PRATT, Sir Thomas Simson, K.C.B.
Commander of the British forces in New Zealand.
A new biography of Pratt, Thomas Simson appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Thomas Simson Pratt was born in 1797, the son of Captain James Pratt and Anne, née Simson. Educated at St. Andrews University, Scotland, he was commissioned on 2 February 1814 as an ensign in the 37th Regiment. In the same year he served in the Holland campaign as a volunteer with the 56th Regiment and was present at the bombardment of Antwerp. He received his lieutenancy in 1820; captaincy, 1825; majority, 1835; and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1841. On the China Expedition of that year he served with the 26th (Cameronian) Regiment and commanded the land forces at the assault on Fort Chuenpee and, also, against the Bogue Forts. He led the 26th for the remainder of the campaign, being present at Canton, Shanghai, the demonstration before Nanking, and the signing of the Peace Treaty on HMS Cornwallis. For his services during this campaign, Pratt was created C.B. From 1843 to 1855 Pratt was deputy adjutant-general at Madras and, from 1856 to 1861, commander of the British forces in Australia. On 3 August 1860, following the outbreak of war over the Waitara Purchase, Pratt arrived in New Zealand to conduct the campaign. He quickly reorganised the defences of New Plymouth and conducted the ensuing operations against the insurgents. On 19 March 1861, following the intervention of Wiremu Tamihana in the dispute and the New Zealand Government's agreement to investigate the Waitara Purchase, hostilities ceased. Shortly after this Pratt returned to Australia as commander of the forces in Victoria until May 1862 when he was appointed Colonel of the 37th Foot Regiment, a position he held until October 1877. He then retired from active service. In 1861 Pratt was created K.C.B. for his services in New Zealand. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general on 31 May 1865, and became a full general eight years later.
While he was in New Zealand Pratt refused to allow the Governor and ministers to interfere in military affairs and his relations with Gore Browne quickly deteriorated. He realised the doubtful validity of the Waitara Purchase and refused to suspend hostilities in Taranaki until the Governor agreed to investigate the whole question. That the Home Government shared his views was shown a few months later when Pratt was created K.C.B. specifically for his services in New Zealand. Although the settlers ridiculed his military operations in Taranaki, Sir Thomas Pratt was an experienced campaigner and an able military commander.
In 1827 Pratt married Agnes, second daughter of John S. Cooper. He died in England on 2 February 1879.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Hart's Army List, 1873
- The Times (London), 6 Feb 1879 (Obit).