Māori warriors by Eureka Miniatures

I have just finished painting this lovely set of Eureka Miniatures‘ 28mm Māori warriors. They are primarily designed for the inter-tribal conflicts, before Europe started to make an impact with the introduction of the musket that asymmetrically changed the face of traditional tribal warfare.

However, these figures should also be able to be used for the earlier parts of the colonial New Zealand Wars of the 1840s, so they’ll bulk up my existing war-parties of figures by Empress Miniatures.

Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. Māori originated with settlers from East Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages between roughly 1320 and 1350AD.

Conflict between tribes was common, fought with the traditional weapons as depicted on these figures. If you want to know more about the Māori methods of warfare in pre-European days, you could check out an article I wrote in January 2022 for issue Wi409 of Wargames Illustrated.

The Eureka figures are beautifully sculpted. It is evident that they have paid great attention to the way Māori toa (warriors) move, as the posing includes some distinctive stances that are quite unlike those of other warriors around the world.

For example, fifth from left in the above picture (also visible in the picture at the end of this posting) you can see a warrior brandishing his patu (adze), his feet splayed in what appear to be odd directions, replicating the sort of dancing trot with quick restricted strides that Māori warriors used – and still use today in traditional ceremonies.

Note also that some of these figures are poking their tongues out. The gesture of a warrior flicking his tongue in and out like a lizard is a traditional challenge.

One of the warriors is a musician blowing a pūtātara, a type of trumpet with a carved wooden mouthpiece and a bell made from New Zealand’s small native conch shells or triton shells. We used to have a pūtātara at my work, and boy it was hard to get a sound out of it!

The set includes an ariki (chieftain), shown on the right in the above picture. He is wearing an elaborate cloak denoting his rank.

The other warriors are dressed in pirāpaki or pākē kūrure, which were garments of strands made from the leaves of harakeke (flax) with the fibre exposed in some sections to create lines or geometric patterns.

The right rear figure is the other musician included in the set. He is whirling a purerehua (bull-roarer) above his head, which produces a mournful moaning sound.

You can also see how I have based my figures individually, but can put them into sabots to group them. The ferns, by the way, are model railway scenery produced by Noch. They come in a garish green plastic colour, but a coat of paint soon fixed that!

Some of the figures are wearing a rain cloak called a pākē or hieke, essential for the often cold and wet conditions of the New Zealand winter. It was made from raw flax partly scraped and set in close rows on a plaited fibre base.

Another nice thing about the Eureka figures is that they have a range of body types. So you get everyone from tall and muscular to shorter and thicker-set.

The faces, too, are wonderful. When painting these figures, I could almost recognise some of my Māori friends. I am sure I have worked with that bearded fellow on the right!

I didn’t attempt to paint detailed facial moko (tattoos), but merely hinted at them with a green wash on some faces.

These two warriors kneeling in front of a meeting house (a 3D-print from Printable Scenery) are armed with the taiaha, a close-quarters staff weapon used for short, sharp strikes or stabbing thrusts with efficient footwork on the part of the wielder.

The taiaha consists of the rau (striking blade), which is a shaft of oval cross-section; and the upoko (head) with a large arero (tongue) extending out from the mouth in the Māori gesture of defiance, which could also be used to jab the opponent. These taiaha have a tauri (collar) of red feathers.

The taiaha requires skill, speed, and agility, which is why it was only wielded by high-ranking warriors. The specialty of the taiaha was defence. A master wielder could last an entire battle untouched, at the same time killing or disabling many of his attackers.

One of the figures is a little larger than the others, and along with his taiaha he is also carrying a fishing net. I have depicted him as Māui, a demi-god and a trickster in Māori mythology, famous for his exploits, cleverness, superhuman strength and shapeshifting ability.

One story about Māui describes how the sun used to move across the sky far faster than it does today, zipping back and forth so quickly that the day had barely begun before it was over. Māui would watch his family at work and, no matter how hard they tried, it was impossible for them to finish their chores before the sun was gone.

Māui decided he needed to slow down the sun. So he persuaded his brothers to come with him and gather great mountains of flax, weaving it together into long ropes. They then tied these into a great net – big enough to catch the sun.

With the help of his brothers, Māui caught the sun in the net and beat it with his grandmother’s magic jawbone. The sun was so bruised and bloodied by this battering that from that time on it could only limp slowly across the sky, slowing its passage and ensuring each day is now long enough.

I’m sure a net strong enough to catch the sun would be a powerful weapon in a wargame!

I used GW Contrast paints for all of these figures. As I get older, I find I am getting lazier and sloppier in my painting. Certainly these figures don’t bear the close-up inspection that some of my earlier work could happily withstand. But from any distance they still suffice as ‘wargames standard’.

My painting of two colonial New Zealand Wars gunboats

I know I only posted about my painting of Captain Cook’s ‘Endeavour’ yesterday, but I have got a little behind with my blogging and there is one more painting to report on.

This is a painting of the gunboat ‘Avon’ (which could be regarded as New Zealand’s first steam-powered warship) towing the iron-clad gunboat-barge ‘Midge’. These vessels were part of Waikato River Flotilla that took part in the invasion of the Waikato district of the North Island in 1863-64.

The invasion of the Waikato was the largest and most important campaign of the 19th-century colonial New Zealand Wars. Hostilities took place between the military forces of the colonial government and a federation of Māori tribes known as the Kingitanga Movement. The invasion was aimed at crushing Kingite power (which European settlers saw as a threat to colonial authority) and also at driving Waikato Māori from their territory in readiness for occupation and settlement by European colonists.

The colonial forces were aided by the large flotilla of vessels operating on the Waikato River and its tributaries. The flotilla comprised shallow draught boats, including gunboats and barges for transporting troops and supplies, as the front line moved progressively south.

Before we look at how I went about paining my picture, here’s a quick look at the finished item.

We see the little paddle-steamer ‘Avon’ of 40 tons, 60 feet in length, and drawing 3 feet of water. She had been trading out of Lyttelton before being purchased by the government for conversion into an armoured steamer. Iron plates with loopholes were bolted inside her bulwarks, and the wheel was enclosed with an iron house. A wooden blockhouse-like structure was added later abaft the funnel to provide more protection. ‘Avon’ was armed with a 12-pounder Armstrong in the bows, as well as several rocket tubes.

‘Midge’ was one of four gunboat-barges, each 30 feet to 35 feet in length. They had been open fore-decked cutters in Auckland Harbour. They were armoured with lengths of bar iron, and in the bows of each boat was a gun-platform for a 12-pounder. Troops and supplies were put into these barges, which were towed up the rivers by steamers.

The basis for my painting is a plan view of ‘Avon’ draughted by Harry Duncan in Grant Middlemiss’s excellent book The Waikato River Gunboats.

I have previously built a small model of the ‘Avon’, using a plastic toy as a template. Whilst not completely accurate (for example, the paddle boxes are quite different) it gives a general impression of what she would have looked like.

For the background I decided to base my painting on this moody water-colour of the Waipa River by 19th-century artist Frank Wright. The Waipa was one of the Waikato River’s tributaries used by ‘Avon’ during the campaign. I’ve never visited this area, so it was important to have some reference material to ensure I captured the look and feel of the river.

Before touching any paints, I did a lot of planning with a graphics program on my computer. I photographed my little model, and superimposed it onto the Wright water-colour. I then used the program’s tools to mock up some reflections and smoke, and to add a Māori warrior on the bank. Doing this allowed me to play around with the sizing and placement of the various components until I was completely happy with the composition.

The grid was to help me transfer the finished layout onto my much larger canvas. I simply used charcoal to draw a grid of exactly the same proportions onto my canvas, and then carefully copied the contents of each square. Much easier and more accurate than trying to copy the whole picture at once!

The above slideshow takes you step-by-step through my painting process, starting with the rough background that I did with a house-painter’s brush, and finishing with the final fully detailed rendition.

So here she is, the gunboat ‘Avon’, complete with captain and crew. For figures I paint a white silhouette first, then colour it in using Games Workshop Contrast paints (I wonder if Games Workshop realise that artists could be a huge untapped market for their model paints!).

And here’s ‘Midge’ with its commander, Midshipman Foljambe. He later went on to become Governor-General of New Zealand. ‘Midge’s’ gun is behind the iron doors at the bow.

Two Māori warriors hide on the bank, waiting for their chance to take some potshots at the gunboats. Volleys from the bank were a constant danger, and in February 1864 Lieutenant William Mitchell was shot and killed as he stood on ‘Avon’s’ paddle box.

Unlike my ‘Endeavour’, a ship that has been painted many times by loads of artists, I suspect this is the only large painting in existence of either ‘Avon’ or ‘Midge’ (though they do appear in smaller size in some contemporary pictures and on the cover of Middlemiss’s book).

I’ve already had a bit of interest in my painting, but I don’t want to sell it. So I am currently investigating how to get art-quality prints produced for sale.

Five centuries of warfare in New Zealand

I’ve just had an article published in Wargames Illustrated (Wi409, January 2022). The issue’s theme is ‘wargaming around the world’, so the publisher asked if I could do an article about the history of warfare that took place in New Zealand.

If my commission was to consider warfare that actually happened here, as apart from the overseas wars that Kiwis have taken part in, it seemed to me that I needed to concentrate on the roughly five hundred years from when Māori first arrived here in the 13th century, to the colonial wars of the mid-19th century (OK, I now realise that’s more like six hundred years – maths was never my strong point!).

This meant taking a non-eurocentric view, as most of those centuries the warfare was between Māori tribes. Inevitably Europe did start to make an impact towards the latter part of this period, first with the introduction of the musket that asymmetrically changed the face of traditional tribal warfare, and then the full-on direct conflict between Crown and Māori over their land.

So in the article I divided the period into three sub-parts: pre-European conflict; the inter-tribal Musket Wars; and the colonial New Zealand Wars.

My article features not only photos of my miniatures, but also several from my trip to Tawhiti Museum earlier this year, including a particularly eye-catching shot of a haka diorama that heads the story.

The publishers particularly wanted a scenario as part of the article. As I didn’t have one ready, I called on a fellow enthusiast for the period, Australian Mark Piper, who has devoted a lot of time to developing amendments to the Muskets and Tomahawks ruleset to suit fighting in New Zealand.

Mark and I initially thought we would co-write the article, but then the publishers came up with the surprise news that between us we had given them enough content for a two-parter. So Mark’s scenario will appear in Part 2.

Wargames Illustrated commissioned artist Neil Roberts to paint the impressive cover picture, featuring a Māori chief with tattoos based on those of Hongi Hika as sketched in 1820.

The Māori cover highlights that this issue contains content about wargaming set in New Zealand. But not only from my article. There’s also a great article in the same issue by one of the developers of the Tribal ruleset, Aramiha Harwood.

What makes Aramiha’s article especially interesting is that he is himself Māori, and so can provide a unique viewpoint on the warfare experience of his people. His article even starts with a pepeha, the traditional Māori greeting which Aramiha describes as ‘a means of placing the self in the physical and the social worlds we occupy today, while also tracing our history through our ancestors and the canoe (waka) we originally travelled to Aotearoa (New Zealand) on’.

I hope these articles give a shot in the arm for wargaming set in New Zealand. But, if nothing else, I trust that they inform people all over the world about the little known but incredible history of my country.

Meri Kirihimete me te Hape Nū Ia! (Māori for ‘Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!’)

Un-painting the Renedra ramshackle house

The above scene could have come straight out of a western movie, with the gunfight taking place at a dilapidated old farmhouse on the prairie.

However this photo isn’t a movie still, but a shot of my latest project: building the Renedra kitset of a ramshackle house. This 1/56 scale plastic kit replicates a typical North American cabin or farmhouse. The style and construction means that can be used from 1750-1900 … and beyond.

The designers (the Perry twins, I wonder? They certainly did some of the other Renedra kits) have done a great job of representing a house that has been left to wrack and ruin, with the roof caving in, the porch falling to bits, and the weatherboards rotting away.

My aim in painting this model was to make it look un-painted and un-loved! The method I used to ‘un-paint’ this house was similar to how I did Renedra’s earlier ramshackle barn kit, seen on the left in this picture. There’s a detailed description of my un-painting method on this posting from 2013.

Here’s the rear view of the house. The kit comes with a number of accessories to dress it up (or dress it down, if you like!), such as the rickety ladder and broken cartwheel you can see in this picture.

Other than the planked floor, there is no interior detail on this kit. So I didn’t attempt to do any painting inside. However, I did make the roofs so that they can be removed if required.

Completing this house spurred me to photograph it with my collection of western figures, even though I only have five of them – my smallest gaming period! But I suspect my main use for this model will be for games set in the colonial New Zealand Wars.

Tree-ferns for colonial New Zealand Wars

To play the colonial New Zealand Wars, you need lots of trees to form the bush-covered landscape that was a feature of so many of the actions.

Whilst any old wargaming tree will do the job, if you really want to replicate the look of New Zealand, you want ferns. Not just any old ferns, but big tree-sized ones!

At a recent model railway show I purchased a couple of plastic boxes of fern and undergrowth detail produced by Brian Roulston, a rail modeller from Paekakariki for his Scenic Textures range.

The boxes were filled with all sorts of miscellaneous shrubbery. I am guessing it uses as a base the plastic stuff you sometimes find at budget stores, but it has been painted and texture-coated to take away the bright shiny green look.

Amongst the plastic plants were some ferns with pre-textured stalks (none of these are visible in the above photo), which I thought could make excellent tree ferns, or ‘ponga’ as they are called here in New Zealand.

I bought some large heavy metal washers to make the bases. I used a hot-glue gun to attach the ‘tree-ferns’ to the bases. I then glued miscellaneous bits of the other shrubbery from the Scenic Textures box around the base of each tree.

I coated the bases with my usual recipe of PVA glue, followed by mixed-grain sand, and then two types of flock. The final touch was to add some dead ponga leaves on the floor or hanging from the trunks.

To celebrate the completion of my grove of ponga ferns, it’s time for my 28mm Empress Miniatures Māori warriors to perform a haka (traditional war dance).

Renowned Northland Māori chiefs Hone Heke and Kawiti seem quite pleased with their new shrubbery.

Oh oh, trespassers! A British officer and his two men make their way cautiously through the typical New Zealand bush.

Perhaps a little more at home in the bush than their British comrades, these local militia are ready for anything.

So there we have it – a little more greenery for my colonial New Zealand Wars games.

The most amazing New Zealand Wars dioramas you’ll ever see!

Many many years ago, before I was into wargaming as a hobby, I visited the Tawhiti Museum. Since then, I have always wanted to return, but never got around to it, despite it being only three hours drive away.

But that was fixed last weekend when I finally made my return visit. And what an amazing experience it was, especially now that I am wargamer, and even more so because I have a particular interest in the colonial New Zealand Wars.

The museum is the creation of one man, ex-art teacher Nigel Ogle. In 1975 he and his wife Teresa bought the 70 year old Tawhiti Cheese factory near Hawera, on the North Island of New Zealand.

As a child, Nigel had delivered milk to the factory with his father in their farm truck, but he could never have imagined that he would one day convert that same building into a museum.

Nigel started out as a wargamer, but the model-making side quickly became his passion. What started out as a hobby and a small private collection, grew rapidly with public demand to become the focus of an impressive visual history of the South Taranaki region.

The museum uses life-size exhibits and scale models to capture the past in a series of super-realistic displays. All the displays – including the life size figures created from moulds cast from real people – are designed and built on the premises.

The thing I was most looking forward to seeing were the many dioramas depicting New Zealand’s history, including the inter-tribal Musket Wars and the later Colonial Wars. Here’s an example of one of these huge dioramas, which we will look at more closely in the following pictures.

By the way, most of the photos in this posting are 2000 pixels wide so make sure you click on the pictures to enlarge them so you can pore over the amazing detail. I can promise you it is well worth it!

A British artillery battery and a bullock cart of supplies splash through a creek and along a rough road. These figures appear to be around 54mms tall. They are not commercial products, but have all been created by Nigel in his workshop.

Apologies for the reflection in some of these pictures. It is difficult photographing displays behind glass without getting such reflection. You’ll occasionally spot parts of the chequered shirt I was wearing, for example in the rock formation below the ox-cart in the above pic!

Further along, the artillery column has been held up by a rockfall onto the roadway, which a team of sappers are busy clearing.

And my chequered shirt strikes again!

The column’s destination is this busy camp on the cliffs above the sea. There’s so much to see in this picture – unloading carts, men relaxing, a cooking fire. Note the Coehorn mortar stored beside the tent on the left.

Nigel makes extensive use of a technique known as forced perspective, where he uses smaller scaled figures in the background to give the impression of distance.

Further along, a detail of soldiers is gathering water from a creek, and passing it up the cliff in a bucket chain.

In the background is a small blockhouse and a moored paddle steamer.

I think that camp kitchen is worth another closer look. The detail is simply amazing, with every soldier posed actually doing something.

I love how the tents even have guy-ropes that are properly cinched, and how there is so much clutter on the ground around them.

This pic also gives you another look at Nigel’s use of forced perspective.

All of the above pictures are pieces of a long diorama based on the paintings of Lt Col Edward Arthur Williams, an artillery officer in the British Army. In 1865 he took part in General Cameron’s three-month march from Whanganui to the Waingonogoro River. His paintings depict the day-to-day life of the soldiers on the march.

If you are wondering why you haven’t seen any red-coated soldiers up till now, it is because in 1860s New Zealand the British Army wore blue serge jumpers instead of their scarlet coats.

However, the diorama in this picture portrays an earlier incident from 1834 that involved Redcoats, the first action by British troops on New Zealand soil.

The family of the whaler Jacky Guard were among a group of Pākehā (Europeans) captured by Māori after the barque Harriet ran aground on the Taranaki coast.

Jacky Guard and other men were released when they promised to return with gunpowder to ransom the captives. Instead, he secured the support of the New South Wales Governor for a rescue mission. Meanwhile, Betty Guard lived under the protection of the chief Oaoiti.

When HMS Alligator arrived in Taranaki with soldiers of the 50th Regiment, the Māori assumed they had come to negotiate. Instead, Oaoiti was bayoneted and captured on 21 September.

Four days later, Betty and her baby daughter were located at Te Namu pā, which was attacked and burnt. Betty and Louisa were exchanged for Oaoiti. On 8 October, John Guard junior was freed at nearby Waimate. Fighting continued for several days.

In 1835 a committee of Britain’s House of Commons condemned the level of force used during the rescue mission. Humanitarian groups such as the Church Missionary Society argued that unrestrained colonisation must be avoided to protect Māori.

The New Zealand Armed Constabulary was formed in1867, with constables used as both soldiers and sworn police. The Constabulary was paramilitary in nature, with many serving in the New Zealand Wars.

These large-scale models show how the men of the Armed Constabulary looked on campaign. That’s not kilts they’re wearing, but blankets or shawls, which were more comfortable to wear in the bush than the uniform trousers when tramping through the rugged bush.

Paradoxically, many members of the Armed Constabulary were Māori. Here are some more Armed Constabulary, including several Māori constables.

In a much smaller scale than the above pictures, this is a 1:75 model of the earth-sod redoubt at Turuturu-mokai in 1868. The scene is busy with Armed Constabulary soldiers, supply wagons arriving from the Waihi Stockade three miles away, and sheep grazing among the logs of recently felled bush.

The redoubt was small, about 20 metres square with two circular bastions, built on low ground and was protected by parapets only 1.5 metres high and a trench 1.8m deep.

On 12 July 1868, sixty Māori warriors from the Ngaruahine hapu (sub-tribe), along with Imperial Army deserter Charles Kane, launched a pre-dawn raid on this redoubt, killing 10 and wounding six of the 25 Armed Constabulary garrisoned there.

In the final years of Imperial Army operations in New Zealand, General Chute undertook a route-march around Mount Taranaki (the volcano in the background of this diorama), first striking inland and returning down the coast.

The purpose of Chute’s march was to destroy the capacity of Taranaki Māori to wage war, by burning villages and destroying livestock. By 26 January 1866 Chute’s force had reached New Plymouth and on 9 February his ragged and exhausted troops returned to Whanganui.

Note how some of the soldiers are wearing havelock covers on their hats.

Troops were heavily involved in building roads through the bush during the wars, so they could move around quickly. Many of these soldier-built roads are still the basis of today’s highways.

Here you can see men making wicker gabions, filling them with rocks, and emplacing them as abutments for a river crossing.

This large scale vignette portrays Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky (left), who had a reputation as an intrepid leader during the New Zealand Wars. He was a flamboyant and apparently fearless soldier, and a strong disciplinarian who was nevertheless popular with his men.

Von Tempsky was born into a Prussian military family in Königsberg (Kaliningrad) in 1828, and trained at a cadet school in Berlin. He abandoned his military career shortly after graduating to seek his fortune on frontier goldfields in California, Victoria, and from 1862 on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula.

The outbreak of hostilities in Waikato in 1863 led to the formation of volunteer units to supplement British regiments. Once von Tempsky had taken out British citizenship, he was granted a commission in the Forest Rangers, an irregular colonial force which the authorities believed could match the bush fighting skills of the Māori.

In January 1868 von Tempsky was appointed to command a unit of the Armed Constabulary.

Von Tempsky met his end during the Taranaki campaign against Tītokowaru and his followers. He was fatally shot in the head while attacking a position at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu on 7 September 1868.

You’ve probably already noticed this in some of the previous pictures, but one of Nigel’s real skills is recreating the lush New Zealand landscape. This diorama of the Battle of Te Ngutu-o-te-manu is a particularly good example of this.

Māori toa (warriors) perform a haka (war dance). In the background is Mount Taranaki, the conical volcano that overshadows the Taranaki region.

To the left is a beautifully carved storehouse built on a pole to prevent rodents from getting in.

The Māori developed complex fortifications called pā.

This model depicts a typical Māori pā . Wherever possible a pā would take advantage of natural defences such as gullys and cliffs. These defences were improved with lines of palisades and deep ditches.

This cross-section shows a pā from the early period before muskets were introduced to New Zealand. Massive defensive ditches and palisades protected the inhabitants and food/water supplies, as the most common way of taking a pā was by laying siege and starving out the defenders.

Once muskets became commonplace, the Māori quickly adapted their pā construction to smaller fighting pā’s with zig-zag trenches, double palisading, loop-holed interior buildings, screened divisions within the pā, and observation towers. Later, when facing British artillery, bomb-proof underground bunkers and passages were added.

Thousands of Māori died in the intertribal Musket Wars of the 1810s, 1820s and 1830s. Many more were enslaved or became refugees. Northern rivals Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whātua led the way, but all the tribes were soon trading for muskets.

The crew of a trading vessel carefully lower muskets and ammunition to a large ornately-carved waka (canoe).

In 1831 the Te Atiawa tribe were besieged in Otaka Pā by rival Waikato seeking utu (revenge). With about 250-350 defenders against about 1,600 attackers, their chances weren’t good. But with muskets and three ship’s cannons contributed by the crew of the trading vessel Adventure, they managed after three gruelling weeks to inflict enough damage to send the attackers packing.

The three cannons were emplaced in bunkers built in the brow of the hill underneath the pā.

During the mid-1860s Pai Mārire (Hauhau) supporters believed that rituals would protect them against bullets. A ‘Niu pole’ with flags was a feature of Hauhau ceremonies. The ‘Riki’ flag or pennant was a war flag, while the ‘Ruru’ flag represented peace. The relative positions of these flags on the Niu pole indicated whether the spirit behind the gathering was peaceful or hostile.

With the warriors marching around the Niu pole you can see a man in British soldier’s clothing. Bent was a British army deserter found by a local Māori chief of the Ngāti Ruanui people in South Taranaki and who eventually became accepted as a part of the tribe. He fell in with Titokowaru’s followers in 1867 and fought with them against the colonists in Titokowaru’s War until their eventual defeat in 1869.

The museum cafe features this painting of Nigel at work. One thing I noticed in the picture is that he obviously favours Humbrol enamels over the acrylic paints that most of us wargamers tend to use!

Nigel was manning the front desk when I visited the museum. I asked him how many staff he had to help him create the amazing displays. He pointed to himself and said, ‘Meet the staff’!

I hope this selection of photographs whets the appetite of any readers who live in New Zealand (or who, COVID permitting, visit here!) to make a point of seeing this amazing museum. I have only portrayed a small sample of what the museum contains. You can easily spend an entire day there.

My latest article in Wargames Illustrated

I’ve been lucky enough to have another article published in ‘Wargames Illustrated’. I submitted a piece for their ‘Quick Fire’ series, and was chuffed to see it appear in Issue 397 (January 2021).

In the short article I describe how when photographing miniatures, there’s a real thrill when every now and then one of the pictures unexpectedly stands out from the rest.

The article is accompanied by some examples of what I call my ‘serendipitous photographs’ – pictures that I think came out particularly well, despite no extra effort on my part.

The limitations of a hard-copy magazine mean the published pictures are quite small. So, for anyone who may be interested, here they are full-size (click on the pics to expand).

I liked the way that the trees in my garden accidently came out looking like a castle on a hill overshadowing this unit of Landsknechts. (Warlord Games)

There’s more info on this unit in my old posting: https://arteis.wordpress.com/2020/06/02/lockdown-landsknechts/

This is probably my favourite photo – a recreation of Philippoteaux’s famous painting of the Battle of Fontenoy. (Crann Tara and Minden Miniatures)

There’s more info on the original painting and my diorama version in this posting on my blog: https://arteis.wordpress.com/2020/01/31/at-last-my-favourite-painting-in-miniature/

British and French third-rate ships-of-the-line battle it out, as a Spanish brig circles warily. This photo was taken with a simple hand-painted sky background, and sitting on the paper sea that comes with the Warlord ‘Black Seas’ starter set. (Warlord Games)

You can find out more about these models in this old posting: https://arteis.wordpress.com/2019/11/08/black-seas-fleets-finished/

A battalion of French light infantry marches forward in the moonlight. (Front Rank)

This is a really old picture. I recall I added in the ‘moon’ using a graphics programme, as the lighting of this photo came out by chance looking just like moonlight (well, I thought so anyway!).

There’s more info on this unit in this old posting: https://arteis.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/tartanish-and-thunderbirdish-napoleonics/

Māori warriors from the colonial New Zealand Wars perform a fierce haka (war-dance) in the face of the enemy. (Empress Miniatures)

There’s more info on this unit here: https://arteis.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/photos-of-finished-colonial-new-zealand-wars-figures-and-terrain/

A pre-war colonial French column of Panhard armoured cars arrives in an oasis village. (Mad Bob Miniatures)

Below is the same picture, but with some special effects to make it into an old-fashioned snapshot. 

You can read more about these models here: https://arteis.wordpress.com/2020/02/15/motorised-foreign-legion-security-patrol-in-1930s-morocco/

Does historical wargaming trivialise or teach?


Wargaming as a way of learning? Especially for a series of wars that continue to have repercussions in my country to this very day? Doesn’t playing the New Zealand Wars as a game trivialise the on-going impact of colonialism on generations of descendants?

My own story says otherwise.

But firstly, why am I even mentioning this? Well, there’s increasing pressure on the New Zealand government to make the study of our colonial wars compulsory in the national education curriculum. I totally support this idea. Just like a person, a country should know its own history, especially where parts of that story still adversely affect the lives of many of its citizens.

So how does wargaming fit into all this?

As a youngster, for me ‘real’ history didn’t take place in New Zealand. Rather, it was the stirring battles and sieges that took place hundreds of years ago and far, far away in the fields, towns and castles of Europe, or in the forests and grasslands of America.

For many years my hobby was built around the history of other countries’ wars – the Seven Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War. I read a lot of history of these conflicts, what caused them, what impact they had.  But I totally ignored the wars much closer to home. 

French artillery P2200089



But I wasn’t entirely ignorant of my country’s history.  I vaguely remember doing a project in primary school about the early 19th century whalers and sealers. Then in secondary school I learned all about our political figures of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. And of course every New Zealand kid learns about the ANZACs at Gallipoli.


I  think I mainly learned about our founding document, the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, from a set of cereal packet cards when I was a child! Decades later I was lucky enough to take part in a reenactment of the signing of the treaty to celebrate its sesquicentennial, but even then I still didn’t know much about the wars that followed.


During the 1980s I co-authored a couple of local police history books. However, even though there was an obvious linkage with the New Zealand Wars (after all, today’s New Zealand Police descend from the Armed Constabulary), I still didn’t really connect with how those wars were affecting many people in the Māori community today.

The idea of playing a wargame based on New Zealand history never even occurred to me.

But then in 2011 along came a  British company with the ironic name (considering colonialism) of Empress Miniatures, who announced a new range of 28mm metal figures portraying the 1840s campaigns of the New Zealand Wars. There was Hone Heke, exactly as I recalled him from my childhood Weetbix card, along with his fellow chief Kawiti and their warriors, the men of the British Regiments of Foot, the colonial militia and even the Royal Navy.

Maori_big men

Brit_big men

I was immediately hooked by what looked to be a lovely set of figures, that for once depicted a struggle closer to home. Off went my order to England. And, as does any wargamer who takes up a new period, I started by reading up a few histories.

Initially I was just searching for superficial information, such as what the soldiers and warriors looked like, the weapons and tactics they used, and the type of terrain they fought over. This was the sort of stuff I needed to know to be able to paint the figures accurately and to create suitable tabletop scenery.



However, as time went on I began reading more and more deeply, and started learning about the background of the wars, what drove the participants on both sides (willingly or unwillingly), and the legacy they left, particularly through the confiscation of Māori land.

This burgeoning interest gradually infiltrated into my work-life, where I became more aware of the role of the impact of colonialism on my job, and increasingly interested in te reo Māori (the Māori language) and tikanga Māori (Māori custom) generally.


We’ve probably all heard of people maligning the hobby of wargaming by saying that it’s a war-mongering entertainment that trivialises the history and heartbreak of war. But it was this hobby that initially attracted and then inspired me to dig deeper and gain an understanding of not only the New Zealand Wars, but of their legacy to this very day.

I bet many wargamers from all over the world could say the same about whatever periods they recreate. Wargaming, through its unique visual and hands-on experience, is an amazing way of piquing interest in history. It then goes on to foster deeper learning by the very fact that to be a good wargamer, you need to research your chosen period.


I believe that wargaming can result in much deeper historical engagement than you’ll ever get from more common (but less often maligned) conflict-based entertainments, such as watching war movies or reading war novels.  

I hope that if the New Zealand Wars do become part of our national curriculum, teachers won’t overlook the potential of a fascinating miniature wargame to spark their pupils’ first interest in our country’s history.





Colonial NZ Wars table at The Winterdale Tavern


At yesterday’s open day at New Zealand’s newest wargaming venue – The Winterdale Tavern on the Kāpiti Coast – I put on a colonial New Zealand Wars game.


Well, I say ‘game’, but in fact because of it’s location right by the front door, we decided to make it an eye-catcher for visitors, so it was really just a static display. I actually love doing static displays, as it lets my imagination run wild in setting up a feast of lovely terrain, as well as providing an excuse to jam-pack the table with as many of my models as I can!


Working from the back of the table, the first thing to capture the eye was a Māori pā, which was 3D-printed for me by Printable Scenery  

A pā was a fortified settlement or position with palisades and defensive terraces. The pā was constructed of rows of strong log palisades. Behind the palisades there was usually a trench, so that the defending warriors were fully protected as they fired through loopholes at ground level. 


Inside the pā is a captured carronade with which the warriors fire on the British, using any old iron as ammunition. The gun is mounted on a wooden slide, secured with blocks and tackle to a couple of handy tree stumps.

In the background is an impressive Māori meeting house and two accompanying huts, all products of Printable Scenery.


Up the mighty Waikato River (truncated to just a little stream on my small table!) chugs the paddle steamer ‘Avon’. This model is based on a real gunboat that started life as a pleasure boat on the River Avon in Christchurch, but was later fitted with sheet metal armour to become one of New Zealand’s earliest warships.

‘Avon’ mounted a 12-pounder Armstrong breech-loading gun on her bow. At the stern was a wooden shed-like structure with loopholes from which troops could fire.

The ‘Avon’ also had a novel self-defence system, with her boiler connected to a pipe running right around the hull, so that scalding water could be sprayed upon anyone attempting to board.


Moving to the middle of the tale, the first thing viewers cud see was this huge naval 32- trying to pound the Māori pā into submission.

Naval guns were really used during the early New Zealand Wars, dragged miles through the rugged bush, for example at the Battle of Ruapekapeka. The crews would then build wooden platforms from which to fire these great guns.


Beside the gun, you can see the commander and his two mounted aides. This photo makes the blue of these rather plain uniforms look lighter than it actually is – in fact, my paint job is almost black, which I’ve achieved by washing the finished figures with black ink.


Emerging from the bush is a ‘taua’, or war-party, of warriors. Half of them are armed with muskets, whilst the others have the double-barreled shotguns that were very popular with Māori warriors. They called the shotguns ‘tupara’, based on the Māori pronunciation of the English words  ‘two-barrel’.

I don’t try to paint the intricate tattoos with which Māori warriors customarily adorned their faces and other parts of their bodies. I did try once, but the results looked too clunky and crude. So I think it is better to ignore them, as the skin is quite dark anyway.


The warriors are skirmishing with a firing line of British infantry. The soldiers aren’t in their traditional red coats, but are  dressed in the distinctive blue uniforms worn by the British in New Zealand during the 1860s. The officer running out front is wearing a patrol jacket with ornate black braiding. 

The unit is being led by a man carrying a flag, even though standards weren’t as a rule carried during the colonial NZ Wars. But there is some evidence that occasionally a plain Union Jack was used.


Right at the front of the table is another line of infantry running forward in support. They’re the grenadier company, as distinguished by the white touries on their caps.


Cavalry didn’t play such a significant part in the larger battles of the New Zealand Wars, but they did take part in a lot of minor engagements. I’ve painted these horsemen as members of the Military Train (i.e. the supply column), who sometimes had to fight as cavalry because the British never brought any actual cavalry units to New Zealand.


Here’s a colonial militia unit dressed in a rag-tag collection of civilian clothes and part uniforms. They represent a hastily-recruited militia or Civic Guard unit.


One little vignette that attracted a lot of attention was this civilian group defending their cottage. Mr Atkinson is still bandaged from a wound in an earlier clash, Mrs Atkinson doles out the gunpowder from a small barrel, daughter Amelia flinches as she fires her father’s pistol, and little Annie brings up a haversack of  spare ammunition.


In the field on the right you can see a small Royal Navy shore party. Sailors took a major role in many of the battles of the colonial New Zealand Wars.

Overall, the table attracted a lot of attention, with many people surprised that there are  figures and terrain commercially available to recreate the wars that took place on our own doorstep.



The colonial New Zealand Wars at Kāpiti’s newest wargaming venue


Next Saturday I am planning to bring out my colonial New Zealand Wars figures and terrain to put on a display game at the open day of Kāpiti’s newest wargaming venue of choice, the Winterdale Tavern.


The aim of the open day is to attract new wargamers, boardgamers and RPG players to help build up Winterdale Tavern’s community.


The Winterdale Tavern, brainchild of Printable Scenery’s Matt Barker, is a dedicated venue for gamers, situated in the Lindale complex off the old State Highway 1 just north of Paraparaumu. 


Obviously, a centrepiece of my table at the open day will have to be Printable Scenery’s magnificent Māori pā.


There’ll be lots of other games happening too, both fantasy and historical. So if you’re in the Paraparaumu region on Saturday, why not take this opportunity to take a look round at this cool new gaming venue, not too mention the chance of seeing so many of Printable Scenery’s amazing 3D-printed offerings in real life.