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The Gilfillan farm at Matarawa


Matarawa, the Gilfillan family farm, about 1845. John Alexander Gilfillan was an artist of some ability and his work provides useful insights into Whanganui’s colonial history.

Gilfillan, his wife Mary and their six children settled in Whanganui in late 1842. They secured an allotment of 110 acres (45 ha) in the Matarawa Valley, east of Whanganui, and moved onto their farm in late 1845.

On the evening of 18 April 1847 a party of six young upriver Māori attacked the Gilfillan farm. Mary Gilfillan and three children were killed and another daughter was badly wounded.

According to the missionary Richard Taylor, one of the Māori involved in the attack later confessed that the Gilfillans had not been the original target. Their isolation had made them easy prey. 


Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: C-018-004
Artist: John Alexander Gilfillan (1793-1864)
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image

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The Gilfillan farm at Matarawa, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated