Trevor Chute is said to have been born at Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, on 31 July 1816, the son of Francis Chute and his wife, Mary Ann Bomford. He entered the army in 1832, served first in the Ceylon Rifles and then in the 70th (Surrey) Regiment, and was a major by 1847. Duty in Ireland in 1848 was followed by the 70th's transfer in 1849 to India, where Chute was promoted to lieutenant colonel and commanded the regiment at Peshawar. Becoming a full colonel in 1854, he organised flying columns for pacification purposes during the Indian rebellion of 1857–58.
Chute arrived in New Zealand in May 1861 with his regiment, which helped to construct the military road from Drury to the Waikato River. He presided over a court of inquiry into the conduct of the 'battle' of Waireka. In March 1863 he was promoted to brigadier general commanding the troops stationed in Australia. In August 1865, now a major general, he returned to New Zealand to replace Duncan Cameron in charge of British forces while retaining his Australian command. Governor George Grey had proclaimed peace in Taranaki, while also confiscating a large tract of fertile land, on 2 September. However, soon after Chute's arrival several messengers sent to convey the terms to west coast Māori were killed, and on 4 October a supply convoy was attacked in the Hāwera district. A further South Taranaki expedition was decided on; it was to be the last campaign in New Zealand by imperial troops.
Chute left Wanganui on 30 December with a 620-strong force which comprised about 270 Māori, a similar number from the 14th (Buckinghamshire) Regiment of Foot, and detachments of artillery and Forest Rangers. During a six week campaign, seven fortified pa and some twenty villages between the Waitōtara River and Mt Taranaki were destroyed by Chute's column, while locally based imperial troops inflicted further damage. This result was not achieved by sophisticated generalship. Chute's preferred mode of attack was frontal assault; casualties were sometimes heavy, and the rudimentary tactics worked only because his Māori opponents lacked numbers at given points. Nor did Chute encounter any of the modern pā which had defeated much sharper military minds.
Chute was ruthless with life as well as property. Few prisoners were taken – the Pai Mārire prophet Te Ua Haumēne, who had already made peace, was a notable exception – and there was little attempt to distinguish between 'rebellious' and 'submissive' hapū. Wide discretion was given to officers in charge of outposts, some of whom operated without consulting local experts. This campaign and the later expedition of Major Thomas McDonnell allowed military settlers to be placed between the Waingongoro and Waitōtara rivers, but the long-term outcome of the scorched-earth policy was to be Tītokowaru's War of 1868.
Chute's operations were interrupted by the 'forest march' of January 1866, in which some 500 men took 9 days to tramp from modern day Hāwera to New Plymouth along a disused bridle track east of Mt Taranaki. The journey usually took two or three days, but the use of pack-horses necessitated the bridging of many of the 'twenty-one rivers and ninety gullies' which had to be crossed. As food ran out and rain fell incessantly, things 'began to look certainly very horrible, for no one knew where we were.' To avert starvation, two horses were killed and eaten: 'The heart was reserved for the General'. When the force marched into New Plymouth (after a halt to smarten themselves up) they were fêted by the townspeople for their conquest of the interior. In truth, Chute had nearly lost his force without encountering the enemy.
Chute's military campaigns were followed by a dispute with Grey, who sought to retain imperial troops in New Zealand. British regulars were first limited to a passive role, then made responsible to Chute alone in December 1866, and progressively withdrawn. Although the last troops were not to leave until February 1870, from May 1867 only a battalion of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment remained. New Zealand ceased to be a separate command and Chute, created KCB in 1867, moved with his headquarters to Melbourne, Australia, where on 8 July 1868 he married Ellen Browning. They had no children. Having helped foster the volunteer movement in Australia, Chute oversaw the attenuation of British garrisons there, and followed the last imperial troops stationed in Victoria back to England in October 1870. He became colonel of the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment, was made a full general in 1877, and placed on the retired list in 1881. He died at Binfield, near Reading, on 12 March 1886.
Chute was 'a short-legged man, with a shaggy, square, masculine head and powerful body. He walked deliberately, carrying his head a little to either side, and no man could precisely foretell his temper from day to day'. His nickname, 'The Kerry Bull', derived from both his general appearance and a resonant voice, which was fully exploited on the parade ground. His direct, unscientific approach to soldiering endeared him to his troops, but in New Zealand left him 'lonely as a moulting crow in the midst of his predecessor's brilliant staff'.