Whanganui campaign

The Whanganui campaign was a brief round of hostilities in the North Island of New Zealand as indigenous Māori fought British settlers and military forces in 1847. The campaign, which included a siege of the fledgling Whanganui settlement—then known as Petre—was among the earliest of the 19th century New Zealand Wars that were fought over issues of land and sovereignty.

Wanganui campaign
Part of the New Zealand Wars
Date16 April – 23 July 1847
New Zealand
Result British victory
 United Kingdom: Colony of New Zealand Māori
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland George Grey
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland William McCleverty
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Joseph Henry Laye
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland John Hoseason
Topine Te Mamaku
Te Pehi Pakarao
Ngapara[1]: 129 
Units involved

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Royal Navy

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland British Army


HM Treasury

Armed Police
Māori allies

  • Ngāti Haua-te-rangi
  • Ngāti Patutokotoko
  • Ngāti Ruaka
  • Strength
    600 600
    Casualties and losses

    19 May
    0 killed
    0 wounded[4]
    19 July

    3 killed
    11 wounded[5]

    19 May
    2 killed
    ≥10 wounded[4]
    19 July

    ≥3 killed
    10–30 wounded[5][6]


    View of Wanganui, 1847
    Artist: John Alexander Gilfillan

    The Whanganui settlement was established by the New Zealand Company in 1840. William Wakefield stated that he had purchased the land for the settlement from the local Māori in November 1839, which some Māori disputed.[7] By 1845, the settlement had grown to about 200 people and about 60 houses. The surrounding area was inhabited by about 4000 Māori, with whom the settlers traded for food.[8] There was nevertheless friction over the occupation of the land, which some Māori chiefs denied having sold, with New Zealand Company surveyors reporting obstruction and harassment.[9]

    In March 1846, hostilities broke out in the nearby Hutt Valley over similar issues of disputed land occupation. One of the most prominent fighters in Hutt Valley was Te Mamaku, a principal chief of the Ngāti-Hāua-te-Rangi tribe of the Upper Whanganui.[citation needed] The settlers in Whanganui became worried that the conflict would expand to encompass their region, so requested military protection.

    A force made up of the 58th Regiment (5–6 officers, 4 sergeants and 160 men), Royal Artillery (4 men with 2 12-pounder guns on garrison carriages), Royal Engineers (1 officer with tools for 200 men), Commissariat (1 officer with salt provisions for two months and £500), and Medical (1 officer)—landed from HMS Calliope at Wanganui in December 1846 to construct the garrison's stockade.[10] Lieutenant Thomas Bernard Collinson, Royal Engineers, noted:

    Dec. 13. We landed in boats at the mouth of the Wanganui River: all the rivers on that coast of Cook's Straits have bar harbours; and had to make 4 miles up to the village. This was rather an exciting march, as we had no idea what sort of reception we should meet; and might have to fight our way. Happily the prestige of the "Hoia" (i.e. Soldiers) was still considerable, and we entered the little settlement in peaceful triumph; to the great joy of the few white settlers.[10]

    There, Collinson and Captain Joseph Henry Laye, 58th Regiment, selected the hill pā of Pukenamu at the town's northern end for the Rutland Stockade, and commenced its construction. Another 100 soldiers from the Grenadier Company of the 65th Regiment arrived in May 1847.[8] The York Stockade was built on high ground to the south. The establishment of the garrison led Te Mamaku to anticipate further government intervention. He vowed to fight the soldiers but not the settlers.[11]

    Attack and siegeEdit

    Ngati Haua-te-Rangi chief Te Mamaku

    Nga Rangi, a minor chief of the Whanganui people, was employed by Naval Cadet H E Crozier of the gunboat stationed at Whanganui. Whilst collecting his wages on 16 April 1847, he suffered a severe gunshot wound to the head from the discharge of Crozier's pistol, which was claimed to have been accidental. The officer was arrested while the incident was investigated. Nga Rangi recovered from his wound and confirmed that the shot had been accidental.[12][13]

    A small party of Māori nevertheless decided to exact utu (revenge, or recompense) for the blood-letting. They attacked John Alexander Gilfillan and family at home on 18 April with tomahawks, killing his wife and three of their children, severely wounding Gilfillan and his second daughter, and leaving two infant babies untouched. Five of the six killers were captured by lower Whanganui Māori and handed over to the British; four were court-martialled in Whanganui and hanged at Rutland Stockade. The execution inflamed the situation, prompting a much larger revenge attack.[14][12]

    Between 500 and 600 heavily armed Māori formed a taua (war party) that travelled down the Whanganui River in war canoes in early May, plundering and burning settlers' houses and killing cattle. The warriors killed and mutilated a soldier from the 58th Regiment who ventured out of the town. The town's residents began sleeping in a small group of fortified houses, abandoning their homes each night.[8][11]

    On 19 May, Te Mamaku's warriors made their first attack on the town, approaching from the west and north, effectively besieging the settlement. More homes were ransacked. The British gunboat fired from the river, mortally wounding Maketu, a chief. Rockets were fired at besiegers from two armed boats on 24 May when Governor George Grey arrived. The governor was accompanied by Tāmati Wāka Nene, future Māori king Te Wherowhero and several other northern chiefs in a bid to defuse the situation.[8]

    In June reconnaissance missions were mounted up the valley of the Whanganui River from the garrison—which now contained 500 to 600 soldiers—resulting in some minor skirmishes.[citation needed] By mid-winter Māori leaders, recognising they had reached a stalemate and conscious that their potato-planting season was approaching, decided to launch a full attack on the town to draw troops from their forts.[citation needed]

    On 19 July, some 400 Māori fighters approached the town from the low hills inland, occupying a ridge at St John's Wood where they had dug trenches and rifle-pits and later thrown up breastworks. About 400 imperial soldiers commanded by William Anson McCleverty[15] became involved in a series of skirmishes along a narrow pathway through swampy ground. After being bombarded with artillery fire, Māori forces charged on the troops, who responded with a bayonet charge, halting the Māori advance. Māori withdrew to the trenches and breastworks, maintaining fire on the British troops until nightfall. Three British soldiers died and one was wounded in the clash; three Maori were killed and about 12 wounded in the so-called Battle of St John's Wood.[8]

    On 23 July, Te Mamaku's forces, at least 600 men, returned to their entrenchments on the hill at St John's Wood and planted a red ensign. McCleverty readied his forces to defend the town and move out to engage. The guns opened fired on a few Maori appearing on the low hills, who then retired. The chief of Putiki, granted permission to talk with the opponents, ventured out with the interpreter, Mr Duncan, and spoke with Te Oro, Te Mamaku's brother. Aware of danger of artillery fire, and being that the soldiers would not attack their entrenchments, Maori forces would retire the next day, determined not to have peace, ending the war for the winter.[16][17]

    In February 1848, Grey negotiated a peace settlement with Te Mamaku. Twelve years of economic cooperation and development followed, with the gradual alienation of yet more Māori land which led to more conflict[17]


    1. ^ Waitangi Tribunal (1999), The Whanganui River Report (PDF), Wellington: GP Publications
    2. ^ Collinson, Thomas Bernard (1855). "2. Continuation of the Remarks on the Military Operations in New Zealand" (PDF). Papers on Subjects Connected with the Duties of the Corp of Royal Engineers. London: John Weale. New Series 4: 22–50.
    3. ^ "Wanganui". Wellington Independent. 3 (175). 16 June 1847. p. 3.
    4. ^ a b "Official Despatches". The Wellington Independent. 3 (172). 5 June 1847. p. 3.
    5. ^ a b "Official Despatches". The Wellington Independent. 3 (190). 7 August 1847. p. 2.
    6. ^ "The Wellington Independent". The Wellington Independent. 3 (188). 31 July 1847. p. 2.
    7. ^ Patricia Burns (1989). Fatal Success: A History of the New Zealand Company. Heinemann Reed. p. 155. ISBN 0-7900-0011-3.
    8. ^ a b c d e Cowan, James (1922). "14, The War at Wanganui". The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period, Vol. 1, 1845–1864. Wellington: RNZ Government Printer.
    9. ^ Patricia Burns (1989). Fatal Success: A History of the New Zealand Company. Heinemann Reed. p. 177. ISBN 0-7900-0011-3.
    10. ^ a b Collinson, Thomas Bernard. Seven Years Service on the Borders of the Pacific Ocean, 1843–1850. Written for the Information and Satisfaction of My Children. 1. unpublished – via Alexander Turnbull Library.
    11. ^ a b Belich, James (1986). The New Zealand Wars. Auckland: Penguin. pp. 73–74. ISBN 0-14-027504-5.
    12. ^ a b "The Gilfillan Massacre". The Wanganui Herald. 44 (12833). 28 July 1909. p. 2.
    13. ^ Waters, S D (1956). The Royal New Zealand Navy. Wellington: Historical Publications Branch. p. 523.
    14. ^ "Wanganui". The Sydney Morning Herald. 17 June 1847. p. 3.
    15. ^ "Obituary". The Press. LIV (9853). 9 October 1897. p. 8. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
    16. ^ "Official Despatches". New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian. 3 (210). 4 August 1847. p. 2.
    17. ^ a b "The Siege of Whanganui". New Zealand History Online. History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 5 April 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2013.

    Further readingEdit