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

Famous New Zealanders — No. 35 — Major Jackson and his Forest Rangers. — Veterans of the Old Frontier

page 17

Famous New Zealanders
No. 35
Major Jackson and his Forest Rangers.
Veterans of the Old Frontier.

The name of the Forest Rangers is associated with the most adventurous and hazardous aspect of the warfare of the past, when personal values had not yet been submerged in the tide of frightfulness and scientific massacre. In our New Zealand wars there were several corps of Forest Rangers and Forest Rifles in the period 1860–66. The most celebrated body of these bush-roving scouts and fighters was the corps enlisted originally by William Jackson, a young settler at Hunua, near Papakura, South Auckland, in the early part of the Waikato war. The commander was promoted from Captain to Major at the close of the war. His second in command, the famous G. F. Von Tempsky, had a company of his own later on in the campaign, and the two went through the war together. Jackson and many of these guerilla soldiers became military settlers in Waikato; others followed Von Tempsky to Tara-naki. The end of both commanders was tragic. Von Tempsky fell in the bush fight at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu in Taranaki, in 1868, and Major Jackson many years later was lost overboard from a steamer on the West Coast when he was on his way to his Parliamentary duties in Wellington.

Major William Jackson, M.H.R. for Waipa.(From a photograph about 1886.)

Major William Jackson, M.H.R. for Waipa.(From a photograph about 1886.)

My memories of Major Jackson, the founder of the Forest Rangers corps and afterwards of a frontier Cavalry squadron, go back to my early boyhood days, on the edge of Pakeha settlement in the Upper Waikato. Jackson and Northcroft were our popular heroes on the old border where redoubts and blockhouses stood sentry over the furthest-out townships and farms. There was a strong military element in the life of the King Country frontier in those days, for most of the settlers had served in the Maori wars in one way and another, and many of them lived on land they had received as Crown grants for service in the Militia and the Forest Rangers. Some of these veterans of the Rangers were our neighbours at Kihikihi, and Major Jackson's big house on Kenny's Hill seemed to command the scene of soldier settlement as he had commanded the men in the field in the years of the Waikato conquest.

The Major was sturdy and square and blocky of figure, with an habitual air of determination and resolution. He was one of the few clean-shaven men I remember there in that era of luxuriant whiskers. The most he permitted himself to wear in the way of face adornment was his closely trimmed “sideburns.” He had come to New Zealand from the North of England; had he remained in the parent country he would have made a perfect squire of the good old John Bull type. He brought to the new country some of the downright virtues and traits of the conservative yeoman stock. In the Upper Waikato he led the way in many public movements, and he represented the Waipa Constituency in the House of Representatives during the Eighties.

The First of the Forest Rangers.

William Jackson was a vigorous young settler, busy clearing and stocking his bush farm in the edge of the great Hunua forest stretching southward and eastward from the Papakura flats, when the call came for a small corps of picked men to range the bush as an auxiliary to the regular Army and the Militia. It was in the winter of 1863 that the Waikato war began, and it soon became evident that the ordinary troops were not fitted for the patrol duty on the edge of the frontier where outlying settlers were in constant danger, and where also General Cameron's line of communications and the munitions and commissariat supplies moving along the Great South Road were imperilled by the armed Maori bushmen. So a special corps was formed, and the Government choice of a leader fell on William Jackson, because of his marked resolute character and his knowledge of the frontier forests.

There were many bushmen settlers, ex-gold diggers, and sailors available, men ready for adventure; young and self-reliant, and there were volunteers eager to avoid the routine duty of the Militia redoubt-building and marching on escort with the supply carts for the Army posts as far as the Queen's Redoubt.

Jackson was given a commission as lieutenant; he was soon promoted to captain. His first bush march with his hardy recruits was in the early part of August, 1863. From that time up to the final battle of the war, Orakau (April, 1864) he was almost constantly in the field. He and his Rangers fought in many skirmishes and several regular sieges of Maori fortified positions. They were the envy of the other corps for several reasons. They had a free-roving commission; they did not trouble much about drill; they did no navvy work; they were paid, for a considerable time, eight shillings a day (as against the Militia-man's half-a-crown) besides rations, and a double allowance of rum on account of the rough and often wet marching and camping. Moreover, they were armed with a page 18 page 19 handy breechloading carbine and revolver, while the Regulars and the Militia still used the unhandy long Enfield rifle, muzzle-loading.

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.

A March in the Hunua Ranges.

“Early next day we climbed up the wooded ranges on the northern side of the Hunua, and entered the bush. Indian file was the order of march, and as we wound our way through the rich green undergrowth our long line of blue-shirted desperadoes, with their revolvers and breechloading carbines, and three days’ provisions in haversack, presented a most picturesque coup d'oeil. The morning was fine and we followed as yet a well-marked track, the whole was more like a pleasure party than anything else. We halted at Buckland's clearing and broached our provender with a most injudicious appetite. Here Jackson confided to me his intention of penetrating through the forest to the rear of Paparata, a large native settlement to the south. A surprise was talked of, and besides, on the way we might fall in with all sorts of adventures.

“In the afternoon we started anew. We now left the track and had to force our way through high fern for a mile or two, a fatiguing process for the head of the line, who have to do all the breaking and tramping down for the rest; in such cases the men leading should be relieved frequently. Once more we entered the bush—now, however, without a track. We looked for Maori plantations, said to be somewhere in this neighbourhood. But we found only some old clearings which had been plantations four or five years ago. The soil there was of exceeding richness, of a light brown chocolate colour, indicating thereby its volcanic character.

“The elevation of the forest ridges became now considerable, and sometimes dark gorges of the wildest character, with weird veils of mist trailing along dim ravine bottoms, opened up at our feet. It wanted but some savage figures of a brown tint in the foreground to make the picture ravishing to whoever loved the wild and the grand. But there seemed to be no hope even of the appearance of such figures; not a track (footprint) had we seen, not even an old one. We were then, I now believe, in a part of the ranges which even the Maoris avoid on account of its broken nature, at least of late years.

The Bush Camp.

“About four in the afternoon Jackson halted for the rest of the day. The men were thoroughly drenched and with the certainty of another wet night hanging over our heads it was thought advisable for their health and the safety of the ammunition to build huts for the night. The men clamoured for permission to light fires. At page 20 page 21 length after a lengthy war council it was decided that fires might be lit, as soon as darkness had set in fully; they were to be extinguished, however, two hours before daylight, to prevent the tell-tale smoke from being seen.

I had observed during the whole of this wet walk that Jackson and Hay were rather astonished that the ‘paperman’—myself—did not feel the damp as much as was to be expected from his calling. This rather amused me, this deceitfulness of appearances, for I had roughed it during eighteen years, in most zones, whereas they were just commencing such experiences. However, in spite of all stoicism on my part, once that it was dark and eager groups of fire-worshippers were tending the reluctant flame, I stretched forth my feet with pleasure to the fire and rejoiced at the comparative comfort and the prospect of dry socks for the morrow.”

I quote this much from Von Temp-sky's description of a three days' scout in the ranges, as a typical experience in the early days of the war. However, there was much to come, and the Rangers soon became thoroughly hardened to the rough nature of the work. Jackson had a lively skirmish in the heart of the Upper Wairoa bush, killed several Maoris, and captured a war-flag (which is now in the Auckland Old Colonists' Museum).

A Church Parade.

There are many entertaining glimpses of military life in the Von Tempsky MS. as it goes on. There is this about the corps on its return from a long march into the bush; the parade with the Flying Column (so called) was at the Queen's Redoubt, Pokeno:

“ The day following our arrival was Sunday and the first church parade of the Flying Column was held. We marched down to the redoubt and formed with the troops there the square for service. What a contrast our lot presented to the neat turnout of the troops of headquarters with their pipe-clayed belts and polished boots, and tidy blue frocks! Even our Regulars had discarded pipe-clay and blacking long ago, and their blue jumpers looked decidedly seedy. But the strongest contrast was formed by the Forest Rangers. Such ragamuffins had never before been seen on church parade, and I fear the service was little attended to; the troops were perfectly fascinated with such an unusual spectacle. Even the officers seemed overcome, particularly with the rig of our officers; but, heaven knows, a few months after that we looked all pretty much alike.”

A Second Company of Rangers.

Von Tempsky very soon convinced Jackson that he (Von T.) was a greatly experienced soldier, and he was gladly taken on the strength as military adviser, with the rank of Lieutenant. Towards the end of 1863, a No. 2 company of Forest Rangers was enlisted, Von Tempsky being given its command. One of his subalterns was young John Mackintosh Roberts, nephew of Major Clare, of Papakura; he became Colonel Roberts, N.Z.C. Right through to the end of the campaign they went, those two companies, scouting the flanks or acting as advance guard to a column; often disappearing for days on the track of the elusive warriors.

Major D. H. Lusk, of the Forest Rifles, Mauku.

Major D. H. Lusk, of the Forest Rifles, Mauku.

Tree-to-Tree Fighting.

In the bush skirmishes in the South Auckland country before the Waikato was entered, the Rangers and the settler-bushmen had their first taste of fighting in the tree-to-tree manner of the old adventure tales. There was a particularly sharp bit of work of this kind in which the Rangers under Jackson and Von Tempsky fought in company with the Forest Rifles Volunteers of Mauku under Lieut. Daniel Lusk, afterwards Major Lusk. Von Tempsky gave a lively description of this fight, which took place at Hill's Clearing; the scene is skirted by the present main road from Pukekohe to Mauku. It was in such encounters as these that the Rangers learned the art of taking cover skilfully and of darting from the shelter of one tree to the next after delivering a shot. Jackson and Lusk developed into very accurate shots with carbine and rifle. Lusk in after years was a champion shot at rifle meetings in the province. Jackson was mentioned by Von Tempsky in his reminiscences of Orakau as having done some execution with his carbine from the sap that the British regulars dug towards the north-west angle of the Maori entrenchment. In the fight at Waiari, on the Mangapiko, a few weeks before Orakau, Jackson shot a Maori in a close encounter in the river, and took his double-barrel gun as a trophy.

From Carbine to Plough.

However, this is not a history of the war, but a brief sketch of the hard-faring Rangers and their commander. Jackson, at the close of the campaign, settled on his share of the confiscated land, at Hairini, between Te Awamutu and the celebrated Maori farming centre at Rangiaowahia. He made it a model farm, for that pioneer era. Later he removed to Kihikihi, where I as a boy came to know him well. He was the senior officer of those who took up their soldier grants in the Waipa and the old military organisation continued to a certain extent, for the Militia were required to keep up their drill by means of periodical parades. The late Sixties and early Seventies were years of standing to arms at times along the frontier, for fear of Kingite raids. It was natural that the dispossessed Waikato tribes should plan to recover their good ancestral lands taken away from them by the strong hand.

The Waikato Cavalry.

The year 1871 was a particularly anxious time in the border townships and on the farms. In that year the settlers in the frontier district from Alexandra (Pirongia), Te Awamutu, Kihikihi and Orakau round the edge of the confiscated lands to Cambridge organised a cavalry corps which proved an exceedingly useful mobile defence force. Its establishment was due in the first place to the sagacious Sir Donald Maclean, Minister for Native Affairs and Defence, who visited Alexandra on his way to meet the Kingite chiefs across the border on a mission of conciliation. He suggested to Mr. Stephen Westney, a leading settler, who met him on questions concerning the Militia, that the best means of maintaining a frontier patrol would be the establishment of page 22 page 23
A Waikato River Gunboat in Major Jackson's day, the armoured sternwheeler Rangiriri. The first military settlers of the present town of Hamilton were taken up the river by this steamer in 1864.

A Waikato River Gunboat in Major Jackson's day, the armoured sternwheeler Rangiriri. The first military settlers of the present town of Hamilton were taken up the river by this steamer in 1864.

a mounted corps, which the Government would arm with the most efficient weapons.

So the Waikato Cavalry Volunteers came into being, consisting of two troops, one based on Te Awamutu and the other on Cambridge, and by common consent Major Jackson commanded the whole force, besides captaining the Te Awamutu troop (in which my father and his neighbour Andrew Kay, of Orakau, were the lieutenants). Captain James Runciman commanded the Cambridge troop. That was the beginning of a smart and efficient frontier corps of settlers and their sons, well-mounted and armed with Snider carbines, revolvers and swords. More than once the corps was called out for field service, though the alarms never developed into fighting; there was no doubt that the sight of these active soldier-settlers moving about the country, and also the Armed Constabulary posts along the border, prevented any Kingite plans of raid and reconquest being carried into effect.

Jackson commanded the force for many years, until the firm establishment of peace in the middle ‘Eighties.

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Lost Overboard.

In war and peace William Jackson was the best kind of nation-builder. He was a skilful farmer; he gave a helping hand to many a comrade; many of his old Rangers were settled near him, and he was always regarded as their chief and leader.

He was elected to represent the Waipa electorate in Parliament, and he held the seat until his greatly lamented and mysterious death towards the end of the ‘Eighties.

He was on his way to Wellington, by the sea route from Onehunga to New Plymouth, when he disappeared from all human ken. He had taken passage in the steamer “Wanaka,” but when the vessel reached New Plymouth he was not to be found. It was surmised that he had become seasick and had gone to the side of the steamer. The sea was rough, and a sudden roll of the ship probably sent him overboard in the darkness with none to see or rescue.

So vanished from life a good and sturdy Englishman who had done more than most to open the way for British settlement in the new land and to defend and develop the Waikato lands won in the immemorial warrior way, as the Maoris themselves had won it in the ancient times.