The Puketakauere battle of 1860 began much earlier on. In 1854 a rift arose between the land selling and land holding groups of the Te Ati Awa tribe when a member of the tribe, Rawiri and some of his followers offered to sell tribal land near Waitara. Rawiri was subsequently shot dead by the landholding group (supported by Wiremu Kingi – also known as Te Rangitake).
Then in March 1859 Governor Browne implemented a change in policy. On his visit to New Plymouth, Governor Browne announced to a Maori meeting that he wouldn’t permit violence within the limits of European settlement nor would he permit any interference in land sales by anyone who couldn’t lay claim to the land. This denied the tribe’s Chief, who acted as trustee for tribal land to veto land sales by an individual.
This left an opportunity open for Te Teira (a minor chief of Wiremu Kingi’s hapu of Ati Awa). He offered to sell the Governor a section of the Waitara block. Governor Browne consulted his advisors and proceeded to accept Te Teira’s offer, as long as he could prove his title to the land.
Wiremu Kingi objected to this immediately ; “Listen Governor, not withstanding Teira’s offer, I will not permit the sale of Waitara to the Pakeha. Waitara is in my hands: I will not give it up…”
Te Teira’s intention for wanting to sell this land was not revealed, though it has been documented that Te Teira may have sold the land as a result of a grudge he held against Wiremu Kingi. Earlier, a Maori girl dumped Teira’s brother to marry the son of Wiremu Kingi and Teira knew that when Wiremu Kingi’s father was on his deathbed, Wiremu Kingi had sworn never to sell Waitara.
Armed with this knowledge, when Governor Browne offered to buy land without Chiefly approval Teira saw the perfect opportunity for revenge. In the end, of the 6 000 acres the Government purchased from Teira, only a tiny portion actually belonged to him. It was mainly owned by Maori who were against the sale or who were never consulted about the sale. The European settlers applauded the Governor’s decision to purchase land in direct defiance of both tribal and chiefly wishes.
Governor Browne proceeded to defend his decision by stating “The right to sell land belonging to themselves without interference on the part of the Chiefs (not having a claim to share it) is fully admitted by Maori custom”.
This statement is incorrect as a tribal Chief acting as trustee for his tribe, had a definite right to veto “alienation of land” by a single member of his tribe. Government officials performed what many call a substandard inquiry following Teira’s offer to sell them land. Wiremu Kingi continued to protest the proposed sale. While at the same time Teira was begging the government to finalise the sale. The Government agreed, stating Teira had “indisputable title” to the land. Plans for the survey began. The Government decided the surveying party should have a military escort. When the survey began on February 20 1860 the surveyors were met with resistance form some Maori women (loyal to Wiremu Kingi) who proceeded to pull out the surveyor’s pegs.
This was the beginning of the Taranaki war.
On the morning of June 27 1860 Major Nelson moved out from the Waitara camp to attack the Pa’s.
He was joined by Captain Beauchamp-Seymour and his 350 men who were divided into three groups. The artillery opened fire at 7 am from level ground north west of Onukukaitara, but failed to commit enough damage to the stockade. The Maoris didn’t sit and wait to be attacked in their Pa’s – they came out fighting. They concentrated their fire on Captain Messenger, while Major Nelson and Captain Beauchamp-Seymour got into the thick of it. Maori reinforcements were sent for from Kairau. The British got themselves into trouble; Major Nelson was expecting reinforcements from New Plymouth as he had arranged with Colonel Gold that signal rockets would be sent up the night before the march against the Pas. Gold promised that he would march at daylight with 400 men and two guns. There was a communication problem and the rockets were never sent up, meaning Gold wasn’t aware that Nelson had marched on Puketakere until he heard heavy firing in New Plymouth. Gold marched quickly but was forced to turn back at Waiongana as the river was flooded. Also firing had ceased so Colonel Gold assumed that assistance was unnecessary. Major Nelson’s company of the 40th suffered heavy defeat against the Maori, Forcing Major Nelson to call “Retire”; there wasn’t any sign of reinforcements and ammunition was running short. Many of the dead and wounded were abandoned. Captain Messenger who had attacked the pa’s from behind fought a lost battle against the well-prepared Maori and was also forced to retreat. The few survivors broke away in small groups or singularly. Overall the Puketakauere battle was yet another defeat for the British vying for land in New Zealand.