Surprise Attack at Ōpepe, 1869

The Surprise Attack at Ōpepe

The Taupō Campaign

Colonel Whitmore instructed Lieutenant Colonel St John to move the headquarters camp from Fort Galatea to a position between the Urewera Ranges and Taupō, and determined Ōpepe as a suitable location. There the Napier-Taupō track intersected the main trail from the Rangitāiki and the Urewera Country. But St John delayed his expedition until it was too late, for Te Kooti was about to move across the Kaingaroa on his mission to the King Country to rally support from Ngāti Maniapoto and Waikato.

On a wet June 7th, 1869 a small Volunteer Cavalry detachment was unexpectedly attacked by an advanced-guard of Te Kooti's column moving from the Urewera Ranges to Taupō. Of the fourteen of the Bay of Plenty Cavalry troop, nine were killed.

Ōpepe Memorial

  • <p>Manatū Taonga (7th October, 2019). Ōpepe Graves.</p>
  • <p>Manatū Taonga (7th October, 2019). Ōpepe Graves.</p>
  • <p>Manatū Taonga (7th October, 2019). Ōpepe Graves.</p>
  • <p>New Zealand History. Colonel Whitmore. </p>


  • Attack on Ōpepe - Roadside Stories

Troopers attacked at Ōpepe

The detachment left Fort Galatea on the 4th June, 1869, for Tapuaeharuru (Taupō) to select a positions for military posts. Most of the troopers were young settlers at Tauranga and Opōtiki. The march took two days. The small force was guided by a Māori, who in the light of after-events is believed to have been in collusion with the Te Kooti's force.

On Saturday night, 5th June they reached the Ōpepe bush and camped in a deserted village consisting of four or five huts. After reassuring the troopers that they were safe, Colonel St John, Major Cumming, Captain Moorsom and a few others rode on to Tapuaeharuru. It was on the afternoon 7th June that disaster struck the resting force.

One of the troopers, George Crosswell went off to look for his horse but got soaking wet in a heavy downpour. When he returned to camp he stripped off his clothes to dry by the fire when two Māori men wandered into their camp and began talking with the soldiers. By the time the troopers realised they were unfriendly it was too late. Unarmed, their only option was to run for the bush, but they were fired upon by Māori who appeared from the undergrowth. Sergeant Slattery beat off an attack with a piece of firewood until he was dropped from behind with a blow from a tomahawk. The hauhau stripped the dead of their uniforms and secured the whole of the arms and equipment - including fourteen Calisher and Terry breech-loading carbines, the same number of revolvers, swords, horses and saddles.

Altogether nine soldiers were killed. The others managed to hide and make their way back to Fort Galatea. Three days after the attack the still naked, Crosswell and Trooper George Stephenson stumbled into Fort Galatea. Three more survivors straggled in long after them. Sergeant Dette and Trooper Lockwood. Cornet Angus Smith, the officer, did not reach Fort Galatea till ten days after his escape.

There was no one around to bury the soldiers so a body of Taupō Māori from Poihipi's pā at Tapuaeharuru dug the graves for the nine soldiers in two plots.

Troopers attacked at Ōpepe

  • <p>University of Wellignton (2016) George Crosswell.</p>
  • <p>Lieut Colonel St John</p>
  • <p>Calisher &amp; Terry breech loading carbine, .577 calibre., circa 1860, London, by Calisher and Terry. Gift of the Police Department, date unknown. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. </p>
  • <p>Opepe Map drawn for the Taupō District Council.</p>