Volume 9

The Tapu Rifle Rangers 1869

Kae Lewis

By 1865, the main fighting of the Maori Wars had died down. Many of the soldiers and volunteers who had fought in that war were attracted to Thames in 1867 when the Goldfield was declared open in August. Despite the continuing disputes over land for miners, James Mackay was able to keep the peace. The first men forming an armed constabulary in Thames were actually Maoris hired by James Mackay to bring back miners trespassing on their lands. But by 1868, bands of Hauhaus, lead by Te Kooti began to raise alarm amongst the miners and settlers at The Thames.

NZ Herald 16 Jan 1869:
Major Cooper has, we are informed, received instructions from the General Government to organize a volunteer force at the Thames....

There was some delay while James Mackay consulted with the Maori Chiefs at Ohinemuri. In the event, they were in agreement with the idea of the formation of the volunteer force. Alarmed at the Hauhau threat, the government sent shipments of arms from Auckland

NZ Herald 8 March 1869:
Forty stands of arms for distribution amongst the newly enrolled members of the Hauraki Volunteers were received yesterday per steamer from Auckland.

By the end of March, Major Cooper and Lieutenant Jackson had paraded the first group of volunteers, the Thames Rifle Rangers, followed quickly by similar groups all over the District.

Daily Southern Cross 23 March 1869:
OUR VOLUNTEERS: Arms and accoutrements were issued to all the volunteers sworn in at Shortand, on Saturday last, by Major Cooper.

The alarm about Te Kooti and his roving band of rebels spread like wildfire amongst the isolated miners throughout the district. The miners and their families at Tapu (Hastings) felt isolated and vulnerable during these days and decided to act.

NZ Herald 30 March 1869:
HASTINGS March 27 We feel glad to report that a step in the right direction is being taken with regard to the present defenseless state of this town, viz. – the organisation of a volunteer force. The following letter addressed to Daniel Grove, Esq., M.P.C., Chairman of the Tapu Progress Committee has been received from Major Cooper, several copies of which are now posted in the most conspicuous parts of Hastings; also calling a public meeting, to be held at the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel on Monday evening next, at half past seven o’clock.

Shortland, 18 March 1869.
Sir, - As I consider it advisable that a Volunteer force should be formed at Tapu with the least possible delay, I should be obliged if you would inform me what number of men would be willing to join, and what time would suit to hold a meeting to swear in members and read volunteer regulations, &c.; Should a corps be formed the drill might take place out of working hours, and squads could be so arranged as not to oblige the members to go any inconvenient distance from their work. Any member joining a volunteer corps can obtain a discharge by giving six weeks’ notice if he desires to leave the district. The Government supplies arms and a drill instructor. Volunteers receive no pay unless actual service. Men who join the volunteer militia receive one shilling for each drill when not on service and five shillings per diem (day) when on actual service.
I am, Sir, &c;
I.R. Cooper
‘Major Commanding Thames District.’
NZ Herald 31 March 1869:
Suppose the men were got, they would first have to find themselves in arms; and supposing that they did not wait to be drilled or officered, but went up as they were, they would most probably find, when they got to Ohinemuri, that there was not the sign of a rebel Maori to be seen. It is quite impossible for them to go into the interior. We all know how Major Mair, a man of determination and energy, has been forced to desist from the pursuit of Te Kooti, owing to the impossibility of getting food. Then suppose the men at Ohinemuri thought their work done, and that they broke up into small prospecting parties of four or five, to go out into the ranges, what would be the next step? Some two or three of the parties would be cut off, and the prospecting and the whole expedition would soon come to an end.

The government saw clearly that if they wanted to keep the highly profitable goldmining industry of The Thames and Ohinemuri thriving, they had to organise the miners into volunteer forces to defend themselves against the very present danger of Te Kooti and his roving band of rebels.

Their man on the spot was Major Issac Rhodes Cooper (1819 - 1889) who was living in Shortland and was appointed a Major Commanding in the New Zealand Militia for the Thames District. Previously he was a Captain in the 58th Regiment in New Zealand during the Maori Wars and commanded the militia near Wanganui in 1861 - 1862.

The township of Tapu in 1868.
Source: Johny Williams, Thames
From: These Hills Are Tapu by Deborah Jowitt.

The Daily Southern Cross 6 April 1869:
Major Cooper is perfectly indefatigable in his attendance at meetings of volunteers. On Saturday, after riding from Puriri, he attended the parade in Shortland, after which he attended a meeting at Tararu; from thence he proceeded to a meeting which was held at Tapu, for the purpose of inaugurating a volunteer force in that district. There were about 100 persons present at the meeting, to whom the Major explained the volunteer regulations, and other matters in which they were interested. A list was opened for the purpose of receiving the names of those willing to join, and 57 names were at once entered. The applications for the acceptance of the services of the corps was then delivered to Major Cooper to be forwarded through Dr Pollen to the Government.
The Honorable Daniel Pollen (1813-1896)
Source: NZ History: Daniel Pollen.

The Honorable Dr Daniel Pollen (1813-1896) was a member of the Legislative Council of the Auckland Provincial Council and for a time the Colonial Secretary. In the event, 47 names were on the list forwarded to Dr Pollen from Tapu in 1869.

A series of communications with the Government then took place over the next few weeks (from Archives NZ documents AD1 80)

Militia Volunteer Forces,
Thames District.

I.R. Cooper,
5 April 1869,
Militia Office.
Forty eight persons at Tapu desire to be formed into a Volunteer Corp

I have the honor to forward you a copy of a letter dated 3rd Instant received from Mr W. Gray requesting that 48 persons may be allowed to form a Volunteer Corp at Tapu to be named the ‘Tapu Rifle Rangers’.
At present there is no Volunteer Corp at Tapu and the Corp nearest to Tapu have its Head Quarters at Graham’s Town situated about 16 miles from Tapu. I deem it advisable that the Services of the Corp may be accepted on account of the present aspect of native affairs and the isolated position of Tapu.

To The Honorable Dr Pollen,
Resident Defense Minister,

We the annexed hereby offer our Services to His Excellency Sir George Bower K.C.B. &c; to serve in a Volunteer Corp under the name of the ‘Tapu Rifle Rangers’.Patrick McCarthy
George Phelps
Robert Ayers
George Seymour
Patrick Murphy
Robert Ralph
Walter Scott
H.E. Tomlinson
Frank G. Holt
John Chr Bruion
Henry Luscombe
William A. Gray
Edward D Larvey
Malcolm McLeod
M Coneroy
Henry Butterly
Frederick J. Ansell
John Tinsley
John H. Bovaird
Daniel Grove
Hugh Paterson
Thomas Burney
James Charles Ferrow
R. Harris
George Rogers
James B. Steadman
Edwin Golding
John Harris
M. McMahon
John Fisher
George Darsey
Richard M. Hawkes
M.F. McMahon
Harry Crawford
James Maingay
John A. Ralph
John P. Lough
Alexander McMartin
William Lornes
Dugald Campbell
Robert Brown
George Higham
Edwin R. Braggins
Richard J. Tregoweth
John Lough
John Glason
John O’Brien
'True copy'
I.R.. Cooper
Major Commanding
Thames District

Hastings 3rd April 1869
Major I.R. Cooper,
Commanding Thames District

I beg to forward you the Enclosed list of names of gentlemen who have signed their names as Members of the ‘Tapu Rifle Rangers’. Requesting that you will forward the names to the Government and tender the Services of the above Corps.
I am Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
W.A. Gray
Hon. Secretary.

His Excellency the Governor is respectfully advised to accept the Services of the ‘Tapu Rifle Rangers Volunteers’.
Date of acceptance 3rd April 1869.
Gazetted No 25 13 May 1869.
Defense Office.
28 April 1869.

The Corps has been offered the use of a good wooden house to keep the arms in and there is a Rifle Range in the immediate neighbourhood of the House.
I have the honor to be
Your most obedient Servant
I.R. Cooper
Major Commanding
Thames District

By the end of April, the Government of New Zealand had given its approval for the formation of the Tapu Rifle Rangers Volunteers. Practically all the men who signed up to join the Tapu Rifle Rangers Volunteers were registered gold miners, with their names appearing on the on The Goldminer's Database. (The Gold Wardens in Thames who registered all the claims named this goldfield that was centered on Tapu the Waikawau Block.) The rest of the volunteers would have been in the timber industry, publicans, shopkeepers and labourers. No mention is made of a uniform and it seems likely, at least initially, that the men drilled in their own clothes with a government-issued rifle.

The men were to be paid a small retainer when not in service but were liable to be called out for actual service on full pay at any time. For this reason, it is likely that only unmarried men without dependents were volunteering. This is evidenced by the fact that the name of the author’s great great grandfather Edwin Hooper, who was in Tapu in April 1869 aged 39, and who had his wife and four young children with him, does not appear in the above list of Tapu Volunteers.

NZ Herald 5 August 1869:
Te Kooti’s Band at Ohinemuri
As may be imagined, considerable sensation was created in this place yesterday by the arrival of the intelligence that the noted and blood-thirsty Te Kooti, or at least a considerable number of his band, was at Ohinemuri....(Mr Thorpe) went up to the settlement to make certain of the report. He found that it was a fact and that the native residents of Ohinemuri were in a state of great alarm, for it must be remembered that Te Kooti has several times dealt with natives who refused to join him as savagely as with Europeans.

In fact there was no actual battle in Thames or Ohinemuri but the Volunteer forces paraded and stood to, practiced at the firing ranges and generally stood ready to defend their town. And the much-valued Hauraki Rifles became a feature of life in The Thames and District from then on.

Uniform worn by the Hauraki Rifle Brigade in about 1900
Source: The Thames Star 7 Dec 1927


  1. NZ Herald 16 Jan 1869.
  2. NZ Herald 8 March 1869.
  3. The Daily Southern Cross 23 March 1869.
  4. NZ Herald 30 March 1869.
  5. NZ Herald 31 March 1869.
  6. The Daily Southern Cross 6 April 1869.
  7. NZ Herald 5 August 1869.
  8. Archives New Zealand: AD1 80 Record Number CD1869/2379 Title: I.R.Cooper, Thames Date 5 April 1869: Forty persons at Tapu desire to be formed into a Volunteers Corps.
  9. The Goldminer's Database.
  10. ‘These Hills Are Tapu’ by Deborah Jowitt 1991.
  11. NZ History: Daniel Pollen.
  12. The Thames Star 7 Dec 1927
  13. Wanganui Chronicle 28 October 1889
  14. Thames Star 22 Oct 1889
  15. 'Comrades Brave, A History of the Hauraki Regiment' by Richard Taylor. Cosmos Publications, Napier 1998.


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