Watercolour on paper
240 x 340mm
This watercolour recalls the involvement of the soldier-artist Gustavus von Tempsky 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 Ngāmotu 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 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 Manley.
Tirohanga Whānui: Views from the Past, Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi, 15 April to 15 September 2017