The impressive West Window at Old St Paul’s had been designed, and a copy put on display in Wellington in 1867, and yet the £85 needed to have the Lavers & Barraud window built and brought from London proved difficult to raise. It was not until the tragic deaths of two soldiers in 1868 that the community was spurred into action and the window was eventually installed the following year.
The New Zealand Wars provides us with the backdrop to the story of these two Wellington men, Captain George Buck and Lieutenant Henry Charles Holland Hastings (known as Harry Hastings), who are now remembered in Old St Paul’s, through the West Window.
In 1868, tensions grew rapidly in the South Taranaki region as the government attempted to implement the policy of the confiscation of land from the Māori people as a result of the Taranaki Wars, which had ended two years earlier. The great Ngāti Ruanui leader Riwha Tītokowaru, prophet, military leader and strategist, established a base at Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu (the Beak of the Bird) near Kapuni, in South Taranaki, as a centre for peace. Here lay 58 houses, a large marae and a beautifully decorated wharenui (carved house), where leaders from around the area would gather for meetings. Though Tītokowaru sought peace and reconciliation in his earlier years, he was soon to be provoked by continuing attacks on Māori villages by the British forces, and the surveying of confiscated land, and threatened violence against them.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas McDonnell was in charge of leading the assault against Tītokowaru at Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu. On 7 September 1868, a troop of 360 men attacked the pā. Although they outnumbered Tītokowaru’s men by six to one, it was to be the Government’s worst defeat in Taranaki, with one-fifth of the party killed or wounded. Among those killed that day were Captain Buck and Lieutenant Hastings. Who were these men and why are they now memorialised at Old St Paul’s?
Captain George Buck commanded the government volunteer unit known as the ‘Wellington Rifles’. ‘Buck’s Bravos’ – as his men called themselves – left the capital to join McDonnell in July of 1868, after parading down Lambton Quay to much fanfare.
A professional soldier who had served in the British Army, and then had come to New Zealand to be a soldier here, Captain Buck was a portly veteran known for his healthy appetite. At his camp, he was reprimanded for drawing two days’ extra rations for the Rifles.
Correspondent Harry Hastings
In contrast, Lieutenant Harry Hastings was a ‘genial, dashing’ young gentleman. He had also been a professional soldier, and immigrated to New Zealand in 1864. He was recruited into the ‘Wellington Rangers’, another local volunteer unit. This one was distinct from the government volunteers and men were chosen for being physically fit and having previous military experience. McDonnell was to say that the Wellington Rangers were ‘one of the most efficient and best conducted units in my command’.
Hastings was a journalist for the Wellington Independent and continued to act as a correspondent from ‘The Front’ right up until the fateful battle at Te Ngutu o te Manu. He embarked with the Rangers for Whanganui in June 1868. Read an account by Hastings from ‘The Front’ here.
When the renowned Major Gustavus Ferdinand Von Tempsky was shot during the battle (as depicted in the painting above; he is shown with his trademark sword), his subordinate, Shanaghan, tried desperately to save his commander’s body. Several men refused to help him however, with firing shots coming from every direction. It was not until he came across Captain George Buck who agreed to assist him. He said, ‘I will go with you, young fellow.’ When they reached Von Tempsky’s body, Tītokowaru’s men fired at them. Shanaghan was shot in the hand and knocked down. As Buck asked where he was hit another bullet was fired, knocking off Shanaghan’s cap and killing Buck.
By this point with many already dead, McDonnell decided to retreat. Hastings knew that this would leave several isolated groups in the lurch and took on the responsibility of saving any remaining troops with three other men. Tītokowaru’s men followed this group closely and Hastings was hit and badly wounded. At first, he tried to hide the fact, so as not to create any panic. They had picked up 15 wounded men, which was already too many to carry to safety. Hastings eventually decided that he should be left behind. His last words were
‘Retire men, never mind me, I am dying.’
After the events, Captain George Buck and Lieutenant Harry Hastings’ comrades and friends opened a memorial fund and raised almost £100. A meeting was held in 1869 and it was unanimously agreed that this money would be spent on the West Window at St Paul’s in memory of the two soldiers.
The plaque beneath the window reads:
This window is erected by the members of the Wellington Veteran Corps No. 1 Wellington Rifles, the Porirua and Patea Rifle Companies, in memory of Captain George Buck and Lieut. Henry Charles Holland Hastings late of the Wellington Veteran Corps who fell while gallantly serving with the Colonial Forces in the attack on Ngutu-o-te-manu on 7th September 1868.
Sources: James Belich, ‘I Shall Not Die’: Titokowaru’s War 1868-1869 (Wellington, 2010).
‘Tītokowaru’s war’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/titokowarus-war, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage); ‘Lieutenant Hastings’, Wellington Independent, 12 September 1868, p5 and ‘An Eye-Witness Account’, Wellington Independent, 17 September 1868, p4.
Images: Watkins, Charles Henry Kennett, 1847-1933. Watkins, Kennett, 1847-1933 :Death of Major Von Tempskey at Te-Ngutu-o-te-Manu, New Zealand, 7th September, 1868 / W P lith; [from a painting by Kennett Watkins] Wanganui, A D Willis . Ref: C-033-006. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23254119; Captain G. Buck, 65th Regt. killed Te Ngutu ote Manu 7.9.68 (when in Colonial Forces), circa 1860, maker unknown. Purchased 1916. Te Papa (O.011993/02).