General Cameron had a fighting force of around 1600 at his command: men of the 43rd and 68th regiments, highly experienced marines and members of the Colonial Defence Force. He had also assembled a very large artillery battery with which he intended to bombard the Māori position.
British troops moved up to the pa on the Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 April. At daybreak on the morning of Friday 29 April the artillery bombardment began, continuing through the day until around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. With no sign of return fire, and with a breach in the outer wall, an assault was launched. When the storming party came through the gap that had been made by mortar fire they were faced with fire at close range coming from deep within the defensive structure. Heavy casualties occurred at this point in the battle, including the loss of most of the officers leading the attack.
Confusion reigned as those retreating from the pa ran into reserve companies being sent in to support the first wave of attackers. Men of the 68th regiment who had been sent to the rear of the pa with the intention of surrounding the position and cutting off escape, were, at times in the path of the artillery bombardment. During the night of 29 April most of the Māori fighters were able to escape from the pa, leaving in small parties through the darkness. In the morning of 30 April what was left was a scene of desolation.
A series of commemorative events marking the 150th anniversary of the battle will take place in the coming days at Tauranga. The Links page provides information about these events.
'This is the first time I have seen English troops engaged'
We went this morning down to the sea and had a jolly bathe. On our way back we saw the 68th parading for their march to reconnoiter the Gate pa which the natives have built on the boundry [sic] of the missionary land, it is not quite three miles from here. We are all very savage about not going as I dare say that the brutes will bolt in the night. They have taken two twelve pounder Armstrongs with them as well as all their tents as they are going to pitch a camp close by the pa. After breakfast a lot of us went to a small hill close by where we could see all that was going [on]. When we got there we could see some of the 68th in skirmishing order in front of the pa, the natives were firing at them but they did not return it as they were about 1000 yards from each other. With my glasses I could see one of the niggers walking up and down on the parapet waving his hands about.
They fired an Armstrong shell at him and he soon disappeared. The natives there ran up a large red flag with a white cross on it this remained up for the rest of the day. The 68th soon began pitching their camp & all there became quiet except a casual shot now and then. Soon after we had got back to camp Sargents company were ordered to take some large guns up to the new camp. The men were harnessed on to two eight inch howitzers which they pulled along very merrily. When we got there I went to see Col Greer and I went with him and sat on the brow of the hill within 1000 yds of the Pa. We did not see any niggers but several shots were fired. This is the first time I have seen English troops engaged. On our way back to camp we met the sailors pulling along the 110 pounders Armstrong with which they say they are going to blow the Pa to the devil. By the time we got back we were as black as Maoris from the dust. (pp.199-200)
'I had the sentries posted across a narrow part of land'
We went down in the morning and had a jolly bathe in the sea. Whilst we were there we saw them disembarking C. L. C. [Colonial Light Cavalry] horses from a steamer. They sling them up and then let them down with a run into the water where they were taken in tow by a small boat which brought them ashore. Most of them came very quickly but a few kicked and plunged very much. They brought all on shore without an accident. In the evening I was on outlying picquet at a farm house close to the camp. I had the sentries posted across a narrow part of land each had a rifle pit to get into in case they were attacked. I had to sleep in the verandah. I made myself pretty comfortable with lots of blankets and slept very well considering ... (p.201)
'I suppose that we shall see some New Zealand service at last'
We went down in the morning to bathe. In the afternoon an order came down from here to say that we were to march some men up. At first my company was not to go but as they wanted more men we went as well as the rest. Every one was highly delighted at the order and I suppose that we shall see some New Zealand service at last.
We marched away at three and arrived here at a little after four after a very dusty march. We halted on the top of the hill in front of the Pah, here were told off three very strong picquets, but, luckily for me, I did not go with any of them and so spent the night in bed and under a tent. Soon after we arrived the whole of the 68th and the flying column in parade and as soon as it got dark they marched off. They were going to try to surround the pa so that none of the Maoris in there shall escape. They were guided by a farmer and two Maoris and they have to go through a very nasty swamp. At eight o’clock some of the guns and mortars opened on the Pa and the picquets kept up a running fire which was responded to by a few shots from the Maoris. This firing was to take the attention of the Maoris from the 68th. I do not think that I have ever seen a prettier sight of the kind, the fire of the small arms spilling out of the darkness in all directions, the larger flash of the big guns, the slight curve of the howitzers and the high arc of the shells from the mortars all looked so very pretty in the dark night. They kept up the firing for about an hour and then they ceased quite suddenly. I wonder what the Maoris thought we were up to. None of our men knew that there was to be any firing so that when it began they all turned out under arms. I slept in a tent with Utterton who is now my captain and Clark. I was rather cold as I had only a [?blanket] (pp.202-3)
'The Pah from the outside looks a most insignificant place'
We paraded this morning before daylight. As I was dressing I thought that I never should get on my boots. We paraded behind the hill and so we could see nothing of what then was going on by the Pah. As soon as it was light they opened fire from all the guns on the unfortunate pa it was very tantalysing [sic] not being able to see what was going on and it was very unpleasant standing still in the rain which was falling fast. There were four companies of 21 file and when we first fell in we thought that we were going some where. After remaining with the men for an hour and a half we walked up to the ridge of the hill to see what was going on. The Armstrongs were in a small battery to our right with the howitzers and coehorns [a 12 pound mortar] farther on. The 10 inch mortars were to our left, all the guns were within 600 yards of the place. The big 110 pounder did not make so much noise as I expected and instead of blowing up the whole pah at the first shot as they said it would it did hardly any damage the whole day tho’ they fired 100 rounds from it.
One reason why it did not do better was because they made such bad shots. Some of the shells burst at the muzzle, others did not burst at all and I saw a few burst a good mile behind the pah greatly to inconvenience of the 68th who were behind the Pah. The best shooting by far was from the mortars & howitzers the latter I believe made the breach. Whilst we were at breakfast we heard a cheer from our men and on going to see what it was, we saw the 68th had quite surrounded the Pah and hemmed the natives in. During the whole of the firing we never saw the sign of a nigger and we all thought that there were none in, till we were told by one of the Staff swells that they had seen some shoveling up the earth in the breach. The Pah from the outside looks a most insignificant place. The face of it is about 80 yards long: first comes a small palisade then a ditch and then a high rampart on each flank of the Pah. There are rifle pits running down for about 200 yards, on the proper left of the Pah there is a small pah built. There is a tall flag staff which we thought was in the centre of the Pah but which was found to be placed in [the] rear. (pp.204-6)
I proposed that we should wait till we had stormed the Pah as then some of us should have more to eat, little did I think when I said this how few would eat their dinners that night. Before our dinners were ready the order was given for the men to fall in I never saw the men fall in so quickly before. The 1st Co. was commanded by Glover Garland his Sub, 2ed. Co Utterton & men for his sub., 3rd Co Hamilton & Clark, 4th Co Moran and young Glover. With each company were two men carrying stretchers besides several others with Tanner. We waited for a few minutes and then Booth marched us over the hill to the Armstrong battery here some men of each Co. were given some hatchets to carry as they might cut down the palisading. The General and his staff were here and the former told the men that he wanted them to take the pah and that they must rush up with not a moments hesitation and in a way worthy of the old Light division of the Peninsular, some of the men answered all right old boy. We then marched two deep with the sailors on our right two deep along under the brest [sic] of the hill, we were not quite under cover as the bullets kept flying over our hands and one of them hit a sailors sword bayonet and then hit two marines. When I first saw it hit I laughed as the sailor seemed so very astonished.
We were halted within about 70 yards of there & layed [sic] down so that the men might get their breath for the rush. The flying column was just in front of us keeping down the fire from the Pah but never the less the bullets were flying about in the most unpleasant manner. During the whole time we were here neither Booth who was leading us nor Hamilton laid down but kept looking at the breach the whole time. At last Booth waved his sword and gave the word, “Forward”, and up we got and went at the place in grand style. We were met by a very sharp fire both in front and on our right, the bullets were wistling [sic] about my head so much that I could not keep back with the men but ran on so as to get into the Pah. The breach was very easy to get through but when we got inside we were brought up by by the rifle pits. Inside the fire was horrendously hot and the men were falling fast, the worst was that we could not see the Maoris as they were in the pits covered over with raupo whares through the roofs of which they put their rifles and fired at one at about the distance of three yards.
I ran on on the top of the pits till I fell into one and here I found young Glover pulling his poor brother out of another pit, Capt Hay of the Harrier was laying at the bottom very badly wounded and also another naval officer, one of the few survivors of the Orpheus was sitting with a very bad wound in his mouth. Poor young Glover kept calling out ‘will no one help my brother’. Clark and I then lifted Bob Glover up but we saw it was no good as he was quite dead from an awful wound in his forehead from which his brains were hanging out. A little way behind me I saw poor Hamilton laying on his back and about three yards in front was Sergeant Major Vance laying on his face. The men were firing just behind me and the Maoris firing back just in front of me. The men when they had got this far seemed quite paralysed and neither moved on nor loaded but kept looking about them. All of a sudden I heard a cheer and on looking round I saw Hamilton of the Esk [naval ship] leading up the reserve... (pp.207-210)
Whilst I was standing here I saw a lot of Maoris come across the open at the back of the Pah if I had only had a rifle I would have knocked some of them over beautifully I had not even me revolver as I had lent it to Glover, I now began to think that I had better get back to have my wound dressed, but on turning round I saw very few of our men in the Pah and the few that were there were running out as fast as they could, so I thought that I could not stay inside to be tommyhawked. I passed poor Booth who was laying badly wounded, he kept saying don’t leave men don’t leave me, as soon as I got outside I saw the men running away in an awful state of confusion. I heard a voice behind me crying “Stop 43rd stop”, I cryed [sic] out and tried to stop them but they would not, at last Sergt and Corpl Garland came with men and we got about half a dozen together but when they saw that no more would come they ran away saying that they could do no good. I again collected a few together but with like success. I was now close to the battery and so went inside. I now began to feel awfully weak and very thirsty and some of the officers persuaded me to go home to camp.
When I got there I could not for the life of me find my tent and on going to the guard tent I found my servant who was also wounded in the leg, he showed Corpl Garland my tent and the latter took me there and worked my head, I then felt so much better that I took all the men I could find back to the battery where I found all our men paraded. There was Garland, who with Clark and Glover who were both wounded were all that remained of the twelve officers who had gone into the Pah – remained here for some time, there was a very bad back fire kept up between our men and the Maoris, the latter kept bellowing very much we afterwards found out that they were saying “Go home, go home, out trenches are full of your dead.’ (pp.211-3)