VON TEMPSKY, Gustavas Ferdinand

Encampment of the Forest Rangers

1866
Watercolour
240 x 340mm

This watercolour recalls the soldier artist’s involvement in Major General Trevor Chute’s march around Mount Taranaki in early 1866. Imperial troops had devastated territory belonging to tribes which had given their allegiance to the prophet Te Ua Haumēne’s Pai Mārire faith which was opposed to the alienation of Māori land by any means.

What had been designed as a four-day victory march back to New Plymouth after a successful campaign instead became a nine-day disaster, despite Sir George Grey’s praise of it. The force of Forest Rangers, mixed Colonial and Imperial troops and kūpapa (pro-British Māori allies) became seriously lost. Hampered by ceaseless rain and inadequate supplies, Chute’s men had to eat their pack horses and were only saved from starvation by the arrival of a supply party from North Taranaki.

This is a propaganda painting. Although horses are clearly being flailed in the left background the rest is fantasy. A group of soldiers is even doing a spot of drill. A nightmare experience has been transformed into a picturesque, decorative stage set. The artist has included himself (far left) in conversation with Assistant Surgeon William G. Manley. It is most likely that other foreground figures include General Chute, Dr Isaac Featherston, Colonels Carey and Gamble, and possibly Colonel McDonnell. Von Tempsky gifted this painting to Surgeon Manley.

Born at Königsberg, East Prussia, von Tempsky came from a military family whose traditions he followed by attending cadet schools in Potsdam and Berlin. In 1846 he left Prussia for the Mosquito Coast (now Nicaragua), moving on to California by 1850 where he failed to make a fortune as a goldminer. By 1857 he was living in Scotland, his wife’s birthplace, and in 1858 he travelled to Australia, again in search of gold.

News of gold mining prospects on the Coromandel brought von Tempsky, his wife and three children to Auckland on 10 March 1862. On 24 August 1863 von Tempsky took out British citizenship to allow him to obtain a commission with the Forest Rangers. He saw action during the Waikato War, establishing a reputation as an intrepid leader. Although ruthless in pursuit of fighting Māori, he disapproved of the killing of the women, children and wounded as had occurred at Ōrākau.