CAMERON, Sir Duncan Alexander, G.C.B.
A new biography of Cameron, Duncan Alexander appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
The son of Sir J. Cameron, Duncan Alexander Cameron was born on 19 December 1808, entered the Army in 1825, and obtained his first commission in the 42nd Highland Regiment (Black Watch), in which he served until the Crimean War (lieutenant, 1826; colonel, 1854). At the Crimea, Cameron was given the local rank of major-general. He commanded the 42nd Regiment at the Alma and the Highland Brigade at Balaclava, and was present at Kertch and the fall of Sebastopol. In 1860 he was promoted major-general and given the command in Scotland.
Cameron succeeded General Pratt as commander in New Zealand in April 1861. At this stage the troops were employed on military roads between Auckland and the Waikato. When the colonial Government began hostilities over the Tata-raimaka Block, Cameron advanced with a mixed force that included both the 57th and 70th Regiments, towards Katikara which fell on 4 June 1863. From winter quarters at Pokeno, Cameron began the subjugation of the Waikato on 12 July 1863 by ordering troops across the Mangatawhiri River. At Koheroa, Cameron personally led the 14th Regiment. By 31 October the Maori King forces had been driven from Meremere; Rangiriri, after strong assaults by military and naval detachments, fell soon afterwards when its defenders, under Tioriori, surrendered. Ngaruawahia was entered on 8 December, and Cameron occupied this great area of the Waikato with 3,000 men. His headquarters were then at Tuhikaramea. Between 20–23 February 1864 Cameron outflanked strong positions at Paterangi by moving round to Rangiao-whia and Hairini. He was not present at the beginning of Orakau, but later, impressed by the bravery of the Maori defenders, attempted to obtain a surrender. The pa fell on 2 April 1864. Cameron then assaulted Gate Pa which fell on 30 April after an initial repulse the previous day. He continued his advance and caused heavy losses at Te Ranga on 21 June.
Cameron was averse to the S. Taranaki campaign which opened early in 1865 for the possession of Waitotara Block, and had no desire to see British regulars carry out this work. Perhaps his reluctance tempered his military judgment, for he estimated that two years might be required, and many more British troops. He refused to attack the strong position at Weraroa and, hugging the coast, advanced with that position remaining to his rear. Losses were suffered at Nukumaru and the advance continued northwards. Cameron crossed the Waitotara River on 3 February 1865 and with great deliberation set about building redoubts to hold the country. On 15 March 1865 there was an engagement with a rearguard at Kakaramea, and the force advanced to the Waingongoro River. Difficulties of opinion regarding the conduct of the war, and the need for it, between the colonial Government and Cameron led to his departure for Auckland on 25 April. He had offered his resignation to the War Office in February, and in June received permission to return to England.
Governor Grey himself was instrumental in capturing Weraroa, which in July was stormed without difficulty by a small force of regulars and colonial troops.
Cameron greatly admired Maori valour and military enterprise and maintained that only well-trained and disciplined regular troops could overcome them. He had no confidence in the various schemes for military pensioners and settlers. He was not a happy choice for command in New Zealand. A soldier of the old school, he relied on the formal methods of siege, sap, and garrison when conditions demanded a greater degree of mobility. Governor Grey found him “an impatient, ill-tempered, injudicious old man”, but undoubtedly Grey's own uneasy relations with his colonial Ministers added friction to a difficult association. This situation was worsened when the British Government gave Cameron an equal share in the responsibility of authorising operations which would result in large-scale land confiscation. Cameron's interpretation of the scene was such that his rigid sense of responsibility made him unwilling to risk either the troops under his command or the expenditure of United Kingdom money in enterprises which he felt ran contrary both to his instructions and to the long-term interests of the two races in New Zealand. His unambiguous attitude, which was upheld in England, precipitated the self-reliance policy of the later 1860s.
After his return to England, Cameron was promoted lieutenant-general (1868) and general (1874). He served, 1868–75, as Governor of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.
On 10 September 1873, he married Louisa Flora (died 5 May 1875), fourth daughter of Andrew Maclean, deputy inspector-general of the Military College, Sandhurst. He died without issue at Blackheath on 7 June 1888.
by Ian McLean Wards, M.A., Research Officer, Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Sir George Grey, K.C.B., Rutherford, J. (1961)
- The Defenders of New Zealand, Gudgeon, T. W. (1887)
- History of New Zealand, Rusden, G. W. (3 vols., 1895).