Maori Guerilla Warfare in the Waikato

by James Graham

General Cameron crossed the Mangatwhiri stream on 12 July 1863, effectively declaring war on the King Movement. As this document shows his 4000 imperial soldiers were not enough to counter the effective guerilla offensive launched against the British by the King Movement. A specialist unit formed out of colonial volunteers was thus formed to take the war to the Maori in the bush.

The Maori raiding operations were coordinated from their forward base at Meremere. The Meremere line consisted of three strong pa, Pukekawa in the west, Paparata in the east and Meremere itself. The force that manned the line fluctuated between 1100 and 1500 warriors gathered from tribes throughout the North island. Out of these bases, parties of between twenty to 200 Maori warriors roamed the bush. These parties ambushed settlers, messengers, sentries and any individuals unlucky enough to cross their path. Attacks on redoubts and patrols were made but not pushed home. In all fifty soldiers, twelve settlers and a handful of Maori supportive of the government were killed and wounded. The Maori probably also suffered similar number of casualties however the number of killed and wounded was light considering the number of engagements. Between 1 and 25 August the raiding campaign was suspended to complete the Meremere line. They were renewed again in late August and continued unabated through September and most of October. In late October the parties were called back to Meremere as the King Movement became aware that the long awaited attack by the British was not far away.

Against these Maori attacks normal soldiers were useless. The Forest Rangers as they became known were the main form of aggressive action the British mounted against the Maori raiding parties. The vast majority of British responses were reactions to Maori raids or ambushes. The Forest Rangers were formed to hunt down the Maori in the bush and to inflict serious casulities on the Maori raiding parties. The Forest Rangers were on the whole outclassed by their Maori adversaries in the bush and saw little action.

The combined Maori raiding operations delayed the British advance by three months. The raids forced Cameron to rely on a system of escorts, patrols and redoubts. In all twenty redoubts were constructed to hold the line of supply and protect the British rear from attack. Five redoubts were built between the British forward base of Queen's Redoubt and Auckland. These redoubts alone absorbed 510 men. Another 800 men formed a line of redoubts between Thames and the Queen's Redoubt. The same function was performed by 700 men to extend the line westwards to Raglan. Anywhere between 25 and 500 soldiers were needed to man a single redoubt. The British army kept growing and eventual Cameron had enough men in his column of attack to move against Meremere. On seeing the British advance on their position from north and south the Maori evacuated the Meremere Line and with it any hope of continuing raiding operations on a large scale. The battle of Meremere was a hollow and monetarily expensive victory to the British. As one historian noted "these holes in the ground were extensively purchased by the Crown at a cost of 500,000 pounds."

The Maori tactics tied upwards of eighty percent of Cameron's army down defending their supply network. This effectively delayed the British advance for over three months while they waited for more reinforcements. The Maori however exhausted themselves in the effort a factor that counted against them at the battle of Rangiriri.

The New Zealand Wars

  1. Kawiti and the Northern War
  2. Maori Strategy in the Taranaki War
  3. Kawiti's Ohaeawai Pa
  4. Guerilla Warfare in the Waikato
  5. Battle of Rangiriri
  6. The Gate Pa
  7. Titokowaru's Tauranga-Ika Pa
  8. Te Kooti the Guerilla Fighter