Queen's Redoubt Trust, Pokeno

Queen's Redoubt in New Zealand History

Queen's Redoubt, Pokeno, is an historic place of great importance. The New Zealand Wars mark a huge change in the history of this country. The key campaign was the struggle for the Waikato. Queen's Redoubt was the launching pad for the July 1863 British invasion, which began the Waikato War.

Queen’s Redoubt is one of the two largest European campaign forts in New Zealand. From July 1863 to the Battle of Rangiriri, 20-21 November the same year, it was General Cameron’s headquarters. Because of its role in the Waikato War, and the scale of the old earthworks and fort, and its ideal location today south of Auckland at the junction of State Highways 1 and 2, it is the best possible place to tell New Zealanders and visitors to the country the story of the Waikato campaign and the New Zealand Wars as a whole.

Knowledge of this very important part of our history, of the courage and sacrifice, and hopes and dreams, of Maori and Pakeha alike, should not just enrich our lives, but also encourage understanding of New Zealand in the 21st century. This is not unrelated to the events which took place at Queen’s Redoubt 150 years ago.

Maori and Pakeha

New Zealand’s first settlers arrived about 800 years ago; bringing with them the same East Polynesian arts and way of life as the people they left behind. Over many centuries they learned the ways of a unique southern land – to become distinctively Maori.

At the end of the 18th century Europeans began to arrive: British and French explorers, followed by sealers and whalers, traders for flax and provisions, timber cutters for spars from the great northern forests, and missionaries preaching Christianity. In 1840 the newcomers’ presence was formalised by the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by the British Crown and Maori tribes.

At first a conflict of interests was not always evident. But many Maori soon saw that the newcomers who came in such numbers would not be content for long with living on the fringes of a Maori land. For their part the new arrivals saw large areas, which appeared to them under-used – or unused, and which might be developed for the prosperity of all. Formerly independent tribes resented the fact that decisions affecting them were made after 1840 by the colonial government in Auckland.

In an attempt to prevent the imposition of British government and law throughout New Zealand, the Waikato chief Potatau Te Wherowhero was proclaimed King in 1858, to head a separate Maori state. So the Waikato tribes took on a big responsibility for continued Maori independence - which resulted a few years later in the invasion of their lands by a large British army.

Mid-19th century warfare between Maori and Pakeha for many years has defined the relationship between the races. Fighting began in the 1840s and did not finish until the early 1870s. The most important of many campaigns was the Waikato War of 1863-64, by which the colonial government aimed to destroy the power of the Maori King. War shifted the balance of power from Maori to Pakeha, putting land and government alike in European hands. Only now is the relationship being renegotiated through the hearings and recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal and by growing Maori political strength.

The Waikato War took place over nine months, beginning when British troops crossed the Mangatawhiri River to Maori land in July 1863. The critical battles were at Rangiriri in November and Orakau over three days in March and April 1864. When fighting came to an end European troops held the confiscation (‘Aukati’) line from Pirongia to Cambridge, behind which the land was taken up European settlers. Supporters of Tawhiao, the second Maori King, withdrew south, into what became known as ‘King Country’.

The road to war

The story of Queen’s Redoubt begins in September 1861 when Sir George Grey returned to New Zealand to begin his second term as Governor, replacing Gore Browne who had got himself into a war over land in Taranaki. The Colonial Office in London hoped that Grey might mediate between the New Zealand Government and Maori. The reverse, however, was soon the case. Grey saw that the Waikato tribes and King Movement lay at the heart of resistance to British law and government, and blocked the expansion of Pakeha Auckland into the rich lands to the south. Grey resolved to overcome the challenge of the King Movement, even if it meant war.

After a December 1861 visit to the Waikato, Grey asked General Cameron, in command of British troops in New Zealand, to put his men to work on constructing a road from Drury to the Waikato River, in order to, ‘…undertake either defensive or aggressive operations against an enemy as circumstances may require’ (1). At the time there was a metalled road from Auckland as far as Papakura, and a clay road a further three miles to Drury. In May 1853 a surveyor by the name of Hayr had fixed on a route through the ranges between Ramarama and Pokeno, which was soon after made into a bridle track (2). But this was not an all-weather road for wheeled transport and large bodies of men as was now required.

On Christmas Eve 1861 General Cameron ordered 2409 troops, including military engineers, from Auckland & Otahuhu, to establish in four camps between Drury and Pokeno. Work on the Great South Road, south from Drury, began on 1 January 1862. The story of the building of the road, in the summer, autumn and early winter of 1862, is given in reports by Colonel Gamble, Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General in New Zealand (3). The 65th, 70th, 40th and 12th and 14th Regiments, employing 1700 men, were tasked with making various sections of the road. Detailed lists of tools, draught animals and carts as well as tables detailing the productivity of the regiments can be found in Gamble’s reports (3) The task of cutting through thick bush country and over steep hills, and forming and metalling the new road to Pokeno and the Waikato River, was completed at one o’clock on 18 June 1862.

Queen’s Redoubt

On 20 March 1862 General Cameron reconnoitred a ‘…proposed line of extension from Great South Road, to the Mangatawhiri River, by which route any military operations in the Waikato country would be undertaken’. Four days later Grey wrote to Cameron asking that a post for 500 men be established near the Mangatawhiri River. Cameron replied, agreeing with Grey, and adding that he wished also to establish a post on the Waikato River near Havelock. This was to be the Bluff Stockade (4). 

On April 12 Cameron decided on the location of a military post for 450 men near the Ngati Tamaoho village of Pokino (5). On May 28 Cameron again visited the site, fixing the position of the redoubt and encampment for the men. Cowan (6) gives the name ‘Te Kūi’ at the redoubt site, and Lennard (7) gives ‘Te Ruato’, but neither gives their source for the names.

Colonel Gamble tells of some considerations regarding the location of the new post:

‘…the force at [Queen’s Redoubt] would be immediately available fora forward movement, and the position itself become favourable for the formation of a military depôt. The situation is open, clear of the bush, and the nearest commanding height in the neighbourhood is 800 yards distant.’

Work began immediately on supplying necessary timber, but the contractors soon encountered problems. Those who had agreed to deliver 100,000 feet of sawn timber to Pokeno by 1 June gave up their contract after visiting in late April, and discovering unmetalled sections of road that were virtually impassable after two or three days of rain. 

On 9 June 1862 the site was occupied by 150 men of the 70th Regiment from the Baird’s Farm camp at Ramarama near Drury, and 140 of the 14th from Camp Pokino (8). On 13 June General Cameron inspected work on the new post. Colonel Gamble writes:

‘This redoubt will be 100 yards square, with a caponnière at each of two opposite angles for the defence of the ditch. A commissariat store, hospital, and huts, for the accommodation of the troops, will be provided inside.’

On 18 June, 120 men of the 65th Regiment from a camp at Baird’s Farm on the north side of Bombay Hill joined the troops at Queen’s Redoubt, so that there were more than 400 men working on the fort defences, buildings and other facilities. Rank and file were all housed by 28 September, and officers three weeks later.

Orders were given on 1 November 1862 for a 30 ft (9 m) wide road to the Mangatawhiri River, begun two days later. At the end of November another company of the 40th Regiment arrived at Queen’s Redoubt, and by early December there were 370 men working on the road south. This section of road was completed on 31 March 1863. 

Following the arrival of equipment from England on 7 February 1863, General Cameron ordered the Quartermaster General’s department to erect a telegraph line from Auckland to Pokeno. Construction began on 17 March, and by early July it had reached Drury. The line was erected on 20 foot long kauri poles, barked, charred and tarred at the butts. On 15 August the line of telegraph was surveyed from Drury to Pokeno. (3)

The campaign

On 12 July 1863 the 14th (Buckinghamshire) Regiment crossed the Mangatawhiri River and occupied the spur beyond (overlooking the present railway line and State Highway 1), signaling the start of the Waikato War. Over the following spring, summer and autumn British troops and local forces advanced south to Te Awamutu and beyond, many thousands passing through Pokeno on their way to war.

On 11 July, General Cameron moved to Queen’s Redoubt, which was then headquarters of the British Army in New Zealand until the Battle of Rangiriri, 20–21 November, when Cameron shifted up the Waikato River to Rangiriri for the next phase of the war.

For some time Queen's Redoubt was itself in the front line. In July, August and September 1863 there was fighting on or near the Great South Road north of the fort, and Maori attacks on European farmhouses and outposts in South Auckland districts. Bush was felled on both sides of the road to prevent ambushes of military and other parties on the road. On 2 September Ensign Dawson of the 2nd Battalion 18th Royal Irish was in charge of a patrol from Queen's Redoubt that came under attack near the Ngati Tamaoho village of Pokino, from which the inhabitants had been driven when the war began.(3)

On 7 September the supply depot at Camerontown, down the Waikato River from Tuakau, was taken and sacked by Maori. Firing was heard at Alexandra Redoubt (above the river at the present Tuakau bridge) and Captain Swift led a party from that post. In the skirmish that followed Swift was killed and his second-in-command, Lieutenant Butler, wounded. It was left to Colour-Sergeant McKenna to extricate the small force – for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. McKenna's V.C. and New Zealand War Medal are on display in the Auckland Museum.

In November Cameron’s army overcame the Maori defensive line at Rangiriri and the way was opened to the Waikato heartland. At the same time troops landed on the western side of the Firth of Thames and three new redoubts – the Miranda, Esk and Surrey – were thrown up between there and Queen's Redoubt. These were to put an end to Maori control of the Hunua Ranges, from which the Great South Road had come under attack earlier in the war. (3)

Thus Queen's Redoubt was at the heart of a network of European military posts – down the Great South Road from Auckland, west to the rich lowlands between Manukau Harbour and the Waikato River, east to the Firth of Thames, and south to the campaigning troops. Nearby Bluff Stockade controlled a Waikato River landing where men and stores were loaded into transport vessels for passage up-river to the war.

As the war moved south, troop numbers at Queen’s Redoubt were reduced. In June 1864 it was reported that very few soldiers were at the post, and that there were few convoys from Drury since river transport was now used from the Waikato Heads to supply the occupation army in the Waikato (9).

After the war

Nonetheless, in January 1865 the Rev. Vicesimus Lush described Queen’s Redoubt as being ‘alive with soldiers’ (10). On 19 August 1865 he returned to the redoubt and dined in the officers’ mess on whitebait soup, eels and roast beef. With the commanding officer, Major Thomas Miller, absent in Auckland, Lush’s host was Lieutenant Arthur Brittain. Both officers were of the 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment, which provided the post’s garrison at that time.

Major Miller was still at the post in June 1866, when Lush again visited. While there, Lush learned that Governor Grey had issued a proclamation to the effect that the war was at an end. He remarks that, ‘The Officers at Mess hoped that now they should escape from what they were pleased to call “this horrid country”.’ By March 1867 the military had quit Queen’s Redoubt and Lush had to find other accommodation.

The end of Queen’s Redoubt is signalled by an advertisement in The New Zealand Herald of Wednesday 13 March 1867, for an auction of buildings to take place at the site the following Saturday at 10 a.m. In the same notice imperial authorities advertise the sale of ‘…all the houses, stores and buildings’ at Te Rore, Whatawhata and Ngaruawahia. This marks the departure of imperial (i.e. British) troops from the Waikato.

The advertisement lists 22 buildings to be sold, ‘with other lots too numerous to particularise’. The list of buildings is given here exactly as presented in the advertisement, since building sizes are not always clear – to the writer at least. Measurements include feet and inches.

3BUILDINGS,66 x 18, 6 x 7, 4
2"64 x 13 x 7, 4
6"54, 51 x 20, 4, 18, 6, 20, 6 x 8, 7, 4, 8, 6
1"50, 6 x 18, 6 x 8
3"49, 41, 37 x 18, 6, 10 x 7, 4, 8, 6
2"26 x 7, 6 x 6, 3
2"23, 18, 6 x 13, 12 x 7, 4
2"15, 5, 15 x 6, 18, 6 x 6, 3, 8
1"8, 6 x 6, 6 x 7

A look at the figures gives the size of all the buildings – assuming a consistent order of dimensions – except for nine buildings in the third and fifth lines. In November 1867, the Rev. Lush found the redoubt ‘fast crumbling into ruins’. It is possible that not all the buildings were sold. The Garrison reading room was in use as a church/ school / meeting room until at least 1871. It was destroyed by fire either in 1871 or 1873 and was either in or adjacent to the Redoubt.

In late 1868 a stockade was put up at Pokeno, ‘…on a hill west of the Queen’s Redoubt…’ to reassure Europeans in the district at that time (11).  [There is some doubt about this since no original source has yet been found.] Next year, settlers were alarmed at news of Te Kooti being in the Waikato. Pukekohe settler and newspaper correspondent William Morgan wrote in his diary on 24 July 1869: ‘Waiuku and Wairoa Volunteers and Militia have…been sent up to Mercer and the Queen’s Redoubt’ (13). It is unclear if this reference is to a still defensible fortification or just to the general location.

The late Mr M.R. Dean, who was born in 1914 into an old Pokeno family and lived most of his life in the district, remembered the redoubt ditch full of water and that it was filled in by Johnny Cronin in the 1920s by means of a horse and scoop. At that time the land was owned by ‘old McDonald’, presumably of the family remembered by ‘McDonald Road’, the name until recently given to the start of Hitchen’s Road on the other side of Great South Road from Queen’s Redoubt.

The fortification

Earthwork redoubts have a long history in European warfare, and in colonial wars of the 19th century and earlier. The plan – or ‘trace’ – was marked out on the ground, usually square or rectangular, but of other shapes as well depending on the lie of the land the engineer’s wishes. In the British Army, men of the Royal Engineers would then supervise the troops digging out a defensive ditch, in New Zealand usually 6 ft (1.8 m) deep and about 8 ft (2.4 m) across. The spoil was thrown up on the inner side to a height of 8 ft (2.4 m), to present an attacking force with a 14 ft (4.2 m) obstacle from the bottom of the ditch. Behind the parapet was a raised ‘tread’ on which defenders stood to fire over the wall if necessary.

Projecting bastions at two or more corners allowed the garrison to fire into the ditch if attackers got in beneath the walls. These were commonly in the form of an earthwork, although in some cases, where a long-term role was planned, loop-holed blockhouses were used, as at Queen’s Redoubt (and Manaia Redoubt, south Taranaki, where they can still be seen). There was usually just one entry to redoubts, this being a weak point. Queen’s Redoubt was one of only two in New Zealand known to have more than one entry, the other being Camp Waitara in Taranaki, dating from 1860. 

Most New Zealand redoubts were small. One and two company earthworks were ca 35 yards (32 m) and 42 yards (38.4 m) square respectively – giving internal areas of about 1024 and 1475 square metres. A company in the British army comprised about 120 officers and men. Redoubts were mostly located in open country, on level or nearly level ground, to give a good field of fire for defenders. Like other Pakeha and Maori New Zealand War fortifications, redoubts could have a variety of roles, tactical – that is, for short-term battlefield advantage, or strategic – designed to hold a frontier, protect communications, or occupy land.

Queen’s Redoubt was 100 yards (91.4 m) square within the defences. At 8360 m2 it was one of the largest British Army redoubts of any New Zealand campaign. The only one to match it in size was Camp Waitara, which was of an irregular shape, and built in two stages to total ca 8500 m2 internally. The defences of Queen’s Redoubt were also larger than the standard, the ditch being ca 18 ft (5.5 m) across and 8 ft (2.4 m) deep. Inside Queen’s Redoubt there was a central parade area, and 27 huts, which served as guardrooms, officers’ quarters, stores, hospital, and accommodation for 450 men.

The pictorial record

Two photographs of Queen’s Redoubt and its associated camp date from winter or spring 1863 when there were large numbers of troops in the district, before the war moved on to Rangiriri, Ngaruawahia and, in early 1864, to the Te Awamutu district.

The photographer D.M. Beere pictures Queen’s Redoubt from the south, looking west of north. The Great South Road to the Mangatawhiri River runs across the picture, with a post and rail fence to one side of it in the right foreground. At the far left a farmhouse and shed owned by a settler named Sagg are visible against trees in the distance.  A gap in the trees on the skyline (above the right corner of the redoubt) shows where the Great South Road crosses the distant ridge.

The earth wall of the redoubt can be seen from the north-east to the south-west angles of the fort. At the extremities are small buildings, with gable ends facing into the redoubt interior and a hipped style of roof at the other (outer) end. These were the blockhouse bastions, which sat on a platform jutting out from square of the redoubt, with access by way of a gap in the earth wall. The blockhouses would have had loop-holed walls, packed with earth, sand or gravel to stop incoming fire. The redoubt interior is tightly packed with huts, the smaller ones apparently clustered at the Great South Road end, where the main access would have been.

On the other side of Great South Road is a camp of ca 30 round bell-tents and six larger tents, plus large and small wooden sheds. The tents would have accommodated troops who were part of the build-up at the post early in the Waikato War. More sheds can be seen on the redoubt side of the road. The redoubt and camp area is cropped grassland, with the foreground dominated by bracken and tutu.

The second photograph is from the Ruck Album in the Auckland Museum library. The photographer was further from the redoubt than in the Beere picture, and slightly further east – so that the view is more to the north-west. From the greater number of tents, the Ruck picture may be the earlier, and date from the height of the build-up of troops at the redoubt in July. Again the Great South Road and fence can be seen to the right, and Sagg’s homestead is at the upper left. As in the Beere picture the bastion blockhouses delineate the redoubt.

A third view of Queen’s Redoubt is a copy of an original drawing by Lieutenant Henry Stratton Bates. Bates was commissioned in the 65th Regiment in 1854, took part in the 1860–61 Taranaki War, and was Native Interpreter on Cameron’s staff from 1861 to October 1863. There is a camp south of the stream, and tents on the north side at the right, where none are shown in the two photographs. The Beere photograph has additions at both ends of a shed at the right, to show that Bates’ sketch is earlier. Bates is known to have been at Queen’s Redoubt in July and August 1863.

One more picture is from a broadsheet advertisement: ‘Queen’s Redoubt. Pokeno. Plan of Allotments for sale. Saturday 9th July 1864 at 12 o’clock.’ The perspective drawing shows the redoubt from the north, a year after the other pictures. Across Great South Road is Queen’s Hotel. A church is shown on the east side of today’s Selby Street. The ‘Presbyterian Church Site’ is marked on a May 1879 plan (SO 2024, Land Information New Zealand). Although we cannot be certain of the drawing’s accuracy, it is possible the earthwork bastions shown may by then have replaced the blockhouses pictured in 1863. The arrangement of 27 huts inside the redoubt conforms to the Beere picture. Two huts between the fort and the stream may represent buildings visible in the photographs. 


  1. Selections from Despatches and Letters Relative to the Conduct of Military Operations in New Zealand 1860–5, p. 69. War Office, London, 1865 [0270 II].

  2. Nona Morris, Early Days in Franklin. Franklin County Council, Pukekohe Borough Council, Tuakau Borough Council, Waiuku Borough Council, 1965, p. 95.

  3. Unless otherwise stated, historical detail in this section comes from Journals of the Deputy Quartermaster General in New Zealand, War Office, London, 1864 [0238], which are the reports of Crimea veteran Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Jacotin Gamble.

  4. Bluff Stockade was on a spur above the Te Ia landing place on Waikato River below Mangatawhiri Stream. It was a landing place on the river throughout the 1863–64 war.

  5. Pokino is the correct spelling for the original Ngati Tamaoho village, north of the present township site, at or near the corner of today’s Fraser and Avon Roads. It was abandoned at the start of the Waikato War.

  6. James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars. Government Printer, Wellington, 1922–23, Vol. 1, p. 242.

  7. Maurice Lennard, The Road to War. Whakatane and District Historical Society Monograph 16, 1986, p. 20.

  8. Camp Pokino was the first camp set up in the district in December 1861 for troops engaged in road making. It was on the west side of today’s Helenslee Road, at the corner of an unnamed side road, which crosses a headwater gully of the Tani Te Whiora Stream. Early in 1862 it was the major road-making camp at the forward end of Great South Road, with hundreds of soldiers in residence. It was abandoned in June when Queen’s Redoubt took over as the major military base at Waikato’s northern frontier.

  9. The Daily Southern Cross 24 June 1864

  10. References to the Rev. Vicesimus Lush are in, The Waikato Journals of Vicesimus Lush, 1864–8, 1881–2. Edited by Alison Drummond. Christchurch, Pegasus, 1982.

  11. Nona Morris, The Journal of William Morris. Auckland City Council, 1965, p. 147.

  12. Morris 1965, p.144.

  13. Order and Letters Book 1867 -71; Wairoa Militia District. Auckland Museum Library MS  361

Queen's Redoubt