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Duncan Alexander Cameron: Wikis


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General Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron GCB (20 May 1808 – 8 June 1888) was the Commander of the British Imperial Forces stationed in New Zealand during the middle phase of the New Zealand Land Wars. Cameron also commanded the New Zealand militia, those troops recruited directly by the New Zealand Government, although this was subject to the whims of the Government.

Funerary monument, Brompton Cemetery, London


New Zealand deployment

Cameron was a 42nd Highland Regiment regiment officer who served in the Crimean War where he was awarded the Officer of the Legion of Honour.[1] Cameron and the British troops were sent to New Zealand at the request of the Governor, Sir George Edward Grey. The new colony was seriously short of land in which to expand, most of the best land in the North Island was owned and occupied by the Māori. They had recently formed a political alliance called the King Movement to resist the further sale of Māori land to the Pākehā government. The main base for the King Movement was the Waikato, a rich and fertile region immediately south of Auckland which was then the capital of New Zealand. Furthermore, the Māori had the temerity to insist on their independence from the Colonial Government, an independence that was guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Waitangi twenty years earlier.

Governor Grey was determined to conquer, to occupy and confiscate the Māori land of the Waikato and to do this he needed large numbers of British Troops. He presented a distorted case to the Colonial Office in London which greatly exaggerated the threats and dangers of the Independent Māori Movement, claiming that the European settlement was in danger of being wiped out. To meet the supposed danger the British Government sent out fourteen thousand troops commanded by Major General Duncan Cameron.


Arrival in New Zealand

General Sir Duncan Cameron.

Cameron arrived in New Zealand early in 1863 and the Invasion of the Waikato began in July 1863. However after a very short advance Cameron realised that his supply lines were severely threatened by the enemy. He spent three months in securing his rear from guerrilla attack. However this was not to the liking of the New Zealand Government who saw the delay as unnecessary and even cowardly. Relations between Grey and Cameron began to deteriorate from this point on and as they did so Grey was faced with more and more criticism from the New Zealand Press and public.

Cameron conducted a careful and clever campaign against the Waikato Māori, seeking always to minimize the casualties of both his own men and the enemy. One historian at least believes that Cameron deliberately allowed the besieged and surrounded Māori at Orakau to escape. This of course did not please the New Zealand public who wanted the Māori to be punished for their intransigence.

Eventually the Māori retreated into what is now called The King Country, south of Te Awamutu. The British forces apparently decided they had conquered enough land for the New Zealand Government. The government did not accept this view: they wanted the independent Māori movement stamped out but the Waikato War was effectively over.

Meanwhile there was conflict in the Bay of Plenty around Tauranga. It was here that Cameron made his most serious tactical blunder of the New Zealand Wars when he authorized the attack on Gate Pā and suffered a very heavy loss. It seems likely that he had overestimated the effectiveness of the very heavy bombardment of the Pā and anticipated little resistance from the defenders.

Then as the Tauranga Campaign wound down fighting flared up in Taranaki. Cameron saw this conflict as completely unnecessary being wholly provoked by the rapacious confiscation of Māori Land. Although he could not refuse orders to involve the British Troops he conducted the campaign at a snail's pace and eventually stopped advancing altogether. By now relations between Cameron and Grey were very frosty.

Cameron wrote to the Colonial Office and recommended that all British Troops should be withdrawn from New Zealand. At the same time he submitted his resignation as commander of the troops. Although the British Troops were not immediately withdrawn from New Zealand they took a very minor role in the subsequent conflicts.

Later life

Cameron returned to Britain but not in disgrace. On arriving in England he was given a knighthood, made a full General and appointed Governor of the Royal Military College Sandhurst.

Cameron died in 1888 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.

List of honours


  1. ^ London Gazette 4 August 1856, p.2701



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