THE MASTERTON STOCKADE - Major Smith's Folly
Today Queen Elizabeth Park looks quiet
and peaceful. The area just north of the rose garden is
clothed in closely cropped lawn, spotted with large trees
and a quaint memorial, usually called the "Maori Peace
Statue." But hidden underneath the grass are the remains
of one of the most remarkable buildings ever erected in
Masterton - the Masterton Stockade.
Wairarapa is rightly proud of its record
of peace between Maori and pakeha. It was the only district
on the North Island in which there was no blood shed between
the two races. That pride has sometimes meant some uncomfortable
facts have been glossed over, and the willingness of some
members of both communities to embark on war-making has
been glossed over.
The first period of real tension between
the races was in 1863. There were race wars in other parts
of the country at the time - especially Taranaki and Waikato
- and some of the Wairarapa Maori took advantage of the
opportunity to increase their mana in battle. In Wairarapa
things got very tense, and there was talk of one of the
Kingite followers, Wi Waaka, removing the tapu on Wairarapa
and taking up arms, but after much toing and froing, and
much drilling by the settler militia and intervention by
leaders of both communities, the tension was reduced.
Major John Valentine Smith, leader of
the local militia and owner of Mataikona and Lansdowne
stations, was not so sure, and he wrote to the Wellington
Provincial government recommending the erection of a stockade
on the hill behind his Lansdowne homestead. Dr Featherston,
the Superintendent of the province, was uncertain however,
thinking that the erection of a stockade was as good as
an invitation to fight. Local politician A.W. Renall, of
a liberal nature and no friend of the conservative Valentine
Smith, agreed with Featherston, saying the arrival of the
Drill Sergeant in the area had caused excitement, and that
stockades would only add to the excitement.
Smith and the militia started building
anyway, erecting a flagstaff on the Lansdowne hill they
named 'Mount Direction.'The flagstaff was used as a signal
station, a black ball being hoisted when the weather was
fine enough for a parade. It was claimed that the ball
was visible throughout Masterton.
The Lansdowne stockade was not built however
and Major Smith had to wait for his chance to build his
redoubt. There was a brief scare in Wairarapa in 1865 as
the Pai Marire religion, started in Taranaki by Te Ua Haumene,
spread through the country. Many of the Wairarapa Maori
were attracted to the new religion, known to pakeha as
Hauhau, and at some took it up enthusiastically. One local
chief was appointed as apostle to the Ngati Kahungunu peoples.
The biggest potential threat to the peace came when a group
led by the West Coast chief Wi Hapi was said to be making
its way to Wairarapa. Precautions taken included stationing
a small troop of the Armed Constabulary, and a similarly
small number of militia, in Masterton. The Hauhau were
able to pass through the district without any trouble,
mainly due to the co-operation of the local Maori.
The events of 1868 were much more worrying,
with two major insurrections on the Government's hands.
The first, and by far the better-known
war was being waged on the East Coast. Te Kooti, who had
been unfairly imprisoned in the Chatham Islands, escaped
and made his way home. The Government pursued him and a
series of well-publicised battles took place. At the same
time as the Government was fighting Te Kooti on the East
Coast it was also trying to deal with Titokowaru on the
The Nga Ruahine chief Titokowaru had turned
his back on Christianity, and had revived some of the old
spiritual practices of his South Taranaki area. He led
a strong group of Taranaki people in attacks on the settlers
in southern Taranaki, with other warriors from Wanganui
and some from other North Island areas including Wairarapa.
His avowed intention was to drive the pakeha settlers from
the land and to restore Maori mana over their ancestral
The Government became increasingly concerned
that a North Island-wide uprising would take place, and
local settlers started to feel decidedly edgy. In Wairarapa
the two main leaders of the King movement, Ngairo Te Apuroa
and Wi Waaka, had both signed oaths of allegiance to the
Queen, but there were still those who were interested in
In a letter sent to Major Valentine Smith,
dated September 1868, Thomas Hill, who spoke fluent Maori,
advised Smith to inform the Government the local chief
Manihera Maaka had recently returned from Titokowaru, but
that the rest of the Wairarapa party of warriors had stayed
behind to guide a war party through the Manawatu bush.
Hill further advised that Maaka was claiming to have been
with Titokowaru when the latter ate human flesh, and that
Maaka was saying the pakeha of the district would be "struck
while they slept." Smith was clearly worried by this
news as he passed the information on to the Defence Ministry,
adding that in his opinion there was more "real danger
of insurrection" than there had ever been, and that
the risk increased as news spread of Titokowaru and Te
Kooti winning battles.
Smith, who was from a military family,
sought a military solution to the problem, suggesting that
the best course of action was to let the local Hauhau,
whom he described as a very bad lot, know that the settlers
were on the lookout. He proposed the Government should
employ 25-30 men as an armed militia on permanent standby.
He also revived his call for a stockade
erected in Masterton.
Smith's proposals were not widely supported.
The only newspaper being published in Wairarapa at the
time, Greytown's Wairarapa Mercury, adopted a mocking tone
when describing Smith's plans for both a permanent militia
and a stockade in Masterton. With an insight into Maori
thought patterns, the newspaper thought the erection of
a stockade was in fact more likely to produce war rather
then peace in the valley, understanding that the construction
of a stockade (or in Maori terms a paa) was an invitation
to attack. Events seem to have taken on much of their own
momentum from then on.
Many of the districts settlers agreed
with the newspaper, and thought the erection of any stockades
(Smith had proposed a string of them through the valley)
would only incite the local Maori to attack. At a series
of meetings called in the main towns they passed a series
of resolutions, calling on the Government not to build
Tensions between the races were rising
throughout the province, however, and the Hutt Valley stockades
were garrisoned. The Armed Constabulary officers in Wellington
wrote to Smith suggesting that the newly completed Carterton
Town Hall could be palisaded, and asked whether it was
possible to palisade the Reverend Ronaldson's house, which
was being used as a militia office.
The officers were clearly worried about
the state of affairs in the outlying countryside surrounding
the towns too. A telegram they sent to Smith said that
things in Upper Wanganui were getting worse, and that extra
vigilance was called for.
Minister of Defence, J.C Richmond, a personal
friend of Smith's, also sent a telegram, urging the entrenchment
of outlying houses in which "settlers may sleep together."
Major Smith's long campaign to have a
stockade erected in Masterton was about to bear fruit.
In late November 1868 Smith forwarded a plan of the stockade
he proposed to build in Masterton, and the Government
promptly telegraphed back, advising that he should go ahead
commence construction. Smith had already chosen a site
near his militia office on part of what was then known
as the Cemetery Reserve. The reserve was being leased
to prominent Masterton settler Henry Bannister, who agreed
to forgo the lease on part of the land, and signed over
the use of a piece of land near Dixon Street. The tender
of Captain Boys of the Greytown Cavalry to build the
for the sum of £1190 was accepted, and work started
on the Masterton Stockade in December 1868. The Government
had issued a set of detailed plans for the building of
stockades, but Smith had already forwarded his own plans,
and had been given permission to build on those plans.
Smith's plan called for the use of sawn
timber, but the Government sent word up that they were
worried about the cost of the building, and much preferred
that Smith should use "split stuff." It was thought
this would help keep the cost to about £75. Smith
was also advised to keep a look out for suitable sites
for cheap redoubts and rough blockhouses. The timber for
the construction of the stockade was felled and split in
Dixon's Bush, and the slabs were hauled down to the site
by William Dixon's team of bullocks. Once the timber was
on site the actual construction was commenced by two cousins,
Ted Sayer and Ted Braggins, working as contract labourers
for Captain Boys, commander of the Greytown Cavalry.
The plan for the stockade was very simple.
It was built as a large square, with double walls, and
two rooms at diagonally opposite corners. These rooms (bastions)
were roofed and shingled, and were built with loopholes
to enable defenders to fire along all four walls from the
two rooms. The walls of the redoubt were made of three
metre lengths of split totara, about 80 cm thick, which
were set 600 mm into the soil. Each side of the wall was
actually two walls about 600 mm apart. The gap between
the walls was filled with gravel to act as protection against
In order for the defenders to fire on
any attackers, loopholes were provided at 2m intervals
along the walls. A moat, 2.5 metres wide and 2.5 metres
deep, surrounded the walls. On the Dixon Street side of
the stockade a drawbridge was constructed, operated by
a block and tackle.
The agitation against the stockade among
the local settlers continued. Richard Collins of Te Ore
Ore station started a petition against the building, and
politician Henry Bunny called a meeting to discuss the
matter. Smith asked his superiors for permission to attend
the meeting. He reported back that the meeting wanted 40
Armed Constabulary officers stationed in the district.
Collins was telegraphed and told that the Government considered
the stockade was needed for the safe custody of spare arms
and ammunition, and Smith was told to "go on with
The Wairarapa Mercury, implacably opposed
to the construction of the stockade, suggested that the
bastions would never be used to defend the district - instead
they thought one would make a wonderful Public Reading
Room and the other would be a useful Infirmary. Further
to that, they queried how the tender was awarded to Captain
Boys without ever being advertised. As the construction
was starting the local Maori held a meeting at Ngairo's
pa, near Rangitumau. Ngairo announced that the local Maori
had no intention of attacking anyone, but protested against
the erection of stockades, and said he considered them
The Mercury was also scathing about Major
Smith. They suggested he developing a reputation for being
an alarmist, and sarcastically said that Smith was aware
that "with his military skill, his great resources
and extreme popularity, his safety is of paramount importance
to the inhabitants, and the Maories knowing that so well,
would direct the first attack against Lansdowne."
By early 1869 the work on the stockade
was progressing well. Men were employed in removing the
gravel from the moat, and the posts were in the ground
for the walls. The Mercury continued its attack on the
stockade, saying that, given the stony nature of the soil,
it was most likely that the whole stockade would fall into
the moat. They also complained that the money spent on
the stockade would have been better spent on bridges and
By February the building was nearly complete
- the outer wall was clad and the inner wall was nearly
finished off. Before work went much further however, disaster
fell on the builders. Or rather, one of the walls did!
The moat was a problem. The crumbly nature of the soil
and the steep pitch of the moat meant the moat was constantly
wearing away, this erosion making a threat to the walls.
The Evening Post of February 13 reported
that the whole of the stockade had caved in the night before.
The Mercury could scarcely contain its delight. To make
matters worse for the builders it was announced that the
collapse had happened in front of a group of important
visitors, including militia officers and the local magistrate.
Captain Boys was placed in a dreadful
position by the collapse of the wall. He immediately offered
to rebuild the wall if allowed to place it a further 600
mm inside the moat. The Government were not happy about
the events in Masterton and in March they sent Mr Haughton,
Acting Under Secretary for Defence, to inspect the stockade.
Haughton reported back that the structure
was mainly built to the plan submitted by Smith, but pointed
out that the plan was very loosely drawn and that some
important matters were left off the plan.
The walls were a problem. There was no
call to mortise the rails into the posts, and the rails
had simply been nailed onto the posts, and the slabs were
then nailed to the rails. Once the gaps between the walls
were filled with gravel the whole weight of the gravel
was being held by the two or three nails holding the planks
onto their framing. According to his report the stockade
was especially vulnerable on the south-west and he said
it would "certainly not stand forty-eight hours wind
and rain from that quarter." He recommended that improvements
be made to the stockade, which seemed to him to be very
rough, because as it was the stockade was "practically
useless and will in a short time cease to exist except
in the form of sawn and split timber."
Work stopped on the stockade. The Government
would not pay until the work was finished and Boys wanted
payment for the extra work he had to do. Smith wrote to
the Government on Boys' behalf but they responded by stating
that they would not expend any more money on the building.
The Mercury had the answer. They thought
a drain dug from the Waipoua River (then flowing through
a channel near Bruce Street) would do the trick, as the
next flood in the river would just take the whole thing
away. The stockade, "a laughing stock to everyone,
European and natives," was handed over to the Government
in late March, and six members of the Armed Constabulary
took up residence in one of the bastions. The drawbridge
rope had not arrived, and further props were required for
the walls to stop them falling in. In their parting shot
the Mercury suggested Mr Bannister should be allowed to
use the stockade as a shearing shed, or perhaps a boiling-down
works. The threat of uprising quickly faded away, and the
stockade was never required.
By November 1869 just one man was left,
and Major Smith shifted his office from Reverend Ronaldson's
house to the stockade. In May 1870 the last member of the
Armed Constabulary, Constable Tasker, was dismissed and
Smith was left in sole charge. He wrote requesting a staff
member to help keep the militia office secure, but the
Government simply wrote back to tell him to lock the door
behind him when he left. Major Smith must have had an uncomfortable
time in his office. The bastion floors were earth, the
windows not glazed, there was no chimney and the whole
room must have been cold.
Funnily enough, Major Smith's folly, the
Masterton stockade, was be of some use to the town.
In 1871, 1873 and 1875 the stockade was
used as a Showgrounds for the first Wairarapa Agricultural
shows, and the bastions were destined to be used as immigration
cottages. In late 1873 local magistrate H.S Wardell wrote
to the Immigration Department, suggesting some works to
make the bastions more suitable for use as an immigration
depot. By coincidence the officer Wardell dealt with was
the same C.E. Haughton who had written he scathing report
on the building some years before.
A further addition was made to the stockade
when a two-storied cottage was added to the collection
of buildings. The cottage was designed to serve as a Mess
Room and Kitchen, and came complete with chimneys. The
Mercury (by now called the Wairarapa Standard) was still
not impressed - they described the building as "gloomy."
In 1875 the land the stockade stood on
changed hands, the Government handing it over to the
Masterton Park Trust, and in 1877 the first plantings in
to become Queen Elizabeth Park commenced. The Trust leased
the stockade to R.I.S. Carver, a local musician, for £15
By this time the stockade, never a thing
of beauty, was a total wreck. The Standard had this to
say:- "As an historic momento of the dark ages in
Masterton it doubtless possesses an absorbing interest
to the antiquarian mind, but like Othello, its occupations
gone and destitute of paint, with its windows battered
by mischievous boys, and its ponderous drawbridge smashed,
it is calculated to excite anything but terror to besiegers!"
The stockade stayed on site until 1882,
when the Park Trust sold it at auction. Mrs Annie Ewington
bought the remains of the stockade to use as a fence around
her Lansdowne garden. She also bought the cottage from
the middle of the stockade and shifted it to near the current
site of the stadium, where it burnt down in 1900.
The Masterton stockade, built by the Government
for over £300 sold for £24 and 10s.
Today all that remains of Masterton’s
contribution to the New Zealand Wars are some earthworks
in Queen Elizabeth Park, visible in a dry summer, and
the Maori Peace Statue, placed on the site in 1921.