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Cannonball discovery a ‘riddle inside a mystery’

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Simon Leeming, holding a possible cannonball, with Chris Turver. Photo / David Haxton

The discovery of a possible cannonball close to the surface of a Kāpiti Coast inter-tribal 1839 battleground in Waikanae Beach has baffled the finders.

Local neighbours Simon Leeming and Chris Turver, adjacent to the Kuititanga battlefield involving Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Raukawa, and now known as the Karewarewa urupa off Tamati Place, discovered what they believe to be a cannonball, weighing 4kg, in early March.

Leeming was wandering through the overgrown area when he saw “something glinting in the long grass”.

“I poked it around with my staff [walking stick] and pushed it out from where it was, and said ‘Oh this has to be a cannonball’ and figured it was probably something quite important.”

They sent photographs to Heritage New Zealand which contacted several archaeologists who concluded the item was a natural phenomenon, possibly a concretion, and not man-made.

The pair turned to metallurgist Karl Purdie who determined from scientific analysis of samples it was a cannonball made of lead and tin alloy.

Leeming and Turver briefed local kaumātua at Te Ati Awa ki Whakarongotai and advised they were continuing their research and would present the iwi with the cannonball once their research had been completed.

“What stands out is that while hundreds of warriors fought at Karewarewa, and many died, there is no record of any field artillery being used,” Turver said.

A possible cannonball found in a urupa in Waikanae Beach. Photo / David Haxton
A possible cannonball found in a urupa in Waikanae Beach. Photo / David Haxton

They contacted Trevor Bentley, a historian and published author on Māori artillery whose research had demonstrated Māori had acquired cannons from the early 1800s.

“His opinion was that the Karewerawa cannonball may be an important link to early Māori use of cannons as many tribes had acquired them from traders and become skilled in their use.”

The story gains added intrigue with the arrival offshore, towards the end of the battle, of the New Zealand Company ship Tory.

In his book Tribal Guns and Tribal Gunners: The Story of Māori Artillery in 19th Century New Zealand, Bentley said the Tory sailed past Kāpiti Island and saluted Te Raupāraha with cannon fire, which was a custom established among ships’ captains entering tribal waters.

“The chiefs were returning these compliments with their own cannon from the late 1820s,” he wrote.

“It could have been from Te Raupāraha or from the Tory,” Leeming said.

Turver said: “It could be the answer because at the moment there’s no explicable reason why a cannonball was there when all the homework we’ve done shows that neither Raukawa nor Āti Awa had cannon, but we can’t prove it, so they may have had.”

Leeming said both Purdie and Bentley believed the cannonball had been in the ground for a long time.

“The only other theory is that someone came in and put it there for whatever reason but it doesn’t make sense.”

Turver said there had been heavy rains “and it may have cleared some of the stuff off the top and exposed enough for Simon to see it”.

Although much background information had been found, the mystery of how a large 19th-century lead and tin composite cannonball got into a Māori battleground remained.

“It’s a riddle inside a mystery,” Leeming said.

Anyone who could shed some light on the research can email Leeming via or Turver via

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