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War in Taranaki, 1860 - 1863

June 7, 2023

War in Taranaki, 1860 – 1863

Wiremu Kingi Rangitāke (Ngāti Kura, Ngāti Mutunga, Te Āti Awa)

Wiremu Kīngi Rangitāke is thought to have been born in the last years of the 18th century at Manukorihi Pā, Waitara. Te Rangitāke, also known as Whiti, was baptised in early 1840’s,taking the name Wiremu Kīngi. Kīngi’s early life had been dominated by the great migrations on the west coast of the North Island which took place between 1820 and 1840’s. Accounts claims that Rangitāke and his father, Te Reretāwhangawhanga, accompanied Te Rauparaha’s Ngāti Toa when they made their way south from Kāwhia to the Kāpiti coast in the early 1820’s. Kīngi and his father, concluding the migrations, made an additional settlement around Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast.

The late 1830’s saw huge numbers of missionaries, treaty-bearers, and British settlers arrive to the lower North Island. Land purchasers, such as the New Zealand Company, began entering into land purchase agreements with chiefs of the Cook Strait area, who put their names to three deeds. Kīngi put his mark to the Charlotte Sound deed on the 8th of November 1839, which effectively, and unintentionally, transferred to the New Zealand Company his own lands, including any newly acquired lands. In the wake of the land deeds, settlers began to arrive at Petone and at Taranaki. Kīngi and his people began going back and forth from Waikanae to Waitara to safeguard their traditional homelands and wāhi tapu. Exasperating the situation further, the land claims commissioner, William Spain, awarded the company an additional 60,000 acres of Āti Awa land by virtue of a deed negotiated in February 1840 by a small group of Āti Awa living at Ngāmotu, at present day New Plymouth.

In May 1840, Te Reretāwhangawhanga and Wiremu Kīngi (signature number 98) drew their moko as signatures at the head of the Waikanae names on the copy of the Treaty of Waitangi brought by the missionary Henry Williams. It is speculated that Kīngi’s mother, Kehu, was among 5 female leaders who also signed this Cook Strait treaty document. Kīngi supported and welcomed the missionaries to his area and, with the help of his people, built a large, adzed timber church with complete with kōwhaiwhai and tukutuku panels for fellowship and worship. To the distain of Grey, in 1844, Kīngi’s opposition to the land transfers were made evident in a letter written to Governor George Grey which exclaimed that, “Waitara shall not be given up”.

By 1854, conflict between Taranaki chiefs became apparent, between those chiefs, like Kīngi, who were determined to maintain their authority over their lands, and those of Kingi’s contemporaries who did not. In 1859, Kīngi personally addressed Governor Grey, ‘Listen, Governor … I will not permit the sale of Waitara to the Pākehā. Waitara is in my hands, I will not give it up; I will not, I will not, I will not’. Surveyors were sent into the Taranaki area on the 17 March 1860, to which Kīngi and his people staged a peaceful obstruction at Waitara. The Taranaki War broke out on the 17 March 1860 when the British attacked Kohia Pā. Rebelling Māori actively limited settler expansion by mounting offensives against settler properties in response to the destruction of their own by the Crown’s troops.

Finally, on the 27 June 1860, led by Major Thomas Nelson, an offensive was made on the twin fortifications, Puketākauere and Onukukaitara Pā, where the British would suffer a disastrous defeat by Māori and their effective use of fortification and trench warfare. No more than 200 Māori were present that fateful day inside the fortifications. Major Nelson split his 350 men into three groups surrounding the fortifications. Following prolonged artillery bombardment, Nelson’s men were ordered to perform a frontal attack. Optimism quickly evaporated as they were cut down by ‘withering fire’ from the hidden rifle pits. The frontal attack was repulsed while the militia positioned to attack from the rear, had become bogged down in swamp. Thirty soldiers were killed and another 34 were wounded while 5 Māori had reportedly been killed in the conflict. Many of the soldiers lay where they fell as the British forces retreated from Rangitākauere’s battle ground. The King Country or Waikato war would follow on from the Taranaki conflicts as reprisal for Waikato’s assistance to Taranaki tribes during the Taranaki Wars.