Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services 

 Search  &  Help Recruits Military History Hall of Heroes Indigenous Slouch hat + ARMY Today Uniforms Badges

 Colours & Flags Weapons Food Equipment Assorted Medals Armour Navy Air Power 

Nurses - Medical Tributes Poetry - Music Posters & Signs Leaders The Enemy Humour Links Killing Anzac

Category: Assorted/Heroes

Click to go up one level

Captain (later Colonel) William Bazire Messenger Taranaki Militia, 
also Bush Rangers, Armed Constabulary, NZ Militia and 10th NZ contingent.

Images & text by Aubrey Bairstow

William Messenger is perhaps one of the more well known of all the veterans of the Maori Wars. When the opportunity arose to purchase his medal, even at a considerable cost, arose it was not a chance I could turn down. There is much written about Messenger in many of the texts of this period. 

His military career spanned some 50 years and he figured in the history of not only the New Zealand Wars, but also the Volunteer period and the Boer War.

William Messenger was the son of William Messenger senior, a veteran of the Royal Navy who was present (and wounded) at Algiers as a Midshipman on HMS Queen Charlotte in 1816. William junior was born in Essex in 1834.

He was educated at Woodford House Academy and his family settled in Taranaki (where they took up a bush section) in 1853.

William enlisted in the Taranaki Volunteers in June 1858 as a Private. He was promoted to Sergeant the following year. When hostilities broke out in 1860 he assisted in the construction of the Omata Stockade. 

On 3 March 1860 he was commissioned as Ensign in the Taranaki Militia.

William Messenger as a young officer in around 1872  (given that he is wearing the ribbon of the New Zealand War Medal issued to him in 1872). Photo: Taranaki Museum
Ensign Messenger was in action at Waireka on 28 March 1860 under Captain Stapp.  This action not only proved the worth of the local volunteers but also save the town from an attack by a large force of united Maori tribes.

Later in 1860, Ensign Messenger was to serve at Puketakauere (27 June) and Mahoetahi (6 November). Messenger led his men with some gallantry in all actions and was especially noted for his conduct at Waireka.

On 3 March 1861 William’s brother Edward Messenger (aged 16) was killed by Maoris whilst out collecting peaches at Brooklands. He was a veteran of Waireka and had been presented with a revolver for bravery by the NZ Government however at the time of his murder was simply going about his daily duties. He is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, New Plymouth.

On 4 December 1862 William Messenger was promoted to Lieutenant and placed in command of the stockade at Bell Block.

Messenger was promoted to Captain in July 1863 and in the same month he married Arabella Mace at St Mary’s Church. Arabella’s brother was Frank Mace who, as an officer in the Taranaki Mounted Volunteers and Taranaki Militia was awarded the New Zealand Cross for assorted acts of bravery during the Taranaki Wars.

When fighting renewed in October 1863 Captain Messenger was in action at the battle of Allen’s Hill (2 October 1863, alternately known as Poutoko). 

Captain Messenger was given command of 150 Taranaki Military Settlers from Melbourne in February 1864. Under his command the men constructed assorted blockhouses including one at Pukearuhe (“White Cliffs”). A massive ancient pa was leveled and a substantial military complex complete with administration buildings was constructed. In August 1865 a ship carrying timber for the buildings was wrecked due the pilot being drunk.

From 1863 to 1868 Messenger served on the Provincial Council, representing Omata.

At the cessation of the war the Military Settlers took up their allotted farms and Messenger settled on his Land Grant at Mihi. Whilst living there on 14 February 1869 Reverend Whitely and the Gascoigne family (Lt Gascoigne has taken over command from Messenger) were massacred at the Pukearuhe Redoubt/Settlement. This seemed to have had some effect on Messenger as Reverend Whitely had called on his home the evening prior to the day of his death and whilst William Messenger had suggested that he stay the night the Reverend had insisted that he continue on his way. Moreover all of Gascoigne’s family including his wife and 4 young children had been killed and it was not long prior that Messenger and his young family had been living at the redoubt. Presumably Captain Messenger was concerned that it could we have been he and his family murdered had he not elected to settle the farm allocated to him.

Immediately upon hearing the rumour of the massacre Captain Messenger ensured that other settlers were safe and then proceeded to the scene of the killings. He was not able to convince local friendly Maori to accompany him so he went on his own. He was met by a party of men under Captain Stapp and together they came across the bodies of those killed.

Colonel Messenger leading his men at Mahoetahi in 1860. This is an illustration by Messenger’s son, A H Messenger a talented artist who drew for the Taranaki Herald.

Messenger’s house at White Cliff’s c1866. Only the hearth now remains.

Photo from the Messenger family.


For his services at White Cliffs following the murders Captain Messenger received the thanks of the New Zealand Government.

The massacre prompted Messenger to again take up a military post, this time at Urenui. He was responsible for the contraction of the blockhouse at Te Arei however later took up his old post at White Cliffs.

From 1871 to 1872 Captain Messenger served in the Armed Constabulary in the pursuit of Titokowaru. He said he commanded Forest Rangers however as that force had been disbanded by then it is possible he was referring to his command of the Bush Rangers or perhaps had ex Forest Rangers under his command. Messenger’s file includes an order to him from Major Stapp dated 25 February 1869 confirming that at the time Captain Messenger was in command of the Bush Rangers and of the Militia. As Messenger also refers to his service in the Forest Rangers in a number of documents including his application for his Colonial Auxiliary Forces Decoration so, given that this information would have been officially scrutinised by persons able to do so, his statements may well be totally correct.

After the campaign against Titokowaru, Messenger returned to White Cliffs where he lived for a number of years, commanding the Armed Constabulary post he had constructed. A nearby mountain was named in his honour apparently due to his surveying it and his protection of the area. The mountain is still named Mt Messenger and is just to the North of present day New Plymouth.

In 1881 Inspector Messenger commanded the Armed Constabulary Force that occupied the Taranaki settlement of Parihaka –where Titikowaru was hiding.

Finally, in 1885 the Messengers left White Cliffs, although moved nearby and continued to farm the area. Messenger was promoted to Major in 1885 and placed in command of the Permanent Artillery. In 1889 Major Messenger commanded the force which apprehended Te Kooti on the East Coast.

In 1901 Colonel Messenger was place in command of the New Zealand Artillery. He commanded the 10th New Zealand Contingent to the Boer War, which sailed in April 1902. Whilst in South Africa he served on the Staff of the New Zealand Prime Minister Richard Seddon, who was visiting troops serving in the Boer War. 

Colonel Messenger was placed in command of an Australian Contingent and accompanied them back to Melbourne.

Messenger retired in 1903. He lived in retirement in New Plymouth for a further 19 years. He was known as an accomplished pianist. One of his quirks was that he had no time for dentists and pulled his own teeth. (and those of his family).

He owned numerous farm properties in the New Plymouth area and died aged 88 years on 8 April 1922.

Colonel William Messenger seated to the left of the Prime Minister Richard “King Dick” Seddon. It is presumed that this photograph was taken  during the 1902 tour of South Africa that the popular Prime Minster took as Messenger served on his Staff during this period. It is however possible that this is a group photograph of officers of the 10th New Zealand Contingent to South Africa either taken at the time of their embarkation from New Zealand or during their service in South Africa. The exact origins of this photograph are unknown. It is in the A G Bairstow Collection.
In 1903 Colonel Messenger applied for the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Decoration. In his detailed statement of service which accompanied this application he provided evidence if having served 44 years and 52 days –an exceptional period of service matched by only a handful of other Maori War veterans (including Colonel Porter whose medals are also in The Collection). Needless to say, this long service award was granted to Messenger. His statement of services confirms that 

Messenger served in the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers, New Zealand Militia, Forest Rangers, Armed Constabulary, New Zealand Permanent Militia, 10th New Zealand Contingent to the Boer War. He has omitted Taranaki Military Settlers, Taranaki Bush Rangers and New Zealand Artillery.    

As well as being entitled to the New Zealand War Medal, Messenger is also entitled to the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasp “South Africa 1902” and the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Decoration. Only the New Zealand Medal (named Captain Taranaki Militia) is held in The Collection. His Queens South Africa Medal is believed to be still with his descendants and the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Decoration in the Taranaki Museum.


Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces