Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (23 September 2011)

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Date of Auction: 23rd September 2011

Sold for £115,000

Estimate: £50,000 - £60,000

The important New Zealand Cross pair awarded to Private Thomas Adamson, Corps of Guides and Wanganui Rangers, a noted Bushman and Scout who adopted the Maori way of life - ‘as barbaric a figure as any Maori warrior’

New Zealand Cross, silver, with gold crown and appliqué decoration, the reverse centre inscribed ‘Private Thomas Adamson, Corps of Guides’, the reverse of the suspension bar with Phillips, Cockspur St. oval cartouche, complete with original gold ribbon buckle; New Zealand 1845-66, undated reverse (T. Adamson, Wanganui Rangs.) correct locally engraved naming, fitted with silver ribbon buckle, good very fine and extremely rare, a unique opportunity to acquire the only New Zealand Cross available to collectors outside of that country (2) £50000-60000


New Zealand Cross New Zealand Gazette No. 27 of 11th May 1876: Private Thomas Adamson, Corps of Guides:-

‘For good and gallant services as a scout and guide throughout the campaign of 1868-69, continually undertaking hazardous and laborious reconnoitring expeditions almost alone in advance of the force. And for personal gallantry when attacked, with other guides, in advance of the column beyond Ahikereru, on the 7th May 1869, where they unmasked an ambuscade, and Adamson, with others, was severely wounded, and the guide Hemi killed.’

A total of only 23 New Zealand Crosses were awarded, all for services in the Second Maori War of 1860-72. This Cross was first sold at Glendining in December 1969 for £1,700. In the same sale a Great War V.C. group achieved £1,200. It has since been in several notable collections including those of Mr J. J. Barnet, Mr Jay Kanter, of Cleveland, and Mr Richard Magor (D.N.W. July 2003). All but one of the 23 original awards have been accounted for, the whereabouts of that awarded to Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp) being unknown. Of the surviving awards, 14 are held by museums or institutions around the world, and two remain with the family in New Zealand or are known to be stolen (Mair), buried (Wahawaha), or destroyed (Biddle). Of the three crosses held in private collections, those to McDonnell and Featherstone are both in New Zealand and subject to the heritage rules of that country, leaving only this award to Tom Adamson available to collectors from the rest of the world.

Thomas Adamson N.Z.C.

Thomas Adamson was a pakeha Maori (a man of European descent who had adopted the Maori way of life), the most distinguished of three stalwart brothers who joined the Colonial Forces at Wanganui. He is believed to have been born at Wanganui on 9 September 1845, the second son of William Adamson, a carpenter, and Mary Osborne. As a teenager he followed the goldrush to Otago but, like many others, he returned disappointed. He was celebrated for his skill and hardihood in bush scouting and warfare after the Maori manner, and was befriended by Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp), leader of the pro-government Wanganui Maori Contingent. Adamson often worked with Te Keepa’s force, going barefoot like his comrades and generally adopting the Maori way of life.

In 1868 he joined the Wanganui Cavalry Volunteers and in the following year he was selected for Colonel George Whitmore’s Corps of Guides, Adamson being just the type of man Whitmore needed in his struggle to counter the resistance movements led by Titokowaru and Te Kooti. With his brother Steve, Tom Adamson fought in the attack on Titokowaru’s camp at Otautu on the Patea River on 13 March 1869. In the course of the subsequent bush chase of Titokowaru and his men, after the capture of Whakamara in Taranaki, Colonel Whitmore’s offer of £10 ‘a head’ for a captured Hauhau chief and £5 for a warrior was taken literally by the scouts.

When Whitmore came up to Taiporohenui, he was horrified when the Wanganui warriors and the pakeha-Maoris Tom Adamson and Donald Sutherland came into his tent and emptied eleven Hauhau heads on his floor. According to one eye-witness, ‘We followed the fugitives through the forest. On the top of a hill we came suddenly upon a man and two women and some children resting. When the man saw us he ran and crouched down between the two root-buttresses of a pukatea tree. One of our Maoris shot him and he fell. A European [Tom Adamson] rushed forward, and, lifting up the fallen man’s head, he stretched the neck across one of the root-flanges of the tree, and snatching out a short-handled tomahawk from his belt just behind his right hip he chopped the Hauhau’s head off... The Maori thus killed and beheaded was Matangi-o-Rupe, a chief of the Ngati-Ruanui.’

‘When Tom was in the bush and on the march,’ wrote James Cowan, ‘he dressed like his Maori companions. He seldom wore boots in the field and was as barbaric a figure as any Maori warrior with his ‘rapaki’ (waist shawl) in place of trousers, his big sheath knife, a tomahawk stuck through his belt and a flax kit containing his rations and Maori ‘loot’ strapped across his shoulders with green flax leaves, rifle in hand carried easily on the trail but ready for instant use. Sharp eyes searching every thicket and ears alert to the slightest suspicious sound that might indicate an ambush, big bare feet as hard as nails, padding noiselessly as a wild cat’

Tom Adamson was invariably accompanied by his brother Steve, an equally experienced and hardy bushman. Steve had lost his right arm in an accident but was nevertheless very smart with either carbine or revolver. They marched barefoot. Steve’s bush uniform consisted of a blue jumper and a pair of trousers cut short at the knees. Another scout was a Taranaki Maori named Hemi te Waka, usually called ‘Taranaki Jim’ or ‘Big Jim’; he was a tall athletic fellow, wearing the forage cap of the 43rd Regiment perched on his curly hair and proudly carried a presentation revolver, given to him by the officers of the 57th Regiment for his services after the ambush at Te Ahuahu in 1864.

In 1869, the two brothers accompanied Whitmore’s expedition to the Urewera in search of Te Kooti, marching from Matata to Fort Galatea. After reaching Ahikereru Pa, they were in the advance guard heading for Ruatahuna when it was ambushed at Manawa-hiwi on 7 May.

Describing the ambuscade Steve Adamson said: ‘We came to a very narrow part where a big landslip had come down and dammed up part of the creek, and on the soft mud there ‘Big Jim’ observed the prints of naked feet. He was stooping to examine the marks closely, and was pointing them out with the butt of his gun to Captain Swindley, when all at once a shot came from the bush half a dozen yards away. Two or three shots followed in quick succession from our hidden foes, and ‘Big Jim’ received two bullets through the chest and lungs. Captain Swindley yelled to us to take cover, when a great volley came into us, crashing like thunder through the gorge, and Bill Ryan, a big man like the Maori, fell shot through one of his knees. He lay with his legs in the water of the creek.

‘My brother Tom was shot through the right wrist, and another bullet struck one of the two Dean & Adams revolvers he wore slung on lanyards from the neck, crossing each other in front - we each carried two revolvers - and flattened out on the chamber, putting the revolver out of action; the blow cut his chest, although that bullet did not actually hit him. From whatever cover we could find we gave the Maoris a volley from our carbines. A dozen or so of the Hauhaus appeared and made a rush out upon us, but we took to our revolvers. They thought to dash in upon us while we were reloading our carbines. With our brace of revolvers each we fired heavily on them at close quarters and drove them back.’

At some stage during the action Tom Adamson, although severely wounded, attempted to rescue his scouting friend and comrade Hemi Te Waka by dragging him out of the river to safety whilst under heavy fire. Sadly his efforts were in vain and Hemi died a few hours later. It was largely for this action that he was recommended for the New Zealand Cross.

William Duncan wrote of the same fight: ‘Tom had been wounded on three occasions, the most severe was a shot in the foot and the injury was made worse because he had been compelled to wade for two miles down the bed of a river, cold water and sand playing havoc with the fresh wound. The pain of the adventure must have been intense and he certainly held a grudge against the Maori who had inflicted the wound. Adamson knew the man and followed him for two days, overtaking him. He tomahawked him over a log.’

In 1870 Adamson returned to the Urewera with Te Keepa’s Wanganui Maori Contingent, and took part in the attack on Waipuna Pa in March. They were ruthless in their treatment of the defeated foe, the principal captives being summarily executed. The contingent then returned to Opotiki from where they were shipped home by steamer.

In civilian life Adamson took up farming at Matahiwi on the Wanganui River and from about 1873 he lived with Nika Waiata, the daughter of the Murimotu chief Waiata Ruraikura. In 1883 they went to Ngaurukehu, where they cleared land and formed a small settlement. They had no children of their own but raised several, and adopted a boy and a girl. Having moved back to Wanganui, Tom Adamson and Nika Waiata were married there on 22 November 1910. Nika died on 16 May 1911. Tom Adamson, N.Z.C., who took part in 25 engagements against the Maoris, died at Wanganui on 29 December 1913, aged 67 years.

Sold with a comprehensive file of research, including copied photographs of Tom Adamson wearing his awards and of his wife also wearing the New Zealand Cross.