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150 years since pivotal battle in New Zealand Wars

150 years ago tomorrow (20 November) the battle of Rangiriri in the Waikato was one of the decisive battles of the Waikato War (1863–1864) and formed a key part of the New Zealand Wars. The significant conflict shaped the Crown’s relationship with Waikato-Tainui Iwi, and was a seminal moment in New Zealand’s history with 47 British troops killed and 41 Māori. The 150th anniversary of the battle is being commemorated on 20 November at the battle site.

The Rangiriri commemorations have been organised by local community and iwi representatives who will welcome all guests at 10am Wednesday morning including the NZ Defence Force.  However, one of the unique elements of this particular powhiri for Waikato-Tainui will be the tribal tradition of re-opening the portals to those who died in battle 150 years ago and pay homage to their bravery and courage with oratory, haka and traditional chants.

View taken at the 20th November 2013 powhiri for Waikato-Tainui.

“This will be a memorable moment for our people who have never forgotten our tupuna who died fighting for our land, our mana and our sovereignty” says Tom Roa, Chair of Ngā Pae o Maumahara, the group established to commemorate and raise awareness of the war.

Later in the day, the NZ Defence Force and Iwi will attend the local cemetery to salute the European soldiers who also died at Rangiriri with a reading of the Odes, a gun salute and a traditional Iwi prayer to wrap up the 150 year commemoration.

Ngā Pae o Maumahara seeks to contribute to debate throughout the country on nationhood and nation building.

“The importance of commemorating the events of 1863–1864 for all New Zealanders is that it marks a moment in history that was fraught with conflict and tension. The gateway at Rangiriri still wears the upside down British flag, an historic symbolic gesture. Today it’s a reminder of our past and our ongoing work to keep building our future,” Ngā Pae o Maumahara Chair Tom Roa said.

“We want to promote the themes of reconciliation and transformation which we believe will resonate with all New Zealanders.”

Through the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, the New Zealand Government is providing redress for breaches of the Treaty resulting from the wars of the 1860s and the confiscation of Maori land that followed the wars. This process is building stronger relationships between Māori and the Crown.
“In re-telling the stories from this past and reflecting on each other’s perspectives, we are encouraging a dialogue that relates to the process of reconciliation that the Crown and Iwi Māori have embarked upon with much success,” Mr Roa said.

The 150th anniversary is also a chance for New Zealanders to better understand the history of the Waikato War.

“Visiting Rangiriri is a great way to learn about the War,” said Ministry for Culture and Heritage Chief Historian Neill Atkinson.

“It is one of the most accessible battle sites of the New Zealand Wars and visitors can still see the outline of the central redoubt”.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust has recently erected new interpretation panels on the site. This information is also available as an app for smartphones at

Historical background:

The Waikato War was the key campaign in a long conflict which is known today as the New Zealand Wars.

The New Zealand Wars were in large part fought over land. In the decades after 1840, the European population grew rapidly. Māori land ownership was recognised by the Treaty of Waitangi, and many Māori had no wish to sell their land so newcomers could settle on it.

The Kīngitanga (King Movement) was founded in the 1850s to unify those opposed to land sales, and to assert Māori authority and mana over their land. From 1860 there was open warfare as British and colonial forces fought to open up the North Island for settlement by Europeans.

The Waikato War began in July 1863. Over the following months British forces fought their way south towards the Kīngitanga’s agricultural base around Rangiaowhia and Te Awamutu. On the way they outflanked formidable modern at Meremere and Pāterangi, and captured the undermanned at Rangiriri. In April 1864 Kīngitanga warriors under Rewi Maniapoto were heavily defeated at Ōrākau in the last battle in Waikato.

The casualties at Rangiriri on 20 November 1863 were among the heaviest of the New Zealand Wars: 47 British troops and a similar number of Māori were killed. In fact, more British were killed at ‘Bloody Rangiriri’ than in any other battle of the New Zealand Wars. But their victory opened the Waikato basin to the imperial forces. By mid-1864, 400,000 hectares of Waikato land had passed under Crown control.

Up to 3000 people died during the New Zealand Wars – the majority of them Māori. And for many Māori the wars were only a prelude to the loss of their land through confiscation or the operations of the Native Land Court.

This loss of land had particularly devastating economic, social, environmental and cultural consequences for Waikato–Tainui. But the iwi always upheld its mana and asserted its right to compensation in the face of official indifference.

Since the 1990s, the Crown has negotiated Treaty Settlements to redress the historical grievances in the Waikato region and New Zealand as a whole.

In 1995 the first major settlement of an historical confiscation, or raupatu, claim was agreed between the Crown and Waikato-Tainui.  The claim was settled for a package worth $170 million, in a mixture of cash and Crown-owned land.

The settlement was accompanied by a formal apology, delivered by Queen Elizabeth II in person during her 1995 visit to New Zealand. The Crown apologised for the invasion of the Waikato and the subsequent indiscriminate confiscation of land.

For more information about the Waikato War and the New Zealand Wars see:
David Green, Battlefields of the New Zealand Wars: A Visitor’s Guide, Penguin, Auckland, 2010.

Updated on 23rd July 2015