Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The First Significant Overseas War: Australians leave for the Waikato War in New Zealand (1863)

The First Significant Overseas War: Australians leave for the Waikato War in New Zealand (1863). This article is by Scott Davidson. It appeared in the Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History.

From the site:

Over 2400 Australian volunteers were recruited from Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland to fight in Waikato and Taranaki, New Zealand in the Maori Wars from 1863 to 1864. The majority enlisted for the enticing offer of 'land for service' while others for adventure, work and free travel to New Zealand. Whole families were uprooted and women and children left behind lost the support of their men. Local government and the newspapers shifted from wholehearted support to outright condemnation.

While news was hitting Sydney of General Grant leading Federal forces up the Mississippi River against Vicksburg and Port Hudson in the American Civil War, recruitment had begun in the Australian Colonies for their first significant overseas war. It was August 1863 and the recruiting was for the Waikato War in New Zealand. The only other instances of Australian Colonial military involvement abroad had been when Australian born soldiers had fought with the British in the Crimean War and the Australian colony of Victoria had supplied naval support for the Taranaki campaigns of 1860-62 in New Zealand.

The Waikato War was to be the colonies first taste of major recruitment. A variety of men enlisted with concerns for the agreement of land offered while the press and local governments shifted from support to outright condemnation depending on the colony and how the recruitment directly affected them. The public celebrated the recruits' departure while families left behind had to deal with how to feed and clothe themselves. At the end of the Waikato War, the Australian colonial troops fortunate enough to survive were to discover that the cost for trying to achieve a better life and adventure would not always be worth the attempt. At the outset of recruitment however there was no shortage of willing and able recruits.

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