Timeline of the First Taranaki War 1860

In early June the Atiawa and Ngati Maniapoto allies began building a pa at Puketakauere, a mile from the British field base at Camp Waitara and in full sight of it. This posed certain problems for the British. It restricted their movement, and endangered their supply lines and the security of the camp.

The battle of Puketakauere

The military were under orders to suspend hostilities against the Atiawa. Orders which annoyed the officers and men. On 23 June Major Thomas Nelson sent a reconnaissance party towards the pa, as bait. Shots were fired and this provided the provocation necessary for the resumption of offensive operations.

At 5 a.m. on 27 June, Nelson marched out with 350 men and two howitzers to ‘teach the troublesome Natives a lesson they will not easily forget.’

The Maori defence

200 (or less) Maori under Hapurona

Atiawa under Hapurona.

Some of of the Ngati Maniapoto taua from Waikato, under Epiha Tokohihi.

The Maori position lay between two swampy gullies forming a V-shape pointing north toward the Waitara River. Two hills dominated the position, Puketakauere and Onukukaitara. Onukukaitara hill was actually the site of the newly built stockade, although the fortification took its name from the other hill.

The British attack

British forces under Major Nelson (350-365 men)

Naval Brigade under Captain Seymour R.N.; 50 men.

40th Regiment (250 men)

Light and Grenadier companies; about 160 men.

Battalion companies; about 90 men.

Royal artillery: Two 24 pdr howitzers (smooth bore muzzle loader); 18 men

The British were divided into three divisions. These were the main body and two divisions which were positioned to cut off likely routes of Maori retreat or reinforcement.

1. Main body under Major Nelson and Captain Seymour; nearly 180 men and both howitzers. The main body was intended to breach the stockade on Onukukaitara and attack across the open ground in front.

2. Flanking body under Captain Messenger. The Grenadiers and part of the Light company; 125 men. Messenger was to get possession of Puketakauere hill as the main body attacked. This involved a difficult night march across partly bush covered ground.

3. Reserve under Captain Boydler. 50-60 men. Boydler took up position between the pa and Camp Waitara.

At 7 a.m. the howitzers opened fire on the Onukukaitara stockade. A small breach was formed and Nelson ordered the main body forward. Messenger also advanced on hearing the musketry of the main body. Although these two attacks were aimed at the same objective, they ended up in entirely different combats.

British lost 34 killed and 34 wounded. The ratio of killed to wounded was high because many wounded were abandoned and subsequently killed. The Maori lost five dead.


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