he history behind the skeletal iron hulk of Hamilton’s resident New Zealand Wars gunboat has…

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he history behind the skeletal iron hulk of Hamilton's resident New Zealand Wars gunboat has been revealed in a new book covering the vessel and her sister ships.

As the Waikato marks the 150th anniversary of some of its most pivotal battles of the 1860s with ceremonies and the gatherings of ancestors of the fallen, the Victorian metal carcass of the Rangiriri's hull sits, rusting and almost forgotten on the riverside in Hamilton's Memorial Park.

But Cambridge man Grant Middlemiss has collated the history of the maritime workhorses of the campaign with the self-publication of The Waikato River Gunboats – New Zealand's First Navy.

Middlemiss said eight purpose-built river gunboats were deployed in 1863, when a force of 12,000 British and colonial troops invaded the Waikato region.

"Her Majesty's Waikato River Gunboat Flotilla, New Zealand's first navy, helped to mould Waikato history," he said.

"Although they are mentioned in passing by most historians, there is little detail of the ships or the pivotal role they played in the Waikato land war."

Details of each boat's unique construction and place of manufacture – sources ranged from Glasgow to Sydney – as well as the colourful way they were brought to the Waikato and subsequently used here, are brought to life in the book.

"And there are a lot of stories," Middlemiss said.

"They include the re-naming of one of the boats by Governor Grey in what might be described as a fit of pique, and the way that after hostilities ceased, the boats were put to use in helping move the materials needed by those soldiers and others who went on to settle the area."

Middlemiss, who spent 36 years as a police officer before retiring, had his interest in the armour-plated behemoths sparked three years ago while listening to a presentation by retired army Major David Mannering on the Waikato land wars.

History had always sparked an interest, and Middlemiss was especially curious about the type of sailing ships that had brought his family from the United Kingdom to New Zealand in the 1880s.

The Dunedin native had spent much of his teens "mucking about in boats", first with the Sea Cadets, then with the Otago division of the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserves.

Hamilton man Harry Duncan shared his extensive knowledge on early New Zealand paddle steamers and also provided the many detailed drawings in the book.

The book is available at Cambridge's Wright's Booksellers and online at waikatorivergunboats.com.