A trailer has just been launched of a new video documentary about the colonial New Zealand Wars. The film will describe the Battle of Ruapekapeka that took place in 1846 (click on the link below to view the trailer).
Great Southern Television is working on this interactive online project for Radio NZ on the New Zealand Wars. It will include a documentary, podcast, battle reconstruction and online museum, telling the story of the 19th century wars between the Crown and Māori.
Ruapekapeka was one of the largest and most complex pā (Māori fortifications) in New Zealand, that was designed specifically to counter the cannons of the British forces. It was the site of the last battle in the Flagstaff War, between Colonial forces and warriors of Ngāpuhi led by Hone Heke and Te Ruki Kawiti.
In this screen-grab from the trailer, as well as the heading picture at the top of this posting, we see men of the 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot, recognisable by their black facings and cap bands, advancing through the bush.
Soldiers struggle to drag a cannon through the rugged bush. In late 1845 the Colonial forces, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Despard, began a two-week advance over 20 kilometres (12 miles) to bring artillery up to the pā.
The ordnance included three naval 32-pounders, one 18-pounder, two 12-pounder howitzers, one 6-pounder brass gun, four mortars, and two rocket-tubes.
The above picture is another scene of the cannon being transported through the thick undergrowth. This isn’t a screen-grab, but a photo taken by one of the film crew. It gives a good impression of the tough job the soldiers would have faced.
To show the care taken to get the uniforms right in the video, take a look at my painted Empress Miniatures 28mm figures depicting the same regiment.
A group of soldiers from the 58th patrol past some ferns and toitoi plants, typical of the New Zealand landscape.
Back to the video, here’s a screen-grab of a group of Māori warriors doing a haka, or war-dance.
This close-up of Māori shooting through the loopholes at the bottom of the pā palisades shows the combination of traditional and western dress adopted by many warriors.
During the bombardment of the pā, the defenders took cover in bomb-proof shelters. Lieutenant Balnevis, who took part in the siege, commented in his journal that Ruapekapeka was ‘a most extraordinary place, a model of engineering, with a treble stockade, and huts inside, these also fortified. A large embankment in rear of it, full of under-ground holes for the men to live in; communications with subterranean passages enfilading the ditch.’
Early on the morning of Sunday 11 January 1846, a British foraging party noted the defenders were unusually quiet. The small group of British troops pushed over the palisade and entered the pā, finding it almost empty. They were reinforced, while Māori tried to re-enter the pā from the back. After a four-hour gun fight the remaining Māori withdrew, abandoning the pā.
Some say the pā had been left almost empty because the defenders were holding a Sunday church service, others say it was a deliberate ploy to draw the British forces into the rugged bush.
Here are some of my Empress Miniatures doing a traditional haka.
Another view of my Māori warriors, in this case playing their part in a tabletop reenactment of the Battle of Boulcott Farm, which took place that same year near Wellington.
The video includes some great shots of Ruapekapeka pā, both physical reconstructions and computer generated images. Here you can see puffs of black powder smoke issuing from the loopholes at the bottom of the palisades.
In this shot you see a portion of one of the many huts inside the pā.
Traces of Ruapekapeka pā can still be seen to this day.
The presenter of the video, well-known journalist Mihingarangi Forbes, appears in a clever scene where we see Ruapekapeka pā as it appears today, then as the camera pulls back the pā of 1846 starts to appear through the magic of CGI.
The palisades and huts start to appear.
Now we see the thick bush that edged up to the palisades of the pā.
My model pā was designed and 3D-printed by Printable Scenery. It includes palisades of various sizes, several huts, and an ornate gate. The carvings on the latter are of a somewhat apocryphal design!
In my pā, you can even see Chief Hone Heke (left).
Next Saturday my miniature figures will take part in a tabletop recreation at my local library as part of the inaugural Raa Maumahara National Day of Commemoration of the New Zealand Wars.
As the New Zealand Wars committee chairman Peeni Henare has said: ‘Learning the history has to be a path to reconciliation. We can’t say there won’t be resentment. The commemoration is simply to inform the people of Aotearoa-New Zealand. Once it is in our psyche, the day will grow in importance. It is beautiful, brutal, illustrious, deeply moving history.’