Author(s): Gilbert Mair
Gate Pa was the fortress built in 1864 only 3 miles from the main British base of Camp Te Papa at Tauranga during the Tauranga Campaign of the New Zealand Land Wars. The pa was built at the instigation of Chief Rawiri Puhirake of Ngai Te Rangi, on the edge of land owned by Maori, where missionaries had erected a gate between the Maori and colonial settlers. Puhirake believed British reprisal for his support of the King Movement during the Waikato War was inevitable, so he constructed Gate Pa for protection. This failed to rouse the British so he began sending taunts, declaring he had built a road from the British camp to the pa, "so that the British would not be too tired to fight". General Duncan Cameron, whose Invasion of the Waikato had finished, determined to attack the pa with the majority of his forces to destroy the King Movement's allies. By the end of April the British were ready to attack, with 1,700 men, opposed by 230 Maori. A heavy bombardment was begun at daybreak on 29 April 1864 and continued for eight hours. By mid afternoon the pa looked as if it had been demolished and there was a large breach in the center of the palisade. At 4 pm the barrage was lifted and 300 troops were sent up to capture and secure the position. The attacking troops forced the defenders back inside the pa and the Maori looked to flee only then discovering their path to the rear blocked -they re-entered the pa and continued fighting. The soldiers in the pa mistook these for fresh reinforcements. The British forces suffered considerable losses and withdrew 100m to dig in new positions 100m from the pa to await daylight. During the night the Maori gave assistance to the wounded and collected their weapons, and by day break they had abandoned the position. Gate Pa was the single most devastating battle for the British military during the New Zealand Land Wars, with 111 casualties and deaths, however it achieved the main aim of clearing the enemy from the vicinity of Tauranga so can be seen as a victory.