The Battle Of Rangiriri

Table of Content

The Battle of Rangiriri
Cassandra McPherson
The Waikato invasion of 1863-4 was one of the most significant conflicts of the New Zealand wars, it was an important showdown between the colonial British (who were motivated by land seizure), and the Waikato Maori (driven by the idea of Maori unity.) It was a battle that changed the outlook of the nation’s history forever. One of the most defining and decisive moments of the invasion was the Battle of Rangiriri. The battle was unique, as it was one of the few major victories that the British managed to achieve over Maori during both the invasion, and throughout the overall engagement of the New Zealand wars. Being such an important and defining event in history, and given the time it occurred in, there are many aspects of the battle that are disputed and which are mostly left open to interpretation due to lack of records or conflicting evidence. Over such a long time, many accounts of the event have naturally changed through communication, and even at the time, there was significant misrepresentation of information. This means that some prominent historians in New Zealand hold different views on aspects of the Battle, including why it happened, the motives of both sides, and the aftermath of the battle.

The invasion began in July of 1863. On the 12th, the notable 65th Regiment crossed the Mangatāwhiri stream, forming a bridgehead for the rest of the force to cross, and constructing a redoubt, the Alexandra. From here they could establish and defend their line of supply into the lower stretches of the Waikato, fuelling the invasion. On the 17th, one of the first encounters of the war occurred at Koheroa, a fight to control the heights overseeing the river. After the British Victory, Major-General Cameron, commander in chief of the imperial forces prepared to march on. This however, was delayed. There was a lull in fighting between July and October as the British readied themselves for a summer campaign, rather than to continue. When the fighting recommenced, the British first marched on to the formidable defences at Meremere, where the might of up to 1000 Maori under Wiremu Tamihana stood to block the British advance. The battle was quickly won, with the British steamboats landing troops upriver and surrounding the Maori position, eradicating the main obstacle along the Waikato. It was in November when the key battle for the Waikato was fought at Rangiriri, a daunting, but undermanned defensive line extending from the banks of the Waikato to Lake Waikare.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

The battle on 20th November 1863, was a pivotal event as the British had managed to surround and trap a large portion of the Maori force, unlike previous engagements where defences where often found to be abandoned after a short fight. General Cameron marched overland with about 850 officers and rank and file, along with three Armstrong guns, and a naval flee. They made their way down the river with two gunships, the “Pioneer” and the “Avon”, as well as towed barges carrying up to 359 soldiers. The battle began at about four o’clock in the afternoon and ended at dawn the following day with the surrender of the remaining Maori. Maori King Movement (Kingitanga)

The first perspective I’m going to look at is during the lead up to the Battle of Rangiriri. Governor Gray needed a reason to invade the Waikato. There are many different views on why Gray wanted to invade. In his letter to the Queen he writes of a potential invasion of Auckland because of the Maori King Movement. Many historians believe that this was undoubtedly exaggerated by the Government to strengthen the case for imperial reinforcements, a tactic Gray was known for. He wrote to the Chiefs of the Waikato establishing his reasons for invasion, “You are now assembling in armed bands; you are constantly threatening to come down the river to ravage the settlement of Auckland, and to murder peaceable settlers.” Gray claims that these are justified reasons for invading the Waikato but the lack of evidence and unlikelihood of invasion suggests that there was no real threat. There are little resources available that give a Maori perspective on the apparent Kingite invasion of Auckland. Many historians, such as James Belich believe that the King Movement had no intention of invading Auckland simply because it would be unfeasible and of no real gain to the Maori. In fact the Waikato chiefs had not even received Gray’s letter explaining Gray’s reasons for invasion prior to the invasion. This means that the Maori leaders were completely unaware of the possible threat they posed to Auckland.

The Maori perspective on Grays reasoning for invasion must have seemed absurd to them. They would have believed that Gray was looking for any excuse to steal their land. Grays real reasons for invading, as many historians believe, is that he was under pressure from the British Government to provide land for the incoming settlers. The Maori weren’t going to simply give up their land; therefore he needed a reason to invade. Before the Europeans began to settle in New Zealand the Maori did not see themselves as one nation, instead they saw themselves as a collection of separate tribes. Once the British arrived, this began to change. The Maori realized just how useful it would be having a monarch ruler is on a nation, it had the ability to create unity, which the Maori did not have; therefore the Maori developed the idea to apoint a King. In the year 1858 the first Maori King, Potatau Te Wherowhero, was elected. Although the Maori believed this election to be incredibly beneficial, the British Governor and European settlers saw it differently. They viewed it as being disloyal to their British Queen and as a result they decided to take action. The Kingitanga was formed mainly to unite and defend the Maori people, as well as hold the Mana whenua (sovereignty) over Maori territory.

The aim of the Kingitanga was to firstly bring an end to inter-tribal conflict. Trading with the Europeans introduced new more advanced weaponry such as rifles and muskets; this added a new element to inter-tribal warfare resulting in further deaths compared with earlier times. Secondly the Maori intended to keep Maori land in Maori hands as more and more European settlers were purchasing Maori-owned land. The third was to have a governing body that would divide them from the British government and concentrate first and foremost on the interests and welfare of the Maori people as well as including a governing body that was equivalent to the British Monarch. The Maori believed that they had every right to anoint a King and that it should not, in any way, affect or anger the Queen or the British settlers of New Zealand. The first Maori King, Te Wherowhero’s, intention was not to oppose the Crown, but instead provide authority in the lands placed under his mana (authority). Supporters of the Kingitanga believed it was achievable for the authority of both monarchs to co-exist. To the Maori, the Kingitanga was a development of their culture, and not in anyway a resistance to the Europeans. Te Wherowhero’s son Wiremu Tamihana, Te Wherowhero’s successor, wrote to Governor Grey explaining that the Maori “had the same right as the nations of Europe to choose a sovereign from among their own people.”

Despite information on the British perspective of the Maori King Movement being limited, we have the ability to assume that the European settlers and government that resided in New Zealand at the time remained with the perspective that the Maori King Movement was a rebellion against the British Monarch, although clarifications had been given by the Maori people, justifying the Kingitanga. There was also a lot of pressure on the new colonial government to make land obtainable for their farmers and settlers. Due to the conflicting views of the British and Kingitanga, the Kingitanga owned land became of great strategic value to the British. It would help to both reprimand the Kingitanga and free land for European farmers and settlers. Following my research on the topic of the New Zealand Wars and consequently The Maori King Movement I believe that I have gathered sufficient valid information to decide whose perspective has the most validity among the Maori and British. Whilst analyzing the British perspective, it appears as if breaking the power of the Maori King Movement was a significant motive. When speaking in January 1863 at Taupiri, Waikato Governor George Grey proclaimed his objective for the opposition, “I shall not fight against him with the sword, but I shall dig around him till he falls of his own accord”. Also after having the opportunity to investigate both perspectives, I believe that the Maori had the most convincing perspective. The Maori appear to have misunderstood the political conflict at work, and were not the first to initiate battle. Land Seizures

Although the disagreement over the Maori King Movement appears to have been a major cause for the development of the land wars, this was not the lone reason. One of Grey’s justifications’s for the Waikato invasion was that it would prevent the alleged threat that the Waikato tribes and Kingite held in opposition to Auckland, these impending battles were what Governor Grey believed would ultimately protect Auckland, which was one of the largest European settlements in New Zealand at this time. By the year 1863 the British still considered the Maori King Movement of 1858 as rebellion, and in July 1863 Governor Grey issued all Maori living between Auckland and the Waikato River with an ultimatum: either guarantee their allegiance to the British Queen and give up their weapons, or deem to be in a rebellion and face the consequences. They refused this ultimatum and Governor Grey ordered General Cameron and his troops to invade the Waikato. Grey’s aim was to cease the power of the Maori King Movement and to confiscate large areas of land for the European farmers and settlers. In earlier times the different meanings of land ownership held by the Maori and British were a considerable contribution to the conflict and possibly also contributed to the extension of the land wars. In traditional Maori society the concept of total ownership of land did not exist. The said owner, extended families and even sub-tribes could have different rights to the same piece of land. One group may have the right to fish in the nearby water, and another could have the right to grow crops on the surrounding land. Restricted boundaries were very uncommon, and rights for the land were constantly being renegotiated. When European settlers began to arrive in New Zealand in the early 1800’s they were eager for land and often a Maori Chief would agree for Europeans to settle on a piece of their land in exchange for goods, but they did not envisage that this meant compromising absolute ownership. Instead Maori saw it as a transfer of rights, whilst their own rights would remain intact. During this time, New Zealand was still governed by traditional Maori law, and the Maori would have viewed the transactions of land within the context of their own culture and expectations.

They would likely have seen deals as entering into mutual or shared relationships –not how the term ‘sales’ is understood today. The Maori were keen to attract Europeans so that they could trade and gain their more advanced technology therefore land transactions were frequent between the Maori and Europeans. It was not until around the 1830’s that several Maori Chiefs began to understand the exact British interpretation of land ownership as well as understanding that all the British colonial government was truly concerned about was obtaining land for their growing populace. By the 1840’s a Maori anti-land-selling movement had emerged and was spreading rapidly by and during the 1850’s particularly in the Taranaki and Waikato regions. Due to the pressure on the colonial government to secure land for settlers land seizures and confiscation’s became quite frequent. Once the Maori began to understand the true meaning behind the term ‘sale’, land sales between the British and Maori became much more limited and difficult. Therefore they resorted to confiscating land. On 5 May 1863, Premier Alfred Domett sent a message to Governor George Grey, recommending that Maori who were in a ‘state of rebellion’ have their lands confiscated as a form of punishment. At first the confiscation of land was intended to be fairly limited, but over time it gradually became more and more elaborate. Land was confiscated from tribes who had rebelled against the government as well as those who had fought as allies with the government. The confiscation of land within New Zealand shares similarities with earlier British practices in other countries such as Ireland and the southern African provinces. As expected the Maori disliked the land confiscations, and even some significant Pakeha criticised the process from the very beginning. Sir William Martin, the former Chief Justice, published a paper in 1863 where he argued that the history of Ireland demonstrated ‘how little is to be affected towards the quieting of a country by the confiscation of private land.’ Once Governor Grey gave the rebelling Maori an ultimatum to either take an oath of allegiance to the Queen or face the consequences he made it apparent that ‘Those who wage war against Her Majesty, or remain in arms, threatening the lives of Her peaceable subjects, must take the consequences of their acts’. By acting in opposition to the Crown they would be made to forfeit the ‘right to the possession of their lands guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Waitangi’. In regards to this particular disagreement I believe that the Maori are again the party that dealt with the circumstances the best.

I believe that Governor Grey’s accusation that Auckland was under threat by the Maori was unfair. I agree with the justification of many historians that Auckland was significant to the Waikato economy and the Waikato Maori would have been reluctant to lose this market. Therefore, why would the Maori have any reason to place it under threat? New Zealand Historian James Belich also suggests that economic envy would have been another Pakeha motivation for war. With the British gaining greater control over Waikato resources their reliance on the Maori could be reduced. I also believe that the practice of land confiscations by the colonial government on the Maori was unwarranted. The land was rightfully theirs and if what the British claims to have been the reason behind the confiscations, to cease the rebellion, they were already aware that in the past the same tactic was not effective. In 1869 Donald McLean, New Zealand politician and Government official, stated his opinion that the land confiscations in New Zealand were nothing but an costly mistake. Governor Grey was also incredibly unfair in the way that he handled the Waikato invasion as before his ultimatum had even had the chance to reach it’s supposed audience of the Waikato Maori the invasion was launched and Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron had already crossed the Mangatawhiri stream, a branch of the Waikato River near Mercer. This waterway marked the aukati – a line that should not be crossed – between the European settlement of Auckland and the territory under the mana (protection) of the Maori King. It was this that began the key conflict of the New Zealand Wars. Maori Surrender

One event during the Battle of Rangiriri 1863 that causes perhaps even the most debate is the surrender of the Maori. On the morning of November 21st a white flag was raised from within the Maori redoubt and the battle commenced. However this is not what the Maori forces claim to have wanted when raising the flag and a great deal of disagreement between the Europeans and Maori has resulted from this. A white flag flown during a battle is an internationally recognised signal of surrender or the request for a truce. Both the British and Maori should have been aware of this however misunderstandings and interpretations during and after the battle of Rangiriri still occurred. As a result of the Maori Surrender there are numerous theories that explain the possible reasons as to why the Maori raised the white flag during the early hours of November 21st 1863. And to my knowledge, to this very day there is still no definite explanation and many of the possibilities are rather contradictive. However, according to several historians there is the possibility that the Maori flew the white flag for strategic reasons.

This possibility is based on information provided to historian James Cowan by a Ngati Tamaoho veteran of the Rangiriri battle. This warrior claimed that the Maoris surrendered predominantly because they had used all of their remaining functional ammunition and would have requested more ammunition had they been given the chance to talk terms. Initially the Maori refused to surrender explaining that their gunpowder was wet. “Give us some gunpowder, that we may continue the fight.” (Homai te poura) This claim is however contradicted by the bulk of evidence found after the battle and statements by the Rangiriri prisoners, ‘a plentiful supply of ammunition was found in the redoubt after the battle.’ Therefore this explanation should be withdrawn and there is only one remaining realistic explanation, which is that the white flag was flown not only to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the British but also to avoid further casualties and give their leaders more time to reach safety and escape capture. Despite the fact that there are not many records of the British perspective involving the Rangiriri Maori Surrender it is understood that although General Cameron and his British troops chose to interpret the white flag at Rangiriri as a sign of surrender it is also associated as an accepted sign of truce and an appeal to negotiate. James Belich explained in his book, The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict-1986, that because this is an internationally recognised signal it is assumed General Cameron decided to disarm the Maori in the redoubt rather than discussing terms with them in order to avoid more casualties within his troops. Regarding this specific debate and the amount of evidence and research related to it, which I found to be quite limited, I consider the Maori perspective to be most valid as there is more evidence and statements from the time of the event, the Rangiriri prisoners, as well as participants from the battle itself, the Ngati Tamaoho veteran. It also includes reports and ideas from later commentators such as historian’s Belich and Cowan compared with the British perspective, which has quite a sparse amount of information and the majority of what there is are from later commentators such as historians. The surrender at the Battle of Rangiriri is an event that people have the strongest perspectives on. A white flag was raised on the morning of November 21st 1863. Entering the redoubt the British shook hands with the Maori and captured the remaining dwellers, thus ending the Battle in Rangiriri. This interpretation of the white flag as a surrender or a negotiation has various meaning depending on who is inquired. In a letter later posted into the Daily Southern Cross in 1863 was a letter from General Cameron to the Governor detailing the deaths, wounded and other particulars from the Battle of Rangiriri, General Cameron stated “shortly after daylight on the 21st, the white flag was hoisted by the enemy, of whom 183 surrendered unconditionally, gave up their arms, and became prisoners of war”. This shows the British taking advantage of a situation. Historian James Cowan claims that the Maori surrendered unconditionally because they had run out of ammunition. Cowan believes that the white flag was for surrender, which is the same way the British troops perceived it. The British were glad when the flag was raised, especially after failing at
their 8 assaults. They didn’t want to let that opportunity go. James Belich says that that was false because there was evidence showing they still had plenty of supply in the morning. Belich stated “both the British and since (since 1860) and the Maoris were perfectly well aware that showing a white flag did not necessarily mean surrender”. Although Belich describes the situation as ‘abuse of a flag at war’ he does say it was understandable. “… It was not surprising that he should seize his chance rather than risk more of his men”. I agree with the perspective that the British mistook the meaning of the flag for surrender rather than a negotiation. I believe that the Maori wouldn’t have surrendered if they knew that reinforcements were on the way as back up was so close. Both sides of the battle clearly had a misunderstanding which ended the battle. However these perspectives come from people today, not people who were in the battle which doesn’t give a clear statement of each perspective as these perspectives will only be on the judgement of the research each person has done. Why is this significant to us today?

Over a century later, the British Crown officially and publicly apologized for unjustly invading the Waikato-Tainui region and sending imperial forces over the Mangatawhiri stream in the May of 1995. The Crown signed a Deed of Settlement with Waikato-Tainui that included cash and land valued at over $170 million. With the settlement there was an admission by the Crown that it had “unjustly confiscated” the land and that they had wanted to, and on behalf of all New Zealanders, amend these injustices, and commence the procedure of healing and entering a new age of co-operation with the Kingitanga and Waikato Tribes. It is clear from both my research and the conclusion of these events that the Maori tribes were treated unjustly during this event of our history, and that this conflict was not necessary. I believe they held the most compelling perspective on the reasoning and events that took place during the period of the Waikato Land Wars. The New Zealand Land Wars were, and are still, a significant part of New Zealand’s history. Influential in the development of the New Zealand we know of today. It is important that we remember this event in our countries history, and learn from the mistakes made by our ancestors.

Cite this page

The Battle Of Rangiriri. (2016, Nov 04). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront