HEAPHY, Charles (1820-81)

Arrived in New Zealand in the early days of planned European settlement and became noted for his talent as an artist, and for his energy, independence and courage. He was the first British colonial soldier to win the Victoria Cross. Heaphy was born in London, a member of an artistic family, and trained as an artist and draughtsman. Following a sketching and painting tour of Italy with his father, he emigrated to NZ in 1840 aboard the Tory as artist and draughtsman to the New Zealand Company. Within the first two years he had explored Northland, the Chatham Islands, Nelson, Taranaki and the Wellington hinterland and returned to England to report to the New Zealand Company. A narrative of a residence in various parts of New Zealand was published while he was in England. Back in this country early in 1843, Heaphy farmed for a while in Nelson and over the following five years took part in two historic explorations - with William Fox and the Maori guide, Kehu, up the Buller River; and with Thomas Brunner on a five-month expedition through the rugged country of south Westland. Heaphy was later engaged as a surveyor, as Commissioner of the Goldfields at Coromandel, as an architect and member of a geological survey party, and he went to Norfolk Island and New Caledonia with Governor Grey and Bishop Selwyn in the 1850s. While Provincial Surveyor of Auckland in the early 1860s, Heaphy joined the Auckland Rifle Volunteers as a private. On the outbreak of war in the Waikato in 1863, he was commissioned as a lieutenant, eventually rising to the rank of captain, and attached to Colonel Havelock's 'Flying Column'. He later surveyed the confiscated land for the military settlements to be established there, notably Hamilton and Cambridge, and then became once again Auckland Provincial Surveyor, MP for Parnell (1867-69), Commissioner of Native Reserves, Government Insurance Commissioner and Judge of the Native Land Court. He resigned from all posts in June 1881 on the grounds of ill health, moved to Australia and died at Brisbane in August that year. Heaphy was awarded the VC for his 'total disregard for his own safety' during a surprise attack by Maori near Paterangi Pa, not far from Te Awamutu, in February 1864. Seven bullets hit him or went through his clothing from point-blank range but he continued to go forward to help two fellow soldiers. When he was finally forced back, he stayed in a commanding position to direct fire against the Maori, and prevent them from moving in to kill the soldiers and take their equipment. He holds his place most firmly in history for his sensitive landscapes in water colours, which are invested with a quality of emotion far beyond what was sought from him by his New Zealand Company employers. The surviving work almost all dates before the middle of the 1850s, suggesting he either gradually stopped painting or destroyed any later work. The Heaphy River, which rises in the Tasman Mountains in Buller and flows into the Karamea Bight, was named after him by Brunner in 1846. And a popular tramping route, the 70 km long Heaphy Track through the Nelson Forest Park follows the Heaphy River for about ten km.