The Macnaghten Contribution to New Zealand’s History, 1860-1861

By John R. Macnaughtan
CMAW Region Commissioner – New Zealand

Background to the Taranaki War, 1860-61

The coastal town of New Plymouth is located mid-point between the major cities of Auckland and Wellington, on the North Island of New Zealand’s west coast. The region is known as Taranaki.


Camp for British troops, Waitara, Taranaki, 1860. Mt. Egmont in background.

As New Plymouth was a destination for many new British immigrants, the Crown was keen to provide sufficient land for settlement. In 1859 a minor Maori tribe offered to sell land at Waitara, in Taranaki, to the Crown. The government under Gov. Thomas Gore Browne accepted the offer and the new settlers looked forward to expanding their small enclave around New Plymouth. However, Wiremu Kingi, a more senior Maori tribal chief, denied that the minor tribe had the right to sell the land.

The citizens of New Plymouth saw the conflict between Maori tribes as obstructing the progress of the settlement, and war broke out in 1860. British troops were brought in and local volunteers mobilised.

More than 230 people were killed or wounded and another 120 had died of disease in the besieged town of New Plymouth. The region was devastated. A truce in March 1861 ended the military conflict but did not resolve the underlying issues. War broke out again in 1863.  The conflict is known as the First Taranaki War or the North Taranaki War. A comprehensive history of the War is here.

Role of Lieut. Edmund C. Macnaghten, R.A.

Lieut. Edmund Macnaghten, R.A. (Royal Artillery), arrived in 1859 with the British forces, and was involved in the Taranaki War. On 17 Mar 1860, Lieut. Macnaghten fired the first mortar round in the war, and precisely one year later, on 17 March 1861, he was killed at Te Arei (Taranaki). Both events occurred on St Patrick’s Day. His death was on the final day of a battle known as Pratt’s Sapping Campaign. He was just 23 years of age. The site of his death (known as “Pratt’s long sap”) has been preserved.


In the same action, John Lucas earned a Victoria Cross. There is also some evidence that Lieut. Macnaghten was posthumously awarded the New Zealand Medal, but it appears this was sent from the War Office in London.

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Lieut. Macnaghten’s Headstone, St Mary’s, New Plymouth, NZ.

Sacred to the memory of Lieut. E. C. MACNAGHTEN, Royal Artillery. Killed before Te Arai, March 17 1861 aged 23 years, 3 months. He was the son of Sir E. Macnaghten Baronet, County Antrim, Ireland.”

Today, Taranaki is a prosperous and quiet region of 75,000.

Massey, Macnaghten, and Macnaughtan

Our family history records that in letters to his family back in Northern Ireland, Lieut. Macnaghten had recommended New Zealand to fellow family and friends as “a great country”. Edmund was the son of the twenty-first Chief of the clan, Sir Edmund Charles Workman-Macnaghten, 2nd Baronet, (1790-1876), but not the eldest of his eight children. In 1862 our branch of the family, John and Elizabeth Macnaughtan, set sail for New Zealand. They were accompanied by John and Marianne Massey – near neighbours of Edmund’s family in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Together, both families arrived at Auckland in Oct. 1862 aboard the Indian Empire. The Massey’s son, young William, then aged six, remained behind to finish his studies and travelled to New Zealand in 1870.

William Massey was later to become the 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand. He first entered politics in 1894, was Prime Minister from 1912 until his death in office in 1925, and is (to date) the second longest serving Prime Minister in New Zealand’s history. He was affectionately known as ‘Farmer Bill’ because of his rural interests.

A few years after arriving in New Zealand, our Macnaughtan family bought a farm at Helensville, and became immediate neighbours of Richard Craven, Royal Artillery. Richard, a survivor of the Taranaki Wars, was a close friend of the late Lieut. Macnaghten.

Our family, and the Masseys, can both be proud of the early recommendation from Lieut. Macnaghten that New Zealand was a great country to settle.

Report of Lieut. Edmund Macnaghten’s work and death from the book England’s Artillerymen by James Alexander Brown.

“Firing his last shot on the anniversary of his first one in this war. He had ably conducted the fire of the Cohorn mortars since the advance of the sap from No. 8 redoubt, and had been in every engagement throughout the whole war.”


 The 65th Regiment in action against the Waitara pa

“Lieutenant Macnaughten’s death was thus recorded in the Taranaki Herald, Sunday 17th, 1861 (St. Patrick’s Day):

“The first anniversary of a war that has for twelve months cursed New Zealand, and desolated the province of Taranaki, has been marked by the irreparable loss of as brave an officer as ever fought and fell on flood or field, – as devoted a soldier as ever gained lustre for the British flag at the price of his blood. Lieutenant Macnaughten of the Royal Artillery is, alas! Numbered with the dead. This intrepid soldier was stooping over a mortar, in the act of adjusting its elevation, when a musket-ball struck him in the hand which held the plumb-line, and then pierced his breast. An officer who was near him exclaimed, ‘Macnaughten, you are hit!’ but the Lieutenant smiled, and, with his usual calmness, replied, ‘Oh, never mind, ’tis but in the hand!’ They were his last words. He stood up, turned pale, staggered backwards, fell, and died. The sorrow of the troops of all corps for the loss of this officer is inexpressible. Every soldier knew and appreciated his worth; all admired his unsurpassable valour, his uniform coolness, and his skill in gunnery; while his undeviating affability and kindness endeared him even to the most thoughtless. His presence at the guns was the inspiration of confidence in the troops, for no one doubted the accuracy of an aim taken by Lieutenant Macnaughten. He walked up to sap to-day full of ardour, full of confidence, full of every quality that constitutes a perfect soldier. Alas that the green shamrock which he so proudly wore on his manly breast he so soon dyed red with his life’s blood! Many a stout heart sighed, and many a stern eye dropped a tear, as they beheld the noble soldier borne past them a lifeless corpse. When the ambulance which bore him from the field arrived at No. 6 redoubt, the officers and men of the 65th regiment mingled round the vehicle to get a last glimpse of the honoured and beloved dead. The brow even of the most thoughtless wore sad gloom, and rough hands endeavoured in vain to conceal the big tears that rolled from the eyes that could not restrain them. The memory of Lieutenant Macaughten will be ever pre-eminently dear to our hearts”.


  • Drawing, Camp of 65th Regiment, Waitara, Taranaki, 1860 – Col. Robley.
  • Picture of Edmund Macnaghten’s tombstone – John R. Macnaughtan.
  • Macnaghten lineage – Sir Malcolm F. Macnaghten of Macnaghten, Bart.
  • Browne, James A. England’s Artillerymen: An Historical Narrative of the Services of the Royal Artillery, from the Formation of the Regiment to the Amalgamation of the Royal and Indian Artilleries in 1862. London: Hall, Smart and Allen, 1865. Print.


  1. Belich, James. The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict. Auckland UP, 1986. Print.
  2. Browne, James A. England’s Artillerymen: An Historical Narrative of the Services of the Royal Artillery, from the Formation of the Regiment to the Amalgamation of the Royal and Indian Artilleries in 1862. London: Hall, Smart and Allen, 1865. Print.
  3. Cowan, James. The New Zealand Wars. Wellington: Government Printer, 1983. Print, Web.
  4. Keenan, Danny. Wars without End:The Land Wars in Nineteenth Century New Zealand. Auckland: Penguin, 2009. Print.
  5. Prickett, Nigel. Landscapes of Conflict: A Field Guide to the New Zealand Wars. Auckland: Random House, 2002. Print.
  6. Pugsley, Chris. ‘Walking the Taranaki Wars: Pratt’s Sap at Te Arei.’ New Zealand Defence Quarterly 12 (Autumn 1996): 30-34. Print.
  7. Ryan, Tim, and Bill Parham. The Colonial New Zealand Wars. Wellington: Grantham House, 2002. Print.

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