A feature of these battles, as it had been in the Waikato in preceding months, was the ability of small numbers of lightly armed Māori fighters to hold off the challenge of better equipped, professionally trained soldiers five or even ten times greater in number. The government forces were not only much more numerous and carrying the latest armaments but they had the full resources of the British empire.
By early April 1864 Ngāi Te Rangi were fortifying pa in the Tauranga district. Under Pene Taka Tuaia's design several pa were prepared as possible places for engagement with British forces which were assembling at Camp Te Papa on the peninsula. Tuaia's own pa at Poteriwhi was one of these fortifications.
Ngāi Te Rangi sent invitations to their British opponents to come and fight, but Colonel Greer - under instructions from General Cameron - was not ready to respond.
Greer was 43 years old and had seen 23 years service in the 68th Regiment when he was sent to New Zealand. His wife Agnes and three of their children accompanied him, sailing from England on the Silver Eagle in December 1863. They arrived in Auckland in early March 1864.
Greer was a strict taskmaster, not hesitating to inflict punishment by flogging erring men under his command. Young Spencer Nicholl, an ensign in the 68th, grew to have a greater regard for his superior but his early impressions were not favourable. After a conversation with Mrs Greer in Auckland shortly after disembarking in which he discovered she was intending to go with her husband into the field in Tauranga Nicholl commented: 'She must be very fond of him... it is more than he deserves.' (Ensign Nicholl, Journal, 21 March 1864). Corporal George Brier described Greer as 'a tyrant' (Bilcliffe, p.168).
Greer had seen service in the Crimea. By 1858 he had command of the Regiment, a progression from 21-year-old ensign (1841) to Lieutenant (1844), Captain (1847), Major (1854), Lt.Col (1859) and Bt. Col (1864), the last appointment dated 18 February 1864.
Greer's first experience of war in New Zealand was to come at Gate Pa - Pukehinahina. His opponents brought the accrued experience from fighting against Cameron's forces over previous months, and in many cases experience of previous battles. Pene Taka Tuaia was reported as having 'taken part' in fighting at the time of the Nga Puhi incursions into the Tauranga area in the 1830s and the 1835-45 fighting against Te Arawa.
Unknown, Colonel H. Greer C.B. 68th Reg Production, circa 1860, Purchased 1916, Dimensions: 59mm (Height) x 48mm (Length), Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Collections Online, Registration number O.013142, http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/404330. Reproduced with permission.
Rawiri Puhirake, a Ngāi Te Rangi rangatira, returned to Tauranga from the Waikato where he had been fighting with other supporters of the King Movement against British troops through the summer 1863-4. He
will feature in later postings. Puhirake and Tuaia were military leaders but in a different situation from their opponents, Greer and Cameron. Puhirake and Tuaia were also members of communities: men, women and children living on the land they were defending. Growing food, maintaining shelter and clothing, looking after old and young were activities that continued alongside preparation for war.
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John Bilcliffe, "Well done the 68th." The story of a Regiment, told by the men of the 68th. Light Infantry, during the Crimea and New Zealand wars, 1854 to 1866, Chippenham: Picton Publishing, 1995
James Lunt, ‘Cameron, Sir Duncan Alexander (1808–1888)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [accessed 11 April 2014], doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4439
Alister Matheson. 'Tuaia, Pene Taka', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012
Nicholl, Spencer Perceval Talbot, 1841-1908. Journal, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, MS-1712
Jinty Rorke. 'Puhirake, Rawiri', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012