Māori entrenchments at Rangiriri

Adapted for James Cowan’s New Zealand Wars from a plan of the Māori entrenchments at Rangiriri drawn on or about 21 November 1863 by Captain Edward Brooke, Royal Engineers.

Rangiriri’s defensive line stretched along a ridge from the Waikato River to Lake Waikare. The defences consisted of an entrenched parapet with ditches on both sides. Concealed rifle pits covered by fern were protected by wooden stakes driven into the ground. The most obvious approach from the north was covered by the central redoubt – the work of Pene Te Wharepu. General Cameron later conceded that the strength of this position had not been detected by the British. Swampy ground protected the southern approaches. Formidable as Rangiriri’s earthwork fortifications were, they were incomplete.

The assault on Rangiriri on 20 November 1863 was the decisive battle of the Waikato War. During the afternoon the pā’s 500 defenders fought off repeated attacks by a 1400-strong British naval and land force. Overnight a number of Māori, probably including Wiremu Tāmihana and King Tāwhiao, were evacuated along the eastern ditch – the only remaining escape route to Lake Waikare. At dawn Māori raised a white flag – apparently not as an act of surrender, but to request negotiations. The British, facing no resistance, moved into the redoubt and in the confusion that followed ordered the remaining defenders to surrender their weapons.

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