Waikato Regiment NZ Wars memorial, Drury

Detail

The rural South Auckland settlement of Drury lies on Great South Road just off State Highway 1. It is 36 km south-east of Auckland city and 12 km north-east of Pukekohe. In late 1863, Drury was a large military post with a redoubt on the highest ground in the settlement.

This memorial stands in the cemetery that surrounds St John’s Church on Norrie Road. It records the names of eight men – all from the 1st Waikato Regiment of Militia – who fell in action at Mauku on 23 October 1863 and are thought to be buried in the mass grave beneath the memorial.

Mauku is nearly 20 km south-west of Drury. In October 1863 the tiny settlement had two stockades. One was a small iron-roofed structure at the tidal river-landing where cutters from Onehunga landed supplies for the local forces. The other, Mauku’s central stockade, was St Bride’s Church on Findlay Road.

Built about 1860, St Bride’s Church was first garrisoned by the district’s male settlers soon after its completion. At some point during the next two years, possibly in July 1863, St Bride’s was fortified. Split logs were set against the walls and 54 rifle loopholes cut through them. Three other churches in the district, including St John’s in Drury, were also fortified.

On 23 October 1863, the militia garrisoned at St Bride’s was commanded by Lieutenant D.H. Lusk. Early that morning, the men heard heavy firing. A scouting party soon discovered a Māori party shooting cattle on Wheeler’s Farm, 2 km to the south between Tītī Hill and the Bald Hills.

Lusk instructed Lieutenant J.S. Percival, based at Mauku’s lower stockade, to join him at St Bride’s with half his force. Instead of following orders, Percival set out for Tītī Hill with 12 men.

The small party was soon overwhelmed. When the fighting became visible from the church, Lusk and 60 men dashed up Tītī Hill to the rescue. They were joined by Lieutenant Thomas Norman, the militia officer in command of the church garrison, who had just returned from Drury.

The militia faced some 150 Māori in a narrow strip of felled but uncleared bush on Tītī Hill. The ‘desperate close-quarters battle’ lasted for 10 to 15 minutes:

At very short range – Lieutenant Lusk afterwards stated it at 20 yards – the opposing forces poured bullets into each other as fast as they could load and fire. Every log and every stump and pile of branches was contested. In the centre, facing the Maoris’ front, the gallant Perceval recklessly exposed himself, and it was with difficulty that the Mellsop brothers, three young settlers, prevented him from charging at the enemy. Twice they saved his life by pulling him under cover.

Percival’s luck soon ran out; he was shot dead, as was Norman.

During the skirmish, some Māori charged with ‘long-handled tomahawks’. In hand-to-hand fighting that ensued, Private William Worthington of the Mauku Volunteer Militia was ‘tomahawked’ as he was reloading his rifle; another man was killed while withdrawing his bayonet from an opponent’s body.

When the Māori force attempted to cut off their retreat, Lusk and his men retired to the church stockade. Two militia officers and up to seven men were killed. The other dead were Corporal Michael Power and Privates William Beswick, William Williamson, George Oborn and Farquhar McGilvray. Māori casualties are unknown.

The militia dead were found in the clearing on Tītī Hill the following day. They had been ‘tomahawked’, stripped of arms, equipment and some clothes, and laid out side by side. Seven bodies were sent to Drury for burial in St John’s churchyard; Worthington was buried at Mauku.

A memorial to the seven men buried at Drury was proposed ‘immediately’ after the engagement at Mauku. According to a newspaper report, ‘all the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the four Waikato Regiments, in admiration of their gallantry, almost spontaneously subscribed a day’s pay for the purpose of commemorating their bravery’.

No memorial had eventuated by late 1866. On 15 November, a Daily Southern Cross correspondent attempted to ‘shame the individual or individuals … who have the care of this fund, into an acknowledgement of the trust’. This memorial obelisk over the mass grave, sculpted from Bath stone by Mr Buchanan of Auckland, was completed in September 1867.

A decade later, the memorial was in serious disrepair. At a meeting of 1st Waikato veterans at Tauranga on 5 January 1878, Captain Fraser described the Drury site as being ‘in a more backward condition than when the monument was erected’. Open to horses, cattle and sheep it was, in his opinion, ‘disgraceful’.

Fraser did not seek repair or renovation. He proposed that the monument and the mass grave be removed to Tauranga, the ‘headquarters’ of the late regiment. It was ‘the imperative duty’ of the veterans that the monument and the remains rest in a place where they would be cared for ‘with affectionate solicitude’ by the survivors of Mauku, their children and grandchildren.

Despite winning unanimous approval from those present, Fraser’s proposition was not enacted. The cost – estimated at £70 – may have been one reason.

The Drury memorial was investigated by Edith Statham, inspector of old soldiers’ graves in the Department of Internal Affairs, in 1913. The government funded its restoration in mid-1915, when the grave was covered with a concrete slab and the memorial’s inscription was re-cut.

According to one newspaper report, the original memorial was inscribed with only seven names: Norman, Percival, Power, Beswick, McGilvray, O’Born and Williamson. An eighth name – almost certain that of Worthington – was omitted from the inscription because he was a member of the Mauku Volunteers, and because he ‘sleeps much nearer to the battle-field’.

Mystery surrounds the name ‘M. Gilom’. It is currently unclear when the name was added; the work may have taken place when the letters were re-cut in 1915. Gilom’s name does not appear on the official casualty lists or in any description of the Mauku action. It may be that this name is spelt incorrectly on the memorial, making it difficult to trace elsewhere, or that he died later of wounds received during the engagement.

All seven names originally recorded on this memorial are found on the official casualty lists. However there are discrepancies. According to the lists, Lieutenants Thomas Norman and William Percival were members of the Auckland Militia. There are also name discrepancies: Beswick’s surname is listed as ‘Beysick’, Oborn is listed as O’Born, and McGilvray is listed as McGillavray.

According to contemporary newspaper reports, Lieutenant Percival was actually J.S. Perceval, grandson of British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, who was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812.

Inscription

This monument was erected / by the officers & men of the / 1st Waikato Regiment / in memory of their comrades / who fell fighting against the rebel / natives at Mauku 23rd Oct. 1863./ Lieut. Thomas Norman, / William Percival, / Crpl. Michael Power, / Privts William Beswick – M. Gilom, / William Williamson – George Oborn, / Farquhar McGilvray

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M Oborn

Posted: 11 Nov 2010

The Archivist, good afternoon Re: George Oborn killed at Mauku October 2863 Unable to find details of George Oborn (O'Born) enlistment / arrival in New Zealand / record of death etc. Can you supply the above information or tell me where I can find it Many thanks Maria Oborn