Gustavus von Tempsky


Gustavus von Tempsky
Gustavus von Tempsky

Although he spent only six years in this country, Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky was one of 19th-century New Zealand’s most colourful characters. His independence of thought and action, his talent for writing and painting, and his charm and good looks made him something of a folk hero.

Tempsky was born into a Prussian military family in Königsberg (Kaliningrad) in 1828, and trained at a cadet school in Berlin. He abandoned his military career shortly after graduating to seek his fortune on frontier goldfields in California, Victoria, and from 1862 on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula.

The outbreak of hostilities in Waikato in 1863 led to the formation of volunteer units to supplement British regiments. Once Tempsky had taken out British citizenship, he was granted a commission in the Forest Rangers, an irregular colonial force which the authorities believed could match the bush fighting skills of the Māori.

Tempsky took part in the actions in Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Whanganui and Taranaki, establishing a reputation as an intrepid leader. He was a flamboyant and apparently fearless soldier, and a strong disciplinarian who was nevertheless popular with his men.

During a lull in hostilities from 1866, Tempsky returned to live with his family in Auckland, where he was a prominent citizen. Endowed with a fine singing voice, he was much in demand at musical gatherings.

In January 1868 Tempsky was appointed to command a unit of the Armed Constabulary. He met his end later that year during the Taranaki campaign against Tītokowaru and his followers. Tempsky was fatally shot in the head while attacking a position at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu on 7 September 1868.

Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by N. A. C. McMillan 

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Posted: 22 May 2022

We are in a time of change where te ao Maori is rising up and becoming stronger.Street names like Von Tempsky really need to be removed, as, to have them remain, is a constant reminder of the killers of the hapu in the area.

Lucy Rowling

Posted: 14 Jan 2022

Can this biography be refreshed to represent the realities of the history?


Posted: 23 Sep 2021

Maori were marginalized from thier land, livelihood, each other and basic necessities of life that they were promised in our founding document.The crown etc wanted land and they took it by any means necessary, rape, murder and starvation were tactics well used.Then as years went on severely imbalanced laws and sensoring the true history of this country.Titokowaru is painted as a mercenary, reality is he was a man well into his 60'S trying to remain on his own land with his people.Wherever you look in the world, the colonizers have been the same evil entity.Its a wonder any of us survived at all and the only reason our culture did is because it was oral, you can burn books,things and papakainga, you can even burn people, but you can't burn all of us...We are seeds of Rangiatea...

Peter Loftus

Posted: 04 Dec 2019

von Temsky was a fearless warrior who fought against Maori warriors. Unfortunately, Maori lost the war. Maori at the time fully understood the consequences of failure on the battle field and at the time submitted to the retributions placed upon them for taking up arms against the crown. Sadly, Maori have since suffered dearly for their past marshall philosophies. History cannot be undone but lessons learnt.

Trevor Carson

Posted: 27 Jan 2018

He was a mercenary
No hero just a paid killer like all of those constablary guys at that time
Paid to kill Maori Men Woman and Children
His and actions and of others during that time created great sorry and loss amongst Maori people who had very much welcomed and helped people from England