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.
‘Old Ironsides’ will be open for tours to the general public, free of charge, Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 1 through Sept. 30.
This will be the final summer visitors can tour Constitution at her berth in Charlestown Navy Yard until 2018, as the ship will enter dry dock (also located in Charlestown Navy Yard) in early 2015 for scheduled restoration work.
Visitors to ‘Old Ironsides’ will have the opportunity to tour the ship’s top three decks (spar, gun, and berth). Each deck will be manned by one of Constitution’s active duty U.S. Navy Sailors, who will be on-hand to answer visitors’ questions in addition to giving brief guided tours to illustrate Constitution’s storied past.
Early birds interested in spending a morning aboard ‘Old Ironsides’ are welcome to register for ‘The Constitution Experience’. Every Tuesday, ‘Experience’ participants are invited to observe morning colors and the firing of the ship’s gun from Constitution’s pier at 8 a.m. Afterward, participants will be given an extended guided tour through Constitution’s spaces, including areas normally closed to the public during normal tour hours.
Those wishing to participate in ‘The Constitution Experience’ must arrive at pier one in Charlestown Navy Yard by 7:45 a.m. Public restroom facilities will not be available prior to the opening of the USS Constitution Museum at 9 a.m. ‘Experience’ groups are limited to 80 visitors each Tuesday morning.
No visit to Constitution is complete without a stop at the USS Constitution Museum, another free attraction also located within Charlestown Navy Yard. The museum provides a fun-filled and educational setting with exhibits of original artifacts from ‘Old Ironsides’ and numerous interactive galleries, providing experiential learning for all ages.
All persons age 18 and older wishing to visit USS Constitution must present a valid federal or state-issued photo I.D. or passport to board the ship. Deck availabilities, tour times and tour formats are subject to change due to factors including weather conditions, tidal conditions and tour group sizes.
Constitution is also scheduled to conduct several underway demonstrations in Boston Harbor this summer prior to entering her three-year dry docking. The ship’s first underway, which will commemorate both the Battle of Midway and the 70th anniversary of D-Day, is scheduled for June 6. The popular Independence Day underway, open to the public via lottery, will occur on July 4.
USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, actively defended sea lanes against global threats from 1797 to 1855. Now a featured destination on Boston’s Freedom Trail, Constitution and her crew of U.S. Navy Sailors offer community outreach and education about the ship’s history and the importance of naval seapower to more than 500,000 visitors each year.
Press Release, April 1, 2014; Image: US Navy