Road’s ‘crit­i­cal’ role in the Waikato Wars

Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE - TOM CARNEGIE

It’s used by thou­sands of peo­ple ev­ery­day, yet few know about the dark role it played in New Zealand’s his­tory.

Today Great South Road is mainly known as a trans­port route be­tween Auck­land com­mer­cial and sub­ur­ban ar­eas. This in­cludes the sub­urbs of Ep­som, Green­lane, Eller­slie, Pen­rose and Mt Welling­ton.

Its use is a stark con­trast from when the route was con­ceived and de­vel­oped as a mil­i­tary road in the 19th cen­tury.

From 1863 to 1864 about 14,000 colo­nial troops marched down Great South Road from the Al­bert Bar­racks, in Auck­land Cen­tral, and camps at Pen­rose, Otahuhu and Drury for the in­va­sion of Waikato.

The in­va­sion, also known as the Waikato Wars, has been de­scribed by his­to­ri­ans as the big­gest and most im­por­tant cam­paign of the New Zealand Wars - a se­ries of bat­tles that took place from 1845 to 1872 be­tween the New Zealand gov­ern­ment and Maori.

The Waikato Wars was be­tween the colo­nial gov­ern­ment’s mil­i­tary forces and a fed­er­a­tion of Maori tribes, called the Kin­gi­tanga Move­ment, and lasted for nine months.

His­to­rian Vin­cent O’Mal­ley, in his book The Great War for New Zealand, doc­u­ments the im­por­tant role Great South Road played in the in­va­sion.

Its de­vel­op­ment was or­dered by Gov­er­nor Ge­orge Gray, who O’Mal­ley says wished to de­stroy the Maori king move­ment.

‘‘Gov­er­nor Ge­orge Grey ar­rived in New Zealand on Septem­ber 26, 1861. By De­cem­ber he had or­dered the con­struc­tion of the Great South Road.’’

Grey be­lieved the in­va­sion would have been im­pos­si­ble with­out a mil­i­tary road due to the dense for­est and swamps be­tween Auck­land and the Waikato river.

‘‘Around 2300 Bri­tish sol­diers were de­ployed on road build­ing af­ter the or­der was given for con­struc­tion to be­gin.’’

The road was com­pleted in 1863, en­abling large num­bers of colo­nial troops to de­scend on the Kin­gi­tanga move­ment.

O’Mal­ley says the Maori ca­su­alty-rate of the Waikato Wars was higher on a per capita ba­sis than New Zealand sol­diers in WWI.

As sub­ur­ban sprawl es­ca­lates O’Mal­ley says more needs to be done to pro­tect im­por­tant land­marks of the New Zealand Wars.

‘‘Around 2300 Bri­tish sol­diers were de­ployed on road build­ing.’’

Great South Road is now a ma­jor trans­port route be­tween Auck­land com­mer­cial and sub­ur­ban ar­eas.


Mem­bers of the Royal Ar­tillery work­ing on the Great South Road.

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