On 29th April 1864, 1,700 British troops attacked Gate Pa in what would be the heaviest artillery bombardment of the New Zealand Wars.
Gate Pa, situated at the entrance toTauranga Harbour, was targeted in an effort to cut off reinforcements and food supplies. The battle was fiercely fought with a British bombardment of shells, mortars and rockets. Artillery included 110 Pounder Armstrong guns and 24 Pounder howitzers and despite the heavy shelling, Gate Pa withstood the pounding.
When the confident British stormed the Pa they found the Maori warriors emerging from underground bunkers and within 10 minutes the storming party retreated leaving behind 100 dead and wounded.
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Booth lead the storming party during the attack on Gate Pa wearing a distinctive red woven sash which forms part of the New Zealand Wars display at the National Army Museum.
Leading the group of around 300 men, including soldiers, sailors and marines, Booth smashed through the top rail of the palisade fence and jumped over the trench, sword in hand. At this point, a number of Maori left their trenches and encountered Booth and others in heavy hand-to-hand fighting.
A report by Heni Pore, a Maori woman warrior, recounted the assault “…a desperate combat was waged. Navy cutlass met long handled tomahawk – Tupara was clubbed to counter bayonet and rifle. Skulls were cloven – Maoris were bayoneted – Ngai-te-Rangi tomahawks bit into pakeha limbs…”
During the battle, Booth was mortally wounded and later died in a field hospital with injuries to the neck and spine. However as he lay wounded and darkness fell, a Maori woman, by the name of Heni te Kirikaramu, crawled to his aide, still under rifle fire, to provide him with water.
Later in 1867 when Heni and her husband were running ‘The Traveller’s Rest’ Hotel at Maketu in the Bay of Plenty, she learnt it was Lt Col Booth that she gave water to, and today, there is a memorial stone at Gate Pa that marks the spring where Hemi collected water in an old iron nail can for Booth and other wounded soldiers.
After the Battle of Gate Pa there was much controversy about the defeat of the Imperial troops who were heavily armed and far superior in number to the Maori.