Duncan Cameron (British Army officer)

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Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron
Lieutenant-Major Sir Duncan A. Cameron.jpg
General Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron
Born (1808-05-20)20 May 1808
Thorncliffe, Hampshire
Died 8 June 1888(1888-06-08) (aged 80)
Blackheath, Kent
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1825–1875
Rank General
Commands held 42nd Highland Regiment
Highland Brigade (Scottish)
Royal Military College, Sandhurst

Crimean War

Second Taranaki War
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath[1]
Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
Order of the Medjidie, Third Class (Ottoman Empire)
Relations Lieutenant General Sir John Cameron (father)

General Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron GCB (20 May 1808 – 8 June 1888) was a British Army officer who fought in the Crimean War (1854–1856), commanded troops during part of the New Zealand Wars, and was Governor of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from 1868 to 1875.


Cameron was an officer of the 42nd Regiment of Foot. (lieutenant 1826,[2] captain 1833,[3] major 1839,[4] and colonel 1854[5]).

He was made an Officer of the Legion of Honour[6] and received the Order of the Medjidieh, third class (1858),[7] Cameron was appointed to serve on the 1859 Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, whose recommendations prompted a huge programme of fortification for British naval dockyards.[8] In 1860, he became Commander-in-Chief, Scotland.[9]

New Zealand deployment[edit]

Cameron and the British troops were sent to New Zealand at the request of New Zealand's governor, Sir George Edward Grey, to replace British commander Thomas Pratt at the close of the inconclusive First Taranaki War. North Island Māori were becoming increasingly reluctant to sell land and the rise of the King Movement in the Waikato was considered to be a challenge to British sovereignty.[9][10]

Grey was determined to end the threat of an independence movement and presented a case to the Colonial Office in London that emphasised the threats and dangers of the King Movement, claiming that the European settlement was in danger of being wiped out. As evidence. he pointed to the theft of large amounts of gunpowder from Kawau Island in 1856 and the attack on Auckland City from the sea that was only stopped by a British warship and troops from Fort Britomart. To meet the danger, the British Government sent out 14,000 troops, commanded by Cameron.[9][10]

War in Taranaki[edit]

Cameron arrived in New Plymouth early in 1861, newly promoted from major general to lieutenant general, one of Britain's most distinguished generals. He was delighted to find that Browne was "determined to crush any continuing Maori insurrection". He approved of the plan to impose sovereignty on the Kingitanga and to punish tribes which had aided Te Ati Awa in Taranaki.[11] On 4 June, as troops began building an all-weather road from Auckland to the Kingite border at the Mangatawhiri Stream, preparing for the invasion of Waikato, Cameron led a force of 870 troops on a successful assault on a party of about 50 Māori still occupying the contested Tataraimaka block beside the Katikara River in Taranaki.

Victory in Waikato campaign[edit]

On 24 June 1863, Domett's Government agreed to Cameron's battle plans. His strategy was to use a river flotilla to move troops and supplies up the Waikato River to bypass the vast swamps between Maramaru and Meremere. His gun boat flotilla, prefabricated in Britain, was due to arrive in spring and barges were being constructed in Sydney. Hopes of the politicians for peace faded. Grey's "dream of racial amalgamation, Māori education and missionary endeavour" faded. Even the head of the Anglican Church in New Zealand, Bishop Selwyn, declared his support for the war against King Tāwhiao and Rewi Maniapoto. Grey also had 18 letters, apparently written by Tamihana, as evidence of a Māori plot against Auckland and of "Tamihana's determination to kill Europeans."[12]

The Waikato invasion began in July 1863. However, after a very short advance, Cameron, whose Crimean experience had taught him the importance of a sound supply line, realised his supply lines were severely threatened by the enemy. He spent three months securing his rear from attacks. He sent recruiting officers Dillon Bell (former Colonial Treasurer and current Minister of Native Affairs) and John Gorst (former Waikato magistrate) to Australia to raise volunteer forces, which were largely formed into company-based units from the individual states. In all, 2400 Australians volunteered to fight in a variety of units against the Māori forces. In addition, the Australian states willingly sold the New Zealand government vast quantities of rifles, ammunition, uniforms, horses and bullocks, as well as nearly all their latest Armstrong guns and shells to equip the 7000 New Zealand militiamen.

A public dispute broke out between Grey and Cameron, who were both strong-willed. Grey wished to crush the Kingite rebellion quickly, but Cameron was adamant that he would not start operations until his supply line was in place. Grey argued that he understood the mentality of the Māori rebels, but Cameron would not be swayed on military matters. Relations between Grey and Cameron were strained from this point on, as Cameron wrote directly to the Secretary of War in Britain, criticising Grey's war policy. Grey was faced with more and more criticism from the New Zealand press and public, which did not appreciate Cameron's high level of skill and experience.[9][10]

The Meremere Kingitanga position was virtually a on an island surrounded on three sides by swamp. It had been prepared by Ngati Haua leader Wirimu Tamihana, who had 1000 to 1500 warriors. Cameron reverted to his Taranaki tactics, hauling two modern Armstrong 40 pounder cannons high onto a ridge 270 metres (890 ft) from the river and 150 metres (490 ft) from the old Te Teo Teo pā on the edge of the western edge of the Whangamarino swamp. From this ridge, he had a clear view of the defenders' pā 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) to the south. The gunboat Pioneer was used to bombard the Meremere site. The defenders abandoned the pā without a fight, abandoning their cannon after realising they were outflanked,[13][14] resulting in a shattering blow to Māori morale. Rewi, Tamihana and King Matuaera (Tawhaio) now favoured abandoning the Rangiriri site.[15]

Cameron was able to safely reconnoitre the Rangiriri position from the Pioneer. The pā was estimated to have 500 defenders. A combination of tactics were used -artillery bombardment with Armstrong guns from 700 metres (2,300 ft), outflanking by landing troops behind the strong defensive line and a series of frontal attacks that allowed troops to enter the Māori trenches from the west and roll up to the central redoubt. Some troops from Cameron's 14th Regiment even entered the shorter eastern section of the trench line, cutting off retreat to the lake, but they withdrew, chasing escaping warriors into the nearby swampy lake. During the night, King Tawhaio, Wiremu Tamihana and the mortally wounded chief Pene Te Wharepu, along with 200 warriors, withdrew down the short 80-metre (260 ft) trench to Lake Kopuera and made good their escape. At 5 am, while the soldiers were involved in a mining operation to collapse the walls, the defenders ran up a white flag, which the soldiers, who were within hand grenade distance of the enemy warriors, interpreted as a surrender. 41 Māori including six chiefs were killed and 183 Māori taken prisoner. 182 firearms and large supplies of "ammunition" were found in the pa. "This was a crucial attack by Cameron and broke the back of the Waikato resistance. General Cameron was knighted for this feat."[16][17] James Belich, in The New Zealand Wars, suggests that one of the main reasons for the defeat of the Maori rebels was the lack of defenders to occupy the long earthworks. Whereas there had been about 1500–2000 Māori in the Meremere line, most were absent from Rangiriri.[18] The Taranaki warrior from the musket war period, Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake, who had confronted the government over land at Waitara, was present at Rangiriri until the gunboats arrived, but then left before the battle started. Te Heu Heu of Tuwharetoa was on his way to Rangiriri, but returned home when he heard of the defeat.[19]

Cameron conducted a careful and clever campaign against the Waikato Māori, seeking always to minimise casualties among both his own men and the enemy. The escape of some Māori did not please the New Zealand public, which wanted the Kingites to be punished for their rebellion and their murdering of isolated settlers on the outskirts of Auckland.

In the second major battle at Koheroa Ridge, south of the Mangatawhiri stream, Cameron galloped to the front and personally lead the charge when a volley of shots by the defenders felled the colonel, resulting in an inexperienced battalion faltering. The stampeding bayonet charge quickly drove out the defenders, who lost about 30 men, including their leader. Cameron had proved to New Zealanders he was a fighting general. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross.[20]

Eventually, the Māori, after a series of defeats in battles in Auckland and the Waikato, were forced to retreat into what became known as the King Country, south of the Puniu River near Te Awamutu. The government then switched its attention to the Bay of Plenty.[9][10] It was here, in the Tauranga Campaign, that Cameron made his only tactical blunder of the New Zealand Wars when he authorised the attack on Gate Pā and suffered very heavy losses. Cameron possibly overestimated the effectiveness of the heavy bombardment of the pā and anticipated little resistance from the defenders.[9][10] As the Tauranga Campaign wound down, fighting flared up again in Taranaki. Cameron saw this conflict as completely unnecessary, being wholly provoked by the rapacious confiscation of Māori land. Although he could not refuse orders to commit the British troops, he conducted the campaign at a snail's pace and eventually stopped advancing altogether. By now relations between Cameron and Grey were very frosty.[9][10] Cameron wrote to the Colonial Office and recommended that all British troops should be withdrawn from New Zealand. At the same time, he submitted his resignation as commander of the troops. Although the British troops were not immediately withdrawn from New Zealand, they took a very minor role in the subsequent conflicts.[9][10]

Cameron's generalship in New Zealand was, with minor exceptions, of a very high standard. In particular, he was a general who welcomed new ideas and technology and quickly put them into action. Cameron ordered prefabricated, steel-clad gunboats from Australia, which were assembled and finished in New Zealand. Both the gunboats and the army were equipped with the very latest Armstrong artillery, which were light, mobile, very accurate and fired an explosive shell. He appreciated the importance of irregular troops and allowed the creation of the Forest Rangers, who had their own unique organisation, uniform and lightweight arms including Bowie knives, revolvers and breech-loading carbines. In 1862, the telegram was first introduced to New Zealand, 18 years after its invention by Morse, and in 1863 a military telegraph was built from Auckland to Drury and later extended to the Waikato, allowing rapid communication between the front and Auckland.[21] Cameron was quick to realise the importance of local knowledge and used Gorst, a missionary from the Waikato who spoke the Māori language, as a guide. He also used Waikato Māori who remained loyal to the crown as guides and to man a redoubt at Rangiriri once the Kingites had been defeated. A kūpapa Māori, familiar with the shallow waters of the Waikato Heads was used to guide the first gunboats through the Waikato River shoals.[22] Cameron appreciated the importance of the surface coal seams at Huntly, which he used as fuel for his gunboats and supply steamers.[9][10]

After Cameron left New Zealand, many of his innovations were incorporated into the defence system by the government, which used them successfully to prevent any further large-scale outbreak of war.[9][10]

Family and later life[edit]

Funerary monument, Brompton Cemetery, London

After his return to England, Cameron was promoted lieutenant-general,[23] was appointed Commissioner "to enquire into the present state of Military Education in this country",[24] received the Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath[1] and was promoted full general on 5 December 1874. He served, 1868–1875, as Governor of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst[25] and 1863–81, as Regimental Colonel of the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot, The Black Watch[26] and 1881–88 as Colonel of the 1st Battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment).

On 10 September 1873, he married Louisa Flora (died 5 May 1875), fourth daughter of Andrew Maclean, deputy inspector-general of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He died without issue at Blackheath on 7 June 1888 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


The Memorials to Governors in the Chapel of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, includes:

In Memory of General Sir Duncan Cameron, G.C.B., Colonel of the Black Watch. Died 8 June 1888, aged 80. He served through the Eastern Campaign, 1854–55 ; commanded the 42nd Regiment at the Alma, and the Highland Brigade at Balaclava. Commanded the Forces in New Zealand during the War of 1863–65. Was Governor of this College, 1868–75.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The London Gazette, Issue 23979, published 24 May 1873. Page 1 of 2.
  2. ^ The London Gazette, Issue 18281, published 29 August 1826. Page 3 of 24.
  3. ^ The London Gazette, Issue 19060, published 21 June 1833. Page 2 of 24.
  4. ^ The London Gazette Issue 19762 published on 23 August 1839. Page 3 of 20.
  5. ^ The London Gazette Issue 21564 published on 22 June 1854. Page 3 of 16.
  6. ^ The London Gazette, Issue 21909, published 4 August 1856. Page 3 of 8.
  7. ^ The London Gazette, Issue 22107, published 2 March 1858. Page 2 of 22
  8. ^ Hogg, Ian V. (1974), Coast Defences of England and Wales, 1856-1956, David & Charles, ISBN 978-0-7153635-3-9 (p. 20).
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wards, Ian McLean (1966). "CAMERON, Sir Duncan Alexander, G.C.B". An Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Belich, James. "Cameron, Duncan Alexander". Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 
  11. ^ Climates of War, p. 79. E. Bohan Hazard Press. 2005.
  12. ^ Climates of War, p. 132.
  13. ^ Climates of War, pp. 132, 135, 142.
  14. ^ Historic Places Trust Information Display Board Whangamarino Redoubt.
  15. ^ Climates of War, p. 142.
  16. ^ Climates of War, pp. 149–151.
  17. ^ Historic Places Trust Notice Board Rangiriri Pa.
  18. ^ J. Belich. New Zealand Wars, pp. 142–156. Penguin. Auckland.
  19. ^ Battle of Rangiriri. B. J. Foster. Encyclopedia of NZ.
  20. ^ Climates of War, pp. 134–135.
  21. ^ Te Ara: Telecommunications.
  22. ^ Diary of William Morgan. N. Morris. Editor. Auckland City Council. 1963.
  23. ^ The London Gazette, Issue 23344, published 21 January 1868. Page 4 of 62.
  24. ^ The London Gazette, Issue 23393, published 26 June 1868. Page 2 of 66.
  25. ^ The London Gazette Issue 24222 published on 25 June 1875. Page 2 of 46.
  26. ^ "42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot, The Black Watch". regiments.org. Archived from the original on 10 March 2006. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 
  27. ^ Major Augustus F. Mockler-Ferryman F.R.G.S., F.Z.S. `Annals of Sandhurst : a chronicle of the Royal Military College from its foundation to the present day, with a sketch of the history of the Staff College` (London: William Heinemann, 1900)


Military offices
Preceded by
Viscount Melville
Commander-in-Chief, Scotland
Succeeded by
Edward Forestier-Walker
Preceded by
Sir George Wetherall
Governor of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst
Succeeded by
William Napier
Preceded by
George Hay, 8th Marquess of Tweeddale
Colonel of the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot, The Black Watch
Succeeded by
Regiment amalgamated to form the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)