The Nelson Contingent at Parihaka


The Nelson Company of Volunteers

In mid-June 1880 the grateful citizens of Nelson and outlying settlements gave prizes to the volunteers for their sharp-shooting at the range. The firing was beset with “a strong wind blowing across the range, and this prevented anything like first-class shooting,”1 but the prize giving that evening in the Drill Hall was a riot of noise and anticipation.  The prizes that were distributed ranged from a driving whip, mystery parcels (some containing scarves and cuffs or toilet requisites), a meerschaum pipe, a side of mutton, and a horse.  Spare a smile for the man who was awarded a bag of swedes! In all over 65 prizes were handed out that evening, some from corporate sponsors such as the Colonist newspaper and others from shop keepers, but most came from private citizens who gave what they could. This, I think, attests to the widely felt need in the Nelson settler community for an armed and capable presence to protect them from attack.

volunteer army review botanical reserve

Volunteer Army review Botanical Reserve. Nelson Provincial Museum

Top of mind were memories of the Wairau massacre in 1843 and the flood of refugees to Nelson from Waitara in 1860 at the start of the Land Wars in Taranaki2.  Fuelling this was the increasing and unrelenting pressure from settlers for land, particularly fertile land, that was in Māori hands. This is graphically portrayed in the Radio New Zealand series on the “NZ Wars” beginning with the events at Waitara.3

While all of these events preceded Parihaka, it is interesting to note that, even then and despite the low risk of attack, the Nelson settler community actively fostered the volunteer corps:  “The first volunteer corps in Nelson owed its origin to a meeting which was held in the Wakatu Hotel, on the 16th of February, 1860, at which it was resolved: “That a company of volunteers for military service should at once be formed; to be called the Nelson Company of Volunteers, to consist of seventy five rank and file”.”4

The volunteer corps were a curious body, they:

“were created by the Militia Act of 1858, and continued until 1910. Under the first regulations, service was for one year and members undertook to serve anywhere in New Zealand. As almost every settlement formed its corps it became necessary to appoint a Deputy Adjutant-General. Few Volunteer units took part in campaigns between 1860 and 1865. After 1865 small parties of volunteers participated against Titokowaru in Taranaki. Small corps, subsequently disbanded, were formed for specific duties. Acts passed in 1865, 1881, and 1886 varied the force's central organisation, but a provision which permitted units to elect their own officers, remained until 1910. The force consisted of infantry, cavalry, and artillery; each corps' strength fluctuated between 40 and 100 men, and the total strength was stabilised at about 6,600. An annual capitation grant, which varied from year to year, was paid for every officer and efficient volunteer. The corps' commander was sole judge of a volunteer's competence—in spite of the fact that his own competence might be doubtful. There was no training syllabus prescribed. Corps drilled sporadically, and in many cases left their drill halls only for ceremonial parades. Dress regulations permitted such differences in uniforms that no two corps dressed alike”5a

Waimea Rifles uniform

Waimea Rifles uniform. Nelson Provincial Museum

For example, the Waimea Rifles Volunteer uniform had a bright red jacket (displayed at the Nelson Provincial Museum) that “would have looked splendid on parade.”5b

“After the outbreak of the war in 1860 the Government decided that special forces would have to be raised to take over the responsibility for restoring peace. In 1864 the Weld Ministry proposed its “self-reliant” policy, the substance of which was that New Zealand should dispense with the Imperial troops for which they were paying an annual capitation of £40. Reliance would instead be placed on local forces and on Maori auxiliaries. This policy was gradually accepted by the Government, though not without serious difficulties with the Colonial Office. But by 1870 the last British regiment had left New Zealand”.6

In Nelson:

“it should, however, be stated that an intense dislike to join the militia was one cause why so many volunteer corps were formed; the men were desirous of learning something about military tactics before being called upon for active service, but they also knew that membership in a volunteer corps exempted them from serving in the militia. After various changes in the regulations, The Defence Act of 1886 was passed by the Legislature, and the new regulations framed under it made the discipline of the forces stricter, and placed them on a firmer foundation”4.

The Volunteer Corps at Parihaka

The accounts vary as to which of the Volunteer corps from Nelson went to Parihaka and who made up these corps. For example, Judge Lowther Broad records:

“In October, 1881, when the Te Whiti difficulty at Parihaka arose, the Nelson Volunteers, to the number of close upon 200, responded to the Governor's proclamation calling them out for active service — the Nelson Naval Artillery, H Battery, City Rifles, Stoke Rifles, and Waimea Rifles all going”. 7

But the report of the actual departure records that:  ”the rolls were called and when those who were prepared to take their departure finally answered to their names, the following splendid result was shown: —

  • Artillery 47, and gun detachment 10; the officers being Major Pitt, Lieutenants West and Topliss.
  • City Rifles, 61; Officers — Captain Bunny, Lieutenants Richardson, and Crossman, and Staff-Surgeon Dr Boor
  • Stoke Rifles, 44; Officers— Captain Malcolm, Lieutenants Paynter and Harkness
  • Waimea Rifles 41; Officers— Captain Franklyn, Lieutenants Coleman and Bird.
  • Staff (2)— District Adjutant Captain Webb, Sergeant-Major Alborough.
  • Total 205”.  8a Note the absence of the Nelson Navals.

However, the recently transcribed Nominal Rolls of H-Battery which includes the attached permanent staff, Nelson City Rifles, Stoke Rifle Volunteers, and Waimea Rifles which are held by Archives New Zealand record all the names of the men comprising these corps who made up the Nelson Contingent at Parihaka.9   Copied in the attached Appendices 1-4, they show that the numbers are as follows:

  • H-Battery, 47
  • Staff, 2
  • Nelson City Rifles, 58
  • Stoke rifles, 44
  • Waimea Rifles, 38
  • Total, 189

Note that this total number does not match the other estimates of 200 or 205.  And there is no mention of the Nelson Naval Artillery.

Just one hour before sailing, two hitches had to be overcome8a

“the whole force, town and county, had mustered in the Drill Shed, where the City Rifles had met half an hour earlier for the purpose of receiving accessions to their ranks, in the persons of volunteers who having received previous training will be welcome additions to the force, and of electing a new lieutenant in the place of Lieut Ellis who had been prevented from going. This honor was conferred upon Mr Ralph Richardson, who had hoped to lead the Naval Brigade on the occasion, but owing to the delay that has occurred in accepting their services was unable to do so, and therefore seized with avidity the opportunity offered to him of serving in another capacity. Owing to the receipt of a telegram from Col. Reader, which is referred to elsewhere, a little difficulty arose among some of the men, who felt that if that message was to be accepted as overriding the Governor's Proclamation their position was not very clearly defined, and that if they were not actually ordered out, the Military Pensions Act would not apply in their case in the event of anything happening to them.  Major Pitt, however, very clearly explained that he could not recognise, and they had no right to attach any importance to, a private telegram, no matter whom it came from, and that he considered that in the terms of the Proclamation they were actually and unmistakably ordered out. This assurance was received with cheers and all doubts that had prevailed in the minds of some of the men as to their position were at once removed, and they were unanimous in their determination to proceed to the "front”.8a


Alfred Pitt. Nelson Provincial Museum

However a report of these events in the Colonist8b reveals that a force of “about 60 members of the Artillery Battery, 40 of the City Rifles, and some 50 of the Naval Brigade” had assembled at the Drill Hall before the other corps had arrived and on medical inspection by Dr Boor some 25 needed closer examination: of these 17 were rejected.  This resulted in the swearing in of other Volunteers referred to above. Furthermore, although the Navals were present:

“Major Pitt intimated that although the services of the Naval Brigade have not yet been accepted, he had received a telegram stating that the application to accept the services of the Brigade had been laid before His Excellency the Governor for his decision, and doubtless this will be received early to-day.” 8b

 Clearly, at this “eleventh hour”, much had to be sorted out.  

In another report of the departure that was published a week later it was noted that “the men were then formed into fours, a gun detachment of the Artillery, consisting of 10 men, having already marched on with a six-pounder Armstrong gun, and the force, headed by the Band, then marched from the Drill Shed.”10  It was noted that the departure was watched by a crowd of “4,000 persons”.10  (This must have been nearly the total population of the district.)  However, the additional information about the ten men accompanying the six-pounder Armstrong gun does not appear to be included in the nominal rolls of H-Battery (see Appendix 1), so its addition now brings the total men recorded from 189 above to 199.   

So, it does seem that the Nelson Contingent numbered “close to 200 men”.  But more importantly, what happened to the Nelson Naval Volunteers? Was it included in the Nelson Contingent to Parihaka or not?

The Naval Volunteers

Just a week or so before the departure of the Nelson Contingent to Parihaka it seems that the Nelson Naval Brigade had an internal “melt down.” Discontented with their commanding officer Captain W.H Drake, events took an extraordinary course leading to an official enquiry conducted by Lt-Col Lyons and the disbandment of the Brigade.11 The events swirling around this series of actions may be best encapsulated in a series of letters to the editor of the Nelson Evening Mail.12

The Nelson Naval Brigade was reformed with Ralph Richardson appointed Captain to lead it (date of commencement 24 Oct 1881)13 and the services of the Brigade were accepted effective from 2 Nov 188114a, but it is unclear whether these two official actions were in time to allow the Brigade to participate at Parihaka on 5 November 1881.  

A notice subsequently published about a week later in the Colonist14b records:

“The Governor, by virtue of powers enacted by the 36th section of the Volunteer Act 1881, calls out for actual service the several corps named in a Schedule attached to the warrant. That the Nelson corps mentioned in the Schedule are; H. Battery, City Rifles, Stoke Rifles, and Waimea Rifles, and the place of assembling is the head-quarters of the respective corps. The other districts in which corps are called out are the Thames, Patea, Wanganui, Rangiteki (sic), Wellington, and Wairarapa”.  

Note that the Nelson Navals were not mentioned. This is consistent  with a report from a Taranaki newspaper that makes no mention of the Nelson Naval Brigade in its long list of Volunteer corps on active service.15a But, this Taranaki report also comments that a:

“Press Association telegram from Nelson states that at a parade of the Artillery last night, between 50 and 60 men were present, who all offered their services in case they are required, and unconditionally. The Artillery, Navals, and City Rifles have now offered their services, with but the exception of one man”15a.  (This ‘missing’ man was Lieut Stead Ellis who had resigned at the last moment from the Nelson City Rifles8).

A report from the Nelson Evening Mail14c also makes no mention of the Nelson Navals in the Nelson corps at Rahotu, Taranaki:

“All the Volunteers corps arrived here have been formed into two battalions as follows : First battalion: Nelson Artillery, (45) ; Nelson City Rifles, (48) ; Stoke Rifles, (44) Waimea Rifles, (38); South Canterbury Rifles, (80), under command of Captain Hammersley. Second battalion, Hauriki (sic) Engineers, (35); Thames Scottish, (58); Thames Navals, (77); Wellington Navals, (77), under command of Captain Wildman. Two hundred more Volunteers are to arrive this afternoon.”   

This puts the Nelson force at 175 men which is less than the 200 or so in Nominal Rolls9 and from the other sources cited above. 

A final comment about the Nelson Navals: on the triumphant return of the Nelson Contingent to Nelson the evening of Saturday 21 November 1881, sighted on the decks of the steamer Hinemoa were, “the Artillery and Stoke and Waimea Rifles wearing blue serge jumpers and trousers and leather leggings and the City Rifles grey serge shirts, blue trousers and leggings, similar to the others, and slung from their shoulders, their blankets wrapped in waterproof sheets”.15b  Again, no mention of the Navals.

So, despite reports to the contrary, the evidence supports the picture that while the Nelson Naval unit was not included in the Nelson Contingent to Parihaka, some of the Volunteers in the Contingent force may have been members of the Naval unit.

The men in the Volunteer Corps 

The names of the Volunteers shown in Appendices 1-49 indicate that they came from a wide spectrum of the society at that time.  They came from the early, well known and respected settler families (including the Baigent, Ching, Jennings, Palmer and Richardson families) and included members and office holders of the Lodges (there being no social welfare ‘net’ under society at this time, the Lodges and benevolent societies provided much need support for medical attention and support for widows and orphans); solicitors, teachers and labourers,  and old soldiers who had seen service in India and elsewhere.

It was also claimed (see the letters to the Editor of the Nelson Evening Mail12) that the Volunteer corps contained an unduly large portion of the “larrikin” element of Nelson society. Certainly, if one searches Papers Past  there are numerous reports of court cases involving members of the Volunteer corps who were convicted of public nuisance (due to the unrestrained wandering of their livestock) as well as with more serious charges of cruelty to animals and assault. I have deliberately stopped short of naming names in such instances.  

Pitt Gates Opening 309897

Pitt Gates Opening Ceremony Nelson Provincial Museum 309897

Major Albert Pitt commanded the Nelson Contingent to Parihaka, as well as the entire Volunteer corps assembled at Parihaka. The memorial gates at Queens Gardens were named after him.16 William Harkness17 was another Parihaka Volunteer, as  Sub-Lieutenant in the Stoke Rifles. The shock of discovering that her ancestor James Way18 was a bombardier serving in the Nelson H-Battery at Parihaka, led the New Zealand born Australian actor Rebecca Gibney to publicly apologise for his actions18.  It is with some surprise and disquiet that I have also learned that I have a distant relative who served in the Nelson City Rifles: I speak of Charles Edward Bunny19 (born 6 May  1855 at Rangitikei, died 17 Jul 1889 Nelson) who was elected Captain of, and led, the Nelson City Rifle volunteers. For the record, he was a solicitor practising in Nelson who was accused in 1884 of fraudulent use of money, a case that was dismissed by the Supreme Court as having no substance19. He was a brother of Isabella Mary Bunny who was the wife of Lowther Broad, who in turn was a brother of my great grandfather Charles Broad, a Resident Magistrate and Warden of the South West Goldfields of Nelson. 

Reporting on the Parihaka attack

It was the convention of the Nelson newspapers and many other regional newspapers of the day to publish only the names of the officers of the Volunteer corps.  Before the records held in Archives New Zealand were made available online, it was very difficult to discover the names of all the men who served at Parihaka.   It should be noted, however, that the names of all of the men in several Volunteer corps in Wellington were published much earlier by the newspaper the New Zealand Times.20 

The other possible “blackout” in the Nelson press appears to be any whiff of criticism or disagreement that the Volunteers should participate at Parihaka. Indeed, the tenor of comments at the time appears to be one of fulsome support for the venture, especially on their departure and return.8a, 8b,15b 

And in the background was the looming national election scheduled for December 1881 and the campaigning associated with it:

 “The bellicose tone which pervaded the speeches of almost all the candidates for election in the Taranaki District forms one of the prominent features of the present contest. Every one of these orations breathes a spirit of fiery impatience to rush upon Parihaka, capture Te Whiti offhand, and “make the Queen's writ to run throughout the whole of the West Coast." "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war" has been the shibboleth of the Taranaki hustings. The sentiment of loyalty is, of course, a very laudable one in its way, but, as the wisest of men wrote, " There is a time for all things," and the heat of an election contest, when a Ministry is on its trial before a full jury of the whole country, and is practically debarred from taking such a great and responsible political step as a war would involve, is certainly not a fitting juncture for fire-eating and inflammatory declamation and philippics against the Native policy”.21

To bring the events of the Parihaka incursion back into focus, there is no dispute that those were different times.  This was the time of ‘Empire’, when the civilizing influence of Britain was widely believed and taken as fact of life; when the attitudes of the military and politicians of the day were coloured by their recent experiences in India, particularly by the Indian “mutiny” as the Rebellion in 1857 was then referred to.  In New Zealand the views on the critically important issue of matter of land tenure were encapsulated by those of Chief Justice James Prendergast 22:

“One of Prendergast's important achievements was the clarification of the land transfer system during its first years of operation. Although this was a significant initiative, he had greatest influence in relation to Maori land law. His most notable judgement was Wi Parata v. Bishop of Wellington, a Maori land case. He took the view that 'native' or 'aboriginal' customary title, not pursuant to a Crown grant, could not be recognised or enforced by the courts. He also claimed that the Treaty of Waitangi was a 'simple nullity' because the Maori were 'primitive barbarians' who were 'incapable of performing the duties, and therefore of assuming the rights, of a civilised community'”. 

As a consequence of these claims, it has been further stated:

“it is plain that Prendergast's Maori land cases were used as authorities in later New Zealand legal cases which have declined to give any recognition to 'native title' to lands and fisheries. His judgements have been instrumental in the alienation of much Maori land, but it is not necessarily true that Prendergast interpreted the law incorrectly or wrought it greatly out of shape. He was, rather, a man of his times in his inability to conceive of the Maori people as deserving the recognition accorded to 'civilised' nations.” 22

This is the same James Prendergast under whose name the Proclamation to the occupants of Parihaka was issued on 19 Oct 188123:

“… The word of the Government now is that those who wish to accept the offers which have been made should leave Te Whiti if he neglects the final opportunity now offered to him, they should go to those lands which have been set apart for them; all visitors should return to their homes, in order that they may not be involved with those who are working confusion, and may not suffer with them. If this warning is neglected, who can distinguish between those who desire peace and those whose works leads to disaster; the innocent and the guilty may suffer together, and this is not the desire of the Government.
Given under the hand of his Excellency Sir James Prendergast Chief Justice, the Administrator of the Government of her Majesty's Colony of New Zealand, and issued under the seal of the said Colony, at the Government House, at Wellington, this 19th day of October, in the year of our Lord 1881.”

Since then, knowledge of the injustices perpetrated at Parihaka have been gradually seeping into the national conscience.  Although he wrote of Titokowaru, James Belich wrote24

 “Titokowaru's War is a dark secret of New Zealand history, forgotten by the Pakeha as a child forgets a nightmare”.

This might be equally said of the nation in its long silence about Parihaka.

Finally, a plea:  this account of the Nelson volunteers who participated in the Parihaka incursion, is currently very incomplete. If you have information on any of the men listed, please make this available in the comments section of the article on the Prow.  Personal letters and diaries of those involved are especially valuable in documenting what really happened.

2019 (updated August 2020)

Additional information about the Nelson contingent compiled by Tom Broad
  1. H-Battery and Attached permanent staff
  2. Nelson City Rifles
  3. Stoke City Rifles
  4. Waimea City Rifles

Sources used in this story

  1. Colonist, volume xxii, issue 2717, 15 June 1880, p 3: “The firing for citizens prizes”.
  2. Jim McAloon, in “Nelson a Regional History”, 1997, (published by Cape Catley Ltd and Nelson City Council), p. 86.
  3. Radio New Zealand:
  4. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial districts] The Cyclopedia Company, Limited, 1906, Christchurch; URL ; Military, p. 48
  5. a. ‘Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966’, URL:, Defence – Armed Services: Army, New Zealand, Volunteers and the Special Reports Era
  6. ‘Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966’:URL, Colonial Defence Force, Special Forces, and the Armed Constabulary
  7. Lowther Broad, in “The Jubilee History of Nelson: from 1842 to 1892”. (published by Bond, Finney, and Co, Nelson); URL , CHAPTER XIII,  p. 195.
  8. a. Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 258, 29 October 1881, page 2, “Departure of the volunteers.”
    b. Colonist, volume xxv, issue 2995, 28 October 1881, page 3, “The volunteers”.
  9. Archives NZ Reference AD1 158d M&V 1881/1528, URL
  10. Colonist, volume xxv, issue 3001, 4 November 1881, page 5, “The Native Difficulty.”
  11. Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 251, 21 October 1881, page 2, “Disbandment of the Nelson Naval Brigade.”
  12. Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 213, 7 September 1881, page 3, “Disgraceful scene.” (Letter by ‘Citizen'); Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 214, 8 September 1881, page 2, “The Naval Brigade”. (Letter by ‘An Old Volunteer'); Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 215, 9 September 1881, page 3, “The Naval Brigade”. (Letter by ‘A Naval'); Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 215, 9 September 1881, page 3, (Letter by ‘Fair Play’); Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 215, 9 September 1881, page 3, “Preserve me from my friends”, (Letter from ‘Another Citizen'); Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 217, 12 September 1881, page 2, (Letter by ‘One acquainted with Boats’)
  13. NZ Gazette 1881 vol II [No 91 Nov 3] pp 1424-5 (Militia & Volunteers), “Volunteer Officers promoted & appointed”
  14. a. NZ Gazette 1881 vol II [No 91 Nov 3] p 1425 (Militia & Volunteers), “Services of Volunteer Corps accepted”
    b. Colonist, volume xxv, issue 3001, 4 November 1881, page 5, “Wellington, October 28.”
    c. Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue xvi, 4 November 1881, page 2, “Latest from the front.”
  15. a. Taranaki Herald, volume xxix, issue 3877, 29 October 1881, page 2, “Volunteer's martial ardour”.
    b. Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 277, 21 November 1881, page 2, Return of the volunteers.
  16. Ken Wright, ”Pitt Memorial Gates Nelson”, the Prow; URL
  17. Roger Batt 2013 “William Harkness”, The Prow; URL , 
  18. Nelson Evening Mail, volume lxi, 20 December 1927, page 4;  “Rebecca Gibney apologises for ancestor's Parihaka role”,
  19. Colonist, volume xxviii, issue 3983, 8 November 1884, page 5, “Fraudulent Conversion of Money”.
  20. The New Zealand Times, URL
  21. Auckland Star, volume x, issue 2936, 11 September 1879, page 2.
  22. J.G.H. Hannan and Judith Bassett. 'Prendergast, James', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, URL
  23. Nelson Evening Mail, volume xvi, issue 250, 20 October 1881, page 4, “The native crisis. Proclamation by the Governor”.
  24. James Belich. 'Titokowaru, Riwha', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated April, 2011. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, URL  

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  • re Parihaka contingent: Hicks Parker of the Stoke Volunteer Rifles was a United States Citizen - a whale harpooneer from Massachusetts who jumped ship in Nelson in 1857 from the whale boat Desdemona when it stopped by Nelson to sell whale oil and reprovision. (see Papers Past). He was naturalised in 1899. Married Scottish emigrant Barbara Parker (no relation) who came on the "New Zealand" in 1842. Had 13 children born in Stoke.

    Posted by Janice Hewetson, 03/07/2021 12:22am (3 years ago)

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Further sources - The Nelson Contingent at Parihaka