked the ridge, while land troops, who had marched south from Meremere, attacked the main Maori position from the north.
The attack from the north was supported by artillery fire from the newly invented Armstrong gun which was breech loading with a rifled barrel and had explosive shells. The effect of the shells was ameliorated by the defenders placing Kingitanga flags to the rear of the central fortification. As these were being used as shot markers, many of the shells landed to the rear of the compact and heavily constructed bunker system which measured 63 ft x 63 ft (19m²).
The defence work had no pallisades. The 65th regiment attacked on the river side of the central redoubt with the 12th and the 14th Regiments attacking the line to the east of the redoubt.
Maori warriors in the outlying trenches were quickly deafeated and the survivors fled east to the lake and swamps, throwing away their guns as they ran. These 2 regiments were under orders to fire from cover to keep the rebels heads down. Troops attacking from the north were temporarily held up by the 17 ft (5m) high earth parapet.
Royal Engineers with the 65th bought up ladders so that the 64th could enter the central trench system.
The gunboat attack, and a barrage from Armstrong guns on a ridge at a range of about 700 yards (640m), lasted for about two hours. The 40th regiment that landed to the south of the fort in the morning, were held up for over an hour trying to get ashore by the muddy banks of the river to the south and the strong wind which blew the slow moving barges about and did not see action until the afternoon. While doing this they were sniped at by defenders who had rushed to enter the partly completed rear defences.
The land troops, consisting of four companies of the 65th Regiment, a detachment of Royal Engineers and the 14th Regiment, attacked the first line of defences and a party of 36 artilliarymen under Capt MERCER attacked the central redoubt armed with swords and revolvers. The Maori fiercely fought back, but by nightfall their fortifications were almost surrounded. Capt Mercer was shot dead.
At dusk the British wounded were carried to the river boats for treatment. During the night, the bulk of the defenders led by the mortally wounded Chief Te Wharepu, Tamihana and the King quietly retreated down the trench system to the east. During the night the British intermittently fired at the Maori and threw hand grenades into the central stronghold where the survivors held out. Tainui sources say the chief retreated to go and help with the harvesting but this was 3 months after the planting season and seems unlikely.
James COWAN interviewed survivors who told him they had run out of ammunition but Colonel GAMBLE found 182 firearms and large supplies of ammunition in the pa the day after the attack.
In the morning,the British attempted to set off a mine under the redoubt but the fuses could not be located. The Maori remaining showed a white flag. Lt PENNEFATHER entered the redoubt with his men mingling with the Maori for 10mts and shaking hands. He then demanded their arms which they gave up in surrender. About this time Wirimu TAMIHANA,, the king maker, approached the occupied pa from the east with 400 warriors. Deeply dispirited by the series of defeats in Auckland and the Waikato he wanted to surrender but he was prevented from doing so.
After the defeat of the Kingites, an officer, Captain E.BROOKE R.E., surveyed the site, including measurements of the extensive fortifications and Major Charles HEAPHY VC drew sketches (used by the NZ Herald) showing the British troops attacking the parapet.
41 Maori corpses were recovered, including 5 women and children.
The Battle of Rangiriri resulted in another major defeat for the Waikato Kingitanga. At least 41 Maori were killed including 6 chiefs and 183 were taken prisoner.
It is possible that many more died in the surrouding lake and swamps.
The British losses were 39 killed and 92 wounded. The British dead were mainly buried in a small graveyard in the township which is open to the public.
Two Victoria Crosses were won.
This was the battle that broke the back of the Waikato resistance and for which Cameron was knighted. Even Governor GREY, writing to Newcastle the next day-stressed his pleasure at the successful outcome.
The 183 Maori captives were taken north to Kawau Island.
Months later, nearly all managed to escape after the war was over.
After the battle a loyal Waikato chief, Wiremu Te WHEORO, was installed in a wooden redoubt constructed on a high point 500m east of the main earth redoubt. This was much larger than the original earthworks on the site and had a splendid view in all directions.
Te Wheoro, chief of the Ngati Naho, who was magistrate in the local court and about 30 of his men manned the wooden redoubt until 1868 to prevent any disruption by kingites to the British supply line.
Te Wheoro later became one of the first Maori MPs. This site was the subject of an archeological dig in Mid 2011.