stockade plans

John Valentine Smith decided to erect the Masterton stockade without following these official Government plans.

flour mill

In the 1930s Charles Bannister sketched the stockade, as he remembered it. The bastions on opposite corners of the stockade were roofed, and the cottage was not erected until later, to be used as an immigration depot.

Masterton stockade

The Masterton stockade is clearly visible in front of St Matthew's Church.

John Valentine Smith

John Valentine Smith, the local militia leader, who persuaded the Government to build a stockade in Masterton.

click images to enlarge



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 West Coast.

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 lands.

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 Titokowaru's war.

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 any stockades.

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 and 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 redoubt 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 musket fire.

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 Stockade."

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 a threat.

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 roads.

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 what was to become Queen Elizabeth Park commenced. The Trust leased the stockade to R.I.S. Carver, a local musician, for £15 a year.

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.

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  Joseph Masters and Retimana Te Korou   Doctor William Hosking, medical pioneer
  The establishment of the Small Farms Association   Wairarapa's Pioneer balloonists
  The Masterton stockade - Major Smith's Folly   The Maori Peace Statue
  Papawai - the centre of the Maori Parliament   Russian Jack - the last of the swaggers
  The Fell Engine and the Rimutaka Incline   A night of terror - the 1942 earthquake
  Dear Sister - Oates Family   Flying in Wairarapa
  Getting around   Getting fleeced
  Henley Lake   Lighting the way
  Masterton Park   Regent Theatre
  Samuel Oates   Taking a dip
  Te Ore Ore Marae   Featherston Military Training Camp