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Charles Heaphy VC (1820 – 3 August 1881) was an English-born New Zealand explorer and recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest military award for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the first soldier of the New Zealand armed forces to be awarded the VC. He was also a noted artist and executed several works of early colonial life in New Zealand.

Charles Heaphy
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Parnell
In office
5 June 1867 – 13 April 1870
Personal details
London, England
Died3 August 1881 (aged 60-61)
Brisbane, Australia
Resting placeToowong Cemetery, Brisbane, Australia
ParentsThomas Heaphy
Military service
AllegianceNew Zealand
Years of service1859–67
UnitAuckland Volunteer Rifles
Battles/warsNew Zealand Wars
AwardsVictoria Cross

Born in England, Heaphy joined the New Zealand Company in 1839. He arrived in New Zealand later that year and was commissioned to create art for advertising the country to potential English migrants. Much of the next two and half years was spent travelling and executing paintings of landscapes and life around the centre of the country. When his contract with the company ended in 1842, he lived in Nelson for several years and explored large parts of the West Coast. He later moved north to Auckland to take up employment as a surveyor.

During the Invasion of the Waikato, his militia unit was mobilised and it was his conduct at Paterangi, where he rescued British soldiers under fire, that saw him awarded the VC. As well as being the first soldier of New Zealand armed forces to receive the VC, he was the first recipient to be a militiaman. After his military service ended, Heaphy served a term as Member of Parliament for Parnell. From 1870 to 1881, he held a variety of civil service positions. In his later years, his health declined and he retired from public service in May 1881. He moved to Queensland, in Australia, seeking a better climate in which to recover his health but died a few months after his arrival. He is buried at Toowong Cemetery in Brisbane.

Early lifeEdit

Charles Heaphy was born sometime in 1820 in London, England.[1] He was the youngest child of Thomas Heaphy, who was a professional painter and three of his siblings also became noted painters. His grandfather John Gerrard Heaphy was a merchant from Ireland. The family lived in St John's Wood in north-west London and enjoyed a comfortable, middle-class existence although his mother died sometime during his early childhood.[1][2] Thomas earned painting commissions from high society and in 1812 accompanied Arthur Wellesley, who was later to become the Duke of Wellington, as staff artist during the Peninsular War.[3] Thomas died in 1835 and left the entire estate to his second wife, who he had married in 1833. Charles, who had obtained work as a draughtsman at the London & Birmingham Railway Company, moved out of the family home soon after.[4] As a child, Charles was taught to paint by his father and in December 1837, sponsored by a family friend, he entered the Royal Academy school of painting.[2][4] He was the only child of the Heaphy family to receive this level of education.[2]

In May 1839, after 18 months at the Royal Academy, Heaphy joined the New Zealand Company as a draughtsman. The company was established by Edward Wakefield as a private venture to organise colonies in New Zealand. Wakefield sought well-educated men as staff for the planning and surveying of new settlements in the country. Heaphy sailed with William Wakefield, Edward's brother, aboard the Tory on an expedition to purchase land suitable for settlement.[5] In late 1839, the Tory arrived in what became known as Wellington.[1]

Service with the New Zealand CompanyEdit

A sketch by Heaphy of the Māori chieftain Te Rauparaha

Heaphy's contract with the company was for three years and his primary role was to create art that could be used as advertising for the company. In doing so he travelled extensively around the country and occasionally participated in overland treks, living out of a tent or staying with local Māori. He also sailed around parts of the country aboard the Tory and learned surveying from its captain. Another employee of the company travelling on the Tory was Ernst Dieffenbach, who taught Heaphy basic geology.[6]

Heaphy painted a variety of subjects including landscapes, flora and fauna and notable Māori, including the chieftain Te Rauparaha.[1] The success of the company depended on attracting emigrants to New Zealand so his work was almost always intended to present the country and its inhabitants in its best light.[7] Heaphy was at times exposed to some danger; on an expedition to the Chatham Islands, his party intervened in a skirmish between two warring tribes and he was wounded in the leg. It was unlikely to have been a serious wound for a few weeks later, he went on a trek back in New Zealand to the Taranaki Region, where he produced some of his more notable landscapes.[1][8]

From October 1840, Heaphy was based in Wellington and with a friend built a small cottage, that allowed him to execute several views of Wellington Harbour, which was much used in advertising for the New Zealand Company.[9] A few months later, in early 1841, he joined Arthur Wakefield on the expedition that led to the founding of Nelson.[10] Heaphy was among several employees of the New Zealand Company to scout the area around Tasman Bay, before the location for Nelson was decided and executed several paintings highlighting the quality of the land intended for settlement.[11] By late 1841, Heaphy's services as an artist were no longer required, given the number of works that he had produced and Wakefield decided to send him to London, to make a report to the company directors. He took nearly six months to reach London, by which time his three-year contract had expired. The directors were impressed with his report and it was published as a book entitled Narrative of a Residence in Various Parts of New Zealand.[12]

A view of Wellington Harbour, executed by Heaphy in 1841

Life in NelsonEdit

Although no longer employed by the New Zealand Company, Heaphy, emboldened by the success of his report and the public reception to his paintings, sought further opportunities for similar work. From London, he wrote to the company secretary seeking support for exploration of the area inland of Nelson. The response was unenthusiastic; the company was concentrating on developing its settlements rather than undertaking in further exploration of the country. Despite this, Heaphy returned to New Zealand and arrived in Nelson on 22 December 1842.[13]

There was little in way of work opportunities for Heaphy in Nelson and he based himself in Motueka. Here he farmed land with a friend, Frederick Moore, and this took much of what little funds he had. His farming venture was hard work and not particularly successful.[14] By late 1843, the New Zealand Company was in need of good pastoral land around Nelson. It had clashed with Māori in the Wairau Affray in the Wairau Valley, to the south-east of Nelson and several company employees, including Arthur Wakefield, were killed. The company needed to scout the area to the south-west and Heaphy finally got the chance to explore.[15]

Wakefield's replacement as resident agent in Nelson for the New Zealand Company, William Fox, was a keen advocate of expansion for settlement in the area around Nelson. Fox authorised Heaphy and a surveyor to scout south-west to the Buller River in November 1843. In a subsequent expedition undertaken the following month, Heaphy and two Māori trekked to what is now known as Golden Bay, and returned to Motueka via the coast, a journey which he regarded as the most difficult he had undertaken at the time.[15] Both expeditions failed to locate suitable land for settlement as did an expedition back to the Buller River in March 1845.[16] Heaphy was reasonably well compensated for his exploration efforts and for additional funds, he undertook art commissions for Nelson's more wealthy residents.[17]

William Fox's painting of a scene from his February 1846 expedition with Heaphy and Thomas Brunner. Heaphy and Brunner rest in the front of a crude hut while the expedition's Māori guide, Kehu, snares a weka with a lure of food on a stick and a long pole with a noose

In February 1846, Heaphy, accompanied by Fox and Thomas Brunner, another employee of the New Zealand Company, as well as a Māori named Kehu, undertook another expedition to the south-west.[18] Difficult terrain faced them; high mountain ranges topped with snow and ice, steep bush, numerous rivers and gorges. Food sources included roots and berries; birds could be snared and eels caught from streams. Along the coast, shellfish and gull eggs added to the diet.[19] The party, each carrying a load of 34 kilograms (75 lb), trekked to the Buller River and walked its banks as far as the Maruia River. Here, believing themselves to be only 32 kilometres (20 mi) from the coast, dwindling provisions prevented them proceeding to the mouth of the Buller River. Guided by Kehu, the party traversed the Hope Saddle on their way back to Nelson, which they reached on 1 March.[20]

Heaphy and Brunner were keen for further exploration and with Kehu, left Nelson on 17 March 1846, to scout along the West Coast to the mouth of the Buller.[21] The expedition traced the western coast of South Island as far south as the Arahura River.[1] Their journey began from Golden Bay and they made their way to West Wanganui where Etau, a local Māori, was hired as a porter. The local chief barred their journey south but Heaphy and Brunner mollified him with some tobacco. They continued along the coast, climbing sometimes steep cliffs and fording rivers as they went and their movements were held up at times, due to rain and high tides. At night, they sheltered in small caves, augmented with a screen of Nikau palm leaves.[22] They crossed the Karamea River on 20 April and reached the Buller River ten days later. This had to be crossed using an old canoe that was repaired by Kehu and Etau and after crossing, they stayed at the local (village). In early May, they sighted the Southern Alps and at the Arahura River (a tributary of the Grey River), the southernmost point of the expedition, they were hosted by the local Ngāi Tahu tribe at Taramakau Pā. Poor weather plagued their return along the coast but they reached Nelson on 18 August.[23] The harsh conditions that Heaphy had experienced during his travels, left him disillusioned with the potential prospects for settlements, along the West Coast region.[1]

Life in Nelson remained difficult for Heaphy, who had by now lost his appetite for exploration. He eked out a living taking occasional jobs for the next six months.[24] For much of 1847, he undertook survey work around Tasman Bay and later in that year was the representative of the New Zealand Company, when the government investigated the amount of land set aside by the company for the local Māori. Work had dried up by early 1848 and when he was offered employment with the Auckland Survey Office in April 1848, he accepted.[25]

Life in AucklandEdit

Moving north to Auckland, Heaphy's new role as the chief draughtsman for the Auckland Survey Office, kept him occupied with the preparation of maps and plans. After a few years, he began to spend a greater amount of time in the field, where he carried out survey work.[26] As he had done when living in Nelson, he supplemented his income with commissioned artworks.[27] He began to build on his geological knowledge, taking a particular interest in vulcanology and wrote an article on Auckland's volcanoes for a geological journal in England. He completed several paintings of volcanoes as well as thermal attractions in the Bay of Plenty including the famous Pink and White Terraces. Hoping to raise his profile, he sent many of his works to London and some remain on display at the offices of the Geological Society.[28]

When he was 30, Heaphy met and began courting Kate Churton, the 21-year-old daughter of a reverend. The couple were married on 30 October 1851, at St Paul's Church in Auckland.[29] A year later, he was appointed "Commissioner of Gold Fields" at Coromandel, following the recent discovery of gold. His role required him to supervise claims made by miners and negotiate land sales with local Māori.[30] The gold rush in Coromandel soon petered out and he returned to his work at the Auckland Survey Office by mid-1853.[31]

In November 1853, Sir George Grey ended his first term as Governor of New Zealand and sailed to the islands around New Caledonia, to indulge his interest in languages. He also wanted to investigate French claims on the islands. Heaphy accompanied him as his private secretary and took the opportunity to execute artworks of the islands he visited and their inhabitants.[31] He gave some of his works to Grey, who took them back to England in December 1853 and donated them to the British Museum.[32]

Heaphy and his wife moved north of Auckland to what is now known as Warkworth in early 1854, following his appointment as district surveyor for the Mahurangi Peninsula, which was being opened for settlement. For two years, Heaphy surveyed the plots of land that were to be sold to people moving to the area.[33] In 1856 he became Auckland's provincial surveyor following the retirement of his predecessor. He moved back to Auckland and took up residence in Parnell.[34] Surveying kept him busy for the next few years but in early 1859, he accompanied Ferdinand von Hochstetter, who had been invited by the government to make a report on a coalfield discovered south of Auckland. The two became friendly and Hochstetter was impressed with Heaphy's bush skills, although privately did not accord him much respect for his scientific knowledge. When Hochstetter left for Europe later in the year, he took with him many examples of Heaphy's artwork.[35] The two later fell out, when Heaphy had an article published in a geological journal. Hochstetter felt usurped by someone he considered an inferior scholar and publicly questioned Heaphy's credentials. He also made allegations that Heaphy had plagiarised portions of his work on the coalfields. Heaphy mounted a spirited defence and generally had the sympathy of the public. The dispute did not stop Hochstetter from using Heaphy's artwork in a book he published on New Zealand's geology.[36]

Military careerEdit

Soon after returning to Auckland in 1856, Heaphy joined a militia unit, the Auckland Rifle Volunteers, with the rank of private. In early 1863, during a period of hostilities of the New Zealand Wars, his unit was mobilised and Heaphy commissioned as an officer. Later that year he was appointed captain of the Parnell Company. In July 1863, as part of the Invasion of the Waikato, he was sent to survey the military road being constructed into the Waikato as well as charting the river ways, as pilot of the gunboat Pioneer.[37] He was present at the Battle of Rangiriri and later made a sketch of the action, which unusually for him, included representations of British casualties.[38] He was later attached to the staff of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Havelock as the British advanced deeper into the Waikato.[37]

Naval attack at Rangiriri, 1863, a pen sketch by Heaphy

The Waikato Māori had withdrawn to fortified positions at Pikopiko and Paterangi by early 1864. While their positions were under siege, war parties would mount raids on small groups of British soldiers. On 11 February, soldiers of the 40th Regiment of Foot were bathing in the Mangapiko Stream near Paterangi and were ambushed by a raiding party. Heaphy, commanding some men of the 50th Regiment of Foot, came to the aid of the defenders and moved to cut off the Māori line of retreat. He then overcame the Māori reserve, before leading his men to the ambush site, to assist the British soldiers. Despite being outnumbered, the British repulsed the Māori and began to pursue them into the bush. A soldier was wounded and Heaphy and three others went to his aid but Heaphy and one of the others were wounded and a third was killed. Unable to extricate themselves, Heaphy and the remaining fit soldier provided cover to prevent the wounded men from being axed by the Māori. They were eventually relieved by reinforcements but the two wounded men that Heaphy and the soldier were trying to protect, died of their wounds. Despite injuries to his arm, hip and ribs, Heaphy remained in the field for much of the remainder of the day, until the ambushed party was relieved.[39] Following the action at Paterangi, Heaphy was promoted to major; a month later, with the end of the war in the Waikato, he ceased active duty and returned to civilian life.[37][40]

Victoria CrossEdit

Heaphy's VC, which is displayed at the Auckland War Memorial Museum

In late 1864, Major General Thomas Galloway, the commander of the New Zealand colonial forces, recommended Heaphy for the Victoria Cross (VC) for his actions at Paterangi. The recommendation was supported by Sir George Grey (serving a second term as the Governor of New Zealand), despite knowing that Heaphy and another man recommended for the VC, for an action earlier in the campaign, was not in the British Army or Royal Navy. At the time, only personnel from the regular British military could be awarded the VC and thus Heaphy, as a militiaman, was not eligible. Grey argued that as Heaphy was under the effective command of British officers he should be made an exception. In London, the authorities disagreed and the recommendation was turned down. Heaphy refused to accept this and began to agitate, with support from Grey, Havelock, and General Duncan Cameron, commander of British forces in New Zealand, with the British government. He was eventually successful and on 8 February 1867, Queen Victoria made a declaration that the local forces of New Zealand would be eligible for the VC. That day, the award of a VC to Heaphy, the first to a New Zealander and also to a non-regular soldier, was gazetted.[37] The citation read:

For his gallant conduct at the skirmish on the banks of the Mangapiko River, in New Zealand, on the 11th of February, 1864, in assisting a wounded soldier of the 40th Regiment, who had fallen into a hollow among the thickest of the concealed Maories. Whilst doing so, he became the target for a volley at a few feet distant. Five balls pierced his clothes and cap, and he was wounded in three places. Although hurt, he continued to aid the wounded until the end of the day. Major Heaphy was at the time in charge of a party of soldiers of the 40th and 50th Regiments, under the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Marshman Havelock, Bart., V.C., G.C.B, D.L. the Senior Officer on the spot, who had moved rapidly down to the place where the troops were hotly engaged and pressed.

— The London Gazette, 8 February 1867[41]

Heaphy was presented with his VC at a parade at Albert Barracks in Auckland on 11 May 1867.[40] The medal is now on display at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.[37]

Later lifeEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1867–70 4th Parnell Independent

After the cessation of hostilities, Heaphy was contracted as the "Chief Surveyor to the General Government of New Zealand" and surveyed much of the land seized from the Waikato Māori by the British, which included that on which the towns of Hamilton and Cambridge were established. In Hamilton, Heaphy Terrace, a thoroughfare in the suburb of Claudelands, is named after him. His contract ended in early 1866 and he was reinstated to his pre-war position as Auckland's provincial surveyor.[40]

In April 1867, Frederick Whitaker resigned his posts as Superintendent of the Auckland Province and Member of Parliament for the Parnell electorate in Auckland.[42] Whitaker's resignation became known soon after Heaphy's award of the VC was announced and Heaphy declared his candidacy for the vacant seat.[43] The publicity around his award of the VC helped raise his profile and when the nomination meeting for the 1867 by-election was held at the Parnell Hall on 6 June, he was returned unopposed as the electorate's representative in the New Zealand Parliament.[44][45][46] Although he was a hard working representative for the people of the Parnell electorate, Heaphy's time in parliament was undistinguished.[47] A parliamentary colleague was William Fox, an old acquaintance from Heaphy's days in Nelson. When Fox became Premier of New Zealand in June 1869, Heaphy was a supporter. Offered the position of "Commissioner of Native Reserves" by the Fox administration, he resigned from parliament on 13 April 1870.[48][46]

As Commissioner, Heaphy's role was to administer native reserves set aside by the government and to determine areas of land that could be opened to migrants. His work took him up and down the country, inspecting land and negotiating with Māori landowners, a process he did not always enjoy.[49] He still advocated for aggrieved Māori, whose land had been stolen by colonials. An added stress in Heaphy's first year as Commissioner, was an enquiry into his conduct during the period he was "Chief Surveyor to the General Government of New Zealand" and working in the Waikato. Allegations had been raised that he took bribes, for illegally adjusting land boundaries. The enquiry cleared Heaphy of corruption although he was criticised for taking payments from young trainee surveyors, in return for work. In 1872, he and his wife moved to Wellington, which was more centrally located and thus convenient for his work, which now included an appointment as 'Trust Commissioner for the Wellington District', dealing with land fraud.[50]

By 1875, Heaphy, beginning to suffer from rheumatism, had reduced the amount of time he spent in the field for his work on native reserves and it ended altogether in 1880. In the interim, he picked up more civil service work; he became a justice of the peace and presided over cases of petty crime brought to the Resident Magistrates Court in Wellington. In April 1878 he was appointed "Government Insurance Commissioner" and later that year became a judge of the Native Land Court.[51]

Death and legacyEdit

Heaphy's headstone at Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane

By May 1881, Heaphy's health was in severe decline and, still affected by his rheumatism, he caught tuberculosis.[51] He resigned from all his civil service positions the following month and with his wife, moved to Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia. The couple hoped the warmer climate would help with Heaphy's health but he died on 3 August 1881. Having no children he was survived only by his wife. Buried at Toowong Cemetery, formerly the Brisbane General Cemetery, his grave was at first marked with a numbered plaque and soon became overgrown. A descendant of his wife discovered the burial site in 1960 and a headstone was erected by the New Zealand Government. The inscription reads: He served New Zealand in peace and war as artist, explorer and member of parliament. He was the first non-regular soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross.[52]

In addition to being the first New Zealander to be awarded the Victoria Cross, Heaphy was an accomplished artist. His watercolours, mostly produced between 1841 and 1855, are an important record of many scenes in the early days of European settlement in New Zealand. Many of his works have been published in histories of New Zealand but his name is best known now through the Heaphy Track in the north-west corner of the South Island. He and Brunner were probably the first Europeans to walk through this area of the South Island and the Heaphy Track, though he never followed its route, is named in his honour[53] as is the Heaphy River.[54]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Fitzgerald, Michael. "Charles Heaphy". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Sharp 2008, pp. 11–12.
  3. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 14.
  4. ^ a b Sharp 2008, pp. 21–22.
  5. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 24–25, 5.
  6. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 33–34.
  7. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 5.
  8. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 55–57.
  9. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 61–63.
  10. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 66.
  11. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 68–69.
  12. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 70–71.
  13. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 73.
  14. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 75.
  15. ^ a b Sharp 2008, pp. 79–80.
  16. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 82, 86.
  17. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 82.
  18. ^ Host 2006, p. 62.
  19. ^ Pascoe 1983, p. 53.
  20. ^ Pascoe 1983, pp. 58–60.
  21. ^ Host 2006, p. 73.
  22. ^ Pascoe 1983, p. 61.
  23. ^ Pascoe 1983, pp. 62–64.
  24. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 97.
  25. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 100–101.
  26. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 104.
  27. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 109.
  28. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 112.
  29. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 131.
  30. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 134.
  31. ^ a b Sharp 2008, p. 143.
  32. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 147.
  33. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 148.
  34. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 151.
  35. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 152–155.
  36. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 156–158.
  37. ^ a b c d e Harper & Richardson 2007, pp. 53–55.
  38. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 171–172.
  39. ^ Harper & Richardson 2007, pp. 48–49.
  40. ^ a b c Sharp 2008, p. 180.
  41. ^ "No. 23217". The London Gazette. 8 February 1867. p. 696.
  42. ^ Stone, R. C. J. "Whitaker, Frederick". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  43. ^ "The Elections". Daily Southern Cross. XXIII (3044). 29 April 1867. p. 5. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  44. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 183.
  45. ^ "Parnell Election". The New Zealand Herald. IV (1111). 6 June 1867. p. 4. Archived from the original on 12 March 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  46. ^ a b Wilson 1985, p. 204.
  47. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 184.
  48. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 184–185.
  49. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 188–189.
  50. ^ Sharp 2008, pp. 191–192.
  51. ^ a b Sharp 2008, p. 198.
  52. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 201.
  53. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 206.
  54. ^ Reed 1952, p. 44.


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