Home    History index

LtCol T.W. McDonald's Notes
on the
History of the New Zealand Military Forces

Part One: Chronology

In 1956, Lieutenant Colonel T.W. McDonald (NZ Military Forces) compiled these historical notes on the development of the NZ Military Forces in honour of his colleague, Colonel A.H.W. Evanden, being made a Life Member of the RNZA Mess.

1840-44 During the years 1840-44 the only Forces in the country were small detachments of Imperial troops.

The Militia was established as a branch of the NZ Military Forces by the passing of the first "Militia Act" on 25th March 1845 after the famous flagstaff on Maiki Hill above Kororareka was cut down for the fourth time and sacked. From this date the Militia was a compulsory Home Service Force. The establishment of the Militia was the first case in New Zealand's history of the raising of local Military Forces. It was a direct result of Hone Heke's war in North Auckland.


In 1872 the "New Zealand Militia" was Established. The first mention of it was when certain disbandoned Volunteer Officers were posted to it. From then on, any Officer not directly employed with Volunteer units was commissioned in the New Zealand Militia, including those serving on the staff.


The NZ Militia continued until 1881.
The Permanent Forces of New Zealand owe their origin to the Maori Wars and the need that was felt for having some small highly trained body available for employment anywhere in the Colony; especially was this the case when small parties were needed to deal with the Hau Haus, and to round up Te Kooti.


Actually, the first armed regular force was a force of Armed Constabulary raised in 1846. It was, in fact, an Armed Police Force to "Preserve the Peace". It is really the ancestor of our present Police Force.


In 1847 an Act was passed to enable a permanent or semi-permanent force to be raised among the Maoris, with the idea of formerly enlisting those friendly natives who were prepared to help us against the rebels.


In 1848 all Pensioners in the Colony were ordered to enrol as a Military Force to the number of 600.


The Colonial Defence Forces (Imperial) ceased to exist under that name on the passing of the Armed Constabulary Act in 1867.
There were "divisions" of the AC, each about 70 or 80 strong, including 2 "Maori Divisions".


In 1886 there was a general re-organization of the Defence Forces, and the first Defence Act was passed. This included provisions affecting Militia, Volunteers, and Permanent Forces. It practically began and ended with transferring to the Permanent Militia, all that portion of the Armed Constabulary then serving in the engineer, artillery, rifles and torpedo corps, although it was first mentioned in 1880 by Colonel Scratchley, RE, in his report on the NZ Defences.

The Permanent Forces included and were organized into:-

(a) Four Garrison Artillery "Batteries" each of 30 men, one at each defended port.
(b) A "Torpedo Corps" of 50 men.
(c) An Engineer Corps of 20 men.


In 1888 the Engineers were amalgamated with the Torpedo Corps. All the above were commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Boddam, RE and were working on the fortifications. Field Artillery was 50 strong, and was commanded by Major Gascoyne. In 1881 this was amalgamated with the Garrison Artillery portion.


The Permanent Militia, after about 1892, had reached an organization which, with changes in name only, it was to keep until 1910-11 when there was established a Garrison Artillery Section, and a Torpedo Corps Section, both intimately concerned with either the guns or the Minefield defences of the Ports.


In 1896 the Torpedo Corps became the Submarine Mining Corps.


In 1897 the Artillery Corps was designated No. 1 Service Company, and the Torpedo Corps, No. 2 Service Company of the Permanent Force. In 1903 those names became, respectively, "Royal NZ Artillery" and Royal NZ Engineers", while in 1907 the latter became the Electric Light Section of the former (RNZA) and the situation was then that the RNZA was one Corps divided into Gunnery and Electric Light Sections, to which, at the same time, a small Clerical Section was added.


In 1911, a Field Artillery Section was added, and stability was reached until 1926, when one single Corps of "RNZA" was created with no Special Sections.


After 2 years' full service in the Permanent Militia, a man was eligible for transfer to the Police and Prisons Departments, which were to draw all their recruits in that way.

The theory was that a Militiaman in the Police remained as a sort of reservist and would be available in time of war. Actually this was a twin brother to the theory of old soldiers "Springing to Arms" in an emergency, for the Militia-Policeman did no further military training, and, as was soon pointed out, was certain to be wanted as a policeman at the same time as his military leaders were clamouring for him to come back and be a soldier again.

The system died a natural death after a few years, but it is a good example of the temptations of a "dual role" theory.


The Artillery Section spent many years in completing the mounting of the Coast Defence Armament.

The Torpedo Corps was instructed very often by Naval Officers, as their weapon at the time was an ordinary Whitehead torpedo, to be fired either from shore or from a small launch.

In 1896 the torpedo idea was dropped and was replaced by submarine mines with a corresponding change of name. All the instructors were brought out from the Imperial Army. In 1899, a custom arose of having a course for all available personnel.

Detachments of the Submarine Mining Corps - late Torpedo Corps - operated in the four main centres, Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton and Dunedin. Their principal function was the laying of Minefields by means of four Minelaying and four Torpedo Boats - one for each Port - which were brought out from England and operated in the above places respectively.

The size of these boats was approximately 60 feet long, with 3½ feet draught, and covered in with a Conning Tower with double-barrelled Nordenfeldt guns firing one inch shells. Two 100lb Torpedos were fired from each side of these Vessels by means of a dropping-gear.

In their bows they carried a 50ft boom with a 50lb charge of gun-cotton. They had two engines, and a speed of 20 knots. The plating of these Vessels was only 1/16th of an inch thick.

Later the Government brought from England two modern Minelaying Vessels, the Janie Seddon and the Lady Roberts. The former was stationed at Wellington, and the latter at Auckland. These two Vessels displaced the existing four smaller Vessels. The Janie Seddon was the training vessel. These two vessels came out from England on their own steam. They were also fitted with sails.

At a later date, the Submarine Mining Corps was, by Royal Warrant, granted the title of Royal Engineers.

After the Station had been brought up to date, and put on a War-footing, the whole make-up was disbanded.

The first Minelayer to lay mines in New Zealand was the Ellen Ballance, subsequent to her succeeding the Janie Seddon and the Lady Roberts. The latter was the latest vessel of this kind brought out from England.


In 1892 the Torpedo Corps blew up two wrecks and also some rocks in Nelson Harbour. Several times in the career of the Force, it has been called upon for similar pieces of work, there being great advantages in having a disciplined body to handle explosives.

The strength of the Force at this time was:-

Permanent Artillery     ...     5 Officers, 123 Other Ranks
Torpedo Corps     ...     2 Officers, 61 Other Ranks.

This was much below both establishments and requirements.


By 1896, the Force had increased by almost 50% over the 1893 figures and numbered 267 all ranks. At this date (1896) and indeed for many years, the Detachments of the Permanent Force were in no way under the O.C. District in which they were serving, but dealt direct in every way with what then stood for G.H.Q. This was responsible for considerable ill-feeling.

Return to top

History Index    |    Home