The Anglican Church of Aotearoa is preparing to officially admit its role in Tauranga Maori losing 432ha of land in central Tauranga to the Crown following the Battle of Gate Pa.

It could result in the church actively supporting two Tauranga hapu to seek redress for this little-known slice of history.

How the Church Missionary Society relinquished land to the Crown was canvassed at yesterday's 60 Bells Service to commemorate the attack by British troops on Pukehinahina Pa.

St George's Church, which sat on the scene of the battle fought on April 29, 1864, was full for the service that featured a description of the battle and Tauranga historian Buddy Mikaere giving an emotional perspective of the hurt inflicted on generations of his family by the raupatu (land confiscations) that followed the battle.


The service that began at 4pm was timed to coincide with the actual time British troops launched the attack and, like the weather 154 years ago, rain fell steadily throughout most of the 90-minute service.

A feature of the service was the church bell being tolled 60 times for the number of soldiers and Maori warriors who perished in the battle.

Speakers included the Anglican Bishop of Waiapu, the Right Reverend Andrew Hedge. He recounted how in 1838 local iwi were keen to encourage firm foundations for a missionary presence in Tauranga.

It led to the appointment of missionary Alfred Brown to Tauranga and 540ha of land down Te Papa Peninsula being transferred to the society with the agreement of the two hapu, Ngai Tamarawaho and Ngati Tapu.

''The land was given in trust to the Church Missionary Society.''

Hedge then jumped forward to 1866 - two years after the events of the battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga.

''It was a time of New Zealand history when confiscation of land was rife.''

Hedge explained how the Church Missionary Society came under enormous pressure from the colonial government to release the 540ha. The society held out for nearly a year against what he described as ''immense, unnecessary and unjustified pressure''.


In the end, 432ha was released to the Crown and the rest was retained by the society.

Hedge said the church was complicit in handing over land given in trust by Maori. This history would be revisited at the church's General Synod from May 4-11 this year.

The Synod would be asked to formally recognise how its predecessors were complicit in yielding land that had been held in trust and which now could not be recovered.

Hedge said the Synod was being asked that the church stand alongside the hapu in their endeavours for reconciliation.

The Rev John Hebenton of St George's hoped it would result in the Synod acknowledging the release of the land and the Synod's standing committee working on ways to work with Maori to redress what had happened.