Battle of Ōhaeawai memorial celebrated

A special church service was held yesterday to celebrate the opening of the 1845 Battle of Ōhaeawai Memorial in Northland.

In 1845 the northern war raged between Crown forces and Māori. The British brought on 615 men and five cannon for their week-long assault at Ōhaeawai, yet they failed against the 100 Māori fighting them in a newly designed military pā which successfully protected the defenders from rifle attacks.

The memorialisation project's purpose was to integrate various components of the site including St. Michaels church, the old native school and a walkway between the two buildings that celebrate the battle.

Government ministers, iwi and officials were on hand to celebrate the occasion. The restoration work was funded by a grant from the Provincial Growth Fund.

Local Richard Woodman says it was a long and arduous project undertaken by the iwi, Ngāti Rangi.

Humiliating defeat

"The area is really proud of this occasion because it brings back memories of all those that have gone before us."

Anglican bishop Kito Pikaahu was on hand to lead the service. He remembers the stories of the epic battle between British forces and Ngāpuhi at Ōhaeawai and the humiliating defeat of the Crown at the hands of the iwi.

"They stood on their pā, their land and won the victory."

Also celebrated were the fallen soldiers of the British Army's 58th Regiment of Foot. A local rangatira had exhumed a mass grave of British soldiers from the battlefield and buried them in the church graveyard.

'A place for all New Zealanders'

"They died here and were buried on the other side of the road. Not long after, they were exhumed by Heta Te Haara and buried next to his soldiers in the cemetery at Marunui."

Although the site is of particular importance to Māori, it should also be a place for all New Zealanders to come and celebrate, Tui Shortland,  Northland Regional Council chair says.

"We have a responsibility to ensure places like this are available to all.

"For many of the historical sites that we have in Te Taitokerau, I think it's really important that we share the history and ensure the places are protected."