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.