Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky (1828 - 1868) MP

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Birthplace: Braunsberg, Prussia
Death: Died in New Zealand
Cause of death: Killed in an ambush by Maoris
Managed by: Jason Scott Wills
Last Updated:

About Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky

Gustavus von Tempsky

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Major Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky (15 February 1828 - 7 September 1868) was a Prussian adventurer, artist, newspaper correspondent and soldier in New Zealand, Australia, California, Mexico and the Mosquito Coast of Central America. He was also an amateur watercolourist who painted the New Zealand bush and the military campaign.

Gustav von Tempsky was born in Braunsberg, Prussia into a noble family of Prussia, with branches in Silesia and elsewhere, with a long military tradition, and brought up in Liegnitz in Lower Silesia. He went to a junior cadet school in Potsdam, then a cadet school in Berlin. His cousin was the German writer Valeska von Gallwitz. In 1844 he was commissioned into his father’s regiment in the Royal Prussian Army, possibly the Garde-Fusilier Regiment (in which his brother, Benno Waldemar von Tempsky was a second lieutenant).

In 1846, tiring of routine, he left the regiment after only nine months for the Prussian settlement on the Mosquito Coast of Central America. He accepted a commission to command a force of Mosquito Indians, which had been set up by Britain. In 1850 he went to the new California goldfields, but did not strike gold. In 1853 he returned to the Prussian Colony, via Mexico, Guatemala and Salvador, and later wrote a book, Mitla, about his journey. He had been courting Emelia Ross Bell at the nearby British settlement of Bluefields (or Blewfields) before he left, but her father did not approve, probably because of his youth and lack of prospects. After his return, on 9 July 1855 at Bluefields, he married Emelia, the elder daughter of the British government agent from Scotland, James Stanislaus Bell. In 1858 a son, Louis von Tempski, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. The family moved to Australia in 1858 and New Zealand in 1862.

[edit] Joins the Forest Rangers

Following the collapse of the Mosquito Coast colony, von Tempsky travelled to Australia in 1858, to the goldfields around Bendigo. From there he travelled to New Zealand in 1862, settling on the Coromandel Peninsula, as a goldminer and newspaper correspondent.

Upon the outbreak of war in 1863 von Tempsky moved to Drury just south of Auckland. Here he quickly struck up a friendship with Captain Jackson and the officers of the Company of Forest Rangers and was soon invited to accompany them on their patrols. Soon afterwards, on 26 August 1863, Governor Grey responding to a suggestion by Captain Jackson granted von Tempsky British citizenship and made him an officer of the Forest Rangers.

The Forest Rangers were an irregular force intended to take the war into the bush and to fight the enemy Māori on their own ground. Jackson was a cautious officer who was determined to give his men a thorough training. Von Tempsky relied more on dash and élan; he was also a tireless self-publicist, avid for glory and admiration.

In November 1863 the Forest Rangers were disbanded, not because they were unsuccessful but because their period of enlistment was finished. However Jackson was immediately authorized to form a new company along similar lines. A few days later von Tempsky was promoted to captain and also commissioned to raise a second company of Forest Rangers. From then onwards he and Jackson were always in competition for men, resources and glory.

During the early stages of the Waikato War the Forest Rangers were used to protect the army's supply lines from marauding Māori, patrolling mainly in the Hunua Ranges south of Auckland and trying to intercept enemy war parties before they reached the Great South Road. It was during this time that von Tempsky emerged as a very effective leader who was able to inspire great loyalty in his men. He was known to the Māori as Manurau, "the bird that flits everywhere".

Later the Forest Rangers were moved to the front and took part in the siege of Paterangi. It was during this period that they were involved in a dramatic rescue of some soldiers ambushed by the Māori while swimming in the Waikato River. Both Jackson and von Tempsky received an honourable Mention in Despatches and Von Tempsky later painted a well known water colour showing himself in a very dramatic light. However it was another officer, Charles Heaphy, who was awarded the Victoria Cross as a result of his bravery in this action. It was later said that von Tempsky felt slighted by this and determined to win a Victoria Cross for himself, a decision that may have caused his subsequent unnecessary death.

The Forest Rangers were involved in the siege of Orakau, and then heavily implicated in the massacre which followed the breakout of the defenders.

By 1865 Jackson had resigned his commission and von Tempsky, now a major, was in command of the Forest Rangers. They were soon involved in the Second Taranaki War. This was a frustrating period because of the conflicting loyalties and objectives of Government forces. The commanders of the British Imperial Troops had had enough of fighting what they saw as unnecessary wars on behalf of the New Zealand Government. On the other hand the New Zealand-raised units such as the Forest Rangers wanted to pursue the war with vigour. The deadlock was only broken when Governor Grey personally took command of the New Zealand forces. Von Tempsky however missed the subsequent action being laid low by rheumatism.

[edit] Court-Martial

After a brief holiday in Auckland, von Tempsky became involved in the Tauranga Campaign (though it is not clear how) and was present at the siege of Opotiki. From there he sailed to Wellington and resumed command of the Forest Rangers who meantime had mutinied and were refusing to embark and sail for the East Cape War. Finding that when he got there he would be expected to serve under an officer he considered junior to himself von Tempsky joined the mutiny and refused to accept any further orders.

He was arrested and court-martialled. The outcome could have been serious but a fortunate change in government brought new personalities to the scene and von Tempsky was given a second chance. While the bulk of the Forest Rangers went off to the East Cape von Tempsky and the other mutineers were allowed to return to Wanganui where he took part in McDonnell's and Chute's later Taranaki campaigns against the Hau Hau.

[edit] The Taranaki Wars

The Forest Rangers were finally disbanded in Te Awamutu in mid 1866. Von Tempsky was immediately invited to take command of No. 5 Division of the Armed Constabulary. When Titokowaru's War broke out in 1868 von Tempsky and his division were very soon drafted and sent to the front.

On 12 July 1868 there occurred an incident which is still a matter of controversy among New Zealand historians. While in command of the fort at Patea von Tempsky was told that an unfinished redoubt about seven kilometers away was under heavy attack. Giving his second-in-command strict orders to hold the fort he immediately rushed off on foot to join the battle. By the time he arrived ten of the defenders were dead and another six injured while the attackers were able to escape. Had he chosen instead to send out the mounted troopers he had available they could have arrived on the scene in time to prevent some of the deaths. But that would have meant the glory going to someone else.

von Tempsky's death in fighting against Titokowaru at Te Ngutu o te Manu, 1868 by Kennett Watkins

The Government was anxious for a quick end to the conflict and they pressured McDonnell into making a premature attack on Titokowaru's main Pa, Te Ngutu o Te Manu or The Bird's Beak. The defenders were ready and waiting when the militia arrived and they came under heavy and accurate fire. Wisely McDonnell very soon decided to withdraw as he was well aware of the futility of trying to attack a defended Māori Pa. This was too tame for Von Tempsky, who protested and then began to advance on the Pa. Within a few moments he was dead, killed by a bullet through his forehead, one of the fifty or so killed and wounded in the engagement.

Von Tempsky was held in high esteem by the Maori due to his warrior skills and was named Manu-Rau by them. The story passed down from generation to generation is that von Tempsky was in fact eaten by the Maori (claimed by some to have been a sign of respect)[citation needed] and to this day, Maori have refused to disclose where his bones were laid to rest. The local Maori returned his sword sheath to his widow and it is held these days by the Thomsons in Hawkes Bay. There is some mystery surrounding the whereabouts of the sword as it was a treasured prize. It is rumoured to lie under the whare which is said to attract good luck.

His contemporaries said later that it was his hunger for glory and particularly his desire to win the Victoria Cross which drove him to attack in such a desperate situation. This may seem to be a harsh judgment but von Tempsky had written earlier: "Heaphy has the Cross and I want it."

After the loss of their leader his unit fell apart. Many of the men mutinied and then deserted refusing to serve under any other commander. At the end of September the 5th Division of the Armed Constabulary was disbanded and never reformed.

[edit] Family

His widow, Emelia, died in 1900. His daughter lived in New Zealand. Two of his three sons, Ronald and Louis moved to Hawaii where they became ranchers. Louis managed the Haleakala Ranch. Armine von Tempsky, a daughter of Louis, became one of Hawaii's best-known writers. They sometimes used the alternate spelling of their surname, (von) Tempski.

More descendants of von Tempsky remain in New Zealand and especially in the Hawkes Bay area (Thomson family).

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Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky's Timeline

1828
February 15, 1828
Prussia
1856
May 29, 1856
Age 28
Nicaragua
1859
February 14, 1859
Age 30
October 1, 1859
Age 31
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia
1868
September 7, 1868
Age 40
New Zealand
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