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The Thames Expedition - 1863

The objectives of the expedition

During 1860 the Taranaki and Waikato areas lurched closer to war, made inevitable because the Pakeha settlers wanted more and more land, and the Maori landowners were becoming less inclined to sell. In Taranaki, because most of the action took place within an area 10 miles either side of New Plymouth, access by the army was not difficult as it was in the Waikato. The main objective in the Waikato was to take the war to the King Movement which they saw as the main impediment to land purchase for new settlers. The Maori King was based at Ngaruawahia, 60 miles south of Auckland and, although reasonably accessible via the Waikato River, access to the river was difficult by sea and the river was 30 miles from Auckland over land. A road of sorts extended as far south as Drury, 20 miles from Auckland and Drury was accessible by sea across the Manukau Harbour from Onehunga; but from Drury to Pokino (Pokeno) the road, widened from a bridle track in 1856, had never been formed or metalled.

The government realized that the only way to attack the Kingites was to build a proper road to the Waikato River, down which the army and its supplies could flow. The building of the road, by the British Army, commenced late in December 1861 and was complete by June 1862. On July 9th 1863 the Government issued an order requiring all natives living in the Manukau district and north of the Mangatawhiri to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen and give up their arms or to move south.  Three days later, at dawn on a wet winter’s day, Lt Gen Cameron ordered the 2nd Battalion, 14th Regiment, across the Mangatawhiri River and on to the Koheroa Heights. The whole operation then paused for almost four months. Some settlers thought that Cameron was vacillating and incompetent but he was a brilliant and very competent commander. The reason for the movement on to the Koheroa heights was to take control of a useful vantage point on the south side of the Mangatawhiri.

The four month hiatus occurred because the army was very short of troops and was being harassed along its supply line by groups of Maori making attacks, along the Great South Road at various places on either side, Mauku, Pukekohe East, Titi Hill, Wairoa Valley, Burtt’s farm and other minor engagements.  Cameron was also expecting two more regiments; the 50th, arriving on November14th and the 43rd arriving on December 8th. As well the Government had been actively recruiting in Australia, especially on the Victorian gold fields, and the first of these recruits, eventually to become members of the Waikato Militia, arrived in Auckland on the September 4th 1863. Although relatively untrained, the Waikato Militia could relieve regular troops of their garrison duties between Auckland and Drury, thus freeing them for the invasion of the Waikato.

General Cameron’s other main problem was the elimination of guerrilla attacks taking place nearer Auckland, especially along the Great South Road, since he could not move further into the Waikato until the supply line for his army was secure.

It is uncertain when the idea of cutting the Maori forces completely off from Auckland was originally discussed but on November 4th General Cameron proceeded to Auckland to attend a meeting of the Executive Council, where an expedition was organised to the Gulf of Thames, with a view to establishing a line of posts from the west coast of the Gulf to the Queen’s Redoubt.

The west of the country was not neglected for on December 27th troops of the 50th Regiment, plus 300 Waikato Militia, with 50 pack horses left Onehunga for Raglan. Led by Colonel Waddy (50th Regt) they landed their stores and equipment near Raglan on the December 31st. Waddy’s orders were to build a redoubt as far up the Raglan Harbour as possible (but still allowing ship access) and then to reconnoitre toward Waitetuna where another post was to be established and the line continued toward Whatawhata.

Getting there

The Thames expedition, consisting of 44 officers and 922 men and commanded by Lt Colonel Robert Carey -18th Regt and Deputy Adj General, departed on November 16th on the HMS Miranda, HMS Esk, the steamship Corio and the Colonial gunboat Sandfly; 3 weeks of supplies were carried on the cargo vessels Jessie, Doady, Harrier, Sydney and Diamond. The makeup of the original force was mixed;  there being 186 from 12th Regiment, 390 from 70th, 218 Waikato Militia, 103 Naval volunteers (aka the Auckland Coastguard), 54 cavalry of the Colonial Defence Force, 6 Royal Engineers and a few from 18th Regiment, hospital corps etc. It seems that as soon as the redoubts were established troops were rotated around the redoubts quite frequently and later troops moved to and from Queen’s Redoubt, rather than by sea from Auckland. Apart from the units listed above, detachments from the 43rd Regiment later spent time at these redoubts.

Assembling a force of 1000 men, using HMS Navy, Colonial gunboats and chartered vessels within 12 days was a huge effort and probably resulted in the largest naval activity in New Zealand waters.

Due to an impending gale the fleet sheltered in Man of War Bay, Waiheke, until the 20th when they moved down the Firth. Disembarkation, at a site just south of Whakatiwai, commenced on Monday November 23rd. It had to be done here because the deep draft of the two warships meant they could go no further. Men and supplies were landed by ship’s boats and trans-shipping to the Sandfly for landing at Pukorokoro. The horses were unloaded by sling into the water and swam to shore behind the boats. One of them drowned. The troops then marched approximately 2 miles, along the beach to Kaiaua, then crossed two swamps and up a fern ridge before descending to Pukorokoro, crossing more streams and swamps enroute. Commencing at 11 am, the journey took over 7.5 hours. The naval detachment, under Captains Jenkins and Hamilton went by boat landing on the beach at the mouth of the Pukorokoro (Miranda) Stream. They found the area had been occupied by a considerable force of Maori who had decamped leaving equipment and fires still alight.

Capt. Hamilton lost his life at the Battle of Gate Pa. His name lives on in the largest city in Waikato.

Next morning (Tuesday) tents were pitched and scouting parties sent out.

Later in the day they fired the considerable area of fern around the camp, clearing some 100's of acres of land. The Corio returned to Auckland to get more horses, returning on Tues December 3rd with 45 (another drowned on landing).

Esk RedoubtEstablishing the Redoubts

A redoubt (called Miranda after the HMS Miranda) was established at Pukorokoro and a commissariat store was built just below, on a flat spot around which the creek ran. Because the store was close to and commanded by the redoubt, only a small guard was required. A road was later built down to the landing place.  Stores were landed by the Naval Volunteers and by Monday November 30th the Miranda redoubt was complete.

On November 26th 40 men of the Colonial Defence Force and 150 men of the 12th and 70th Regiments moved to the intended site of Esk Redoubt while the remaining troops continued to build Miranda Redoubt. From Esk, built on a prominent hill called Maiapu by the Maori, can be seen Koheroa, the Naval Camp on the Mangatawhiri, Queen's Redoubt, Meremere and even as far as Karoi just south of Raglan Harbour,  which they named as Woody-head. Building of Esk completed by November 30th. On December 2nd troops of Colonial Defence Force, 12th Regiment, Waikato Militia and the Naval Volunteers, totalling 420 officers and men, marched from Miranda to Esk Redoubt. A recce to Paparata Pa was then made with 100 Infantry & 40 Cavalry who found the Pa deserted and returned to Esk.

The next day 539 officers and men marched from Esk to Paparata, leaving at 5am and reaching Paparata at 1.30 pm. They took with them entrenching tools, supplies and baggage on 90 pack horses. They built bridges and placed ti-tree fascines to make crossings over swampy areas. Because Paparata Pa was found unsuitable for a redoubt; Queen’s redoubt could not be seen from there, nor was the line to Miranda and the Firth of Thames visible.

A better site was found on top of a hill 2500 yards to the south east and construction of Surrey Redoubt began on December 7th. Morgan reported the activities were seen from Queens’s redoubt, the white tents being distinctly visible.

Expeditions and Activities

In the days following the landing scouting parties were sent out in all directions. They often came across cattle, which were shot for food and horses which were taken for the army’s use.

Lt Col H Parker, only 19 at the time, was a seaman in No 1 Company of the Naval Volunteers. He later told James Cowan something of life in the volunteers, stating that they remained at Miranda for six weeks. Later he witnessed the battle at Gate Pa and told Cowan that Captain Jenkins who had played a major role in the Thames Expedition had fought like a lion and killed three Maoris with his service revolver. Despite Jenkins being only 39 at the time Parker described him at the time as being “a little grey old fellow.”  No doubt, being twice Parkers age, he appeared so to him!

A little known activity of the Navy and Naval Volunteers at this time was to maintain a blockade of the Firth of Thames with which the Colonial Gunboat Sandfly was involved.  Just as the redoubts on land prevented the movement of Maori forces between the south and Auckland so the blockading ships in the Firth prevented the movement of boats. In an incident in late December a cutter, carrying a cargo variously described as maize or pigs and wool, and with ten Maori men, 3 Maori women and one Frenchman, was detained trying to leave the Piako and was taken as a prize. In another incident at the end of February 1864, Captain Jenkins had given permission for canoe of friendly natives to visit another hapu in Thames valley. However they appear to have absconded to join the rebels, leaving behind some large war canoes. Capt. Kemp, commander at Miranda took possession of the canoes and burnt them.

In his report of December 15th Colonel Carey stated that once Surrey Redoubt was established he intended to set up system of telegraph by signal (presumably heliograph) to enable contact between Miranda and Queen’s Redoubts.

Between Tues and Friday December 11th reconnaissance was carried out over the country around Surrey.  Maori were encountered in several places and fired at the troops or were fired upon. Several settlements were found with cultivations and whare etc.  The correspondent of the Daily Southern Cross reported that he went down to the flats below the redoubt (this would be the area adjacent to today’s Mangatangi village) and was surprised at the beauty ad fertility of the valley. Oats were growing luxuriously, up to 5 feet tall, wheat was in full ear and peach trees grew on the banks of the river. Left behind by the Maori, who had moved out as the army moved in, were a plough and threshing machine. The Colonial Defence Force, who manned Surrey at this time under Captain Walmsley, took their horses down each day to feed on the oats.

The Army built bridges over several streams including the Ruaotehuia Stream between Esk and Surrey. They also conducted reconnaissance patrols down the Mangatangi/Maramarua/ Whangmarino stream complex. There was now good communications from Miranda across to Queen’s Redoubt and by the end of December, with all the redoubts along the line from Miranda to Surrey (and so to Queen's Redoubt) completed and manned, the soldiers could move through the surrounding country almost unimpeded.

By mid-December it was considered that the objective of the Thames Expedition had been attained by establishing the line of posts from the Firth of Thames to Queen’s Redoubt and driving the Maori out of the area.  Accordingly the strength of regular troops at the three redoubts was reduced to 210 of the 70th, split between the three, and Waikato Militia at each.

In December Major Mould was O/C of Esk and Captain Downing O/C of Miranda Redoubt.

Although the army felt that it had secured the line from Miranda to Queen’s Redoubt, it was not impervious. Jackson and his Forest Rangers attacked a party of the Koheriki, in the bush somewhere between the present villages of Hunua and Paparimu, on December 14th.  

The remnants of this group hid for about three weeks in dense bush between the Mangatawhiri and Mangatangi Streams.  Heni te Kiri Karamu, one of the women in the group, described the situation to James Cowan.  After escaping Jackson’s attack they were hemmed in on all sides and dared not light fires or shoot wild pigs or birds for food in case the Forest Rangers discovered them; subsisting on wild honey and water for up to three weeks, by which time  they decided that they must break out and escape to the south. From the edge of the forest they could see Surrey Redoubt and a log bridge across the Mangatangi stream over which they must pass.

This was accomplished at night and two men of the party were detailed as a rear guard to destroy the bridge.  However at daylight they were seen and pursued by the Colonial Defence Force and Waikato Militia who were held up by the missing bridge, so enabling Heni and her party to escape south to Lake Waikare, ultimately to Maungatautari and Tauranga where she fought at the battle of Gate Pa.

By January 8th Captain Tighe (70th Regt) was O/C Miranda and on the January 5th he led a group comprising 15 of 70th, 25 Waikato and 10 Auckland Naval Volunteers on a scouting expedition across the Hauraki Plains towards Thames. From the hills on the western edge of the plain they saw a large kahikatea forest, at the north end of which was a Maori village. They advanced on this, expecting some resistance but found it abandoned.  The village also contained large cultivations of potatoes, maize, taro and the ubiquitous peach trees. After firing the village they returned to Miranda.  

Final phase

 On December 26th most of the Colonial Defence Force had been withdrawn from the Thames Expedition Redoubts, leaving just five at each to act as orderlies.

By the end of March 1864 the battle for the Waikato had been won at Orakau and the theatre of operations moved to the Bay of Plenty. The need for the redoubts erected by the Thames Expedition was now gone and on April 15th it was reported that Esk had been abandoned, followed by Surrey on the 24th. Miranda was probably retained as a post, possibly manned by Colonial Troops, since it was apparently used as a was still occupied in June 1866 since a report on a fire there telegraph stationwas carried by the DSC on June 14th.  A hut occupied by Mr Kirk and his family was destroyed and they lost most of their belongings. The alarm was raised by “the sentry on duty within the redoubt.”


Cowan, James                         1922                The New Zealand Wars. A history of the Maori Campaigns and the pioneering period. Vol 1.  (1845 -1864)

Gamble, D J Lt Col:                 1864               Journals of the Deputy Quartermaster General In New Zealand.  War Office

Lennard, Maurice                     1986               The Road to War.  Whakatane & District Historical Society

Morris, Nona  (Ed)                  1963                The Journal of William Morgan.  Libraries Dept. Auckland City Council

Pugsley, Chris                          2006                Manufacturing a war; Grey, Cameron  and the Waikato Campaign of 1863-64. Paper presented to NZ Soc. Genealogists Conference May 2006

Daily Southern Cross    1862 – 1868  Various references from daily papers

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