Glitter and Gore: Auckland’s origins as a garrison town

Charlotte Macdonald

Amongst the first and most consistent European presence in colonial Auckland were redcoat soldiers of British regiments sent as part of the Governor’s retinue; as a fighting force in the mid-1840s Northern Wars; as a resident garrison in the 1850s, and then in very large numbers (over 12,000) as forces fighting in the wars of the 1860s. Officers and ordinary rank and file soldiers from 18 British Army infantry regiments (along with some wives and children), together with the 2200 or so Fencible settlers (1847-53), made Auckland a place of dense military activity.

There are many layers to this early history, and a paradox at its heart. Alongside the gore, the guns and the harsh enforcement of imperial authority was a remarkable glitter and popularity. To the muddy streets and flimsy wooden buildings, officers and ordinary redcoat soldiers brought ceremony, pageantry, stirring music, elaborate balls, horse racing to thrill an afternoon, and the deep pockets of the Commissariat that kept many a local business afloat. The paper will discuss these contradictory strands in Auckland’s origins as a garrison town – a term used both admiringly and as an insult by contemporaries. What understanding might we reach by exposing this history that hides in plain sight in the streets of modern Auckland? How might we see Auckland as a node in a ‘settler empire’ held together by an underpinning force along with law, trade, religious conviction and, in the case of Aotearoa New Zealand, a Treaty?