Kelvin Davis takes us back to a battle in which the Brits took a beating but we are left bewildered about dates

Buzz from the Beehive

Two fresh press releases had been posted when we checked the Beehive website at noon, both of them posted yesterday.

In one statement, in the runup to Waitangi Day, Maori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis drew attention to happenings on a Northland battle site in 1845.

This was a battle in which the British took a beating.

Battle of Ohaeawai remembered

A memorial event at a key battle site in the New Zealand land wars is an important event to mark the progress in relations between Māori and the Crown as we head towards Waitangi Day.

In the second statement, Stuart Nash marked his return to the Police portfolio by announcing a strengthening of the forces of law and order under his ministerial command.

More Police deployed to the frontline

More Police officers are being deployed to the frontline with the graduation of 54 new constables from the Royal New Zealand Police College today.

The graduation ceremony for Recruit Wing 362 at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua was Nash’s first official event since his reappointment as Police Minister following the Cabinet reshuffle this week.

He used the occasion firstly to talk about Stuart Nash:

“I’m really looking forward to picking up the role again after three busy years as Police Minister between 2017 and 2020,” said Stuart Nash.

“I have a very clear understanding of the portfolio and am completely focussed on the issues that matter for Police and the public.

Then he mentioned the Police force:

“The new Prime Minister and former Police Minister Chris Hipkins handed over responsibility for an organisation that is in a strong position to respond to the issues that matter for our communities.

“These include ensuring Police is supported with the people, resources, and legislative tools it needs to keep communities safe and prevent harm.

“Whether it’s continuing the roll out of frontline constables, supporting communities and businesses to respond to youth crime, reducing road deaths, making inroads to gang offending and organised crime, responding to natural disasters and emergencies like the Auckland floods, and preventing family harm, Police is in a very strong position.

Nash said his immediate priority is to get around the country to talk to frontline Police again about ways to keep supporting them.

“Today’s graduation ceremony is a first step and is a proud moment for the 54 new constables and their families.” 

We had to drill down into the press statement to winkle out some hard data.

Nash chose 2017 – the year when Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister – as his starting point:

 Since 2017, there have been 3,712 new constables who have graduated from the Royal NZ Police College, including today’s 54 recruits. Prior to today’s graduation, the total number of full time equivalent Police officers had grown by 1,634 since 2017, an increase of around nineteen per cent in Constabulary numbers.

Oh – and Nash drew attention to “a significant milestone for retail crime prevention”.

Applications opened on Wednesday for businesses which want to take advantage of the $4,000 subsidy for the fog cannon scheme. Prior to the applications opening almost 300 retailers had expressed an interest to MBIE in drawing on the subsidy to install the equipment.

Kelvin Davis took us further back.

He also left us bewildered about what exactly is being commemorated when.

A memorial event at a key battle site in the New Zealand land wars is an important event to mark the progress in relations between Māori and the Crown as we head towards Waitangi Day.


The event will also celebrate and remember the generosity of British woman Charlotte Dorothea Weale, who supported a Māori party that had become stranded in England in 1863 return home.

To repay her generosity, the party built a church on the Ohaeawai pā site.

But when will “the event” be commemorated – or are we too late?

Davis mentioned Waitangi Day (February 6) in his opening sentence.

The only other date was “June 1845”:

 The Battle of Ohaeawai in June 1845 saw the loss of life on both sides, particularly the British, and was a watershed moment in Aotearoa’s history.

The historical site and other sites including Ruapekapeka Pā, the Rangiriri Trenches, and Parihaka have been restored with support from the Government.

“While New Zealanders may not be as familiar with these sites, the introduction of Aotearoa, New Zealand histories means that whole generations of young kiwis will learn about important sites like Ohaeawai,” Kelvin Davis said.

“Thanks to the work of Ngāti Rangi, they will also be able to visit these sites and learn more about their important whakapapa.”

Davis did not elaborate on the battle.

He did provide background information about Charlotte Dorothea Weale:


    • In 1863 a Māori party, most of whom were from the North Island, sailed to England with William Jenkins, a Wesleyan preacher. Jenkins proposed to give a series of lectures about the Māori culture but fell out with the travelling party and abandoned them, leaving them destitute and homeless.
    • Birmingham woman Charlotte Dorothea Weale heard of their plight and took them into her home, providing food and shelter. She eventually secured them passage through the Colonial Office back to Aotearoa, New Zealand.
    • Reihana Taukawau, a rangatira within the party, asked her how they could repay her generosity. She replied, “build a church”. Enough pūtea was raised to build two churches, The Good Shepherd in Mangakāhia and St Michael’s Church in Ohaeawai. St Michael’s Church was built in 1871, on the site of the Ohaeawai pā (in remembrance of the battle) and in honour of Charlotte Dorothea Weale who helped the Ngāpuhi Rangatira return to Aotearoa, New Zealand. The church in Mangakāhia burnt down in the 1920’s.
    • In 2020 the Ohaeawai Cultural Community Centre received $1.7 million in funding through the Provincial Growth Fund to support the restoration of Saint Michael’s Church and the Te Haara Farm. Work was completed in last year, with an official reopening taking place in October 2022.
    • The presentation of taonga to key representatives represents the closing chapter in Ngāti Rangi’s journey to appropriately restore the Ohaeawai Pā site.

Point of Order consulted the New Zealand History website for information about the battle.

We learned about a “veteran” officer, Henry Despard, arriving to command all the British troops in New Zealand at the time.

He was keen to cash in on Hōne Heke’s setback at Te Ahuahu and assembled the largest British force yet seen in the colony to attack Te Ruki Kawiti’s new pā at Ōhaeawai.

At first glimpse, the odds were on the side of the British:

Despard had 615 men and five cannon available for an assault on little more than 100 fighters.

But the weight of  troop numbers and weaponry was not enough:

The pā was bombarded for a week from 24 June 1845. Despard hoped to both break down the defences and demoralise the defenders.

And then  –

On 1 July Kawiti launched a ‘dangerous and provocative’ raid against one of the artillery batteries. Despard interpreted this as an act of desperation and decided the time was right to launch an assault. Nene disagreed but was ignored. When the assault party – 250 of Despard’s best men – was within 20 m of the pā it was met with a withering fire. In a matter of minutes, 40 British troops lay dead and another 70 were wounded.

Ōhaeawai, the prototype of the ‘modern pa’, was a major advance in the Māori response to new weaponry, New Zealand History says.

Firing and communication trenches protected the occupants while allowing rapid movement within the pā. Anti-artillery bunkers (rua) had been dug into the ground and covered with logs, stones and matted flax. Each could house 15–20 men in relative safety.

An outer fence (pekerangi) concealed the pā’s real strength. While it appeared flimsy, the pekerangi’s flax matting easily absorbed musket shot and concealed the more substantial inner fence made of heavy logs. It also slowed down the assault party. The function of the pekerangi has been compared with that of barbed wire in 20th-century battles.

Despard considered withdrawing until he heard from his Māori allies that Kawiti planned to abandon the pā. Sensing an opportunity to salvage something from the situation, he ordered shelling to recommence on 10 July. When Kawiti withdrew next day, Despard argued that the prospect of another British assault had been too much for the defenders. The British occupied an empty pā and proclaimed victory. Few saw the outcome as anything other than a victory for Kawiti.

A Maori website more emphatically records Kawiti’s victory under the headline:

British humiliated at Ōhaeawai (24 June 1845 – 11 July 1845)

 This says:

At Ōhaeawai the British displayed their utter ignorance of the military prowess of Kawiti and the other chiefs. Despard, in particular, was disdainful and arrogant, incapable of regarding the Māori as a worthy foe. Kawiti and his warriors taught Despard a lesson at Ōhaeawai – a lesson reinforced by the death of 41 British soldiers.

Neither New Zealand History nor the Maori website provide data on Maori casualties.

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