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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
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.



The Militia

The general alarm in Auckland and elsewhere at Hone Heke's rebellion led the Legislative Council, on 25 March 1845, to pass the first Militia Ordinance. This provided that all able-bodied European males between 18 and 65 years of age were to hold themselves ready for service and for a period of 28 days' training annually. It was, essentially, a home force, in that service was limited to within 25 miles from the local police office. The Governor was empowered to make regulations and to “draw out” militia units for service. A small detachment of volunteers of the Auckland Militia Battalion served as pioneers and gunners with the British forces in the operations against Hone Heke. Rolls were compiled annually between 1846 and 1853 in the Auckland district, and most settlers were armed and underwent training. In 1845 and 1846, in Wellington, the local militia constructed and manned redoubts at Thorndon and in the Hutt Valley. These companies took part in most of the local skirmishes. A battalion was formed at Nelson, but this saw no military service. For arms, militiamen used flintlock muskets—weapons that had originally been imported for bartering to the Maoris. Uniform consisted of “blue shirt, a cap similar to that worn by sailors, and any kind of trousers”. In 1847 an Ordinance regulated the raising of native levies, who were to be under the same discipline as European troops. The Government had an abstract of the relevant Ordinances and Orders translated into Maori and copies were given to every native who enlisted. Maoris served throughout the wars in the 1860s, generally in tribal groups, or as members of the European volunteer forces.

Apart from a small outbreak near Wanganui in 1847 (which was attended to by Imperial troops) there was little militia activity for some years. In 1854 a dispute between rival Maori factions over land sales led to an engagement near New Plymouth. These skirmishes lasted for some time and the settlers, confined as they were to a narrow coastal strip, felt threatened. On 12 November 1855, 400 New Plymouth settlers were “drawn out” and ordered “to do constant militia duty until further orders”. Shortly after this militiamen were issued with a complete blue serge uniform. The pattern remained unchanged throughout the Maori Wars, until 1872.

In 1858 a Militia Act, similar to the 1845 Ordinance, was passed by the New Zealand Parliament. In this, militiamen were allowed (at their own expense) to find substitutes, and provision was made for forming special volunteer units. Exempted from militia service, volunteers were required to serve anywhere in New Zealand. The country was divided into militia districts, and a permanent staff (one officer, two non-commissioned officers, and a bugler) was provided in each. These were to train all militia and volunteer units in their district. So great was the number of new units that on 19 August 1859 Captain H. C. Balneavis, an ex-Imperial officer, was appointed Deputy Adjutant-General, Militia and Volunteers, with his headquarters at Auckland. Until 1872 the North Island Militia were frequently called for “actual service”. They were employed as garrisons, sometimes on frontier outposts, and in a few minor skirmishes. On 28 March 1860 part of the New Plymouth Battalion and volunteers were in action at Waireka. Garrison duty, however, was the usual service and, from the nature of the force, its spasmodic training, and limited territorial liability, this was probably the most useful task it could perform.