People gathered in the cold at Te Ranga, the hallowed battle site still mostly in darkness, to remember what happened there 154 years ago.

The Battle of Te Ranga took place on June 21, 1864 – it was a follow-up to the Battle of Gate Pā.

This morning at Te Ranga Reserve in Pyes Pa, on the corner of Pyes Pa Rd and Joyce Rd, about 50 people stood around the memorial, commemorating the tragedy and remembering the lives lost.

After a mihi, karakia and hymn, the battle was described by Tauranga-based military historian Dr Cliff Simons.

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Dr Simons, himself a lieutenant colonel, spoke in detail and depth about what happened that day.

A very quick attack by the British the morning after the Māori warriors arrived at Te Ranga meant they were unprepared and their fortifications were poor.

The Māori warriors were killed in very large numbers – 108 were buried at Te Ranga and another 15 later died in hospital at a nearby camp.

"And it's probable that others were never found because they were pursued for quite a long way," Simons said.

Thirteen British soldiers also died.

"So it was a very decisive victory for the British this time and it was devastating for the Māori communities."

The Battle of Te Ranga was described by Tauranga-based military historian Dr Cliff Simons. Photo / John Borren
The Battle of Te Ranga was described by Tauranga-based military historian Dr Cliff Simons. Photo / John Borren

Simons said some of the East Coast war parties were virtually entirely wiped out and it brought the whole episode of the Waikato War and the Tauranga campaign to an end.

A pacification ceremony followed in August of that year – "a surrender if you like" – and then the government confiscated large tracts of land.

Simons said there was an increasing awareness across New Zealand of the country's colonial history and land wars.

"Māori have always kept the story alive and they've met at places like this and Gate Pā in small numbers, but we're definitely seeing the country get a lot more interested."

He said all battles were sad – "it's mankind at its worst, really" – but Te Ranga was particularly tragic.

"The death toll here in total is close to 150. So this is one of the biggest casualty rates in all of our colonial wars. So this battle should be remembered with sadness."

Ngāi Tamarāwaho kaumātua Peri Kohu also spoke and shared his family links to the battle.

He said Simons' detailed descriptions had left him feeling emotional.

"If that didn't conjure up in your mind the picture of what was happening at that time – related also to the fact that the people who were here were my great-grandfather and his father and their brothers and sisters – then you're in a different world."

Ngāi Tamarāwaho kaumātua Peri Kohu shared his family links to the Battle of Te Ranga. Photo / John Borren
Ngāi Tamarāwaho kaumātua Peri Kohu shared his family links to the Battle of Te Ranga. Photo / John Borren

Leanne Rolleston later reflected on the Battle of Te Ranga and on Romans 12:20 with plenty of emotion and passion.

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink."

Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber also said a short speech.

"In my humble opinion we must do better in building the relationship that the Treaty asks of us. And days like today, should remind us why."

Bagpipes were played as wreaths were laid and a minute's silence followed.

Aquinas College students Nic Scott and Issie Dekker then read poems about the battle.

Whakaaria Mai was sung, a karakia was said, and everyone departed the hallowed battle site for morning tea.