The Waikato War, which began 150 years ago on 12 July 1863, was the most important campaign of the New Zealand Wars, a series of conflicts fought by Pākehā and Māori between 1845 and 1872 in which the settlers asserted their dominance in the new colony.
Manatū Taonga – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage tells the story of these conflicts through a number of online resources including Roadside Stories, an interactive map and images of the New Zealand Wars memorials, an online illustrated history and an informative blog by Ministry historian Jock Phillips.
On 11 July 1863 Governor Grey issued an ultimatum to the ‘chiefs of Waikato’ to pledge their allegiance to Queen Victoria. The following day – before Waikato Māori had even received this message – a force led by Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron crossed the Mangatāwhiri stream, a tributary of the Waikato River near Mercer.
This waterway marked the aukati – a line that should not be crossed – between the European settlement of Auckland and the territory under the mana (protection) of the Māori King. The key conflict of the New Zealand Wars had begun.
Construction of a military road into Waikato had begun in January 1862. Grey used Kīngitanga involvement in the recent fighting in Taranaki and rumours of an imminent Māori attack on Auckland to ensure the backing of his British masters.
Eventually, 12,000 imperial troops. 4000 colonial soldiers, a few hundred kūpapa Māori warriors and the logistical support needed to sustain a lengthy campaign were made available to him. The Kingite force of fewer than 5000 part-time warriors had to provide much of their own food and supplies.
By February 1864 the British forces had reached the Kīngitanga agricultural base at Rangiaowhia, near Te Awamutu. On the way they outflanked formidable modern pā at Meremere and Pāterangi and captured an equally formidable but undermanned pā at Rangiriri. The defeat at Ōrākau – ‘Rewi’s last stand’ – in April 1864 brought the Waikato war to an end.
The British made no attempt to cross the new aukati on the border of what is now known as the King Country. Instead they turned their attention to Tauranga and Bay of Plenty.
Explore the War in Waikato on the following Ministry for Culture and Heritage websites and online media:
Ministry’s corporate website
Updated on 23rd July 2015