Duncan Cameron


Duncan Cameron
Duncan Cameron

Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron was commander of the Imperial forces in New Zealand from 1861 to 1865. He was a career soldier who had served with distinction in the Crimean War. By the time he arrived here was considered one of the most accomplished officers in the British Army.

The historian James Belich believed Cameron was not only the best European commander to serve in New Zealand but ‘among the best of Victorian generals’. His time in New Zealand would prove to be among the most challenging of his career.

Cameron arrived at a time of settler frustration with the lack of progress in the Taranaki War. He was keen 'to have a brush' with Māori but his arrival coincided with the conclusion of a ceasefire agreement. He supported Governor Thomas Gore Browne’s plans to invade Waikato in order to crush the Māori King movement. But this opportunity appeared to have passed when Browne was sacked in mid-1861 and replaced by George Grey. The relationship between Grey and his military commander was strained from the beginning. Grey called off immediate plans for the invasion, prompting Cameron to offer his resignation in early 1862. This was rejected by the War Office.

The much-delayed invasion of Waikato occurred in July 1863. Cameron endured his fair share of criticism over the conduct of the campaign, with some accusing him of being ‘slow and uninspired’. He faced similar criticism during the campaign in south Taranaki in 1865 where his Māori opponents apparently referred to him as ‘The Lame Seagull’. Belich, however, believed that Cameron was a good tactician and strategist, and a ‘superb organiser’. His critics, Belich argued, failed to recognise the fighting and tactical abilities of his enemies.

Despite open criticism by Grey over his conduct of the south Taranaki campaign in early 1865, Cameron continued to carry out his duties in an efficient and effective manner. He won substantial victories at Nukumaru and Te Ngaio before wisely refusing to attack the modern pā of Weraroa. By now he was critical of what he saw as colonial land-grabbing and the use of Imperial forces to achieve this. These moral doubts, it must be said, came late and coincided with Cameron’s frustration at a much desired ‘decisive victory’. He tendered his resignation for a second time in February 1865 and left New Zealand on 1 August.

Belich concluded that Cameron’s influence on New Zealand was ‘profound’. Along with Grey, he had ‘tipped the balance of power’ in favour of Pākehā.  It was Cameron and ‘not William Hobson at Waitangi, who sounded the death-knell of Maori independence’.

Adapted from the DNZB biography by James Belich

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Hester DeThierry

Posted: 11 Dec 2022

I am of Waikato descent and lived down beside the Waikato River in a small town called Tuakau.
Our old great grabdparents homestead is just below Alexandra Redoubt...& up on the top of the Redoubt there is a trench and old part of the cemetery dedicated to...I think Cameron's troops and a monument. Down below the Redoubt is the old homestead of our great grandparents and outside their house was a canon and i think a cluster of canonballs. From what i believe from General Camerons troops. Pokeno and Mercer as well as Rangiriri have historical sites there too. I think where we lived by the Waikato River was the pathway those troops trod and called Camerontown.
In 1966 or 1967...our Teacher took us on a history trip to visit this elderly lady who lived up in Park Lane.

Her name was Miss Cameron...I think?..and she was the daughter or granddaughter of General Cameron.

We went to her home, and I thought she was an elderly spinster woman, and it seemed she was to give us a history lesson about her grandfather General Cameron. She had a photo of her grandfather Cameron hanging on her wall and I'm sure the photo of him is on this website.
I always remembered and thought why were we there to celebrate or acknowledge his life given that he fought against our tuupuna and likely been party to the death and demise of our tuupuna.

Many many years later and with my own family living in Christchurch I never thought about this until now.
My husband and his whanau are from Rangiriri so they know about the battles with Cameron's troops too.
But I always thought it waz interesting knowing about Cameron and what this meant for our small town. He could've gone unnoticed General Cameron but our little bunch of school kids who were in Standard 3 at the time ad a face to face meeting with his granddaughter who we called Miss Cameron.
So that's how I remember & recall General Cameron and his legacy and somewhat detrimental impact for our whanau by the Waikato River..