Born in Malta in 1829 and educated in Scotland, George Stoddard Whitmore followed his family’s long tradition of military service when he was commissioned ensign, at age 18, in a South African colonial unit, the Cape Mounted Rifles.
There Whitmore revealed the organisational talent, courage and physical endurance that were to become the most commendable of his traits.
A young globetrotter, Whitmore served in the Crimean War against Russia in 1855-56, was aide-de-camp for a commander in Canada in 1858, and in 1861 set sail for New Zealand as military secretary to Lieutenant General Duncan Cameron, who was to assume command of the British forces in the colony. However, by the time Cameron and Whitmore arrived a truce had been declared in the New Zealand wars.
Resigning his military post and selling his commission in 1862, Whitmore turned his hand to runholding, establishing a sheep run outside of Napier that grew to cover 110,000 acres. From 1866 Whitmore at last became substantively involved in the New Zealand wars, leading the colonial forces in no fewer than seven distinct campaigns. As lieutenant colonel he led the Napier militia against an incursive Hauhau force, and later organised several attacks on Te Kooti and Titokowaru’s forces.
During these campaigns two of Whitmore's characteristics became pronounced. The first was his awesome capacity to inspire dislike; the second was his immense military ability. In light of the former characteristic, he wisely avoided elective office and sat secure in New Zealand’s Legislative Council for 40 years. True to the latter characteristic, however, Whitmore was summoned from retirement during the Russian invasion scares of the 1880s and made commander of the defence forces.
Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by James Belich