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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.



Colonial Defence Force, Special Forces, and the Armed Constabulary

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.

The Colonial Defence Act of 1862 authorised the formation of the first Regular Force, a mounted body, not to exceed 500 men, enrolment being voluntary and for a three-year period of service. Maoris as well as Europeans were eligible, and officers and non-commissioned officers were appointed by the Governor. Of divisions formed in Auckland, Napier, and Wellington, the Auckland Division, under Lieutenant-Colonel M. G. Nixon, played a significant role during the Waikato Wars and, later, saw action in the Bay of Plenty. The Napier Division took part in several skirmishes, but the Wellington Division was never in action.

Special forces were raised to meet the Maoris in their own element—the bush. They searched out Maori war parties, acted as scouts, and protected the Imperial troops' lines of communications. The first such force of 50 men, raised by Major H. A. Atkinson, was known as the Taranaki Bush Rangers. The most famous unit, however, was the Forest Rangers, the first company of which was formed in August 1863 under Major W. Jackson. Towards the end of that year a second company was formed under Major Von Tempsky. The rangers were armed with breech-loading Calisher and Terry carbines, a five-shot revolver, and (in Von Tempsky's company) with bowie-knives—particularly useful for slashing a way through bush. Rangers were enrolled for three months and were given high rates of pay. Their guerilla tactics became so effective that their name was soon feared by the rebels.

The Government also recruited bodies of military settlers who were not only to put down rebellion but were also to settle on the frontier areas afterwards. This idea had already been tried in 1847–48 when four settlements of British ex-Regulars (the “Fencibles”) were established near Auckland. Further, the Government, in 1863, recruited men from the South Island and from Australia to form a special militia. These were offered a grant of confiscated Maori land upon the fulfilment of certain obligations. They were to serve in the field until discharged, take up the land allotted to them, erect stockades in townships, remain on their land for three years, and undergo certain military training. Four Waikato militia regiments were raised (about 2,500 men) and saw service in the Waikato and East Coast districts. Similar units were formed in Taranaki, Wanganui, and Hawke's Bay.

By the end of 1867 it became clear that the severest fighting was over and, accordingly, all these special groups were disbanded on 22 October 1867. The Colonial Defence Force ceased on the passing of the Armed Constabulary Act of 1867, but continuity was preserved because many members of the one transferred to the other. The new force, under a Commandant (equivalent to a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Militia), combined military with police functions. At its strongest there were nine divisions (including two Maori divisions), each comprising 60 to 80 men. From 1868 until 1872 the Armed Constabulary, helped by volunteer regiments, undertook the pursuit of Te Kooti. The force's other duties included patrolling and manning redoubts in the Waikato, Taupo, Wairoa (Hawke's Bay), and Taranaki districts. In between times the Armed Constabulary engaged in public works. It retained its dual role until 1883 when it was divided into two branches—the Police and the Field Force. Approximately 600 men remained in the latter, but, as native districts stayed tranquil, this number was later reduced. Men withdrawn from district garrisons were employed in constructing harbour defences or were transferred to the Police.