WHITMORE, Major-General the Hon. Sir George Stoddart, K.C.M.G., M.L.C.
Soldier, Minister of the Crown, Commissioner of the Armed Constabulary, and Commandant of the Defence Forces.
A new biography of Whitmore, George Stoddart appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Whitmore was born at Malta on 1 May 1830, the son of Major George St. Vincent Whitmore, R.E., and grandson of General Sir George Whitmore, K.C.H. (1775–1862), Colonel Commandant of the Royal Engineers, and of Isabella Maowen, daughter of Sir J. Stoddart, Chief Justice of Malta. Educated at Edinburgh Academy and at the Staff College, he enlisted as an ensign in the Cape Mounted Rifles (23 January 1847), and saw service in the Kaffir War (1847). He witnessed the Boer defeat at Boem Plaats (1848) and served throughout the Kaffir War (1851–52), being present with the Second Division in nearly every engagement, including the storming of Iron Mountain. He commanded Sir Harry Smith's escort (November 1851 to October 1852), and acted as brigade Major in Sir George Cathcart's expedition, taking part in the Battle of Berea, and having two horses shot from under him.
He returned to England, whither the fame of his South African exploits had preceded him, and joined the 62nd (Wiltshire) Foot Regiment as a captain (6 June 1854) with which he served in the Crimea, being present at the fall of Sebastopol, and undertaking a liaison mission with Turkish forces at Kertch. He also went with a special mission to Hungary to procure cavalry remounts. He remained in the Crimea after the war helping to wind up the Army's affairs, and his competent handling of this earned high praise from the British Auditor-General. He was gazetted brevet-major on 6 June 1856, and returned to England, where he became aide-de-camp to Sir William Eyre, Commander of the troops in Canada (1857–59). He attended Staff College and graduated top of the 1860 class.
Whitmore accompanied General Cameron to New Zealand in January 1861 as his military secretary and, when Cameron tendered his resignation in protest about political interference, Whitmore also did so. The War Office rejected Cameron's resignation, but lacked power to refuse that of a junior officer, so Whitmore retired, selling his commission (7 November 1862), and took up land in Hawke's Bay. In March 1863 he was appointed Civil Commissioner for Ahuriri district (which he retained until superseded by Sir Donald McLean, in September 1865), and a few months later was appointed major commanding the Napier Military District. He volunteered to serve under Cameron in Taranaki after the murder of Lieutenant Tragett and Dr Hope, taking part in all operations up to the action at Katikara (4 June 1863), and afterwards accompanied Cameron to Waikato, where he witnessed the Battle of Orakau. He returned to Napier where he was appointed commandant in the New Zealand Militia (1 July 1863), and to the Legislative Council (31 August 1863). Whitmore visited England in 1865. On his return in 1866, he found Hawke's Bay threatened by Hauhau forces which were advancing from Taupo. He hastily raised 200 volunteers and defeated the invaders at Omarunui on 12 October 1866, where Panapa, the Hauhau preacher, was killed.
Whitmore became commandant of the Armed Constabulary in 1867, and on Te Kooti's escape from the Chathams (1868), he pursued him after Paparatu, and fought a fierce action in the rugged Ruakituri country, in which Te Kooti himself was wounded. On news of the reverse at Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu reaching Napier, Whitmore volunteered to serve under Colonel McDonnell, but the Defence Minister, >Haultain, found the West Coast forces so disorganised that he entrusted him with the task of reorganisation. Titokowaru, the rebel chief, entrenched himself in the Moturoa pa, from which Whitmore determined to dislodge him. He attacked on 7 November 1868, but failed in his objective, and offered to resign in consequence. News of the Matawhero massacre now reached the West Coast and Whitmore hastened to Gisborne, where with 800 Armed Constabulary and 350 Native allies he besieged Te Kooti on Ngatapa hill, forcing its abandonment four days later (4 January 1869). He embarked his troops immediately for Wanganui, and from there, with adequate forces, he advanced up the West Coast, taking in quick succession, Nukumaru, Taurangaika, and Otautu pas; then, hearing Titokowaru was hiding in Te Ngaere swamp, he crossed this in a brilliant night manoeuvre, only to find his quarry flown (24 March 1869). Leaving mopping-up operations to West Coast Militia units, Whitmore embarked his whole force for Whakatane, from which base he executed a swift campaign against Te Kooti into the Urewera country, a natural fortress. Thus in six months, with less than 2,000 men, Whitmore summarily ended a war which had been a source of vexation to the colony for eight years.
Whitmore served briefly on the Hawke's Bay Provincial Council (1867–69). He received the C.M.G. for his services in the Maori Wars, and thereafter attended to his parliamentary duties, joining Grey's Ministry on 18 October 1877 as Colonial Secretary and Defence Minister. There, in addition to his ordinary duties, he acted as unofficial intermediary between Grey and Lord Normanby during the Ministry's incessant constitutional crises. He accompanied Grey to Parihaka in 1879 in an effort to reconcile Te Whiti. In his masterly defence of the Ministry in the Legislative Council against Waterhouse's attack, Whitmore made a very telling point that large landowning interests were behind the efforts to oust them. Whitmore was created K.C.M.G. (1882), and in 1884 joined the short-lived first Stout Ministry without portfolio; but personal differences with the Premier prevented his inclusion in the second. During the Russian War scare (1885), he was appointed Commandant of the Defence Forces, and Commissioner of the Armed Constabulary with the rank of Major-General (4 December 1886), a special Act being passed to permit his services (unpaid) to be availed of concurrently with his membership of the Legislative Council. He resigned these military posts on 24 January 1888. He managed his estate at Rissington, Hawke's Bay, with the same meticulous care he gave to planning his military campaigns. In 1867–70, he established there a new flock book for shorthorn cattle, and thus created a stud which became famous in the colony. Whitmore set down his war experiences in The Last Maori War in New Zealand Under the Self Reliant Policy, which he published in London in 1902. He died in Napier on 16 March 1903.
Sir George Whitmore was experienced in irregular warfare long before New Zealand conditions put his abilities to a triumphant test. His services earned him the rare compliment “irreplaceable” from Stafford. He was brave to the point of impetuosity, with an ingrained sense of military dignity and vast energy which were displayed even on the most trying campaigns, though not always appreciated by the troops under him. He possessed, however, a wholesome respect for the military virtues, and in 1869 urged the Government to institute “a decorative distinction … in lieu of the Victoria Cross”, which was the genesis of that rarest of all decorations, the New Zealand Cross. As a statesman, Whitmore combined caution as a politician with administrative efficiency. But it is to Whitmore, the soldier, that New Zealand owes a lasting debt, for he must be regarded as one of the few outstanding figures of the Maori Wars.
In 1851 at Boomplaats, South Africa, Whitmore married Eliza McGlocking who died in the early sixties, leaving three children. In 1865 he married Isabella, daughter of William Smith, of Roxeth, near Rugby. There was no family.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Whitmore Papers (MSS), Napier Museum and Art Gallery
- The Last Maori War in New Zealand Under the Self Reliant Policy, Whitmore, Sir G. S. (1902)
- Hawke's Bay Herald, 17 Mar 1903 (Obit).