Story: New Zealand wars

Page 2. Northern wars, 1845–1846

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Origins of the wars

The New Zealand wars began with an attack by some Ngāpuhi hapū on Kororāreka (Russell) in the Bay of Islands. The major cause was the concern of some Ngāpuhi that the moving of the capital from the Bay to Auckland had hurt them economically, and Hōne Heke Pōkai’s objection to Crown authority in his area. His supporters cut down the flagstaff at Kororāreka four times to make his point. Other Ngāpuhi hapū led by Tāmati Wāka Nene supported the British.

On 11 March 1845 Heke, Te Ruki Kawiti and Pūmuka led an attack which left Kororāreka destroyed, despite the desperate defence mounted by the English settlers and British naval forces led by Acting Commander David Robertson of HMS Hazard.

Increased presence

Following the attack on Kororāreka, British forces increased. In late March 162 officers and men of the 58th Regiment arrived in Auckland. By mid-April a further 300 men had arrived, with an Auckland volunteer militia also established. On 27 April a combined expedition of 470 officers and men, with 50 volunteers, was sent from Auckland under Lieutenant Colonel William Hulme, to reclaim the ‘Queen’s sovereignty at Kororareka’.1

The northern campaigns

Upon arrival at Kororāreka on 30 April 1845 the British navy shelled nearby Māori settlements, including Ōtuihu , which was mistakenly thought to be harbouring Heke sympathisers. However, most of Heke’s supporters had long since moved inland.


The first major engagement of the northern campaign occurred at Heke’s new pā, Te Mawhe at Puketutu, near Lake Ōmāpere, close to his old pā of Te Kahika. On 3 May 1845, 400 soldiers, seamen and marines disembarked at Onewhero and marched for four days to Lake Ōmāpere. On arrival, Hulme ordered an artillery barrage using Congreve rockets. Marines believed these would soon demolish any Māori stockades they encountered. However, the rockets had little effect so Hulme ordered 200 men to attack Puketutu. With no progress after four hours of fighting, Hulme ordered his men to retreat, leaving 13 dead British soldiers on the field of battle.

Te Ahuahu

Heke withdrew to nearby Te Ahuahu, where he was attacked by Ngāpuhi forces allied with the British, led by Tāmati Wāka Nene and Makoare Te Taonui. Heke retreated, and later returned with 450 warriors. He could not dislodge Wāka Nene from Te Ahuahu.


A pā was built near Ōhaeawai under Kawiti. On 1 July 1845 a 220-strong party of soldiers, seamen and militia commanded by Colonel Henry Despard attacked. Kawiti’s men successfully repelled the attack. Despard ordered a retreat, having lost 41 men.

Sabbath victory?

There has been a long controversy about the end of the Ruapekapeka battle. 11 January was a Sunday, and for many years it was believed that the Ngāpuhi had been outside the pā to hold prayers while the less pious British took advantage and captured the pā. However, there were no provisions left inside – so it appears likely that the occupants had intended to withdraw. The pā had served its purpose of forcing the British to spend a month carrying supplies uphill, and Ngāpuhi may have been attempting to lure the British into an ambush outside the pā.


In January 1846 the British began shelling a new Māori fortification at Ruapekapeka, choosing not to launch another frontal attack. On 11 January, noticing that it appeared empty, a combined force of Regulars and Māori rushed the pā. A skirmish occurred to the rear where a group of Kawiti’s forces had encamped, forcing the others to retreat.

After the fall of Ruapekapeka, the northern wars ended with Kawiti and Heke accepting peace terms negotiated by Wāka Nene. The flagstaff was not put back up in Heke’s lifetime and Ngāpuhi suffered no confiscation of land.

  1. Quoted in James Cowan, The New Zealand wars: a history of the Māori campaigns and the pioneering period. Vol. 1. Wellington: Government Printer, 1922, p. 35. Back
How to cite this page:

Danny Keenan, 'New Zealand wars - Northern wars, 1845–1846', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2017)

Story by Danny Keenan, published 20 Jun 2012