In his 5 May 1864 dispatch on the battle to the Governor, Sir George Grey, the Army commander General Duncan Cameron stated:
Sir, - It having been decided by your Excellency and myself in consequence of information received from Colonel Greer, Commanding at Tauranga, that reinforcements should be sent to that station, detachments were embarked without delay in HM ships "Esk" and "Falcon" placed at my disposal by Commodore Sir William Wiseman and by the 26th April were all landed at the Mission Station of Tauranga, to which place I had transferred my headquarters on 21st April. On the 27th I moved the 68th Regiment, under Colonel Greer, and a mixed detachment of 170 men, under Major Ryan, 70th Regiment, toward the rebels entrenchments of which I made close reconnaissance. It was constructed on a neck of land about 500 yards [457 metres] wide, the slopes of which fell off into a swamp on either side. On the highest point of this neck they had constructed an oblong redoubt, well palisaded and surrounded by a post and rail fence, a formidable obstacle to an assaulting column and difficult to destroy with artillery. The intervals between the side faces of the redoubt and the swamp were defended by an entrenched line of rifle trenches. I encamped the Regiment and Major Ryan's detachment about 1,200 yards [1097metres] from the enemy's positions on the 27th, and on that and the following day the guns and mortars intended to breach the position were brought up the camp and were joined by a large force of seamen and marines, landed at my request from the ships of the squadron by Commodore Sir William Wiseman. The strength and composition of the force assembled in front of the enemy's position on the evening of the 28th are shown in the footnote.
Having received information that moving a force along the beach of one of the branches of the Tauranga harbour at low water, it was possible for a body of troops to pass outside the swamp on the enemy's right and gain the rear of his position, I ordered Colonel Greer to make the attempt with the 68th Regiment after dark on the evening of the 28th, and in order to divert the attention of the enemy from that side, I ordered a feigned attack to be made on his front. Colonel Greer's movement succeeded perfectly, and on the morning of the 29th he had taken up a position in rear of the enemy which cut off his water supply, and made his retreat in daylight impossible, but was necessarily too extended to prevent his escape by night.
During the same night the guns and mortars were placed in position and opened fire soon after daybreak on the morning of the 29th. I gave directions that their fire should be directed principally against the left angle of the centre work, which, from the nature of the ground, I considered the most favourable part to attack. Their practice was most excellent, particularly that of the howitzers, and reflects great credit on the officers in command of batteries.
About 12 o'clock, a swamp on the enemy's left having been reported by Colonel Greaves, Deputy-Assistant Quarter-Master General, practicable for the passage of a gun, a six-pounder Armstrong gun was taken across to the high ground on the opposite side from which its fire completely enfiladed the left of the enemy's position, which he was thus compelled to abandon. The fire of the guns, howitzers and mortars was continued with short intermissions until 4 p.m., when a large portion of the fence and palisading having been destroyed, and a practicable breach made in the parapet, I ordered the assault. One hundred and fifty seamen and marines under Commander Hay, HMS "Harrier", and an equal number of the 43rd., under Lieut-Colonel Booth, formed the assaulting party. Major Ryan's detachment was extended as close as possible to keep down fire from the rifle pits with orders to follow the assaulting column into the work. The remainder of the seamen and marines, and of the 43rd Regiment, amounting altogether to 300 men, followed as a reserve.
The assaulting column, protected by the nature of the ground, gained the breach with little loss, and effected an entrance into the main body of the work, when a fierce conflict ensued, in which the natives fought with the greatest desperation.
Lieut-Colonel Booth and Commander Hay, who led into the works, both fell mortally wounded. Captain Hamilton was shot dead on the top of the parapet while in the act of encouraging his men to advance, and in a few minutes almost every officer of the column was either killed or wounded. Up to this moment, the men, so nobly led by their officers, fought gallantly and appeared to have carried the position, when they suddenly gave way, and fell back from the work to the nearest cover.
This repulse I am at a loss to explain otherwise than by attributing it to the confusion created among the men by the intricate nature of the interior defences, and the sudden fall of so many of their officers.
On my arrival at the spot I considered it inadvisable to renew the assault, and directed a line of entrenchment to be thrown up within one hundred yards of the work so as to be able to maintain our advance position and resume operations the following morning.
The natives, availing themselves of the extreme darkness of the night, abandoned the works, leaving some of their killed and wounded behind.
On taking possession of the works in the morning Lieut-Colonel Booth and some men were found still living, and, to the credit of the natives, had not been maltreated, nor had any of the bodies of the dead been multilated. I enclose a list of our casualties.
I deeply regret the loss of the many brave and valuable officers who fell in the noble discharge of their duty on this occasion.
The 43rd Regiment, and the service, have sustained a serious loss in the death of Lieut-Colonel Booth, which took place on the night after the attack. I have already mentioned the brilliant example shown by this officer in the assault, and when I met him on the following morning as he was being carried out of the work, his first words were an expression of regret that he had found it impossible to carry out my orders.
The heroism and devotion of Captain Hamilton and Commander Hay, reflect the highest honour on the naval service.
The loss of the enemy must have been very heavy although not more than twenty bodies and those wounded were found in and about their position. It is admitted by the prisoners that they carried off a large number of killed and wounded during the night and they also suffered in attempting to make their escape as described in Colonel Greer's report.
In my reports to His Royal Highness the Field-Marshal, Commanding-in-Chief, and the Right Hon. The Secretary of State for War, I have brought to their favourable notice the names of the officers who particularly distinguished themselves on this occasion.
Commodore Sir William Wiseman on this, as on every other occasion, co-operated with me in the most cordial manner, and I am much indebted to him, as well as to the whole of the officers and men of the Royal Navy and Marines who took part in these operations, for their valuable assistance. I have, etc.,
D. A. CAMERON
May 8th, 1864
To His Excellency
Sir George Grey
Colonel Greer, commanding officer of the 68th Regiment at the rear of the pa, stated in his report to the Deputy Adjutant General:
Camp Puke Wharangi
1st May, 1864
I have the honour to state for the information of the Lieut.-General Commanding that in compliance with his instructions I marched out of Camp with the 68th Light Infantry, carrying one day's cooked rations, and a greatcoat each, on the 28th instant, at a quarter to 7 o'clock p.m., my object being to get in rear of the enemy's position by means of a flank march round their right. To accomplish this it was necessary to cross a mud flat at the head of a bay about three-quarters of a mile [1200 metres] long, only passable at low water, and then nearly knee deep, and within musketry range of the shore, in possession of the enemy - rough high ground, covered with ti-tree and fern.
2. At the point at which I got off the mud flat there is a swamp about 100 yards [91 metres] broad, covered with ti-tree about 5ft. [1.5 metres] high, on the opposite side of which the end of a spur - which runs down from high ground in the rear of the pa - rises abruptly. This was also covered with heavy fern and ti-tree.
3. It being of the first importance that these movements should be accomplished without attracting the attention of the enemy, my instructions were to gain the top of the spur alluded to during the darkness, and to remain there until there should be sufficient light to move on.
4. The regiment was all across, lying down in line across the crest of the ridge, with picquets posted all around the, at 10 o'clock, which was two hours before the moon rose. I beg to state here that to the well-timed feint attack made by the Lieut-General Commanding on the front of the enemy's pa, I must consider myself indebted for having being enabled to accomplish this, the most difficult part of the march, without being attacked at a great disadvantage, and exposing the movement to the enemy; for when we reached the top of the ridge, the remains of their picquet fires were discovered, the picquets having no doubt retired to assist in the defence of the pa.
5. At about half-past 1a.m. I advanced, and at 3 o'clock I reached a position about 1,000 yards [914 metres] directly in rear of the pa. I was guided in selecting this position by hearing the Maoris talking in their pa, and the sentries challenging in our headquarters camp. It was dark and raining at the time.
6. I immediately sent Major Shuttleworth forward with three companies to take a position on the left rear of the pa, and I placed picquets around the remainder of the rear, about 700 yards [640 metres] distant from it.
7. At daybreak I despatched three companies to the right under command of Major Kirby and posted a chain of sentries so that no one could come out of the pa without being seen. Up to this time the enemy did not appear to be aware that they were surrounded; they were singing and making speeches in the pa. Later in the morning Lieutenant - Colonel Campbell, C.B., Deputy Quarter-Master General, visited my post, having an escort with him of thirty men of the Naval Brigade under Lieut. Hotham, R.N., and seeing that I wanted a reinforcement on my right, he left his escort with me, and I received valuable assistance from that excellent officer and his party.
8. These positions were not altered during the bombardment, except temporarily, when the Maoris showed a disposition to come out at one or other flank, or when it was necessary to move a little from a position getting more than its share of the splinters of shell which kept falling about all day during the bombardment.
9. When the bombardment ceased, and the signal of a rocket let me know that the assault was about being made, I moved up close round the the rear of the pa in such a position that the Maoris could not come out without being met by a strong force.
10. About 5 o'clock p.m. the Maoris made a determined rush from the right rear of their pa. I met them with three companies, and after a skirmish, drove the main body back into the pa; about twenty got past my right, but they received a flank fire from Lieut. Cox's party (68th 60 men) and Lieut. Hotham's ( 30 men) Naval Brigade, and sixteen of the Maoris were seen to fall; a number of men pursued the remainder. By the time I had collected the men again and posted them it was very dark. My force available on the right was quite inadequate to cover the ground in such a manner as to prevent the Maoris escaping during the night; in fact I consider that on such a wet, dark night as that was nothing but a close chain of sentries closely supported round the whole rear and flanks could have kept the Maoris in, and to do that a much stronger force than I had would have been necessary.
11. During the night the Maoris made their escape. I think that, taking advantage of the darkness, they crept away in small parties; for during the night every post saw or heard some of them escaping and fired volleys at them. the Maoris, careful not to expose themselves, never returned a shot during the night, but there were occasional shots fired from the pa, no doubt to deceive us as to their having left it.
12. I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the 68th during the march on Thursday night; it was performed with the most complete silence and regularity. I have also the greatest pleasure in being able to state that during the whole of their fatiguing duty they were always ready to obey cheerfully any order they received, and after dark it was most difficult to move about from the way in which the ground in the rear was swept by the musketry in front.
13. I am much indebted to the officers and non-commissioned officers for the active intelligence and zeal with which they performed their duty. I beg to mention particularly Major Shuttleworth, 68th Light Infantry, who, with the guide and six men, went feeling the way to the front during the night march, and afterwards commanded on the left, repelling several attempts of the Maoris to get away in that direction.
Captain Trent, 68th Light Infantry, who with his company formed the advance guard during the night march, and performed that duty with much intelligence, and was afterwards engaged on the left, where he enfiladed a rifle pit, and in the front covering a working party.
Lieut. Cox, 68th, who occupied with judgment and good effect an important position on my right, where he enfiladed a rifle pit, and quite shut up what appeared the principal point of egress from the pit.
Lieut. Hotham, Royal Navy, who was with a party of the Naval brigade at the same post with Lieut. Cox.
To Lieut. and Adjutant Covey, 68th Light Infantry, Field Adjutant, I am on this occasion, as on every other where duty is concerned, much indebted for the zeal and intelligence with which he has assisted me in seeing my orders carried out. During the whole time he was constantly on the alert, and active wherever he was required. To all I owe my thanks.
14. I wish to bring to particular notice the admirable manner in which the regiment was guided by Mr. Purvis, who volunteered to act as guide on the occasion. He went to the front with Major Shuttleworth and six men, and without hesitating or making a mistake, brought him straight to the position I was to occupy.
15. The whole of the 68th Regiment was back in camp at 4 p.m. yesterday. The Casualties are as follows:-
Killed - Sergeant, 68th Light Infantry.
Wounded - 16 Privates.
I have, etc.,
H. H. GREER,
Col. and Lieut.-Col. L.I.
Commanding Field Force
Camp Puke Wharangi
In his report on the assault to the Admiralty Commodore Wiseman stated:
"The assaulting column was formed at the Naval Battery and advanced four deep, soldiers and sailors led by Commander Hay and Colonel Booth of the 43rd Foot, to within 100 yards [91 metres] of the breach, where they halted under cover of a hill for a few minutes to get breath; when the order was given to advance they rushed into the work with great dash led in the most brilliant manner by Colonel Booth, Commander Hay and the rest of the officers; they effected a lodgement in the work and held it for some time.
The work was such a compilation of traverses, rifle pits and underground holes, that it was very difficult to get along at all and impossible to move in numbers; in consequence of that difficulty and suffering heavily from the Maoris' double barrelled guns fired from holes and cover where it was impossible to see the enemy, and with all of their leading officers killed or wounded, the men were compelled to retire."
In 1903 the then chief of the Ngaiterangi Hori Ngatai, who had fought at Gate Pa aged 25, gave this account of the events of 29 April 1864:
"So the next morning the pakehas were in front of us, on our left flank and in our rear, and then the fight began in earnest. The big guns poured shot and shell into our position and the rifle balls whistled around us. ...
The cannonade became heavier. An awful fire was concentrated on our redoubt. Eighteen big guns (so we learned afterwards) were hurling their projectiles at us and shells were bursting all round. Our fences and frail parapets crumbled away under the heavy artillery fire, and splinters and earth were continually flying through the air.We were every now and then smothered with the dirt thrown up by the exploding shells, and this the rain, ....soon converted into mud. To add to our suffering, the troops who had crossed an arm of the Kopurererua swamp had, by dint of laying down planks and fascines, managed to get a big gun across, which they placed on a hill to our left and it completely raked our position. The troops in our rear (the 68th) began to close in on us. The chief, Te Hawa, stood up on the ruined parapet shouting defiance at them and calling on us to meet their attack with courage.
Our position now seemed desperate. All our defences above ground had been demolished and levelled flat, while as we took shelter in our trenches, we were all more or less covered with mud and drenched with the rain. Our leaders, Rawiri, Tuaia, Hakaraia, Mahika, Timoti and Poihipi showed valiant front, directing our affairs with cool courage. They ordered us not to utter a word or fire shot till the proper time came for the order.
A party of our people tried to break away through the troops in the rear. They were met by the 68th and fired on heavily. The chiefs, Te Kani and Keni and a number of men were killed, and several badly wounded, including Te Ipu and Wiari. All the others who could, hastily rejoined their comrades in the pa who were now resisting the storming party.
The British assault on the pa was delivered about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The storming party, soldiers and sailors of the Naval Brigade and 43rd Regiment (in all about 300 men) rushed gallantly to the attack. Then we loosed our fire on them when they got well within range - still they charged on, with bayonets fixed and swords waving, cheering as they came. Through and over the breach walls they rushed; they entered the ruins of the larger pa; most of it was in their possession. But all at once the tide of war was changed. Up leaped our men from the rifle pits as if vomited from the bowels of the earth., and together with those who had been forced back by the 68th regiment in the rear, began a deadly hand to hand fight with the storming party. The defenders of the smaller pa held their position and raked the attackers with a heavy fire. Men fell thick and fast. Tomahawk clashed on cutlass and bayonet - tupara (double and single barrel fowling pieces) met rifle and pistol. Skulls were cloven - Maoris were bayoneted - Ngatierangi patiti (hatchets) bit deep into white heads and shoulders. The place was soon full of dead and dying men, pakeha and Maori. We in the eastern position of the large pa stood firm. It was terrible work, but soon over. The pakehas were driven clean out of the pa; as they ran our men falling upon them. They fell back on their main body below our works, leaving many of their dead and wounded strewn on the battleground.
The Maoris, though victorious, had suffered severely. My parent, Rawiri, fell with seven gunshots wounds. The troops suffered most from getting into a cross fire between the two pas, but particularly from the smaller one. The soldiers and sailors were all mixed up together and were equally brave.
We adhered strictly to the terms of the battle-covenant, and harmed not the wounded nor intefered with the bodies of the dead. The British Colonel (Booth) fell mortally wounded, just inside the gateway, and there he lay all night. In the hours of darkness his voice could be heard calling for water. One of our people went and got some and ministered to his wants. It has been said that Te Ipu gave the dying soldiers water, but he was badly wounded (foot smashed) and quite incapacitated. One of the Maoris took Colonel Booth's sword. Another wounded officer left behind after his men had retreated dropped his sword a little distance away. A maori picked it up and went to restore it to the officer. The pakeha squared himself up as well as he could to meet his death blow, but to his surprise the Maori turned the hilt toward him (the officer) and returned his weapon.
In the night we collected arms, accoutrements, and ammunition from the British dead. Then recognising that our defences no longer existed we abandoned the ruined pa under cover of darkness, retiring in good order and spirits. we crept quietly through the lines of the 68th at the rear. The soldiers kept firing on us but none of us were killed, and only a few wounded. I believe that some of the soldiers were accidentally killed by their own comrades. We retired to the Waoku pa and then dispersed to our various stations along the edge of the forest."