The South Taranaki War 1868-69

'Titokowaru's War'

The war fought in South Taranaki between 1868 and 1869 is sometimes given a name like 'Titokowaru's War.' For example, in the 1920s, historian James Cowan called it 'Titokowaru's campaign'.

Labels like 'Titokowaru's campaign' name the conflict after Titokowaru, who led the Maori in their fight against the Armed Constabulary and settler Volunteer Units. However, these days, the tendancy is not to name such wars after one or other of the sometimes many protagonists involved.

A better (though less exciting) name might be the rather obvious one - the South Taranaki War of 1868-1869. See Introduction if you're interested in issues relating to the 'naming of the New Zealand wars'.

How did the war start?

On 19 June, 1867, during a short skirmish, two surveyors and a military settler were killed by Maori at Ketemarae, a large bush clearing near Normanby. These days, the Ketemarae Marae of Ngati Ruanui stands near the site of the killings.

The Maori involved in the skirmish fled to Te Ngutu O Te Manu, the bush stronghold of Titokowaru. At the time, Titokowaru was well known to settlers, though he had given them little cause to think that, one day, he might lead a war of Maori against them. But tensions were high in the area. Titokowaru refused to hand over the Maori involved in the killings to the authorities. War was the result.

Why was there war?

Why were tensions so high in South Taranaki in 1868?

To answer this, we need to go back by about 8 years. Following the earlier war in North Taranaki of 1860/61, the lands of Maori 'deemed to have been in armed rebellion against the Crown' were confiscated. Titokowaru's war was substantially a war fought against the enforcement of these land confiscations.

Titokowaru's fighting force mainly came from Ngati Ruanui and Nga Ruahine, two southern Taranaki tribes.

The Land confiscations, enforced after 1863.

Opening of hostilities

On the 12 July 1868, the Redoubt at Turuturumokai was attacked by a taua (war Party) from Titokowaru's base camp. About 26 men were stationed there, at the time of the attack.

The attack was launched at dawn, in very wet and cold conditions. Some of the younger Maori who took part would later speak of crouching for most of the night in the freezing cold, under soaking ferns nearby, waiting for the order to attack. They were only lightly clad, which was ideal for fighting but not for sitting still throughout a very cold July evening in Taranaki.

The attack was a complete surprise to the garrison.

The momument at Turuturumokai Redoubt, Hawera.

On 21 August 1868, the first Armed Constabulary retaliatory attack was launched on the base camp of Titokowaru.

On 7 September the second attack on Te Ngutu O Te Manu was launched. This attack ended in chaos for the Armed Constabulary; and a major defeat resulted.

Among those killed was Major Gustavus Von Tempsky. See below for more about Von Tempsky's life.

On 7 November, Colonel Whitmore's Armed Constabulary attacked Moturoa pa, near present day Waverley. However, once again, the Constabulary was beaten back.

End of the war

On 2 February Titokowaru abandoned his pa at Tauranga Iki and fled inland, into the Ngati Maru country behind Waitara. Thus ended the South Taranaki campaign.

Further reading: Tim Ryan and Bill Parham, The Colonial New Zealand Wars, Grantham House (Auckland NZ), reprint 2002 of 1986 first edition; from page 165. James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars, Volume ii 1864-72, Government Printing Office, Wellington NZ, 1925; Chapters 20-23, 26, 29.

Visiting Te Ngutu O Te Manu

The former bush stronghold of Te Ngutu O Te Manu is well worth a visit. Situated on Ahipara Road, inland from Normanby, it takes a careful navigating of mountain back roads to reach. The site of the village, and battleground, is now a picnic and camping ground.

Cross at Te Ngutu O Te Manu, near Hawera. Scene of the defeat inflicted upon the Armed Constabulary on 7 September 1869.

Who was Von Tempsky?

Like most of our nineteenth century settlers, Gustavus Von Tempsky came to New Zealand with a firm purpose. He came looking for gold in Coromandel in 1862. Though disappointed with what he discovered, he did impress as a writer, writing regularly for the Daily Southern Cross.

Nothing in his Prussian upbringing prepared him for New Zealand . An early education based around military tactics and classics in Potsdam proved a far cry from a hard life deep in the Coromandel diggings or the primordial Taranaki bush.

On his way from Prussia to New Zealand , he did stop off for a time in Central America . Living there did at least provide a vastly different view of reality, from that gained in the Western Europe of his upbringing.

Von Tempsky moved to the Mosquito Coast from Prussia in 1846, aged 18. He joined a Prussian settlement being established as a colonisation experiment, planting civilised Europeans with mining expertise into the midst of darkest America . It was a bold move for von Tempsky; highly risky but adventurous.

Von Tempsky seemed always to be restless. Not happy with his lot in Central America , he drifted north in 1849, partly because of his thwarted desire to marry Emelia Bell. He was also attracted to the goldfields of California . But again, he made little headway. So he drifted back to the German colony, now struggling to survive on the Mosquito Coast . The journey back took him 18 months; he’d been away for about 6 years. It was a journey ‘fraught with danger and adventure’, as he would later recount in his book, Mitla.

Von Tempsky settled down for a time again in Central America , marrying Emelia in 1855. By 1858 he was restless again, hankering for adventure. He moved his family to Australia and worked for a time in the severe Bendigo gold diggings.

Von Tempsky found Victoria to be harsh and unforgiving, a barren land without ‘soul or redemption’. In a bizarre twist of fate, he was passed over as leader of an expedition to explore the vast unmapped interior. The expedition, jointly led by Robert Burke and Williams Wills, was a spectacular failure, with both men perishing in the desert.

The lure of gold once again caught his eye. Von Tempsky’s next move was to New Zealand in 1862, to Coromandel. This move would prove to be the most significant of his life. It would bring him face to face with his ultimate nemesis – Maori. He considered Maori to be great fighters. But, he said, they were also stubborn and single-minded.

While von Tempsky was fossicking for gold in the Coromandel, war was breaking out in the Waikato . Governor George Grey was determined to invade the Maori King’s stronghold, to sort out once and for all – who would rule this country, Queen Victoria or Maori?

Von Tempsky was excited. He had seen action before, as a member of the Royal Bluefields Militia, and later as a naval volunteer, fighting against Nicaragua in Central America in 1847. He was lured to the fray once again.

The British were recruiting volunteers to fight against ‘rebellious Maori’ in the Waikato fighting in support of King Tawhiao, perhaps this country’s greatest and most tragic figure.

Von Tempsky offered to recruit a volunteer force of goldminers, but his offer was rejected.

But he was not so easily deterred. He turned his attention to the Forest Rangers then being recruited for bush warfare. A force of regulars was needed to match the Maori in the bush, a task for which the British were singularly unsuited.

Von Tempsky accompanied a raiding party of Forest Rangers as a correspondent. But it was soon clear that he was no ordinary correspondent . He had good military skills. He was promptly recruited into the Rangers as a commissioned officer, though he was first required to take out British citizenship, which he happily did.

As a Forest Ranger, Von Tempsky was soon introduced to Thomas MacDonnell, who would later take overall command of the Armed Constabulary. They were together during the dangerous reconnaisance mission at Paparata in 1863. This action earned von Tempsky a commission as Captain, though he did not posthumously receive the decoration restrospectively awarded to MacDonnell in 1886.

Von Tempsky took part in most of the later engagements of the Waikato war, fighting alongside the British Army, after the Maori King’s home was taken in December 1863. He was present at the massacre at Rangiaowhia, an event he described in detail.

He was also later witness to the Maori retreat at Orakau. By some accounts, he joined the pursuit of Maori fleeing for the safety of the Puniu Stream, northern boundary of Ngati Maniapoto. Other accounts suggest he witnessed the pursuit and killing of Maori with horror and disgust.

Von Tempsky later saw action in Wanganui and in South Taranaki . But he felt himself humiliated when ordered to serve under the newly appointed Major James Fraser, a former British Officer who was then commander of the Hawkes Bay Military Settlers. Fraser was appointed by Prime Minister Atkinson to take command of von Tempsky’s division.

Von Tempsky refused to obey. He was arrested and placed on trial. The trial was accorded sensational press coverage. Von Tempsky won huge public sympathy. The charges laid against him, of disobeying orders and disorderly conduct, were dismissed.

In 1865 and 1866, von Tempsky rejoined the column. He took part in General Chute’s infamous ‘scorched earth’ march around Mount Taranaki , destroying Maori villages, marae, pah and attendant food sources such as cultivations. It was an operation designed to destroy Maori capacity for waging war.

After 1866, during a lull in the fighting von Tempsky returned to his family in Auckland . He became the toast of Auckland society. He was a charming dinner guest, an accomplished musician and, by all accounts, a wonderful singer.

The final chapter in von Tempsky’s life was also the most tragic; and it lacked any sense of adventure. When Titkokwaru’s war broke out in south Taranaki in 1868, precipitated by the creeping confiscations, he once again join the fray. He was appointed to the rank of Inspector (Major) in the newly formed Armed Constabulary. He was posted to Waihi Redoubt, just north of Hawera.

Von Tempsky was present at Waihi when the nearby redoubt at Turuturumokai was attacked, in the dead of night. Many of his closest associates were killed there. He was as determined as everyone else to attack Titokowaru’s bush base camp. But he seemed now to have become tired of frontier fighting. The last photos taken of before his death suggest a certain weariness.

This would be his last foray. Von Tempsky commanded a company of Constabulary ordered to outflank Titokowaru. But it was all a trap. Von Tempsky believed in the raid which took him to Titokowarus stronghold at Te Ngutu O Te Manu. He died in the bush before the stronghold was reached.