One hundred and fifty years ago this week on October 12, 1866, a conflict took place at Ōmarunui (around 6km from Taradale) known as the Battle of Omarunui or the one-day war.

About 100 armed Maori men belonging to a sect called the Hauhaus had camped at Petane around two weeks before, but made their way to a pa at Ōmarunui.

Upon their arrival the residents of that pa removed to Pa Whakairo.

This group of Hauhaus had come from the Taupo region. Most local Ngati Kuhungunu Maori, as well as European settlers numbering some 1300 in Napier, were alarmed at this.

Advertisement

Superintendent Donald McLean sent messages for the group to remove themselves, but they refused. Another 40 armed Hauhaus soon joined the group at Omarunui.

Forty years after the battle, when a tribute was being paid to Archdeacon Samuel Williams, a settler stated that Reverend Samuel Williams, as he was then, had warned Donald McLean that the intentions of the Hauhaus were to attack Napier.

Donald said he thought he knew more about the native mind than did the Reverend Williams, and wasn't so sure.

Samuel had heard that the Hauhaus were waiting for another group of Hauhaus to arrive and then an attack would take place on Napier.

Hearing this, and after getting no satisfactory response from the Hauhaus as to their purpose in Hawke's Bay (saying war or peace was both good) and that they had no means of livelihood, were all armed and here against the wishes of resident Maori - Donald was persuaded to act (some Hauhau prisoners after the conflict had ended told their captors that an attack was to take place on Napier around October 15).

Worried European settlers from the region of Puketapu and Ōmarunui had began to drift into Napier, where they were all given temporary accommodation.

Sir George Whitmore was given the job of commanding 200 militia and volunteers from Napier, Meeanee and Clive, who were joined by around 200 local Maori who were given a red and white sash to be tied on their arms to distinguish themselves from the Hauhaus.

According to an account given by a volunteer soldier, the Hauhau were surrounded at Ōmarunui and a message was sent to them to give up their arms and surrender.

The Hauhaus had asked for an hour, to which another messenger was sent and a reply came back that they would not surrender.

Notice was given to the Hauhaus that an attack would take place without further notice.

Another two hours was given until an attack took place which lasted around 90 minutes until the Hauhaus' surrender. Twenty-three Hauhaus were killed and one militia and two local Maori. Apparently each European participant in the fight received 60 acres (24 hectares) of land as reward.

A monument to the battle was erected in 1916 on its 50th commemoration and unveiled in pouring rain on October 12. This was damaged by vandals in the 1990s.

Versions of events relating to this battle are numerous, and it's difficult to give justice to in a short article, but nevertheless an important part of Hawke's Bay's history that needs to be told.

The aftermath of the battle with land confiscation and the fate of the prisoners taken is also a story to be told, but perhaps for the future.


* Michael Fowler (mfhistory@gmail.com) is the heritage officer at the Art Deco Trust, and trainer in accounting for non-accountants www.financialfitness.co.nz.