We Must Not Forget
On an abandoned pa they buried their dead, those early missionaries who came to Tauranga in the early years of last century. And when bloody war came into their midst, it was in this burial ground they interred the casualties of battle.
But thirty years of Christian teaching had had an effect on the Maori, who was now the enemy. The battle that was fought on Tauranga's soil has become an epic in the history of our land. Whenever men speak of the Battle of Gate Pa, they speak of the chivalry displayed by the Maori foemen, and they tell the tale of a gallant act of Christian courtesy that became enshrined in sculpture.
To commemorate the chivalry of the Maori as an enemy, and to commemorate also fifty years of lasting peace, the European community marked the jubilee of the Battle of Gate Pa. First, they had exhumed the body of Puhirake, leader of the Maoris, from his grave in the trench where he died fighting, and they re-interred his bones in the Mission Cemetery, where now they lie with the remains of the leaders of the British Army and Navy who died in the conflict. Over this grave, they now erected an obelisk, and inscribed on it are the reasons why both Europeans and Maoris wished to raise this monument.
“… to commemorate his chivalrous and humane orders … and for the respectful treatment of … the slain … The seeds of better feeling between the two races thus sown on the battlefield have since borne ample fruit …”
On one face of the obelisk is a pictorial representation of that act of bravery that has characterised the chivalry of the Maori as a fighting warrior, and epitomised that chivalry and Christian action in an incident after the Gate Pa battle fought between Maori warriors entrenched in their fairly rapidly constructed fortification, and the British under General Duncan Cameron, who attacked the pa.
It was called ‘Gate Pa’ because it was erected across the pathway out of Tauranga. The site of the construction was Pukehinahina, a hill near the western end of the peninsula; Pukehinahina was the western boundary of the land ceded to the Church Missionary Society. To mark the boundary, a ditch crossed the peninsula, and where the path crossed the boundary there was a gate. So the pa constructed at this gateway became known thereafter as Gate Pa.
Because the fortification was placed across the road that was the highway to the west and south, Cameron saw it as a threat to communication. Only when this pa was built did he move against the Maori. Up till this time, the forces that had occupied Tauranga since January were there for the purpose of preventing Ngatiporou from reaching the Waikato to assist the Kingite movement, and at the same time ravaging the land in their passage to the Waikato.
On 28 April, Cameron moved his forces out from The Camp, in the vicinity of the Mission buildings; the army personnel were joined by sailors and marines from the ships lying in the Estuary. Eight abreast they marched along the road that had been laid down, Navy and Army moving equally. They took up position on a hill about a mile from the pa, and waited the day of battle.
About dusk, Col. Greer led his regiment around the flank of the pa, to take up a position in the rear. From this position he was able to penetrate the fortification, and
prevent the retreat of the occupants if and when they were driven out.
April 29 was a misty, unpleasant day. The first shot from Cameron's men killed a Maori priest as he was conducting prayers. All day his guns pounded the fortification till about mid-afternoon a breach was made. Cameron moved his men up for an assult upon the pa. Led by their officers (who thus were the first to be struck down by the Maori warriors) the men swarmed into the trenches, and began to drive out the defenders. But Greer's men were at the exits, and the Maoris poured back into the trenches. The soldiers and sailors now in the pa believed this rush to be reinforcements. Without the leadership of their officers, they fled the pa, still held by Ngaiterangi and their allies.
During the night, the Maoris silently withdrew, disappearing through the swamps to higher ground up the valley. The pa was occupied only by the wounded and the dead invaders.
It was through this night that the cries of the wounded calling for water could be heard — and it was the compassion of a Maori that responded to the plea. At risk of being heard and shot by the British sentries, this compassionate warrior stole down to a well among the fern with a container, and brought back water for the parched lips of the stricken soldiers. This then is the deed that epitomised the chivalry of the Maori as a warrior and as an enemy at the Battle of Gate Pa, 29 April, 1864.
Who was this courageous and compassionate warrior? The plaque on the obelisk to Rawiri Puhirake attributes it to Henare Taratoa, and there was circumstantial evidence that it was he. Henare was the scribe who had penned the messages from Rawiri to the British through the months of occupation, notes which in all their messages conveyed a feeling of Christian concern for the British. Henare had been a student at St John's College under Bishop Selwyn, and had been imbued with the Christian ethic. He had, however, allied himself with his own people in their quarrel with the Pakeha.
Probably the greatest piece of evidence was produced at his death, when, fighting beside his leader, they were both shot down in the trenches at Te Ranga, some months after Gate Pa. On his body was found a paper that was the Battle Orders. Beginning with a prayer, containing instructions for the treatment of prisoners and killed, the order concluded with a text from Scripture, words which identified themselves with the action of giving water to those parched and thirsty in the lonely trench. ‘If thine enemy hunger,’ the words read in Maori, ‘feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink.’ What more striking proof could anyone wish, to ensure that the young Christian student from Otaki was the hero of the battle!
And yet it wasn't Henare Taratoa, although his name gained the history books. He was only believed, from the weight of evidence, to have been that warrior. Later evidence has revealed that we can believe that the carrier of water in the night was a woman — a halfcaste who had been fighting beside her brother. Being part-European, she was not under the tapu that forbade Maori women to fight in battle. The evidence comes from more than one source.
First, we have the word of Col Booth, one of those who lay through that night, and who was rescued the next day, mortally wounded. He told how a woman had brought water to them in a can. Some years later, the proprietress of an inn near Maketu, one Jane Foley, told James Cowan of the incident, and described how she had carried out the act. Before her marriage, she was Heni Te Kirikaramu, and living with her tribe. The word of these two has led to the recognition of this brave woman for the act of bravery and compassion that has made the story of Gate Pa live on in history, and has ennobled the record of the Maori as an enemy.
Heni te Kirikaramu is immortalised by a plaque erected in the porchway of the Memorial Church of St George erected on the battle-site. Heni was the grand-daughter of a Ngapuhi chief, and the daughter of a European named Russell. By her first marriage to an Arawa chief, Janie Russell became Heni te Kirikaramu. Some years
later, marriage again changed her name, and as Jane Foley she became respected in both Maketu and Kati Kati, where she and her husband lived with the family born to them.
The plaque in St George's Church was presented and unveiled by an old friend of Mrs Foley, Mrs L. Simons of Tauranga. The memorial address at the service of dedication was given by the writer to a large congregation which included many Maori, among them a great-grandson of the woman in whose honour the service was held.
‘God bless you,’ she records that Col Booth said to her, as she poured water into her cupped hand, and gave him to drink. In the beautiful and expressive lines of Rarawa Kerehoma, we can say of that place.
E tangi haere ana
Ngatai te uru ei
ka mai angi nga mahara
Ano he pawa ahi
Kua makeariri ke
Te okiokinga puehu kau.
The tide ebbs silently away.
Memories rise in the still air
Like smoke from many fires.
Is this the same place.
This place of ashes?