Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery and Museum Leaflet – Early Military Forces in Hawke’s Bay 1857-1874

Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery and Museum


Early Military Forces in Hawke’s Bay

by Lt.-Col. R. M. Bell, M. B. E., ED.

In August, 1857, a quarrel between two of the leading Maori chiefs in Hawke’s Bay, Te Hapuku and Te Moananui, developed seriously. Chiefs of local tribes led their war-parties into actual fighting at Pakiaka Bush near Whakatu ten miles from Napier.

Concern was felt by the people of Napier that this intertribal war could become wide-spread in Hawke’s Bay and involve the European settlers. A request to the Government for Imperial troops brought to Napier on February 8th, 1858, a force of 300 men of the 65th Regiment under Lt.-Col. Wyatt. They encamped in Onepoto Gully while barracks were erected on the hill where the Hospital now stands. The following year owing to the unsettled times barracks were built at Waipukurau and a detachment of the 65th Regiment was stationed there.

In 1860, with the outbreak of hostilities in Taranaki and the attitude at some or the local Maori chiefs, another Stockade was built on the Ruataniwha Plains at Waipawa-Mate near Tikokino. This stockade at times held a garrison of 50 soldiers of the 65th Regiment. In 1864 a blockhouse was built at Tikokino and at Takapau, opposite the cemetery. It consisted of double walls with space between filled with earth to make it bullet proof. In January, 1861, the 65th Regiment in Napier was relieved by a force of 200 men of the 14th Regiment. Records indicate that other detachments of the 55th did not hand over their posts until some time later. Apparently about this time the 12th Regiment moved into Hawke’s Bay and was probably used for garrisoning places such as Wairoa.

In 1863 there was a change of military policy throughout New Zealand. The Government endorsed Sir Frederick Weld’s “Self Reliant Policy” in which Imperial troops were to be withdrawn. The Maori Wars were to be conducted by forces raised here and directed by the New Zealand Government.

This was a bold step. It was felt that the unsatisfactory conduct of the Maori Wars, together with the high cost to the small population of New Zealand for maintaining a large Imperial Force of some 14,000 men was too great a burden for the country. The financial situation was serious and to meet war expenditure loans were raised on the London Market which were costing 8% and even 10% interest rates. The British Government was pressing for repayment, of outstanding debts and was willing to withdraw what it considered to be an excessive number of Imperial troops in New Zealand. In the anxious years to come we find the British Government wishing to carry out a withdrawal of its troops and the New Zealand Government asking that this be delayed for reasons of internal security. It was not until February 24, 1870, that the last detachment of Imperial troops left.

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Sketch of Napier Harbour –
From maps drawn about 1870

Hawke’s Bay


1   Pilot      2   Ferry Landing Stage      3   BARRACKS      4   Botanical Gardens       5   Burial Reserve      6   Court House

ONEPOTO in CORUNNA BAY was the site at the first military camp. Troops landed in 1858 at the Iron Pot, marked BREAKWATER, and lived in tents on both sides of MAIN STREET.

The sketch is part of a map by A. Koch, Lands and Survey Department. Shoal and sandbank information from Harbour charts.

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In May, 1863, under the new policy, Major Whitmore at Napier was authorised to call out the militia for training with a view for active service. In the same year Captain J, Buchanan initiated the Napier Volunteer Rifles, an entirely voluntary organisation. Other units, the Puketapu and Meeanee Militia and the Clive Mounted Company were formed as the situation became more serious. A strong party of some 200 Hauhaus arrived in Hawke‘s Bay in 1865 and went to Takapau. A further 300 arrived soon after and converts to Hauhauism were made among Hawke’s Bay Maoris. The situation was last deteriorating.

In November, 1865, hostilities broke out in Poverty Bay. “H. M Brisk” landed a force there of Hawke’s Bay Cavalry (Colonial Defence Force) under Capt. La Serre and some Military Settlers under Major Fraser who that month captured the Hauhau stronghold at Waerenga-a-Hika. This for the time being settled the Hauhau in Poverty Bay.

The attitude of the Wairoa Maoris now caused concern but Major Fraser with his company of Military Settlers restored the situation. His attacking force consisted of 100 men of the Hawke‘s Bay and Taranaki Military Settlers and about the same number of local loyal Maoris under their chief: Ihaka Whanga and Kopuparapara. With quick decisive action the Hauhaus were driven back towards Waikaremoana. The danger to Hawke‘s Bay now seemed averted and the militia and voluntary organisations returned to their homes.

In September, 1866, it was with considerable surprise and consternation to people in Hawke’s Bay that 100 Hauhaus from Taupo area together with a party from the war-loving Ngati Hineuru from Te Haroto and Tarawera, led by the fiery chief Te Rangiheroa and a Pai-marire priest, Panapa, suddenly appeared near Petane (Bay View). The main party later went to Omaranui [Omarunui] and encamped at the Maori pa.

The defence force had been disbanded. Although in August 300 men of the 70th Regiment had taken over from the 14th Regiment, the use of regular troops was forbidden (under Self-Reliant Policy).  The commander Major Saltmarsh offered assistance and major Millar of the 12th Regiment offered to march 30 of his 55 men to Napier but both offers were declined. Colonel Whitmore called out the Militia (about 130 men), a company of 45 Napier Rifle Volunteers under Captain Buchanan, and 25 of the Clive Mounted Company under Captain Rhodes. Word was sent to Major Fraser at Wairoa and 40 of his Military Settlers hastened to Napier bringing with them loyal Maoris under their Chiefs Ihaka and Kopu.

At midnight October 11, 1866, there marched out of Napier a force of 200 local militia and volunteers, a number of friendly Maoris under their chiefs Renata, Tareha and Karauria reinforced by the Wairoa Maori contingent. The next morning they attacked the Hauhaus at Omaranui. After a sharp engagement the enemy was defeated.

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At the same time Major Fraser of Petane with his Military Settlers reinforced by Captain Carr (late RA.) and some armed local settlers intercepted Te Rangihiroa’s war-party in a narrow pass through which the road ran to Napier. Te Rangihiroa and others were killed. Again the Hauhaus were defeated in their plan to attack Napier. During these two engagements the Hauhaus lost 33 killed, 29 wounded and 36 prisoners were taken.

Colonel Whitmore’s military skill and Mr Douglas McLean’s prompt handling of a critical situation saved not only Napier but Hawke’s Bay from becoming involved in a major Hauhau war.

Another military unit was formed in 1869 – the F. battery of Artillery at Napier (the name was changed in 1897 to the Napier Guards). The Original company of Napier Volunteer Rifles was disbanded in 1874. It was the first volunteer “Corps” to be formed in the district (July, 1863)

THE ARMED CONSTABULARY POST AT OPEPE c 1870. The Opepe Bush was a mile long “island” of heavy bush on the pumice-covered plains. The verges show tussock for manuka and broom had not then taken possession. Napier-Taupo Road is seen in lower left, the store at upper right. Opepe in 1869 was the scene of a war raid, in 1870 it became the site of an important stockade. In 1874 it was “in the midst of civilization, plenty and comfort, blessed with a road to Napier…” About 600 people lived thereabouts. There were shops, an hotel and a racecourse. Nothing remains to-day but the graves of 1869 and some hawthorn trees.

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THE ARMED CONSTABULARY was formed in 1863 after the introduction of the Self Reliant Policy. Detachments at intervals apparently replaced the regular military garrisons at Waipukurau and elsewhere. An old record tells that the “A-C” garrisoned the stockade at Tikokino on July 19, 1866. With the re-appearance of Te Kooti in Poverty Bay in July, 1868, the Armed Constabulary Field Force emerged as an offensive force – used to attack and follow Te Kooti into his mountain fastness of the Urewera. In his dispatches General Whitmore gave great praise to the men of this Force. In 1869 he wrote: “…labouring under heavy packs, clothes torn to rags, boots destroyed, their cheerfulness and ready obedience at all times cannot be too highly praised. Toiling up precipitous hills, wading in the beds of rivers, they could always keep up with and continue the march longer than the Maoris…They did not waste a single round of ammunition or throw away one shot while keeping sentry in the bush. The officers have all done their duty extremely well and carried the same loads and fared the same as the men…”

Military Posts.

General Whitmore had decided that inland military posts on the line from Napier northward should be supplied from Napier. The line of communication for the passage of military stores, now that of Napier-Taupo Road, was through difficult country, also through the territory of hostile Ngati-Hineuru whose principal villages were at Te Haroto and Tarawera. Military blockhouses must be built to keep the route secure and the Maori track must be made into a suitable military road.

TAUPO was the site of a formidable redoubt accommodating 150 men in tents. Remains of the mess hut and trenches are still to be seen behind the police station. In 1869 Lt.-Col. Herrick with 180 “A-C” men marched to OPEPE, 12 miles out. Already there had been action in the Opepe bush. A strong timber stockade was built at the important point of intersection of the Napier-Taupo route with the track from Fort Galatea to Tokaanu. This site was one of the few places on the plains where water could be obtained away from the rivers. There was abundance of grass and wood. It was intended to make Opepe the principal inland depot for stores brought up by pack-horses.

At RUNANGA where the road left the plains about 36 miles from Taupo Sub-Inspector D. Scannell (previously Major Scannell of the 57th) with No. 2 Division of the “A-C” built a strong redoubt at the edge of the bush on the hill. It overlooked the Waipunga and Runanga streams. Timber was hauled from the bush. The stockade was built in the Maori manner as there was no fern handy to bind the loose pumice soil into parapets. The palisade timbers were 10 or 11 feet high with two horizontal rails inside lashed to the uprights with aka vines and kareao (supplejack). The main posts were large timbers with saplings set between. Inside the stockade the trench was dug and the earth was piled against the fence which was loopholed at ground level, There were flanking bastions at two diagonally opposite angles. The weak feature of this strong post was its distance from water.

TARAWERA, 50 miles from Napier and in the Ngati-Hineuru land had a blockhouse with thick logs for both roof and walls to give protection from bullets fired from the surrounding hills. This strong stockade had a one-storey loopholed blockhouse in two of its angles.

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At TE HAROTO, 44 miles from Napier and a mile from the highest point on the road, near also to the Kianga of the Ngati-Hineuru tribe, a blockhouse had been constructed at an earlier date. It was a square building with an upper storey projecting two or three feet over the lower. There was a deep well inside. This position was a commanding one over the mountainous country for many miles around.

Another Stockade was erected on the TITIOKURA saddle where the road passes through the Maunga-Haruru range at about 2540 feet above sea-level.

In the 1860’s General Whitmore’s sheep station homestead at Peka Peka, Rissington, was in a strategic position over the Mangaone River. The homestead walls were double and were filled with shingle and clay. It appears that there were temporary garrisons of militia at Puketapu, Rissington and Puketitiri. The garrison at RISSINGTON was established on “Camp Flat” where dug-outs used as stables can still be seen in the hillside. In the Puketitiri district a garrison held a position at the top of Patoka Hill known as PATOKA HILL STOCKADE. This was still marked on a map dated 1882. The track from Puketitiri led across the Mohaka into the hostile country around Te Haroto hence the necessity for garrisons along this route.

It was the Armed Constabulary Field Force, officered by a splendid type of frontier soldier, that fought the turbulent Maori in his remote mountain lairs, won the peace and brought about settled conditions. One is filled with admiration for the courage and hardihood of these men in the wild country whose fringes only can be seen from the road to-day. Whenever Hauhau incursions were threatened the blockhouses were manned by blue uniformed Armed Constabulary. In times of danger they sheltered the wives and children of settlers during the night.

The year 1885 saw the end of the occupation of the blockhouses and the disbandment of the Armed Constabulary Field Force which had served New Zealand so well in the early years of its development.

The Action at Opepe Bush, 1869.

On June 4, 1869, a detachment of 14 of the Bay of Plenty Cavalry, mostly young soldiers from Tauranga and Opotiki, left Fort Galatea for Taupo as escort for Colonel St. John who was on his way to site positions for military posts. They were guided by a Maori who was later suspected of being in sympathy with Te Kooti and the Hauhaus for that night he lit several large fires that may have been signals to scouts on the ranges above. He disappeared from the camp at Opepe the next evening.

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About a quarter of a mile west of the intersection of the Fort Galatea track and the Taupo Road was a small plateau backed by the bush and with a ravine on both sides. There were four or five deserted Maori whares built of tree fern trunks and thatched with fern fronds on the plateau. The escort was left here under Cornet Smith to Camp while Colonel St. John, Major Cuming, Captain Pearson and one or two others rode on to Taupo

The best account of subsequent events was given by Trooper George Crosswell. In 1865 he had joined the Colonial force at Tauranga as a bugler in the 1st Waikato Regiment of Militia. Later he had a grant of land in Opotiki where he joined the Bay of Plenty Cavalry. He stated that Colonel St. John, believing Te Kooti was in the Urewera, had assured the escort that no Hauhaus were near. The men under Cornet Smith settled in the whares.

On Monday morning Crosswell went along the Galatea track looking for his horse. He returned in the rain at 3 p.m. and took off his clothes to dry them at the fire in the whare. He was lying on his blankets about 4 p.m. when he heard voices and looking out saw a strange Maori. Other troopers, thinking he was a friendly native, came out to speak to him. Crosswell went to the door where he was confronted by two Maoris in fighting trim with their Enfield rifles kept at cocked. They shook hands and allowed him to pass. He was naked as his uniform was not dry. He suspected something was amiss but making no attempt to secure his weapons he joined his comrades. Suddenly all realised that the natives were enemies. They rushed for the bush. All their Carbines, revolvers and swords were in the whares.

While their men were on both side of the soldiers the Maoris held their fire, but once the troopers were clear a heavy volley was fired into them. Crosswell changed direction zig-zagging into the bush. Here he came on Trooper George Stevenson. They stayed in the bush until dark then travelled all night towards Galatea. In the daylight they avoided where possible the open track. It was cold raw weather but excitement and speed kept Crosswell from suffering this as much as might be imagined. The fern and pumice damaged his bare feet so severely that they were poisoned. It was a long time before they recovered. They reached Galatea the following night and the news was told. Three more survivors struggled in, and Cornet Smith was found ten days later in a bad way. Three half caste troopers from Tauranga were found dead in their whare at Onepe.

Long after, the Hauhaus said that Imperial Sergeant-Major Slattery was the only one who made much of a fight. He picked up a stone or a stick and was killed only after a struggle. Most of the men were killed probably, as they ran.

The tragedy at Opepe was discovered by Thomas Hallett of Napier, who with his brother and Henry Mitchell, who had just finished surveying a block of land near Taupo, were on the way to Napier on June 8. They saw the smouldering fires and found the naked bodies lying between the whares and the bush. They returned to Taupo and informed Colonel St. John of the fate of his men.

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Most remarkable was the great physical endurance of Trooper Crosswell who travelled across the desolate, wind-swept Kaingaroa Plains, a journey of almost forty miles in the depth of winter in an entirely naked condition. He was a good example of the wiry, hardy pioneers of those days.

Colonel Whitmore in his book on the Maori Wars blamed Colonel St. John severely for his tardiness, for his assurance that there was nothing to fear at Opepe and that a sentry was unnecessary, for his conduct in withdrawing after an incident which in itself was not of great military importance, but by his failure to advance at once, permitted Te Kooti to obtain great influence over the doubtful tribes. In Colonel Whitmore’s opinion, St. John should have collected every available man for a Taupo expedition and his failure to do so resulted in an enormous increase in Te Kooti’s mana.

After this engagement Te Kooti led his force to Waitahanui on the eastern side of Lake Taupo and from there went to the southern end of the lake gaining the friendship of tribal chiefs of Ngati Tuwharetoa.

R. M. B.

Pai-marire or Hauhauism was a semi-religious movement – Hau being the god evoked for help to drive the Europeans from New Zealand.

Roads made by “the military”: The Hawke’s Bay Herald, May 28, 1858 reported that “military labour has already worked wonders within the limits of Napier.” With the permission of the commanding Officer a road was made along the Eastern Spit (Hardinge Rd., Ahuriri) and work was done at the Spit terminus of Shakespeare Road.

The “A-C” garrisoned at Runanga, Te Haroto and Titiokura made their linking road and from Puketitiri a track was made to Titiokura Stockade. Military Settlers at Puketapu and Patoka made the road in that area.

D. T. P.-2622

Original digital file


Format of the original



Hawke's Bay Art Gallery and Museum


  • Lieutenant-Colonel R M Bell
  • Captain J Buchanan
  • Captain Carr
  • Trooper George Crosswell/Cresswell
  • Major Cuming
  • Major Fraser
  • Thomas Hallett
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Herrick
  • [Chief] Ihaka
  • [Chief] Karauria
  • [Chief] Kopu
  • Captain La Serre
  • Douglas McLean
  • Major Millar
  • Henry Mitchell
  • [Priest] Panapa
  • Captain Pearson
  • [Chief] Renata
  • Captain Rhodes
  • Major Saltmarsh
  • D Scannell
  • Sergeant-Major Slattery
  • Cornet Smith
  • Trooper George Stevenson
  • Colonel St John
  • [Chief] Tareha
  • [Chief] Te Hapuku
  • [Chief] Te Kooti
  • [Chief] Te Moananui
  • [Chief] Te Rangiheroa
  • Sir Frederick Weld
  • Major/Colonel/General Whitmore
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Wyatt

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