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Historic Tauranga

General Interest

Did you know that Tauranga is home to the oldest library in New Zealand? Or the site of the single most devastating battle for the British military during the New Zealand Wars?

In 1864, Tauranga was the site of the Battle of Gate Pa. Gate Pa was the name given to a Maori fortress, built by the great Maori Chief Rawiri Puhirake of the Ngai Te Rangi for protection. It earned its title from its appearance, as its palisade walls looked like a picket fence, and its higher walls resembled a gate.

Chief Puhirake believed there would be retaliation for his support of the Waikato Wars but when no war party came, he taunted the British, saying he'd built a road to the pa so that they wouldn't be too tired to fight. Meanwhile General Duncan Cameron had been amassing troops - some 1,700 men - and at dawn on the 29th April, 1864, his forces attacked the 230 Maori defending the pa.

The battle lasted for eight hours. At 4pm the artillery barrage stopped and 300 troops invaded the pa. The Maori fled, but when their route was blocked, they re-entered the pa and continued fighting. The British mistook the warriors for new reinforcements, and retreated. After assisting the wounded the Maori abandoned the pa, and so it came to be that Gate Pa was written into the history books as the single most devastating battle for the British military with the loss of 111 lives. Maori losses were lighter, numbering around 25 dead.

Today the site of the original military camp, the Monmouth Redoubt, and the mission cemetery holds not only the remains of the British troops killed at Gate Pa, but also the body of Chief Rawiri Puhirake, who was later killed during the Battle of Te Ranga. The battlefield is also famous for the heroic compassion of Hene Te Kirikamu, who, when hearing the cries of wounded British soldiers calling for water, risked his life to give them some.

And as for the library, it can be found on the hallowed grounds of The Elms Mission House, just a fifteen minute drive from Pacific Coast Village. Completed in 1839 to house the Reverend A N Brown's precious books, it was the first building on the site. Today, it is the oldest library in the nation, and it was here that wounded, from both sides of the battle, were treated by the Reverend.

Words: Donna Blaber


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