Mission Cemetery – also known as Military, or Old Military, Cemetery – is the oldest European burial ground in the Bay of Plenty city of Tauranga. Located on Marsh Street (near the harbour bridge) at the northern end of the Te Papa peninsula, the cemetery is situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the harbour. It stands on the site once occupied by the Ngāi Te Rangi pā of Otamataha.
The cemetery contains a number of memorials, graves and plaques commemorating men who died on active service in the Tauranga district during the New Zealand Wars. This memorial marks the burial site of 14 men of Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Te Whakatōhea, Tainui and Te Arawa who died of wounds received while defending their position at Te Ranga on 21 June 1864.
The heavy British defeat at Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) on 29 April 1864 shocked New Zealand’s European settler community, and its military and political establishment. Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron returned to Auckland, leaving Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Greer in command of a large British garrison on the Te Papa peninsula. Greer was ordered to attack immediately should Māori forces begin constructing another pā in the district.
On the morning of 21 June, Greer left Camp Te Papa with a force of 600 men. Five kilometres inland from Gate Pā, the British force discovered a force of some 500 to 600 Maori working on defensive earthworks at Te Ranga. Led by Rāwiri Puhirake, they comprised Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui, supported by Ngāti Porou from the east coast and Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Rangiwewehi from Rotorua. Early that afternoon, following the arrival of reinforcements, Greer ordered men from the 68th and 43rd regiments and 1st Waikato Militia to advance.
The battle that followed at Te Ranga has been described as among the bloodiest of the New Zealand campaigns. In desperate hand-to-hand fighting, British troops exacted terrible vengeance for Gate Pā. The Māori garrison was unable to hold the incomplete defences and, when Puhirake himself was killed, those able to do so retreated.
British casualties were nine dead and 39 wounded. More than 100 defenders – including Puhirake – were buried in the trenches at Te Ranga.
Half of the 27 severely wounded Māori defenders who were taken to hospital at Te Papa camp did not long survive the battle. According to the Daily Southern Cross, 12 died within 24 hours and were buried in a mass grave in Mission Cemetery on the night of 22 June. Two more men who died next day are believed to have been buried alongside their comrades.
Among the mortally wounded was Te Tera of Ngāi Te Rangi. Of the 14 men buried at Mission Cemetery, he is the only one to be identified in official reports.
This memorial was erected in Mission Cemetery in 1997 and unveiled the following year. The site had previously been outlined by a circle of agapanthus shrubs in front of which stood a concrete marker. Nearby stand memorials to Puhirake and to fellow Ngāi Te Rangi leader and New Zealand Wars veteran Hōri Ngātai.
Ko tenei kohatu i whakaturia i te tau 1997 / hei whakamaumaharatanga mo nga toa, / tekau ma wha i pakanga ai ki nga hoia o / Ingarangi mo o ratou whenua i te pakanga / o Te Ranga i te rua tekau ma tahi o nga ra / o pipiri i te tau kotahi mano e waru rau e / ono tekau ma wha. Ko te teira anake / o Ngaiterangi te toa o ratou e mohiotia / ana i whara, i mate hoki i muri iho / i roto i te hohipera / kahore e mohiotia ana nga ingoa o era / o nga toa i hinga i taua pakanga engari / ko nga toa i whawhai i raro i te mana / rangatira o Rawiri Puhirake / no Ngaiterangi, no Ngati Ranginui, / no Te Whakatohea, no Tainui, me Te Arawa. / “Ko te Tihi O te Taumata Whaka Utu. / Mo te mana Motuhake / kia tu Rangatira / I runga ite whakaiti / Ka maumahara tonu matou nga uri” / Nga Iwi o Ngati Ranginui, / Ngaiterangi, Ngati Pukenga.
This mass grave monument erected in 1997 / in memory of 14 Maori warriors / who fought in defence of their lands / against British troops in the battle of / Te Ranga on 21 June 1864. / These warriors, one of whom is known / to be Te Teira of Ngaiterangi, were / wounded in battle but later died in / hospital. No other names of those who / died are known, but those who fought / under the leadership of / Rawiri Puhiraki from / Ngaiterangi, Ngati Ranginui, Whakatohea, / Tainui and Te Arawa. / “The Ultimate Sacrifice / So Noble A Cause / Proud and Defiant / You Have Inspired / We Shall Always Remember” / Nga Iwi o Ngati Ranginui / Ngaiterangi, Ngati Pukenga.