After renewed fighting in Taranaki in early 1863, Governor George Grey turned his attention to the region he saw as the root of his problems with Māori: Waikato. This was the heartland of the anti-landselling King Movement or Kīngitanga. Grey vowed to ‘dig around’ the Kīngitanga until it fell.
On 11 July he issued an ultimatum to the ‘chiefs of Waikato’ to pledge allegiance to Queen Victoria. The following day – before Waikato Māori had even received this message – a force led by Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron crossed the Mangatāwhiri stream, a tributary of the Waikato River near Mercer. This waterway marked the aukati – a line that should not be crossed– between the European settlement of Auckland and the lands under the mana (protection) of the Māori King. The key conflict of the New Zealand Wars had begun.
Construction of a military road into the Waikato had begun in January 1862. Grey used Kīngitanga involvement in the fighting in Taranaki and rumours of an imminent Māori attack on Auckland to ensure the backing of his British masters. Eventually available to him were 12,000 imperial troops as well as colonial soldiers and kūpapa Māori warriors, with the logistical support needed to sustain a lengthy campaign. The Kingite force of fewer than 5000 part-time warriors had to provide much of their own food and supplies.
By February 1864 the British forces had reached the Kīngitanga agricultural base at Rangiaowhia, near Te Awamutu. On the way they outflanked formidable modern pā at Meremere and Pāterangi and captured an equally formidable but undermanned pā at Rangiriri. The defeat at Ōrākau – ‘Rewi’s last stand’– in April 1864 brought the Waikato war to an end. The British made no attempt to cross the new aukati on the border of what is now known as the King Country. Instead they turned their attention to Tauranga and Bay of Plenty.
Next page: Invasion plans