The churchyard’s stone walls follow the line of the outer stockade of a fighting pa that saw one of the bloodiest battles of the New Zealand Wars. On 1 July 1845, more than 40 troops died here within a few minutes after they launched an assault on Ohaeawai’s deceptively strong defences. Its covered bunkers, trenches, pits and layered palisades stood up well to British artillery fire and were more than a match for the axes and cutlasses of the storming party. Only a handful of the defenders were killed.
‘Ohaeawai’ pa (it was actually at nearby Ngawha) was built by Pene Taui and transformed into a formidable fortress by Te Ruki Kawiti, one of the leaders of the faction of the Ngapuhi tribal confederation which fought the Northern War of 1845–46 against the British and other Ngapuhi led by Tamati Waka Nene. Their underlying grievance was the economic decline of the Bay of Islands as settlers, government and trade moved south. For many in the north, the promise of inter-racial cooperation implicit in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi had been broken.
Models of the pa are said to have been sent to other iwi to show how the ‘redcoats’ could be beaten. Later the battle site became a symbol of reconciliation. The church was built by local Ngapuhi in 1870. At its opening in 1872, the remains of soldiers killed in the 1845 battle were reinterred. Inside the church there is an account of the battle and a plaque listing the British dead.
State Highway 12, 4 km south-west of Ohaeawai township.
Image attribution: David Green