Topic: Duncan Alexander Cameron (1808-1888)

Topic type:

General Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron (1808-1888) was in overall command of the Victorian British troops in New Zealand including those at the Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina on 29 April 1864. After the British defeat at Gate Pā, Cameron returned to Auckland. During the Taranaki campaign in 1865 a disillusioned Cameron protested it as being unnecessary, and motivated by settlers desire for confiscation of Māori land. Unable to refuse orders to involve his British troops, he directed the campaign at a snail's pace and eventually stopped advancing altogether, earning the nickname from Māori of the 'lame seagull'. Researched and written by Debbie McCauley.

Looking wrong? Archived version here.

Duncan Alexander Cameron was born in Thorncliffe, Hampshire, England on 20 May 1808 to John and Amelia (Emily) Cameron (nee Brock) who married in Guernsey on 10 October 1803. His father was Lieutenant-General Sir John Cameron, KCB, of Scotland, a British Army officer and commander during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.

Duncan Cameron entered the Army and obtained his first commission in the 42nd Highland Regiment (the Black Watch) on 8 April 1825. He was made lieutenant on 15 August 1826, captain on 21 June 1833, major on 23 August 1839 and lieutenant colonel on 5 September 1843 and served during the Crimean War (1853-1856). Cameron was made colonel in 1854 and commanded the 42nd Regiment at the Alma (1854) and the Highland Brigade at Balaclava (1854), and was present at Kertch (1855) and the fall of Sebastopol (1855).On 9 November 1855 he was promoted to major-general and given a command in Scotland.

General Sir Duncan Cameron KCB

General Sir Duncan Cameron KCB (

Cameron is described as 'a tall man, with a large hookey nose and small grey eyes'. He arrived in New Zealand in early 1863 and took part in the Invasion of Waikato beginning in July 1863.

For his victory at Rangiriri (20–21 November 1863) Cameron received the KCB on 20 February 1864.

Cameron made his only tactical blunder of the New Zealand Wars when he authorised the attack on Gate Pā at Pukehinahina on 29 April 1864. The British suffered heavy losses and Cameron 'dashed his field-glass on the ground, turned his back on the fugitives, and retired to his tent to conceal his emotion'.

Awaiting the Order to Advance (1864)

Awaiting the Order to Advance (1864). Cameron (centre right, hands in pockets, leaning against the wheel of a 24 pounder smooth bored howitzer) surrounded by British regulars, local militia and Volunteers. 

General Cameron's Despatch to His Excellency the Governor, Sir George Grey from Headquarters, Tauranga, dated 5 May 1864:

Sir,—It having been decided by Your Excellency and myself in consequence of information received from Colonel Greer, Commanding at Tauranga, that reinforcements should be sent to that station, detachments were embarked without delay in H.M. ships “Esk” and “Falcon” placed at my disposal by Commodore Sir William Wiseman and by the 26th April were all landed at the Mission Station of Tauranga, to which place I had transferred my headquarters on the 21st April. On the 27th April I moved the 68th Regiment, under Colonel Greer, and a mixed detachment of 170 men, under Major Ryan, 70th Regiment, towards the rebel entrenchments of which I made a close reconnaissance. It was constructed on a neck of land about 500 yards wide, the slopes of which fell off into a swamp on either side. On the highest point of this neck they had constructed an oblong redoubt, well palisaded and surrounded by a post and rail fence, a formidable obstacle to an assaulting column and difficult to destroy with artillery. The intervals between the side faces of the redoubt and the swamp were defended by an entrenched line of rifle pits. I encamped the 68th Regiment and Major Ryan's detachment about 1,200 yards from the enemy's position on the 27th, and on that and the following day the guns and mortars intended to breach the position were brought up to the camp which was joined by a large force of seamen and marines, landed at my request from the ships of the squadron by Commodore Sir William Wiseman. The strength and composition of the force assembled in front of the enemy's position on the evening of the 28th are shown in the footnote.

Having received information that by moving along the beach of one of the branches of the Tauranga harbour at low water, it was possible for a body of troops to pass outside the swamp on the enemy's right and gain the rear of his position, I ordered Colonel Greer to make the attempt with the 68th Regiment after dark on the evening of the 28th, and in order to divert the attention of the enemy from that side, I ordered a feigned attack to be made in hisfront. Colonel Greer's movement succeeded perfectly, and on the morning of the 29th he had taken up a position in the rear of the enemy which cut off his supply of water, and made his retreat in daylight impossible, but was necessarily too extended to prevent his escape by night. I enclose Colonel Greer's report of his proceedings.

During the same night the guns and mortars were placed in position and opened fire soon after daybreak on the morning of the 29th. I gave directions that their fire should be directed principally against the left angle of the centre work, which, from the nature of the ground, I considered the most favourable part to attack. Their practice was excellent, particularly that of the howitzers, and reflects great credit on the officers in command of batteries.

About 12 o'clock, a swamp on the enemy's left having been reported by Colonel Greaves, Deputy-Assistant Quarter-Master General, practicable for the passage of a gun, a six-pounder Armstrong gun was taken across to the high ground on the opposite side from which its fire completely enfiladed the left of the enemy's position, which he was thus compelled to abandon. The fire of the guns, howitzers and mortars was continued with short intermissions until 4 p.m., when a large portion of the fence and pallisading having been destroyed, and a practicable breach made in the parapet, I ordered the assault. One hundred and fifty seamen and marines under Commander Hay, H.M.S. “Harrier,” and an equal number of the 43rd Regiment, under Lieut-Colonel Booth, formed the assaulting party. Major Ryan's detachment was extended as close to the work as possible to keep down the fire from the rifle pits with orders to follow the assaulting column into the work. The remainder of the seamen and marines, and of the 43rd Regiment, amounting altogether to 300 men, followed as a reserve.

The assaulting column, protected by the nature of the ground, gained the breach with little loss, and effected an entrance into the main body of the work, when a fierce conflict ensued, in which the natives fought with the greatest desperation.

Lieut-Colonel Booth and Commander Hay, who led into the work, both fell mortally wounded. Captain Hamilton was shot dead on the top of the parapet while in the act of encouraging his men to advance, and in a few minutes almost every officer of the column was either killed or wounded. Up to this moment, the men, so nobly led by their officers, fought gallantly and appeared to have carried the position, when they suddenly gave way, and fell back from the work to the nearest cover.

This repulse I am at a loss to explain otherwise than by attributing it to the confusion created among the men by the intricate nature of the interior defences, and the sudden fall of so many of their officers.

On my arrival at the spot I considered it inadvisable to renew the assault, and directed a line of entrenchment to be thrown up within one hundred yards of the work so as to be able to maintain our advance position, intending to resume operations the following morning.

The natives, availing themselves of the extreme darkness of the night, abandoned the work, leaving some of their killed and wounded behind.

On taking possession of the work in the morning, Lieut-Colonel Booth and some men were found still living, and, to the credit of the natives, had not been maltreated, nor had any of the bodies of the dead been mutilated. I enclose a list of our casualties.

I deeply regret the loss of the many brave and valuable officers who fell in the noble discharge of their duty on this occasion.

The 43rd Regiment, and the service, have sustained a serious loss in the death of Lieut-Colonel Booth, which took place on the night after the attack. I have already mentioned the brilliant exmple shown by this officer in the assault, and when I met him on the following morning as he was being carried out of the work, his first words were an expression of regret that he had found it impossible to carry out my orders.

The heroism and devotion of Captain Hamilton and Commander Hay, reflect the highest honour on the naval service.

The loss of the enemy must have been very heavy although not more than twenty bodies and those wounded were found in and about their position. It is admitted by the prisoners that they carried off a large number of killed and wounded during the night, and they also suffered in attempting to make their escape as described in Colonel Greer's report.

In my reports to His Royal Highness the Field-Marshal, Commanding-in-Chief, and the Right Hon. the Secretary of State for War, I have brought to their favourable notice the names of the officers who particularly distinguished themselves on this occasion.

Commodore Sir William Wiseman on this, as on every other occasion, co-operated with me in the most cordial manner, and I am much indebted to him, as well as to the whole of the officers and men of the Royal Navy and Marines who took part in these operations, for their valuable assistance. I have, etc., D. A. CAMERON, Lieutenant-General.

Cameron's report on the Battle of Te Ranga to Leiut.-General Cameron, C.B., to His Excellency the Governor, Sir George Grey, K.C.B. from Headquarters, Auckland, 23 June, 1864:

Sir,—I have great satisfaction in forwarding to Your Excellency the enclosed account of an engagement between the troops, under the command of Colonel Greer, 68th Regiment, and the rebels at Tauranga, in which the latter were defeated with great loss. Our own loss was small, considering the number engaged, the heavy fire to which they were exposed in advancing to the attack, and the resistance made by the enemy in their rifle pits. This very successful action reflects the greatest credit upon Colonel Greer and the troops under his command, who fought with the greatest gallantry. D. A. CAMERON, Lieut.-General.

On 30 June 1864:  Lieut.-General Cameron to His Excellenty Sir George Grey, K.C.B. Headquarters, Auckland, 30th June, 1864.

Sir,—I have the honour to forward for Your Excellency's information a second and more detailed report from Colonel Greer of the recent action at Tauranga. The valour and discipline of the troops, and the ability of their Commander, were conspicuously displayed on this occasion, and the 43rd and 68th Light Infantry, on whom the brunt of the engagement fell, behaved in a manner worthy of the high reputation of these distinguished regiments. The conduct of the Colonial Forces also reflects the greatest credit upon them. The enemy appear to have fought with the most determined courage. I have, etc., D. A. CAMERON, Lieut.-General. 

Cameron increasingly came into conflict with Governor Grey and the colonial administration of Frederick Weld. Grey described Cameron as 'an impatient, ill-tempered, injudicious old man'. Cameron offered his resignation to the War Office on 7 February 1865. In June he received permission to return to England and left New Zealand on 1 August 1865.

Cameron served as Governor of the Royal Military College Sandhurst from 1868 to 1875. He was promoted lieutenant-general in 1868 and general  in 1874.

He married Louisa Flora Maclean at Kew in Surrey on 10 September 1873. They had no children together and Louisa died just two years later on on 23 September 1875.

Tauranga’s main road cuts straight through the Gate Pā battle site at Pukehinahina. It is ironically named Cameron Road after General Cameron.

Cameron died at Cambridge House, Kidbrook, Kent, England, on 8 June 1888. His funerary monument is at Brompton Cemetery, London, England.

Gate Pā Pou 1: Duncan Alexander Cameron (1808-1888)

Gate Pā Pou 1: Duncan Alexander Cameron (Photo: Debbie McCauley)

During the three weeks leading up to the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina on 29 April 2014 eight pou were carved from six pine logs and two totara logs to represent iwi participation in the 1864 Battle of Gate Pā and link to the whenua. One of the pou represents General Cameron. Sitting above Cameron on the pou can be seen a halyard (to haul yards) in remembrance of the Navy who fought at Gate Pā. This pou also represents the other Pakeha soldiers who fought at Gate Pa.

See also: The Governor - The Lame Seagull (Episode Five).


Articles from the New Zealand Herald:



Belich, James (1990. Updated 30 October 2012). Duncan Alexander Cameron (Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand). 

Cenotaph Database.

Mair, Gilbert (1926). The Story of Gate Pa, April 29th 1864 [Reprinted by the Bay of Plenty Times Ltd in 1937 & 1964. Reprinted by Cadsonbury Publications in 2010. Reprinted by Tauranga Charitable Trust in 2014].

McCauley, Debbie (5 August 2011). Identity and the Battle of Gate Pa (Pukehinahina), 29 April 1864 (Tauranga Memories: Battle of Gate Pa, 1864 kete).

Samuel Mitchell and the Victoria Cross (the Gate Pa at Tauranga) (para. 7).

The New Zealand Herald: 1865, Duncan Cameron: Straight-talking general

Wards, Ian McLean (1966). Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron G.C.B. (Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand). 


This page archived at Perma CC in March of 2017:

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Duncan Alexander Cameron (1808-1888)

First Names:Duncan Alexander
Last Name:Cameron
Date of Birth:20 May 1808
Place of Birth:Thorncliffe, Hampshire
Country of birth:England
Date of death:8 June 1888
Place of death:Cambridge House, Kidbrook, Kent, England
Date of Arrival:1863
Spouses name:Louisa Flora Maclean
Spouses date of death:23 September 1875
Date of marriage:10 September 1873
Fathers name:John Cameron
Fathers date of birth:3 January 1773
Fathers place of birth:Inverness, Scotland
Fathers date of death:23 November 1844
Fathers place of death:Guernsey, Channel Islands, England
Mothers name:Amelia Brock (Emily)
Mothers date of birth:19 February 1776
Mothers place of birth:Guernsey, Channel Islands, England
Mothers date of death:13 November 1858
Mothers place of death:Guernsey, Channel Islands, England
Name of sibilings:Amelia Susannah Brock Cameron, Anne Alicia Cameron, Marion Cameron, and John Cameron
Military Service:New Zealand Wars