The Old Frontier : Te Awamutu, the story of the Waipa Valley : the missionary, the soldier, the pioneer farmer, early colonization, the war in Waikato, life on the Maori border and later-day settlement
The close of the Waikato War saw some four thousand Imperial and Colonial troops in quarters at Te Awamutu, which remained a large military cantonment for over a year. Surveyors were busy cutting up blocks of confiscated land in the Waikato-Waipa delta for the military settlers, three regiments of Waikato Militia—one regiment was allotted land at Tauranga—and the two companies of Forest Rangers.
An excellent description of military life in Te Awamutu at this period is contained in a narrative written by an Army chaplain (name not given) which appeared in “Fraser's Magazine,” London, in 1864. The writer narrates the trials and humours of the journey by river and road from Auckland to Te Awamutu in March, and gives an account of the soldiers' town as he saw it.
“During the hot months,” wrote the chaplain, “officers and men were under canvas. ∗ ∗ ∗ Most of these [the tents] have now disappeared, and a small town of whares has sprung up in their place. These whares are extremely comfortable; the coldest wind or the heaviest rain is effectually excluded. The nearest approach we have ever seen to a whare at Home is a Highland bothy, built of turf and heather. One whare affords accommodation for twenty-four men, who have to act as their own architects, carpenters, and builders. A healthy spirit of rivalry is thus produced; each man vies with his neighbour, and surveys the work of his own hand with honest pride. Raupo, a strong, flexible reed, abounding in the neighbouring swamps, has to be cut down and carried into camp on the men's shoulders. They have often to remain for hours up to the waist in water, and are thus liable to frequent attacks of dysentery and fever. ∗ ∗ ∗ When the whare is finished the men are allowed to have a dance on the wooden floor. The solitary flute strikes up ‘Judy O'Callaghan,’ ‘Garryowen,’ or some equally lively air, and a light-footed Irishman dances a pas de seul amid the vociferous applause of his comrades, who, inspired by his example, take the floor and batter the boards with hearty goodwill. A few of the huts are built of wood, which has been supplied by contract. Most of the primæval forests in the district have disappeared, but page 80 clumps of red pine may still occasionally be seen. A party of some two hundred sawyers are employed about six miles from the camp [near Rangiaowhia]; strange, wild-looking men who have lived for years in the bush and hold little intercourse with their fellow-men. Some of the more skilful amongst them can make as much as £15 per week; the poorest workman can make the half of that amount. ∗ ∗ ∗ The furnishings of our hut consist of a camp-bed, a table, two chairs, two wooden stools, two bridles, a riding-whip, a mirror six inches by four, a few paddles, a rifle, a sword, and a lump of bacon suspended from the roof. The mothers and sisters of officers out here are not to suppose that their sons and brothers are equally comfortable; our habits are deemed quite luxurious; our hut is the envy of the whole camp. The rumour has reached us that the Colonial Government, who claim it as their property [the hut was at the mission station], intend to turn us out, but they will find that rather difficult; possession at Te Awamutu is something more than nine points of law; we know our rights and mean to stand by them.”
When Te Awamutu was a Fortified Camp
[From photos lent by Colonel Ryder.]
The Redoubt at the Bridge Over the Mangahoe Stream
With part of the camp of the 40th Regiment at Te Awamutu in the background. The Redoubt Reserve at the
junction of Mutu and Mangapiko Streets marks the site of this camp.
The British Redoubt and Camp at Te Awamutu (1864–5).
The hutments in the foreground approximately occupy the present frontages of Alexandra Street. The foremost
hutment is situated at the corner of Alexandra Street and Market Street, with the location of the saleyards in the background
“When the natives fled from this district a good many horses, cattle, and pigs were left wandering in the bush. Some months ago it was a frequent amusement among the officers to sally forth in small parties in search of loot. They revived the wild sports of Mexico by hunting down the horses and driving them into camp. We know of one case where an officer brought in twenty horses and sold them at £5 a head, thus netting £100 by the venture. ∗ ∗ ∗ We have several lakes in the neighbourhood. [One of these was the Pekapeka-rau lagoon near Rangiaowhia.] The natives, on leaving, hid their canoes by dragging them into the bush or sinking them. A good many have been found, and some of our men have become skilful paddlers. They venture forth in these frail barques in search of sport. At first the wild fowl were so tame that they seemed to apprehend no danger; they have now become more suspicious. Pig-hunting also was a frequent amusement.”