Sarten Street.JPG Sarten Street sign (2020). Rachel Sonius. Word on the street image collection.

Sarten Street in Waitara was named after the first colonial soldier to be killed in the New Zealand Wars. John Edmund Sarten was just 22 when he joined the Mounted Volunteers, composed of local civilians, and he died during the attack on Te Kohia pā at Brixton, nicked the “L” pā by European settlers because of its distinctive shape.

Sarten was the eldest son of wheelwright Edmund and his wife Lucy, who arrived in New Plymouth from Dorchester on the ship William Bryan in March 1841. Little John, his grandparents and seven aunts and uncles were also on board.

With relations between Māori and Pākehā rapidly deteriorating over land sales in early 1860, war looked likely and British forces were sent from Auckland. They constructed a blockhouse and military camp at Waitara, to which Māori responded by building Te Kohia pā on Devon Road, directly threatening the camp’s supply line.

On 17 March 1860, believing the pā to be deserted after the British had bombarded it, a small group of volunteers including Sarten approached on horseback to try and grab a flag that was dangling over the side of the palisades. Flags were potent symbols for British and Māori alike, and different coloured ensigns (red for hostility, white for cessation of fire or surrender) were raised and lowered at pā sites and military camps to send messages during war. Capturing the flag of an enemy was a time-honoured tradition.

In their attempt to get the flag at Te Kohia, the volunteers were shot with muskets by Māori warriors still hiding inside, and Sarten was badly wounded. The musket ball was cut out of his body but he died two days later, the Taranaki Herald describing him as “a fine, robust and steady young man”.

John Sarten was buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s Cathedral in New Plymouth. A large number of troops and townspeople paid their respects by joining his funeral procession. He lies alongside his father Edmund and brother Joseph, who also died that same year, leaving Lucy to raise the remainder of her dozen children alone.


This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

Please do not reproduce these images without permission from Puke Ariki. 
Contact us for more information or you can order images online here.