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Keys to the Past




5th MARCH 1823




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ALEXANDER McMILLEN'S parents were Samuel and Mary McMILLEN. nothing more is known. His name has also been recorded as McMULLAN and MacMULLAN. In New Zealand the Family name is McMILLAN.
ALEXANDER McMILLAN is my Great Grandfather.


ALEXANDER enlisted in the British Army 99th Regiment of Foot Reg No. 2041, at NEWRY IRELAND on 30 November 1842. From 1842, several ships sailed from England to Australia with members of the 99th regiment on board as convict guards. Amongst these ships were the Candahar, John Renwick, North Briton, Richard Webb, John Brewer, Isabella, Somersetshire, Emerald Isle and Forfarshire. After serving in Sydney Alexander arrived in Auckland New Zealand aboard the British Sovereign on the 2nd of June 1845

He served in the 99th until 31 Oct 1855, when the 99th Regiment was returning to England from its duty in Tasmania. Along with 250 other soldiers he transferred to the 40th Regiment Reg No. 4050, and remained in Australia. The 40th Regiment the was sent to Taranaki New Zealand in 1860 from Tasmania. He was wounded twice in action, on the 14 Feb 1861. Private Alexander McMillen suffered his final wound in action in March 1861 in the battle at No.7 Redoubt, at Te Arai Pa Taranaki. Resulting in his Army Medical Discharge. The Citation states.

"The Ball passed through the chest injuring the right lung, and he is incapable of performing the duties of a soldier. The wound has not been aggravated by vice or intemperance."

The Presiding Officers were, President - Captain. W. A. McPherson - Members - Captain. T. Thanes and Captain. A. Cook. Alexander was discharged at Auckland New Zealand on the 12th of November 1861. His total Military Service was 18 years 349 days. During his military career he served in Australia from 1843, at Parramatta Barracks, Sydney, and Melbourne, Victoria, and Tasmania. He was sent by the barque " BRITISH Sovereign" to New Zealand arriving at Auckland and wading ashore in June 1845. His first exposure to action was at OHAEAWAI where Colonel Despard ordered a reckless and costly frontal attack on the Pa.

Cpl. William FREE 58th Foot. Enlisted at Dublin 1842 aged 17yrs. Commissioned in the NZ Mitilia he died at New Plymouth NZ 1919 age 93yrs.

This report of Alexanders first battle is in William Free's own words.
Volume 1. page 64 - 66, by James COWAN :


"We formed up in close order, elbows touching when we crooked them, four ranks, only the regulation 23 inches between each rank. There we waited in the little hollowe before the pa, sheltered by the fall of the ground and some tree cover. We got the order's 'Prepare to Charge' then; "CHARGE." Up the rise we went at the steady double, the first two ranks at the charge with bayonet; the second rank had room to put their bayonets in between the front rank men; the third and fourth ranks with muskets and fixed bayonets at the slope. We were within 100 yards of the pa when the advance began; when we were within 50 yards we cheered and went at it with a rush, our best speed and 'divil take the hindmost'

The whole front of the Palisade flashed fire, and in a moment we were in a one-sided fight - gun flashes from the foot of the stockade and from loopholes higher up, smoke half - hiding the Pa from us, yells and cheers, and men falling all around. Not a single Maori could we see. they were all safely hidden in the trenches and pits, poking the muzzles of their guns under the foot of the outer palisade. What could we do? In our Light Company alone we had 21 men shot in the charge. When the bugle sounded retreat I picked up a wounded man, and was carryiing him on my back when he was shot dead. I picked up a second wounded comrade, a soldier names SMITH and carried him out safely. Our Captain GRANT, an officer we had a great liking for was shot dead close to the stockade" - FREE also narrated that he and his comrades of the 58th Regiment carried their full packs in the charge.

"Like King George the Third's troops in the first assault on BUNKER HILL."


The losses were 41 killed, 73 wounded. [Ref; James COWAN]

The next action Alexander fought in was at RUAPEKAPEKA Pa. The name means "THE CAVE of BATS".
Here is an account of the action in Alexander McMillan's own words

"THE AUCKLAND WEEKLY NEWS" page 29, 1st of July 1889.

by A Survivor.

There is an old soldier residing in Auckland, Alexander McMILLAN, formerly private of H.M. 99th Regiment who was present at the capture of Ruapekapeka. After the Northern War he also went South and was in military operations at The Hutt, Porirua, and Horokiwi. He subsequently transferred to H.M. 40th Regiment going through the First Taranaki War of 1860, being wounded twice in No 7 Redoubt at Te Arai and once on a reconnoitring party. At the close of the campaign he received his discharge, with pension of 1 shilling a day, after nearly 20 years service. His statement of the capture of the famous Pa is as follows.

By Alexander McMillan.

Private in the 99th Regiment.

"The capture of RUAPEKAPEKA Pa took place on Sunday, the 11th January, 1846. For ten days previously we were engaged in building two stockades. The total force was 1200 europeans and several hundred friendlies. The Europeans comprised the 58th, under Lieutenant- Colonel WYNARD, 99th, Colonel DESPARD, Royal Artillery, and the Naval Brigade from H.M. ships CASTOR, NORTH STAR, RACEHORSE, and the E. I. Co's ship ELPHISTONE.
On the previous day, Sarurday, we commenced bombarding the Pa from the two stockades, and the main encampments. It continued the whole day and night until Sunday morning at eight o'clock.

At that time, WIREMU WAKA, a brother of TAMATI WAKA NENE, came to me where I was working a column mortar, requesting me to stop firing, and to ask the other men to do so, till he went round to examine the Pa, as he suspected it was empty. Our friendly natives were distinguished from the rebels by wearing a piece of white calico, with a hole for their heads, and hanging down like a cape before and behind. Waka arranged that if he found no one inside the pa he would hoist his white cloth on his double-barrelled gun, and have it as a signal for the men to advance into the Pa at the breach made by the artillery. On getting in, one of the men-o-wars men took off his blue shirt and hoisted it as a signal on the flagstaff in the Pa and rung the bell, fixed near the flagstaff, which had been taken from a church at Kororareka. As soon as the bell had been rung, the enemy assembled from all quarters and drove us out.

We remained outside for five minutes close to the palisading, until Captain DENNY and a detachment accompanied by Captain GREY, Governor, came up from the lower stockade. At the Governor's request the men were ordered to advance, which was done, and the Pa cleared of the enemy.

We remained in possession of the pa the whole day, the rebels fighting manfully behind fallen timber outside the Pa until 2 p.m. to regain possession. Some of the Castor's sailors who rushed out through the sallyport, which the natives had in the Pa, in order to clear the rebels out from the fallen timber, were shot as soon as they broke cover. One soldier got hold of a pig, and while endeavouring to take it inside was shot, and the pig wounded. Colonel DESPARD came up with reinforcements immediately we entered the Pa, and remained in command there the rest of the day.

After the engagement we collected twelve of the enemy's dead, but a number they took away. One of the dead had no hair on his body, not even eyelashes, and was believed to be cannibal who ate some of the bodies of those who fell at OHAEAWAI. Some of the friendlies said that this was the only cannibal in the rebel camp. HONE HEKE was present at the engagement throughtout, and was conspicuously dressed, as well as having a white feather in his cap. He directed the operations of his men.

We pulled down the palisading of the Pa, and burned the best part of it. It was a very strong fortification, having strong double lines of palisading, with a ditch inside and flanking angles at each corner. In the centre of the pa was an inner entrenchment, divided into two divisions, so that practically there were three lines of fences to demolish before the attacking party could get in. The gunners aimed at the palisading so as to break it down spar by spar, and then cut the cross bars, when it tumbled down for a space of twenty feet, enabling the advance party to go through the gap. There were a few soldiers killed but more sailors, owing to them exposing themselves in attempting to drive the rebels out of the fallen timber outside the Pa."

In his official report to Governor Grey, Colonel Despard said: "Your Excellency has been an eyewitness to all our operations, and, I may say, actually engaged in the assault." Of the English 12 fell and 30 were wounded. The native losses were estimated at 25 men.

Alexander McMillan
1845-47. 1859-61. 1863-67.


The first New Zealand war only involved some 1,300 soldiers including some Naval brigades landed from Royal Navy warships.
During the second New Zealand War, thirteen Royal navy warships were involved and some 4,500 troops were deployed including Naval brigades.
In 1860, Captain Cracroft of HMS Niger paid a visit to Taranaki province in response to rumours about Maori opposition to a land deal. He did not share the governor's faith in the deterrent effect of a visit from a warship. When the governor requested reinforcements for the settlement of New Plymouth, he landed First Lieutenant Hans Blake with fifty men and a 12 pounder howitzer, to reinforce the tiny garrison of 20 men of the 65th Regiment and a single bombardier of the Royal Artillery.
Cracroft returned to Auckland to collect supplies and when he returned to New Plymouth on 25th March 1860 found that blood had been spilled on both sides.
Three days later an expedition to escort some settlers into New Plymouth ran into trouble, providing the navy the opportunity to score the first, and for some time the only British success of the War. Cracroft landed every man fit for duty as soon as the alarm was sounded and set off towards the sound of musketry.

At Omata blockhouse they found Lieutenant Blake shot in the chest and about a mile further on a fortified complex, known as a Pa, flying three flags and surrounded by puffs of smoke from Maoris skirmishing in the ferns. Cracroft called his men together and announced his intention to pay the enemy back for wounding the Lieutenant and the attack.
The force marched off in the evening, they fired rockets into the Pa at 800 yards, but the men became impatient with being shot at from the bushes. Cracroft formed his storming party and pressed on, the moon silhouetting their objective against the sky. The Maoris discovered the party and opened fire. The party charged the Pa and after some vicious fighting, only four of Carcroft's party were wounded, but Cracroft was now faced with a five mile withdrawal, before an enemy who might recover their nerve at any moment. This ship was lying in an exposed anchorage with only boys to look after her. Cracroft fell back, picking up the rocket party and returned to New Plymouth to be welcomed by its relieved population.

The war flared up and the government was ill-prepared. There was only a single battalion of the 65th Regiment to hold five stations. More men had to be found, Cracroft resisted suggestions that he lay up his ship and take the whole company ashore. But two other ships, HMS Pelorus and HMS Iris were laid up to land brigades.

The initial strategy was to fortify the towns, the Maoris would wait outside and murder anyone fool enough to leave the shelter of the town. This allowed the Maoris to roam the countryside at will, destroying farms and herds. The North island was a mass of forest with ten-foot high ferns and brambles, penetrable only by Maoris. The Maoris could only be found in the Pas, which were constructed with astonishing speed in commanding positions, proofed against shellfire and connected by underground galleries running throughout the Pa joining up the dugouts which were sheltered under two-foot of earth.

At Puketakaurer, near New Plymouth, on 27th June 1860 a small force of British sailors and soldiers were defeated when they attacked a Pa through a sea of mud and were counter-attacked by three-times their own number of Maoris, after four-hours of close-range fire from opponents hidden by ferns and embankments, 29 dead were on the field. HMS Iris reinforced New Plymouth with 150 men and two 8-inch guns to keep Pa-buidling beyond 2,000 yards. The town was under martial-law and drunkenness common.
Cracroft returned to Taranki in September 1860 to find the naval Brigade quartered in tents behind the boat houses with palisades, ramparts and ditches and assisting in garrison duties instead of scouring the country.

Shortly after, the Pelorus' Royal Marine detachment crept up on Puketakauere to find it empty and occupied it against orders. A new commander, General Pratt began a regular campaign of sieges against the Pas, to wear the Maoris out. Battiscombe of HMS Iris went along with 27 seamen gunners and a 8-inch gun drawn by bullocks. When Pratt arrived in sight of three Pas he dug in and the Maoris began firing on the camp. The next day the sailors laid a platform for their 8-inch gun, while Battiscombe and a colonel of the Royal Engineers inspected the Pa at close quarters.By midday, then guns were ready for firing despite heavy small-arms fire and fired 21 8-inch rounds into the Pa before dusk persuading the defenders to depart overnight.

Pratt had developed a winning strategy and moved upon Maori postions near New Plymouth at the end of December 1860 with 900 men, including a Naval brigade of 125 mostly from Pelorus. The Maoris defended their Pas vigorously and in a 20 hour firefight, Pratt's riflemen fired 70,000 rounds on 29th December, followed by a truce. The following day the British brought up two more 8-inch guns and heap of ammunition, the Maoris decamped. This pattern was repeated throughout the first quarter of 1861, Pratt giving them no rest. In January 1861, Cracroft organised an operation to surprise some Maoris building a Pa but this was aborted. In April 1861 peace was agreed and Perlous Naval Brigade returned to their ship in Auckland


Alexander returned to Hobart Tasmania on his discharge and found work as a Constable. He then married Maria McGUINNESS, daughter of Patrick McGUINNESS and Margaret SHANNON on the 9th February 1862 at Port Cygnet by John Murphy the Catholic Chaplain. The witnesses were William Grey and Susan Barron. Their first child Mary Ann McMILLAN was born 15 Feb 1863 at Port Cygnet. Alexanders occupation is given as a Farmer. Alexander next worked as a Constable in the Hobart Police until joining the 3rd Waikato Regiment.

In the 1860s the New Zealand Government offered free land for Australian volunteers to fight on its side against the Maori in New Zealand. In 1863 volunteers to fight with the New Zealand militia against the Maori were still lining up for enlistment. The New Zealand authorities had praised Tasmania's response to their call for help as already 1,475 volunteers had sailed from Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart Town to join in what is now termed the Waikato War. The New Zealand government opened recruiting offices in these cities offering free grants of land in the Waikato country to anyone who would join up, in addition to their pay, and rations for a year.

Far from settling down to a peaceful civilian life he enlisted together with his brother-in-law John CROWLEY, in The Third Waikato Regiment bound for New Zealand. They signrd on at Hobart Tasmania on the 6th October 1863. Alexander was given the rank of Sergeant. After arriving in Auckland he was later transferred to the Commissirate Transport Corps working directly under the British Army. He was reduced to private, although when he received his New Zealand medal he was named as a Sergeant.








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Copyright: made by ivand. Page started: October 25, 1999.