Invasion of Waikato

Invasion of Waikato

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Invasion of Waikato
partof=New Zealand Wars

date=17 July 1863 – April 1864
place=Waikato, New Zealand
result=British victory. King Movement defeat and retreat into King Country; large scale land confiscation by the British forces.
combatant1= New Zealand Government
Māori allies
combatant2=Māori King Movement
Various allied North Island tribes
commander1=flagicon|United Kingdom Sir Duncan Cameron
commander2=Waikato chiefs including Rewi Maniapoto
strength1= 2,000 British troops
unknown British-allied Māori troops
strength2= ~500 troops, including 170 from Ngāi Tūhoe allies.
casualties2=unknown, but significant and 80 were taken prisoner; albeit significant numbers escaped.

The Invasion of Waikato was an invasion during the New Zealand Wars fought in the North Island of New Zealand from July 1863 to April 1864 between the military forces of the Colonial Government and a federation of Māori tribes known as the King Movement "(Kingitanga)". Initiated by a hostile Government in response to the decision of the Waikato tribes who had blocked land sales, it ended with the retreat of the Kingites into the rugged interior of the island and the confiscation of about 12,000 km² of Māori land. Although one of the government's main aims was achieved – the Waikato was largely cleared of Maori for European settlement – the King movement itself was not vanquished [ cite web|url= |title=Waikato War Map |accessdate=2008-08-23 |date=2008-02-15 |publisher=Ministry for Culture and Heritage ] .

However, with the loss of their homelands what was left was a legacy of sadness and bitterness, which was only partly assuaged 132 years later when in 1995 the Waikato Tainui people received compensation amounting to $NZ 171,000,000 from the New Zealand government, some lands, and a formal apology which was given by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Aftermath of the First Taranaki War

The First Taranaki War ended in an uneasy truce when the two sides recognized that they had reached a stalemate. The British Imperial Troops and the Colonial Government had been denied a decisive victory over the Māori. The Taranaki tribes had not fought alone but had been substantially aided, in both men and materials, from the Waikato region. This was the center for the King Movement, a loose federation of tribes which had been formed mainly to prevent the sale, the loss or the alienation of any more Māori land. The Māori of New Zealand were already outnumbered by the new Pākehā settlers and they were very aware of the threat this represented.

The settlers, on the other hand, were restricted to less than five percent of the land area of the North Island, and they weren't happy with this. Furthermore there were two legal systems in operation: British law prevailed in the settlements and Māori law and custom everywhere else. The politicians were equally unhappy with this arrangement, and they saw the Māori King Movement as the main obstacle to progress in the colony.

The King Country (the Waikato) began immediately to the south of Auckland, the main settlement. Governor Thomas Gore-Browne began making arrangements to invade the Waikato as soon as the First Taranaki War ended. Preparations were suspended for a while when he was replaced by Sir George Grey, returning for a second term as governor, but were resumed a few months later.

Preparation for colonial invasion

The Invasion of Waikato differed from the previous Māori Wars in that it was deliberately planned and initiated by the Pākehā. It was estimated that to be successful at least ten thousand troops were needed. Outside of Britain and India the British Imperial Army amounted to only about forty thousand men and by various means Governor Grey persuaded the Colonial Office in London to send a quarter of them to New Zealand. General Sir Duncan Cameron was appointed to lead the invasion. Previously he had fought in the Crimean War, which had been a logistical disaster for the British Army, and had developed very strong ideas on what was needed to support an army in the field.

Access to the Waikato region was the first problem. The road south of Auckland extended only about sixty kilometers, well short of the frontier. This had to be extended at least as far as the Waikato River.

Food reserves had to be accumulated. At the time most of the food eaten in Auckland was grown by the Māori who were about to be attacked. Alternative supplies from overseas had to be arranged.

Similarly all the materiel of war had to be accumulated and stockpiled. Both Cameron and Grey were determined not to move until they were ready.

On 9 July 1863 Governor Grey expelled virtually all the Māori living in the territory controlled by the British south of Auckland and three days later the vanguard of the army crossed the frontier into Kingite territory and established a forward camp. On 17 July they advanced to the banks of the Waikato River and defeated a small Māori force at Koheroa. They then retreated back to their advanced camp and stayed there until 31 October. Apparently nothing happened for three months.

In fact a great deal was happening. General Cameron was very conscious of the fact that he was operating at the end of a long and vulnerable supply line. The Māori forces immediately began to demonstrate just how vulnerable it was. Numerous attacks took place at various points along the route; some were successful and some failed. Cameron established an alternative route for supplies using the Lower Waikato River, but the Māori closed this down with a daring raid on 7 September.

Meanwhile, the army was building a string of at least twenty redoubts and strong points all along the supply route. Manning these mini-fortresses and protecting the supply lines absorbed all but 2,000 of Cameron's troops. The other result from this delay was a very serious breakdown in the relationship between the Colonial Government who demanded a quick victory, and the British Imperial Troops fighting on their behalf. Relations between Governor Grey and General Cameron were at a very low ebb. Grey felt that any delay was unnecessary. Cameron resented any political interference and also the use of British troops to acquire Māori land for the New Zealand Government to sell. He particularly felt that Grey's expulsion of the friendly Māori from the occupied territory south of Auckland was both unnecessarily vindictive and had contributed numerous angry recruits to the enemy.

Bypassing the Meremere Line

The real invasion of the Waikato Region began on 31 October, by water. Cameron had two armored steamers on the Waikato River which between them could carry 6000 men. The Māori had established a very strong defensive line at Mere Mere which effectively blocked any advance south of the British position. By now the British were learning that frontal attacks on defended Māori positions were very costly and usually ineffective. So they decided to by-pass the Mere Mere Line using their water transport. Two trips were made and 1,200 men were successfully landed at Takapau where they could attack from the rear.

The Māori had cannon and they used them to try to stop the steamers but they didn't have cannon balls. Apparently rocks, grocers' weights and old iron do not make effective missiles—they hit the steamers as they went past but they couldn't stop them.

Recognizing that they were now in danger of being surrounded the Māori evacuated the Mere Mere line on 1 November and withdrew South.


Work had already begun on another defensive line a short distance further south at Rangiriri. Hurried efforts were made to finish it or at least prepare it for a siege. However the Māori had expended a huge effort on the Mere Mere Line and their resources were stretched, not least because planting season was coming up and many warriors had to return to their home bases at least for a period. They probably mustered about 500 men against an attacking force of about 12000 men.

General Cameron launched his attack on 20 November. His strategy was the same as at Mere Mere—some of his troops were transported by river to the south of the Māori defensive position while the remainder attacked from the north. This time the Māori stood and fought. Parts of the line were quickly overrun but the central redoubt proved to be deceptively strong and easily repelled several desperate attempts to capture it, at the same time inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers. According to James Belich the British lost 132 men killed and wounded during the fighting that day.

The British spent an uncomfortable and dangerous night. Then in the morning the Māori hoisted a white flag and shortly afterwards surrendered. The nature of this surrender is open to debate. They were not short of ammunition and they were not surrounded; quite a number of them had slipped away during the night. It emerged later that they had not intended to surrender immediately but wished to discover what terms the British might offer them if they did surrender. However when they saw the white flag numerous British soldiers entered the redoubt, shook hands with the Māori and mingled amicably. It was only when Cameron arrived twenty minutes later that he demanded that the Māori yield up their weapons and surrender.

These circumstances, whether it was a misunderstanding or duplicity, did a lot to complicate matters during the subsequent fighting. But it also saved a lot of lives. Few Māori were killed in the fighting, certainly less than the British losses. However 180 were taken prisoner and this made a serious dent in the already stretched Māori forces. Most of them subsequently escaped and returned to the Waikato but by then the war was long over.

The Māori withdrew to the south abandoning their ancestral lands. On 8 December the British forces occupied Ngaruawahia, which had been the main center for the King movement.

The Paterangi Line

The Māori would have accepted peace at this stage but the Colonial Government was still hungry for land and were also still demanding the total extinction of any vestige of Māori authority.

Construction of a new and even more formidable defence line was begun at Paterangi some thirty kilometers south of Ngaruawahia. By the end of January 1864 it was at least as strong as the Mere Mere line. However Cameron and his army merely bypassed the fortification and advanced on Rangiawahia, a major Māori population centre but, more importantly, the supply centre for the Paterangi Line. Cameron was probably hoping that the Māori would commit themselves to the defence of Rangiawahia thereby giving him the decisive pitched battle he was looking for, one he knew the British would win decisively. It didn't happen although there was some ugly fighting around a building where numerous Māori had taken refuge. They were invited to surrender but refused to do so and all of them died, possibly one of the repercussions of the "White Flag" incident.

The occupation of Rangiawahia put the British in control of a large area of territory and largely rendered the Paterangi Line redundant. However the British began advancing on the fortifications and once again the Māori began evacuating. To delay the British advance the Māori threw up a hurried defence line on the Hairini ridge and defended it against a British attack, but only for so long as was needed for the bulk of the Māori forces to escape with their supplies of food and ammunition.

But the British were still denied their decisive battle and a clear victory. They were soon to get it, but on terms dictated by the Māori.

The Battle of Orakau (Rewi's Last Stand)

The Waikato Māori did not fight alone. Of the 27 North Island tribes, 15 had sent war parties to assist in the fighting. As they were withdrawing from Paterangi one of the Waikato chiefs, Rewi Maniapoto, encountered a party of Ngāti Kahungunu and Tuhoe, about 170 men, who had come a long way to join in the war, all the way from the East Cape and the Urewera. They told Rewi quite forcefully that they had not carried their guns all that distance simply to go home without a fight. After consultation with the other Waikato chiefs Rewi decided that they should have their battle.

Orakau was chosen as the site of the battle, a low hill surrounded by rolling country. It was apparently a very bad choice as it broke at least two of rules the Māori always observed when building a fortification or (see Māori Wars). Firstly, it had no internal water supply; secondly, it would be relatively easy to surround it completely, leaving the defenders with no means of escape. Why? Maxwell has suggested that Rewi intended to make a sacrificial last stand; he was offering the British their decisive victory. Possibly he was being even more subtle. He was well aware of the serious rift between the Colonial Government and the General Cameron and his officers. Possibly Rewi was hoping that a gallant but forlorn last stand, 300 brave Māori against thousands of British soldiers, would finally sicken them of the war. He even allowed about thirty women and a few children to join their men in the redoubt.

Beginning on 28 March, 1864, two days of hard digging had produced a defensible redoubt. The first British attack came on the morning of 31 March, and was easily repulsed. Then began a three-day siege. Numerous assaults were turned back, as were sallies by the Māori defenders. The bunkers were deep enough and strong enough to neutralize the artillery.

The Māori ran out of water and were short of ammunition. The British pulled back and invited the Māori to surrender. They refused; they were determined to fight to the last man, woman and child. Suddenly, late in the afternoon of the third day, about 250 of the Māori emerged and broke through the cordon of troops surrounding them and escaped into the bush. There was a final assault on the Pā, and the remaining defenders were massacred, including many of the women.

Some historians (e.g., Belich) believe that this was due to British incompetence, while others, such as Maxwell, suggest that Cameron deliberately weakened the cordon of troops on one side and pulled them back, that he deliberately engineered their escape because he did not wish to be responsible for the apparently inevitable massacre of all the defendants. This seems improbable, but we do know from his correspondence that he was sick of fighting. A few months later he resigned his commission, his last orders being that the Imperial troops should take no further aggressive action against the Māori (see Second Taranaki War).

The Māori established yet another defensive line some 20 kilometres south of the furthest British advance and announced that it would be defended vigorously. After some preliminary skirmishing the British decided they had gone far enough. In addition they were suddenly faced with the prospects of serious conflict in other areas of the North Island (see Tauranga Campaign and Second Taranaki War). The War in the Waikato was over by 5 April, just as the ramifications of it were spreading to the rest of the Island.

The fourth Waikato defensive line became the new frontier of the King Movement Territory. This area did not become fully integrated with the rest of New Zealand until well into the twentieth century and is still known as the King Country.


ee also

*New Zealand land wars

*New Zealand land confiscations

*Treaty of Waitangi

Further reading

* Belich, James (1988). "The New Zealand wars". Penguin.
* Belich, James (1996) "Making peoples". Penguin Press.
* Cowan, J., & Hasselberg, P. D. (1983) "The New Zealand wars". New Zealand Government Printer. (Originally published 1922)
* Maxwell, Peter (2000). "Frontier, the battle for the North Island of New Zealand". Celebrity Books.
* Simpson, Tony (1979). "Te Riri Pākehā". Hodder and Stoughton.
* Sinclair, Keith (ed.) (1996). "The Oxford illustrated history of New Zealand" (2nd ed.) Wellington: Oxford University Press.
* Stowers, Richard (1996). "Forest rangers". Richard Stowers.
* Vaggioli, Dom Felici (2000). "History of New Zealand and its inhabitants", Trans. J. Crockett. Dunedin: University of Otago Press. Original Italian publication, 1896.
*"The people of many peaks: The Māori biographies". (1990). From "The dictionary of New Zealand biographies, Vol. 1, 1769-1869". Bridget Williams Books and Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand.

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