New Zealand Medal (1860 to 1861), awarded to Boy George Gray, 1869
Obverse, a bust of Queen Victoria with veil
Reverse, laurel wreath within the inscription
New Zealand Medal (1860 to 1861), 1869 (First Taranaki War)
The New Zealand Medal was instituted in 1869 to recognise service in the New Zealand Wars of 1845-46, 1847 and 1860-66, and not for any of the other conflicts in that or a wider period in the islands. The phrase New Zealand Wars covers a variety of affrays, whose common factors were relatively few beyond that all, at some level, involved government forces suppressing risings by the indigenous Maori peoples. The background to the conflicts was misunderstandings and lapses, more or less wilful from case to case, in the implementation of the Treaty of Waitangi by which in 1840 the newly-instituted New Zealand government had protected the Maori tribes from loss of their lands. Not all the conflicts for which the New Zealand Medal was awarded were of this kind, however, some rather being wars between Maori tribes in which one side had managed to engage the government.
There were twenty-eight different sorts of New Zealand Medal awarded, of which twenty-seven bore the dates of different periods of service, some of which overlapped or enveloped the periods of other issues. There was also an undated medal issued for those whose service dates were no longer recorded, which might serve for any of the other twenty-seven.
The dates on this medal relate to a conflict known as the First Taranaki War, which arose over a disputed sale of Maori land at Waitara. Occupation of the disputed area by British forces in March 1860 resulted in a number of inconclusive engagements in which the British generally took higher casualties than the Maoris, whose night-built brush and earth fortifications proved effectively invulnerable to British weaponry. After a brief truce in June, Maori fighting became more serious and inflicted heavy losses on the British. While it was clear that the Maori could be repulsed in frontal assaults, for this very reason they relied on sieges and ambushes in which their tactics proved considerably more effective. By March 1861 the British had made little ground, and a senior Maori chief from a centralising party then orchestrated a ceasefire. The disputed land was occupied by the Maori and eventually retroceded, for a short while.
Almost all the medals for service in the 1860-1861 campaign were awarded to Royal Navy personnel, and this medal was awarded to George Gray who was a ship's Boy aboard the frigate HMS Iris. Lester Watson purchased the medal from the dealer Lowe at some point before 1928.