This week, I’m delighted to welcome back Sam McLean as my guest blogger! Sam runs the excellent British Naval History website, and recently paid a lengthy visit to New Zealand, where he has family. Over to you, Sam!


Occasionally, opportunities arise for rest and recreation to include some research. My recent trip to New Zealand proved to be particularly fruitful, and repeatedly I indulged in naval history.

Our arrival in Auckland coincided with 75th anniversary celebrations of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s formal founding. After Auckland, we proceeded north to the Bay of Islands, on the Eastern side of the peninsula that tops New Zealand’s North Island. The first interesting aspects of naval history that we encountered were in Russell, across the bay from Waitangi and Paihia. Russell at that time was known as Kororareka, and by the 1840s, this was a rough town, inhabited by whalers, merchants, missionaries, and convicts who had escaped from Australia. Imagine Mos Eisley in the South Pacific, and you’re not far off. One of the major reasons that the Maori engaged with the British was so that the latter could remove the corrupting influence that many individuals in Russell represented. This area is particularly important to New Zealand history, as it was a ‘capital’ for Maori in the North Island, and included where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in February, 1840. Indeed, Russell was the first capital of New Zealand after the signing of the treaty, before the new site of Auckland was selected in 1841, and administration moved there in 1842.

The British transition of the capital from Waitangi to Auckland was forcibly done by placing tariffs and taxes on ships that unloaded cargo in the Bay of Islands. This very much removed authority and influence from the Maori chiefs in the Bay of Islands. The Maori chiefs registered their displeasure by cutting down the flagpole in Kororareka multiple times. Eventually, this led to the ‘Flagstaff War’, and the almost total destruction of what is now Russell. Only Christ Church and the ‘Pompallier Mission’ survived the destruction of the town. The Royal Navy was involved in the ‘Flagstaff War’ due to the actions of HMS Hazard, a ‘Favourite Class’ sloop which was deployed to New Zealand and the Bay of Islands in 1844 and 1845. At Christ Church, two memorials are of particular interest.

Gravestone of Captain Charles Bell
Gravestone of Captain Charles Bell

The first is the grave of Charles Bell. Bell was born in 1799, and was commissioned as Captain of the Hazard in 1841. After several years service in Asia (including the Opium War), he remained Captain when the Hazard was deployed to New Zealand. Due to ill health, he remained behind in Auckland while his ship proceeded to Port Nicholson, now Wellington. When his health improved, he took passage on a government brig to the Bay of Islands. After arriving there in August 1844, he went on deck of the ship, and when his Steward went below decks, somehow Bell fell by the board. Efforts to rescue him took time, and he drowned. He was then buried in the graveyard at Christ Church.


In March 1845, the Hazard was involved in the ‘Flagstaff War’, and put a detachment ashore to assist a platoon of 96th Reg’t of Foot. In the Battle of Kororareka, 6 men from the Hazard were killed, including several of the ships’ Royal Marines Light Infantry detachment. Further details about this battle, and the role of the Hazard in the tension and conflict can be read on the RNZN Museum’s Website. In the first photo above is what may be the original memorial, which is now mounted inside Christ Church. In the photo beneath is the replacement memorial, now standing in the churchyard.

These were only some of the memorials linked to naval history in the Bay of Islands. HMNZS Canterbury was commissioned in 1971, decommissioned in 2005 and sunk in the Bay of Islands as a reef. One of her propellers is now mounted in Paihia as a memorial to that ship.

After departing the Bay of Islands, we drove to Rotorua with a two hour diversion to observe some naval history. This diversion was inspired by David’s book Britannia’s Dragon, which mentioned that the bell from the Pembroke is at St Bride’s Church, in Otorohanga.

Otorohanga is a town in the King Country, part of Waikato, several hours drive south of Auckland. It is effectively a market town for the many dairy farms surrounding it. At St Bride’s Church, they have the bell of the Pembroke. Launched in 1694 as a fourth-rate, she was captured by the French in 1709, recaptured in 1711, then sold to the Spanish in 1713. After active service with that navy, she sank in Buenos Aires. Somehow, her bell made it to New Zealand, where it was donated to the church by a local family. As can be seen from the photos, below, the Bell is displayed outside the church. At some point, it has been repaired.

Further historically-informed considerations of the travels in New Zealand can be found at

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