This memorial obelisk is located on farmland on Kakaramea Road (State Highway 39), about 6 km north of Pirongia. The memorial marks the graves of three British troops who died in 1864, as well as others whose names are now unknown.
Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron established British headquarters at nearby Te Rore in early February 1864. By 20 February, some 3000 troops from the 12th, 40th, 50th, 65th, and 70th regiments were camped there. In front of them was the third Waikato defensive line, the Pāterangi line.
The Pāterangi line has been called the greatest defensive line thrown up by either side in the New Zealand Wars. Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto Māori began work on the entrenchments soon after the fall of Rangiriri on 21 November 1863. Completed in late January 1864, the Pāterangi line was intended to halt the British advance south and protect vital Kingite agricultural interests at Te Awamutu and Rangiaowhia.
The defensive line was named for its main fortification, Pāterangi pā. Four or five such pā occupied a series of low ridges over a distance of about 10 km between Te Awamutu and the Waipā River. Like Pāterangi, Pikopiko (or Puketoke), Rangiatea and Mangua-pukatea were, in themselves, complex entrenchments.
Cameron’s forces camped at Te Rore for several weeks. The strength of the Pāterangi line was obvious and it soon became clear that a frontal assault like that undertaken at Rangiriri would be costly. Encounters between the two sides during this period were largely confined to long-range sniping and the occasional round fired by British artillery.
William Connor received his fatal injuries during one of these skirmishes. A private in the 40th Regiment, Connor was part of a picquet on the morning of 8 February. This small body of about 25 troops was sent out to watch for the enemy at intervals along the line of outposts in front of the camp. The events that followed were reported by a Daily Southern Cross correspondent:
On … the 8th, the picket was marched out as usual, dropping sentries as it proceeded, at intervals of about 25 yards; and by the time the picquet reached the foot of the hill, it was reduced to an officer and eight men. As this party were proceeding up the hill, they were saluted by a volley from a body of natives who lay in ambush about 25 yards in their front. The little party returned the fire, and fell back slowly, being by this time reduced to five men, three having been wounded by the first discharge. The inlying picquet was turned out, and proceeded at the double to the assistance of their hard-pressed comrades, but the Maoris had no intention of a stand-up fight. They had played out their little game, and so they had vanished when the picket reached the hill.
Connor was wounded ‘dangerously through the neck’ during this exchange. An extended version of this report, published in the Taranaki Herald, noted that the injury came ‘with paralysis’ and that ‘the ball had been extracted’. Connor died later of his wounds.
John O’Hanlon and John Wilson were privates in the 1st Battalion, 12th Regiment. According to the official casualty lists, Wilson died at Te Rore on 4 July 1864. His background and the circumstances of his death are currently unknown. O’Hanlon was born in Cork; the Irishman worked as a labourer before enlisting in the British Army on 8 June 1852. O’Hanlon died in Te Rore 12 years later, on 18 June 1864. Again, the circumstances of his death are currently unknown.
The most significant engagement of this waiting period took place at Waiari on 11 February. During this skirmish six British troops were killed. Their burial place, known as the Pāterangi New Zealand Wars graves, is marked with a memorial obelisk identical to that at Te Rore.
Nine days later, Cameron outflanked Pāterangi. On 20 February, under the cover of darkness and in silence, 1230 troops marched within 1.5 km of Pāterangi pā over a rough bush track. They reached Te Awamutu at dawn the next day and pushed on to Rangiaowhia. The Pāterangi line’s defenders were forced to abandon their positions.
The New Zealand Wars graves at Te Rore and Pāterangi seem to have come to the attention of the government in mid-1914. In a letter dated 26 August to Edith Statham, Inspector of Old Soldiers’ Graves for the Department of Internal Affairs, Reverend D. McKenzie reported that the six names on the wooden headboard at Pāterangi were still legible, but those at Te Rore were not.
Statham visited Te Rore and Pāterangi the following year, reporting her findings to the department on 6 May 1915. Around the same time, a local residents’ committee was formed to maintain the two grave sites. With McKenzie as Secretary, the committee emphasised the need to ‘keep green in the memory of the people those things that remind us of the traditions of our race and have made the British Empire great and respected among the civilised nations of the earth’.
On 9 June 1915, Statham suggested that the wooden headboard – probably that at Pāterangi – eventually be placed in a local church for preservation. In the meantime, she recommended that it be restored until funds could be found for new memorials. Five days later, McKenzie confirmed that the residents’ committee had decided to relocate the wooden headboard to the church immediately. He requested that the government proceed with replacement memorials.
A departmental report of 8 September 1915 stated that the residents’ committee was considering designs for small memorials to replace the decayed wooden headboards. By 3 November the Waipa County Council had approved headstone designs. However on 22 December James Hislop, the Under-Secretary for Internal Affairs, directed that the process must stop. With the First World War into its second year, it is likely that funding was an issue.
The proposal was revived in 1918. The local committee now wanted simple headstones at Te Rore and Pāterangi, as well as a central monument at the Pāterangi battle site. However Statham and Hislop argued that funds were available only for grave sites, not for historic sites.
On 21 October, a Mr Pricket submitted obelisk designs. He proposed using Coromandel granite as the cost of Italian marble was currently ‘outrageous’. Pricket’s obelisk would stand almost 6 feet high and cost £24. At the same time, the local committee ‘respectfully accepted’ that an obelisk would be placed at each of the grave sites, but not at the Pāterangi battle site. The committee had collected £40 locally, and was hopeful that the government would match this sum.
McKenzie had fallen ill by 14 June 1919, when Hislop decided to proceed with the project. It was not until 22 January 1920 that McKenzie was able to confirm that two obelisks had been ordered at a total cost of £80. The government subsidy was approved on 16 February and the work was completed on 12 November. The obelisks were erected at Te Rore and Pāterangi in February 1921.
In memory / of / John O’Hanlon / John Wilson / of the 12th Regt. / who died Te Rore 1864. / Wm Connor / 40th / 2nd Somerset Regt. / who died of wounds received in action / before Paterangi Feb. 8th 1864. / And others