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Waikato Wars Commemorations

War changed the face of New Zealand in the 19th century. Tens of thousands of Māori died in the intertribal Musket Wars of the 1810s, 1820s and 1830s. Muskets revolutionised intertribal warfare, decimating the population of some tribes and drastically shifting the boundaries of areas that some tribes controlled. Thousands more fled their traditional lands, freeing large areas for Pakeha (European) settlement and complicating questions of ownership.

The fight at Rangiaohia for the recovery of McHale’s body. February 21 1864, by L.A. Wilson. Image is courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: A-109-050.

From the 1840s to the 1870s British and colonial forces fought to open up the rest of the North Island for settlement. At the heart of this lay a volatile combination: contested issues of sovereignty following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, decreasing willingness to sell land to the government, and increasing pressure for land for settlement as the European population grew rapidly. Many Māori died defending their land; others allied themselves with the colonists for various reasons, often to settle old scores.

In all, there were an estimated 3000 casualties during the New Zealand Wars – the majority of them Māori. But for some Māori the wars were only the beginning, with land confiscation being the fate of many of the survivors. After the wars the struggle for land entered a new and, in some respects, more damaging phase, giving rise to a whole new chapter in New Zealand's history.

The War in Waikato

The decisive battle for Waikato was fought in November 1863 at Rangiriri, where a defensive line was constructed along a ridge between the river and Lake Waikare. The defences consisted of an entrenched parapet with ditches on both sides. Concealed rifle pits covered by fern were protected by wooden stakes driven into the ground. The most obvious approach route from the north was covered by a central redoubt designed by Pene Te Wharepu. Cameron later conceded that the strength of this position had not been detected by the British. Swampy ground made an approach from the south difficult. But formidable as Rangiriri’s earthworks were, they were incomplete.

A number of important Māori chiefs – including King Tāwhiao and Wiremu Tāmihana – were present at Rangiriri, but it was spring planting season and the was seriously undermanned. Only 500 warriors were available three weeks after Meremere. The British land force assembled on the morning of 20 November consisted of 860 men backed up by artillery. Another 600 men were aboard the river fleet. The ground force was made up of men from the 65th, 12th and 14th regiments. They were organised into three lines, with a detachment of the 40th Regiment and the remainder of the 65th in reserve. A scaling party carrying ladders and planks was poised for action. An artillery unit led by Captain Henry Mercer was ready to shell the .

Read more on our feature.

The 150th anniversary of the Battle at Rangiriri will take place on 20th November 2013.

Calendar of commemorative events taking place in 2014






Waiari / Pāterangi

14 February

Karakia, 150th Commemoration, Kai

Tom Roa

Rangiaowhia / Hairini

21 February

Dawn Ceremony. Karakia, 150th Commemoration, Kai

Jenny Charman Hazel Barnes


02 April

Karakia, 150th Commemoration, Kai

Thia Priestly, Kawhia Murahi


25 April

Karakia, 150th Commemoration, Kai / Anzac Day

Harold Maniapoto


29 April

Dawn Ceremony. Karakia, 150th Commemoration, Kai

Buddy Mikaere,

Te Ranga

21 June

Dawn Ceremony, Karakia, Commemoration, Kai.

Buddy Mikaere


TBC August


Iwi input

Updated on 23rd July 2015