Charles Heaphy earns Victoria Cross

11 February 1864

Charles Heaphy, c. 1867 (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-003062-F)

Recommended for a Victoria Cross after rescuing a soldier under fire at Waiari, near Pirongia, Charles Heaphy was given the decoration in 1867. His was the only VC awarded to a member of New Zealand’s colonial forces, who were in theory not eligible for it.

Heaphy arrived in New Zealand in 1839 as a 19-year-old New Zealand Company draughtsman, and later became a surveyor and well-known artist. In 1846 he and Thomas Brunner made an epic trek from Nelson down the Buller River and the West Coast as far as Arahura – and back again. 

As provincial surveyor, Heaphy helped survey the military road from Auckland to the Waikato River in the early 1860s. The volunteer officer was then appointed ‘Military Surveyor and Guide to the Forces’. He was lucky to escape serious injury during the skirmish at Waiari while helping a wounded soldier.

As chief surveyor to the central government, Heaphy spent the next two years surveying confiscated land in Waikato. After an undistinguished term as MP for Parnell, he did better as commissioner of native reserves.