Prelude: February-June 1860

To Edwin Harris.

In pursuance of an order addressed to me by Lieut.-Colonel George Freeman Murray, Officer Commanding the Troops in Taranaki, the Deputy of his Excellency the Governor of New Zealand appointed in that behalf, directing me to draw out for Actual Service, the whole of the Militia Force of the District of Taranaki, I, Charles Brown, Officer Commanding the said Militia Force, do hereby require you to attend at Mr O. Elliot’s house on Thursday the first day of March at twelve o’clock in the forenoon.

Dated at New Plymouth, this 23rd day of February, 1860.

Signed Charles Brown, Officer Commanding the Militia Force of the District of New Plymouth.

Saturday [3 March]   All New Plymouth in great confusion, and ourselves more particularly so as it is the day of Mother and Father is leaving Taranaki for England. The steamer Airedale was to go at 10 o’clock so we hurried on to the beach and in passing through the Town we were surrounded by the Militia-men who were just “falling in[”]. I almost thought we were to have a body-guard. Our roadstead was quite gay; the Niger was quite a new object, only once before have we had a Man of War here and never for such a hostile reason. – When we got to the beach the boat was quite ready to take them off and Mr. Halse went with them on board. I watched them with the aid of a glass till they got almost out of sight. Mr. Halse came on shore in the last boat and Loeta was delighted to see her papa return and seemed thoroughly to understand that Lally and Granda were going “long way” and that they were going to send her a ‘baby’ that could open and shut its eyes.

Harriet Halse, journal

New Plymouth
March 21st

Dear Sir

As it is probable I may not be able to see you personally, I have thought it best to write you to ask if you have any influence in obtaining from the governor, with whom I am unacquainted some employment more fitting (professionally or otherwise) for an old servant of the Government than that of a private in the Militia.

I am still able to map & draw as when we were first acquainted and could certainly render more efficient service professionally than as a fighting man. Should you wish to see me, I will call on you. But we are at present living at the Henui opposite Dr Wilsons.

I remain
Dear Sir
Edwin Harris

Edwin Harris to Donald McLean, 21 Mar 1860

Just at that moment, a few friendly natives rode into the centre of the town, in a very excited state, and said the southern natives were on their way to attack the town. A concourse of people were assembled on this spot. Every one seemed on the qui vive. Women crying and wringing their hands, children screaming and clinging in fear to their mothers, men running to and fro, the militia and volunteers already in ranks, and not a house but what its inmates were outside, all looking at each other, and eagerly inquiring for news–pale, breathless, and trembling with anxiety. A proclamation had been issued, some time previous to this, that in any case of real danger, or cause for alarm, two large guns were to be fired from the barracks on Marsland-hill; the militia and volunteers, within a circle of two miles round, were then to rush into town; the women and children were to take refuge in. the barracks, church, and chapels, and all were to hold themselves in readiness to meet any attack that might be made by the insurgents. The preconcerted signal was given by firing off the two guns; and although it was pretty generally understood that this was to be a notice of danger, yet many were at a loss for some time to account for it, imagining all sorts of calamities. My wife’s apartments were just opposite, and below the barracks. She saw the smoke of the cannon, and heard the dreadful booming of the report, and immediately a stream of women and children were to be seen hurrying up the steep path into the barracks, for full ten minutes–some women, with a child under each arm, without either hat, bonnet, or shawl –some with a bundle hastily thrown together, and many seemed utterly bewildered, amidst the confusion and noise of women crying, children screaming, and the eager, anxious questions to know what it was all about. Those who had previously left their homes in the distant neighbourhood, and had taken up their temporary abode a little distance out of town, were at once ordered into the church or chapels; and thus again were driven from their thresholds.

Thomas Gilbert, New Zealand Settlers and Soldiers.

As we lay inside our fort waiting for the young moon to go down, not knowing what execution we had made, and only guessing what had happened at the Pa, we had almost given up hope. Very few of us expected to see town again. For besides our want of ammunition and our wounded we had a long flax gully to go through where they might easily have made short work of us. I remember, as I lay in the straw, looking up at Orion just visible between the clouds and wondering whether I should soon be up there among the unvoyageable stars and speculating as to which of them I should be in.

But the gods had decided that no more of us should start that night to explore the ‘undiscovered lands’ so we got away untouched – left the badly wounded at the Omata Stockade and got into town about 12.30. People were glad to see us and we to see them. As we came home there was a fine Aurora Aust. to be seen – fine day.

Arthur Atkinson to William Richmond, New Plymouth, 9 Apr 1860

Tuesday 17th [April]   When Mr. H Halse came up to breakfast this morning he wore a pair of black webb slippers very much like those mother used to wear. Loeta on seeing them called out “look mama that boy got on Lally’s shoes” and no telling her would persuade her to the contrary.

Harriet Halse, journal

Em & I have read the Diary of a Private in the T.V. Rifles with great interest . . .

I am glad, my Bird, that you got no ticket for Rigel that evening, or red Bellatrix, or the wondrous Nebula of the Belt. How coldly & cruelly they twinkle upon men in mortal danger. No doubt they are meant to make us as calm as they.

William Richmond to Arthur Atkinson Auckland, 19 Apr 1860


The inhabitants will in future be required to have a candle or lamp at their front windows at night, ready to light in case of alarm ; and are desired to secure their doors and lower windows. The Police to see to this. C. E. Gold, Colonel Commanding Forces New Zealand. New Plymouth, 20th April, 1860.

Taranaki Herald 21 April 1860

Monday 7th [May]   It is still very stormy and every body is very much excited expecting the Waikatoes arrival as they have threatened to attack the town in stormy weather or at night. […] This morning Wiremu asked Loeta what she would say to Granny when she came back. She said with the greatest readiness “Loeta say Good Lally Loeta love you, you bring Loeta big, big doll open and shut eyes and have on lots of petticoats”. So that she wants something for her love.

Tuesday 29th [May]   I am busy to day writing to Mother & Father, the Airedale is expected today and it is threatening for rough weather again. Loeta this morning hearing me say something about writing to Mother insisted on having a pen and piece of paper to write. I asked her what she wanted it for and she said “Write letter to Lally and Granda to come back to Loeta.

2nd [July] Monday   Another beautiful day. I hope we are going to have a few fine days to dry up the roads. The gun fired early this morning for the Airedale and I have been very busy finishing my letter to Mother and Father. I have sent some of Loeta’s and George’s hair to have put in a locket and I have sent all the newspapers up to last Saturday.

Harriet Halse, journal

Siege: July-December 1860