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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 2 (May 1, 1935)

Atkinson's Bush Rangers

Atkinson's Bush Rangers.

In the second Taranaki war, 1863, the Imperial authorities gave the settler-soldiers practically a free hand in bush fighting; they had not made sufficient use of them in Major-General Pratt's time in the first war. More effective methods of frontier service were introduced by the formation of special corps for the purpose of following the Maoris into the bush and clearing the country surrounding New Plymouth town. Captain Harry Atkinson was the soul of these free-roving tactics. His party of fifty men of No. 2 Company, Taranaki Rifles, was the first corps of forest rangers to take the field in New Zealand. Jackson's

page 24 and Von Tempsky's Forest Rangers in the Waikato War were patterned on the example of the Taranaki men.

Atkinson's force, as the war went on, was increased to two companies and was called the Taranaki Bush Rangers.

These active fellows, armed with Terry breechloading carbines and revolvers, scoured the country, watched all the tracks, penetrated far into the wild bush, and soon had the land free from hostiles for many a mile. Atkinson's principal fellow-Rangers in this arduous and useful commission were Captain F. Webster and Lieuts. Brown, Jones, McKellar and W. B. Messenger.

There was a particularly sharp engagement in the open towards the end of 1863, when Atkinson, Webster and Messenger commanded the Volunteers and Militia, in co-operation with Colonel Warre and the 57th Regiment.

Many a man was trained in bush-scouting and skirmishing under Atkinson. One of his “old boys” was the late Captain Henry W. Northcroft, N.Z.C. Another was Captain J. R. Rushton, of Kutarere, on Ohiwa Harbour, Bay of Plenty; he was the Chief Government Scout at Opotiki after his service on the West Coast. Rushton, tall, lean, long-legged, a perfect bushman, had his first practical schooling in the Rangers. He wrote to me in 1921 about his old comrades and his commanding officer:—

“The Taranaki boys—the Maoris had no chance with them, man for man, in the bush. Skirmishing with them under Captain (afterwards Major) Atkinson taught me much about taking cover in bush fighting that served me well in other campaigns during nearly eight years' service in the Maori wars. It is always pleasing to a soldier to be able to remember with affection his old officer. When spoken to by Sir Harry Atkinson one knew that he was a kind friend as well as a commanding officer.”