On 16 June 2002, a memorial was unveiled to mark the grave of more than 20 Māori warriors who were killed in the Battle of Katikara on 4 June 1863. The warriors came from several iwi including Taranaki, Ngati Ruanui and Whanganui.
The memorial was established as a joint venture between the local hapu, Nga Mahanga a Tairi, and the Ministry. The memorial consists of a large boulder and a granite tablet mounted on a sloping base. It is located at the Fort St George Redoubt on Lower Pitone Road, Tataraimaka, and is maintained by us. It is the first memorial to be created as a joint project between Māori and the Crown.
Background to the Battle of Katikara
During the first Taranaki war of 1860-1861, Te Atiawa, led by their chief Wiremu Kingi, fought against the Government over the disputed purchase of the Waitara block. As part of the struggle, Ngati Ruanui drove European settlers from the prime Tataraimaka block and continued to hold it by right of conquest following the truce of 1861.
The concrete slab which marked the mass grave prior to the memorial.
Governor Grey decided to return the Waitara land block to Taranaki Māori, acknowledging that it had been wrongly purchased. However, before he did so, and without warning, Grey reoccupied the Tataraimaka block and set up a redoubt.
Local Taranaki Māori saw the re-occupation as an aggressive act, and plotted to kill Grey by ambushing him as he travelled the road from New Plymouth to Tataraimaka. On May 4 1863, however, two officers with a small party of soldiers were ambushed instead whilst escorting a prisoner back to New Plymouth. All but one of the party were killed. This incident, known as the 'Oakura ambush', provided Grey with a reason to gather more troops in Taranaki.
New Plymouth settlers called for revenge and on 4 June 1863 a force of 873 officers and men marched on Fort St George just north of the Katikara river. They were supported by artillery from the steamship HMS Eclipse, positioned just off shore. Governor Grey was aboard observing the bombardment by the steamship of Māori palisades.
The cover fire from HMS Eclipse enabled the ground troops to storm the Māori palisades. Against very heavy odds Māori retreated from the palisades to the inland earthworks. Those who were able to flee to the bushes were fortunate. Those who sought refuge in the earthworks found themselves in a trap.
The Māori dead were later gathered and buried in a pit close to the redoubt. The grave has remained unmarked except for a concrete slab laid by a local farmer in later years.
The Katikara Memorial site is at Fort St George Redoubt, Lower Pitone Road, Tataraimaka, Taranaki. Lower Pitone Road turns off SH45 about 15 kilometres south of New Plymouth.