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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


BUNBURY, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas, c.b.



Thomas Bunbury was born on 19 May 1791 at Gibraltar where his father was a Lieutenant in the 32nd Regiment. He attended several English boarding schools and in March 1807 gained his ensigncy in the 90th Regiment. In the following year he was sent to the Peninsula where he served till the end of the war. He took part in the siege of Oporto, the Battles of Talavera and Barrossa, had his horse shot from under him at Tarifa, and was present at the capture of Seville. After the close of the Peninsular campaigns, Bunbury was among the forces which invaded Southern France. He was at Nivelle, was seriously wounded at Nive, was present at the capture of Bayonne, and commanded the 6th Cassadores, a Portuguese regiment, in the battle of Toulouse. After the war he served for a short time with Lord Beresford's force in Portugal, where he was made a Knight of the Tower and Sword.

Towards the close of 1820 Bunbury returned to England, but shortly afterwards went to Paris where, to his family's dismay, he evinced a desire to become an artist. He was “saved” from this in 1822, however, when he was gazetted to the 80th Regiment, then stationed at Malta. In 1825, when the Duc d'Angouleme invaded Spain, Bunbury secured a temporary transfer to the 85th Regiment and took part in the campaign that followed. Thereafter, and until 1837, he served with the 80th in England. In the latter year he was sent to Australia. When Gipps assumed office as Governor of New South Wales he sent Bunbury to command the Norfolk Island garrison.

Early in 1840, when Gipps became concerned about Hobson's illness, he sent Bunbury to New Zealand with a small detachment of the 80th Regiment and instructed him to assume the government if the Lieutenant-Governor were still incapacitated. On his arrival he found Hobson much improved and anxious to have the Treaty of Waitangi confirmed by the South Island chiefs. On 28 April 1840 Bunbury sailed south in the Herald, which made its way by slow stages to Stewart Island. Port Pegasus was reached on 4 June and, as there were no signs of Maoris in the vicinity, he decided to proclaim the Queen's sovereignty by right of Captain Cook's discovery. On the return journey, after many signatures had been obtained, the Herald put into Cloudy Bay where, on 17 June, Bunbury took possession of the whole of the South Island “on the ground of cession by the several native chiefs”. Bunbury was gazetted Magistrate in May 1841; and in January 1844 acted as Deputy Governor during FitzRoy's absence from the seat of government. Shortly after this the 80th were ordered to India and Bunbury left the colony.

In November 1844, while on the voyage from Sydney to Calcutta, Bunbury was wrecked on one of the Andaman Islands, where he was largely responsible for saving the lives of over 600 troops and their dependants. He was awarded the C.B. for this. Bunbury commanded the 80th throughout the Sikh Wars (1845–46) and took part in the Sutlej campaign, being present at the Battles of Moodkee, Ferozeshah, and Sobraon. He retired from active service on 31 December 1849 and, shortly afterwards, returned to England, where he married.

For a time Bunbury made unsuccessful efforts to obtain a knighthood; he then devoted his leisure to writing his three volumes of Reminiscences. These were completed in 1858 and published in 1861. He died in England early in 1862.

In his Reminiscences, which are still most readable, Bunbury comments on the incidents and the persons he met in his lifetime of military service. His remarks about Hobson and the other members of the New Zealand “Establishment” show that he was a remarkably penetrating observer.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Reminiscences of a Veteran, Bunbury, T. (1861)
  • Hart's Army List, 1860
  • Crown Colony Government in New Zealand, McLintock, A. H. (1958).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.