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  The Royal New Zealand
                       FENCIBLES

"For their Country's aid they came here -
Never once did they complain."
                                                                from   "They Never Complained"  by Emelia Maud Nixon

Fear of Maori attacks on the infant city of Auckland in the 1840's led to the founding of military settlements across the isthmus as a first line of defence. Although Governor Grey managed to suppress the rebellion of Kawiti and Hone Heke in the north in 1846 and had arrested Te Rauparaha in the same year,  he was still apprehensive of Maori onslaughts on Auckland. So he conceived the plan of a rampart of outer military posts commanding the main waterway approaches to the city,  to be manned by soldier-immigrants,  thus achieving two ends at once.

Through his efforts,  a corps known as the Royal New Zealand Fencibles or the "Pensioners" was enrolled in England in 1846 - 47. The Fencibles consisted of discharged British soldiers and sailors,  selected on the basis of good character,  under 48 years of age (it was later lowered to 41), at least 5ft 5 inches in height and with a minimum of 15 years service.  They would be enrolled to serve seven years and were offered free passage for themselves and their families with pay ranging from 6 pence to 1 shilling and 3 pence a day, in addition to their pensions, an acre of ground and a cottage .

Between 1847 and 1849,   ten ships (AnnBerhamporeBerwick CastleCliftonInchinnanMinervaOriental Queen,   RamilliesSir George Seymour and Sir Robert Sale) brought the immigrants to Otahuhu,  Onehunga,  Howick and Panmure. Conditions on board were often very bad;  several children died of fever,  and the adults were plagued with scurvy and dysentery.  Three hundred pensioners were located at Howick under Captain Grey and a hundred or so at each of the other settlements. Colonel T. M. Haultain, later Minister of Colonial Defence from 1865 to 1869 originally commanded the Fencibles at Onehunga and later moved to Panmure.

When the fencibles landed, they found that the promised cottages had not been built. Leaky and badly ventilated weatherboard sheds with dubious privacy gained by makeshift curtains constructed to house families,  although some preferred rough shelters of tea tree and raupo.  In due course,  the pensioners cottages were built,  mainly double units with a separate entrance door,  two small rooms and a tiny attic for each family,  and a common middle brick wall and chimney.

The Fencibles agreed to serve for seven years and they were expected to be ready to engage the Maori should the need arise.  Their military duties were hardly exacting - six days drill in spring and six in the autumn and attendance at church parade every Sunday in full military kit.

Some of them found employment on public works, others provided a pool of labour for the farmers of the Auckland Peninsula.  All cultivated their own acres,  growing their own food and selling the surplus to Auckland and to visiting seaman.  "Howick Butter",   taken by the woman by boat to Auckland in cabbage leaves,  was a prized delicacy.  Fare was spartan,  for a 200lb bag of flour cost 5,  and farm wages were 2/- to 3/- a day,  but gradually the Fencible settlements were established as flourishing communities.

Life in the Fencibles settlements,  if strenuous,  was not without compensations.  By 1860, the tiny Panmure community had three pubs.  In the Panmure hall  dances were often held,  most notably the annual Christmas Ball,  for which a military band played,  which attracted Fencibles from other settlements.  Many of them made their way along the Howick-Panmure road,  a deeply rutted forest track,  where it was necessary at night for a man with a lantern to precede the horse and cart.

During the Maori wars of the 1860's,  the Howick fencibles were reinforced by a detachment of the 70th Regiment and Howick became a strong garrison town.  In 1863,  Stockade Hill was trenched in preparation for a Maori attack which never came.  During the same years,  the Otahuhu settlement was the site of a large military camp, housing thousands of Imperial soldiers engaged in the war in the south.

The development of Auckland City....has absorbed the original fencible settlements, but several of the Pensioners' buildings survive,  especially at Panmure and Howick, and a large number of descendants of the Fencibles themselves remain in the four districts.

Source - New Zealands Heritage

 

 

FENCIBLE definition: Derived from the word defensible and applying to a soldier only liable for home service.