Battle for Ohaeawai Pa 1 Jul 1845

In another futile attack on entrenched Maori the British lost 39 killed and 70 wounded.

(Ohaeawai signifies “The action of thermal waters.”)

The Maori defence

The pa was on a square piece of clear rising ground, 450 metres across. It sloped rather suddenly to the south, had a small ravine and bush to the westward, a general decline to eastward, and a very easy rise to the northward. The Pa was dominated by Puketapu hill, known to the British as Waka’s Hill. This was conical, 90 metres higher than the pa, and 550 metres away to the north-west, which was considered long rifle range. Its bush clad southern slopes connected with the bush to the west of the pa.

The pa itself was 85 metres by 45 metres. The general construction was typical of the pa to come. It was surrounded by a triple palisade. The outside fence was intended as a delaying obstacle. The inner two were made of stout trees, lined with flax making them almost bullet proof. The walls were built with projections, so any force approaching could be enfiladed. The two inner palisades were separated by a firing trench, with traverses to prevent enfilading fire down the trench. The interior of the pa had communication trenches and bomb shelters hidden under whare (huts).

The Maori were free to come and go to the neighbouring bush, as the British were too few to fully invest the pa. Food and ammunition were renewed as required. On several occasions warriors sneaked out via the bush to attack the besiegers.

Maori Order of Battle

  • Maori under Kawiti
  • 100 Ngati-hine.

The British attack

The British camped 400 metres to the north of the pa, amongst the potato and vegetable gardens.

European Order of Battle

  • 520 regulars under Colonel Despard (99th):
    • 58th under Major Bridge, 3 companies; 270 men, including at least 40 grenadiers.
    • 99th under Major Macpherson, 2 companies; 180 men, including at least 40 grenadiers.
    • 96th under Lieutenant-Colonel Hulme, 1 company; 70 men.
  • 30 marines under Acting-Commander Johnson and Lieutenant Phillpotts.
  • 80 militia volunteers from Auckland under Ensign Figg; including 50 pioneers and 25 artillerymen.
  • Two 6pdr cannon, two 12pdr cannon, one 32 pdr ships cannon (arrived latter) under Captain Marlow and Lieutenant Wilmot of the Engineers.
  • 250 Maori under Waka Nene.
  • 200 Maori from Kawakawa under Pomare. Although these soon departed.

The British lost 39 killed and 70 wounded.

During the siege of Ohaeawai pa, Heke did not to attack the British transport. This was partly to fulfill a promise made after the battle of Pukenui pa. One of Heke’s men (Patai) had been wounded and captured by Waka Nene. Waka sent the man to the missionaires to be tended and sent a message to Heke’s second in command (Te Haratua), “Remember Patai, and do not molest the drays.” Anyway, Heke didn’t want to attack the transport, “Where would be the use of our taking the food and powder of the soldiers? How could they fight with us if we did that?”

Wargaming the battle

See Wargaming the Battle of Ohaeawai Pa.

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