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2023 Online Seminar Series – The Genesis of Gunfighter Pā in Northern New Zealand

29 March 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm AEDT


In 2022, the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA) ran a series of bi-monthly online seminars showcasing the recent research in historical archaeology in Australia. In 2023, we are continuing on with our free online seminar series, this time focusing on current archaeological research in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

The first stop on the (virtual) tour for 2023 will be The Genesis of Gunfighter Pā in Northern New Zealand, presented by Dr James Robinson on Wednesday 29 March 2023. The seminar will start at 6pm AEDT/ 8pm NZDT.

The seminar will run for 45 to 50 minutes, followed by a Q&A session. All bookings will be through Eventbrite (link is below). A Zoom link will be sent to your registered email address closer to the date of the event.  We look forward to seeing you – virtually!

The Genesis of Gunfighter Pā in Northern New Zealand

Dr James Robinson, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga

Following the Ngapuhi Rangatira (chief) Hongi Hika’s return from England to his home in Northland with 200 muskets in 1820, the process of learning how to use muskets as an effective means of offensive fighting began, and this is well documented in the 1820s during the period of inter-tribal fighting known as the “Musket Wars”.

However, the first clear historic evidence of Māori defensive gunfighter pa appears over 20 years later Northern Wars battlefields of 1845-1846 when the specialist flatland pa of Ohaeawai and Ruapekapeka was encountered by the British. British officers at the time commented on the integrated range of defences they encountered that included encircling gun fighter pits providing enfilading fire, underground bunkers and tunnels and multiple palisade defences to protect against British muskets, cannon, and explosive mortar and howitzer artillery.

While it has long been thought that the complex design of these two historic pas, that appear to arrive fully formed in the archaeological record, was a response to the British Military technology used in the ‘Northern Wars’. It is instead argued here that gunfighter pa were present from the 1820s onwards and were the genesis of these complex pa built to fight the British Imperial forces in 1845-6.

This talk then explores how these gunfighter pa evolved, and why they are so hard to see archaeologically.

Dr James Robinson – Short Bio

Archaeologist, historian and archivist, James is a highly experienced landscape archaeologist who thrives on multidisciplinary approaches to recording history – especially working with tangata whenua (people of the land) partners to incorporate traditional knowledge into interpretations about the human settlement of the Pacific. He has a specific focus on Northland where he has worked for over 30 years.

With family scattered throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, James is based in Northland – one of the cradles for the development of Māori and Pakeha society. He works in this region as the Senior Archaeologist for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, the lead heritage government agency that is responsible for protecting archaeology.

Eventbrite Link

Tickets are available at: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/asha-seminar-series-the-genesis-of-gunfighter-pa-in-northern-new-zealand-tickets-571255429367

Figure 1: James speaking at the unveiling of a pou (post) called “Te Pou Herenga Waka o te Moananui o Kiwa” (Place where a canoe is moored within the Pacific Ocean) erected at Mangahawea Bay in the Bay of Islands. Tahitians who arrived on one of the waka hourua (Ocean going canoe) as part of the Tuia 250 celebrations in November 2019 were invited to unveiled the Pou because it represented the reconnection of Aotearoa Māori with their Pacific tupuna (ancestors). (Image courtesy of Dr James Robinson)
Figure 2: Ohaeawai Pa as drawn by a British officer after the battle in 1845 during the Northern Wars. (Image courtesy of Dr James Robinson)


29 March 2023
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm AEDT
Event Category:


ASHA Events Coordinator