Restoration is due to get under way on Monday at one of Northland's most historic churches.
St Michael's Church, which celebrated its 150th birthday this year, was built by Maori on the site of the Battle of Ōhaeawai — a crushing defeat of British forces during the 1845-46 Northern War.
The stone wall around the graveyard, at Ngāwhā, just east of Kaikohe, traces the perimeter of the fighting pā of Ngāti Rangi chief Pene Taui.
Funding for the restoration will come from a Provincial Growth Fund grant announced by former Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones in August last year.
The $1.7 million grant will also pay for the restoration of nearby Ngāwhā School — closed in the late 1970s but now used as a community centre — and for a walkway between the two with panels in te reo and English detailing the history of the battle.
The school was built near the site of the British encampment.
St Michael's, a category 1 heritage building, was blessed yesterday ahead of the restoration by Kaikohe-based Henwood Construction.
Owner Terry Henwood expected the job of replacing the roof and restoring and repainting inside and out would take about eight weeks.
A small bell tower, which was not part of the original church, will be removed.
Despite the site's bloody history, the church was built as an act of thanks.
Chanel Clarke, curator of Te Rau Aroha, the new museum at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, said the story behind the church began in 1863 when a group of high-ranking young Māori travelled to London with a Wesleyan lay preacher.
The group's relationship with the preacher soured and they ended up stranded in England.
English philanthropist Dorothea Wheale — known as Mihiwira in Māori — came to their rescue by raising money for their return passage.
Once home, the group wanted to show their gratitude, so at Wheale's suggestion they built St Michael's Church, Clarke said.
A second church, off Mangakahia Rd, burned down not long after it was built.
St Michael's was built on the site of Ōhaeawai Pā where the British suffered a humiliating defeat in July 1845.
British troops under Colonel Despard had been unable to breach the pā despite several days of bombardment.
When the defenders ran a captured Union Jack up their flagpole, upside down and below a korowai, the outraged Despard unwisely ordered an immediate frontal attack.
Within minutes 100 British soldiers were dead or injured.
Ngāti Hine chief Te Ruki Kawiti, who designed Ōhaeawai Pā, went on to build the even stronger Ruapekapeka Pā.
Both were built with firing and communication trenches, and anti-artillery bunkers dug into the ground and covered with logs, stones and bundles of flax.
Later, Chief Heta Te Haara, who fought in the battle as a boy, had the British dead exhumed from their graves near the encampment and gave them a proper Christian burial in the cemetery at St Michael's.
Some of Te Haara's descendants took part in yesterday's blessing, including his great-granddaughter Raima Redden, who is helping to co-ordinate the restoration.
Heritage New Zealand and other funders are also contributing to the cost.
The group of Māori stranded in England — who included Hariata, the pregnant wife of Hare Pomare — also visited Queen Victoria at her summer home on the Isle of Wight.
That visit famously led Victoria to become godmother to Hariata's son, who was born in London and named Albert Victor Pomare.
A christening set and gown gifted to the infant Albert by Queen Victoria are on display at Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi.
Other historic churches restored by Henwood Construction include Christ Church at Russell, Holy Trinity at Pakaraka, and St John the Baptist at Waimate North.