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A Short History of the
NZ Permanent Force Old Comrades'

The New Zealand Armed Constabulary 1846-85

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Since most members of the New Zealand Permanent Force Old Comrades Association Inc. are serving or retired Gunners, and wear a Gunner badge, the uninitiated sometimes ask why we don't call ourselves an Artillery association of some kind. In reply let me recapitulate the history of the Force from which we derive our title.

The regular component of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery traces its history back to New Zealand's first regular force - the armed constabulary formed under an Ordinance promoted by Captain George Grey, late of Her Majesty's 83rd Regiment of Foot, during his first term as Governor General. Although the Ordinance described the force variously as an 'armed constabulary' or as an 'armed police', Grey intended it to be much more. He wanted a body of fighting men capable of taking the field at short notice anywhere and at any time he might direct, without question or argument, for he could depend on neither the Militia nor the Imperial troops then stationed here to meet such a requirement. The first 40 recruits, including a number of Maoris, signed on in Wellington in April 1846, and in Auckland a like number was engaged the following month. Those recruited in Wellington took part in operations against Te Rangihaeata later that year, and in 1847.

Unfortunately few records of this early force survive. Since the decade 1850-60 was comparatively peaceful, development of the Armed Constabulary along the lines originally intended does not seem to have been pursued, the men being occupied chiefly on police work. However, they remained armed, for we find in 1861 the Government purchasing new Callisher and Terry breech-loading carbines for them.

In 1862, faced with a heavy capitation fee for every British soldier on New Zealand soil, and realising that the Militia and Volunteers were good for little more than garrison duty, the Government raised a new body of regular troops for the same purpose Grey had established the original AC Force in 1846. It was called the Colonial Defence Force, was organised along constabulary lines, and not a few of its first recruits transferred from the existing Armed Constabulary.

Being a purely mounted force the CDF was not found entirely suitable, and was disbanded in 1866 to be succeeded in 1867 by a re-constituted Armed Constabulary Force. Again, most of the CDF troopers transferred to the new force, thus preserving continuity of 'descent'.

In the AC there were now both mounted and dismounted men. Dismounted Constables were trained primarily as light infantry, while the mounted were trained as cavalry - although they invariably fought as mounted rifles. Royal Artillery instructors hired by the Government gave both branches further training on the Armstrong RBL 6-pr field gun, as well as on Mann and Coehorn mortars. Thus in action the Force was completely self-supporting.

Throughout its existence members of the New Zealand Armed Constabulary Force rarely failed to give a good account of themselves. The Force was one of the most versatile organisations ever to serve this country; their duties and responsibilities, including the public works they carried out in their 'spare' time, are far too numerous to detail here, but without their assistance and protection our pioneers, about whom so much has been written, could have done little pioneering.

Successive Governments have done the Force a disservice in never having published its history. Perhaps the history of the New Zealand Police soon to be published will fill the gap.

In 1877 the Provincial Police were amalgamated with the Armed Constabulary the whole Force being re-named the New Zealand Constabulary, of which the Police and the AC became separate branches. In the process the AC was reduced to a Depot Staff in Wellington, plus four reserve divisions trained and equipped for field service. NB: Strength of a division was approximately 80 all ranks.

Later the Reserve was expanded to provide reinforcements for both branches. Prospective recruits had first to join the Reserve where they were sworn in under the Armed Constabulary Act of 1867, after which they underwent training, including weapon training, before being posted either to the Police or Armed Constabulary. In 1883 the four divisions mentioned above became known as the 'AC Field Force'.

During the late 1870's the need for the type of internal security provided by the AC receded, while fear of attack by a foreign power grew. In 1880 provision in the establishment was therefore made for 25 AC men to be detached to each of the four main ports in the event of an emergency to man the coastal batteries. In fact no batteries existed, because the guns that had arrived from England in 1879 after the first Russian 'scare' were still in store - nor had any preparations been made to mount them! No training programme had been produced, but no one seemed to worry until the second 'scare' in 1885, when the guns were mounted '... in all haste' to quote one of the old fort record books.

During the early 1880's the country suffered a depression. In keeping with the usual British practice of making the Armed Forces a prime target for economies in 'hard times' the Government in 1880-81 cut AC pay by 10%, and made several reductions in strength. In 1884 Defence began closing Field Force stations, the men so released being put to work on the roads, Officers and NCO's included.

After 31 March 1885 all AC Field Force men were posted either to Wellington to undergo training on coast artillery equipments under Royal Artillery NCO's, or to the four main ports to prepare emplacements for the mounting of the guns which had been in store plus new ones ordered the same year.

Meanwhile, to quote the 1885 report by the Commander, Colonial Forces, to Parliament 'The permanent force is being created chiefly from the ranks of the Armed Constabulary Reserve a corps which needs no comment of mine to increase its reputation.'

.../The New Zealand Permanent Force

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