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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

District's Early Defenders and Its Heroes Overseas

District's Early Defenders and Its Heroes Overseas

The first military unit to be stationed in Poverty Bay was a section of the Forest Rangers, which was placed at Te Arai after the Siege of Waerenga-a-Hika (1865). It was disbanded early in 1866, and, in July of that year, the Poverty Bay Militia (Major Biggs, commander) and the Poverty Bay M.R. (Captain Westrup in charge) were established. Every able-bodied man was required to enrol in the Militia. Neglect to report within 24 hours after arrival in the district cost a newcomer one guinea. Upon being sworn in, a recruit was handed a rifle and given the page 344 option of joining up with the Mounteds. A section of the Armed Constabulary (then a military unit) was stationed in a redoubt at Mata-whero in 1869, but it was brought into Turanganui in 1870 whilst the township was being surveyed. Ormond then became its H.Q. Its status was changed to that of a police unit in 1874.

In 1872 the Poverty Bay Militia consisted of: No. 1 Company, at Gisborne; No. 2 Company, at Matawhero; and No. 3 Company, at Ormond. The parades were held at Ormond, and absentees were liable to a fine not exceeding £5. By 1873 the training had become perfunctory, and the Standard inquired: “What on earth is the use of a batch of men being required to assemble once a quarter, without arms, simply for the purpose of having their names called over and to get a payment of 4/-?” Waiapu had a Native Militia in 1874. The Poverty Bay Militia was disbanded in February, 1875, and the Poverty Bay M.R. in 1876. Some of the former members of these units joined up with the Gisborne Rifles Volunteer Corps, which was formed on 6 June, 1877. The Makaraka Rifles (established in 1877) amalgamated with the Gisborne Artillery Corps (formed in 1877) to form J Battery, which was Gazetted on 3 December, 1878.

Volunteering soon reached a high pitch of popularity in Poverty Bay. When J Battery received a six-pounder Armstrong field gun in March, 1880, it gained a large number of additional recruits. [A twelve-pounder was obtained in its place in July, 1886.] The Gisborne Rifles, Cook County Rifles and Ormond Rifles also became strong units in the early 1880's. In 1886 a cadet corps was formed, but the Government declined to avail itself of the services of a Naval Volunteer Artillery and Torpedo Corps, for which 65 recruits had, within 24 hours, agreed to enrol “for the defence of the port.”

Formed in 1887, the East Coast Hussars attracted town as well as country members, and, under Captain G. J. Winter, soon became a very efficient unit. They were disbanded in 1892. In December, 1898, the infantry units became the Gisborne Rifles, with Captain J. Warren in charge. The East Coast M.R. were established on 24 February, 1900, under Captain Winter, who was succeeded, in turn, by Captain J. H. Colebourne, Captain J. Tombleson, Captain C. Hellier Evans and Captain C. J. Hamilton.

The Poverty Bay-East Coast Defence District was represented in the Boer War (1899–1902) by a commander of two New Zealand contingents (Colonel T. W. Porter), 10 commissioned officers (Captains B. Arthur and C. R. Neale, and Lieutenants W. T. Pitt, W. E. Langford, R. H. Trotter, G. B. Carter, F. S. Barton, E. A. Rees, G. A. C. Simpson and R. H. Porter), 25 n.c.o.'s, 126 troopers, and Nurse N. Redstone. Trooper I. S. Hurrey was killed in action, and Trooper H. R. Kirkman died of fever. Sergeant M. Pickett gained the D.S.M.

Compulsory military training came into force on 1 June, 1911. Apart from the junior cadets, there were, then, three military units in Poverty Bay: Gisborne Rifles, Gisborne Defence Cadets and the East Coast M.R. In 1913 the Territorial forces in Poverty Bay comprised: 188 mounteds, 262 infantry, 506 cadets and 78 rifle club members.