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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 11 (February 1, 1936)

Von Tempsky and the Rangers

Von Tempsky and the Rangers.

Now comes in that greatly adventurous and romantic figure, Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky, of whom so much has been written. He was to be associated with the Forest Rangers longer than Jackson was, for he followed the war-path down on the West Coast with a congenial band of bush-fighters when Jackson was peacefully farming on his military grant won from the Kingite tribes.

In a MS. journal of the period 1863–64, from which I shall make some extracts here, Von Tempsky narrates in his racy way the circumstances under which he came to join the Rangers. He was, of course, a veteran; he had seen much of wild life and frontier fighting in America from the Carribean Sea and Mexico to the Californian gold diggings; he was trained as a soldier in Europe before he crossed the Atlantic. But few New Zealanders were aware of that, when Von Tempsky came to Auckland and took up a claim on the Coromandel goldfields; and Jackson did not know it when he first met the soldier of fortune who presently came to be his subaltern and military adviser in the first corps of Rangers.

“Having seen a good deal of savage warfare (la petite guerre) (von Tempsky said in his M.S.), I was desirous of observing the same in New Zealand. As a preliminary thereto, I took an appointment as official correspondent in the Drury district for the “Southern Cross’ newspaper, and established my headquarters at the Drury Hotel. The headquarters of the 65th and 18th and Artillery were then at the Drury camp; the latter was at this season one sea of mud, in which the damp and dreary tents stood like desolate islands. The Great South Road was in a frightful state, through the heavy traffic to the Queen's Redoubt, and the officers on escort duty generally returned in a sad condition, from mud and rain. Before the cheerful wood fire at the Drury Hotel many such worsted sons of Mars vented anathemas on the country, climate, and the ignominious kind of warfare so far removed from the very pomp and circumstance of war the philosopher rails at but which he would prefer to dripping tents, mud camps and frowsy blue flannel frocks. How far removed even from the worst barracks and barrack fare was the existence of a British officer then in a New Zealand winter campaign!

“On my rides to the Wairoa Redoubt, where Major Lyon (formerly of the Guards and 92nd Foot) an acquaintance of mine, commanded, I had often passed the headquarters of the Forest Rangers; these were established at a solitary inn by the roadside called the ‘Travellers’ Rest [between Papakura and Wairoa, now Clevedon township]. When all other settlers had abandoned their homes, the proprietor of this place remained, strengthened and loopholed his home, and carried on his business, so he was a popular man with the military and all others who had to pass that way. This innkeeper, Mr. Smith, had been a sailor and a gold-digger, and a sturdy cheery character he was. There one day I received a formal invitation from Lieut. Jackson to accompany him
Major G. F. von Tempsky, of the Forest Rangers.(Drawing by the late James McDonald, after a photograph about 1866.)

Major G. F. von Tempsky, of the Forest Rangers.(Drawing by the late James McDonald, after a photograph about 1866.)

on a three days' expedition into the ranges. I jumped at the offer and promised timely attendance. I rode in the afternoon of the day previous to the appointment to Smith's to sleep there, as the expedition was to start at an early hour. Lieut. Jackson, Ensign Hay (son of Mr. Hay, the settler near Papakura) and myself passed the evening in brilliant anticipation of our coming exploits, and to the whole an almost pathetic tone was given by the subdued presence of Mrs. Jackson, who was spending this last evening before a perilous expedition in the company of her husband.