William Odgers' VC

The Illustrated London News report on the presentation to William Odgers of the VC for his actions at Waireka. He became the first person to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the New Zealand Wars.

Odgers' ‘conspicuous and daring bravery’ that day occured near dusk when his commander, Captain Peter Cracroft, decided that with time running out decisive action was required. Cracroft declared that there was ‘Ten pounds to the man who gets that flag!’ and Odgers duly gained his place in New Zealand military history. In dispatches Cracroft described how his men stormed Kaipopo pā ‘under heavy fire’. Once inside they  ‘destroyed everything living in the trenches, as far as could be ascertained’.

Newspaper accounts that Cracroft's men killed anywhere between 70 and 150 Māori in the assualt on Kaipopo pā would seem greatly exaggerated. Historian James Belich suggested the pā was virtually empty at the time of the assault. Belich described a ‘paper victory’ in which claims of ‘enormous’ Māori losses supported the notion of a great British victory. The Waitangi Tribunal’s Taranaki Report (1996) even claimed that Waireka was a Māori victory. Nigel Prickett also dismissed British reports of ‘cart-loads’ of Māori bodies being taken away concluding that between 17 and 40 Māori were killed that day's fighting. Regardless of the body count, the British could claim Waireka as a victory - albeit one of uncertain magnitude. Reputable sources thus cover the full gamut of contradictory outcomes.

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Posted: 02 May 2011

Thanks for your contribution Stan. The caption for this image has been amended as there was an error made with reference to Captain Cracroft's alleged comments regarding the number of Māori killed. This should have read 'newspaper accounts' said anywhere between 70 and 150 Māori were killed. The text in the feature itself hopefully clarifies this but if readers viewed only the caption page some of this detail will have been missed. We regret the initial error made in this caption and have now corrected it. We have changed the caption to reflect more of the story itself and to incorporate some of the established historical thinking on the subject.

stan fisher

Posted: 30 Apr 2011

This article is complete twaddle. I am the great great grandson of William Odgers and am in possession of his papers. The truth is that he became something of a recluse after he retired to Saltash, and even though he ran an Inn with my gg grandmother he never spoke about his experiences to outsiders. He very much regretted taking part in the slaughter of Chinese and Maori during his service and could not find peace before his death. I can find no evidence at all that Cracroft spoke of 70-150 Maori dead at the Pa. This would have been absurd. In his official report to the Admiralty, cited in the London Gazette he mentions a figure of around 27. This is in accord with William's estimate. I think you forget that the Maoris were terrified of the Naval Brigade - they were fitter, faster, better equipped with revolvers, better skirmishers, and the Niger crew were very experienced killers - they had been in the Baltic and in China in the eight years previous to Waireka. Compared to the local Militia, the Volunteers and even the 65th they would have made a fearsome foe. I know that William would not have cared two hoots for the rubbish you print, but at least have some respect for the facts.