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Major General Sir George Stoddart Whitmore. New Zealand's first Commandant

Sir George Stoddart Whitmore KCMG (1830-1903) served in the Kaffir Wars, the Crimea, and played a significant role in the defeat of the Maoris in 1866 and 1868.
An immediate result of the dramatic changes ushered in by the 1883 regulations, was the sought for reduction in the number of Volunteers.

By 1884 the Volunteer Force numbered only 4,300 compared to the high of 8,000 in 1874. In the longer term, the regulations in 1883 proved to be extremely beneficial for the Volunteer Force. 

The provisions implemented in 1883 were not to be dramatically, altered for the rest of the century. In this the regulations of 1883 provided a stability and continuity so important for any organisation. 

More importantly, they were judged by inspecting officers and the media to have instigated a new age of disciplined training that would lead to a marked improvement in the efficiency and usefulness of New Zealand's Volunteer Force.

The foundations laid by the 1883 regulations and Scratchley's report were to be built upon over the next six years by governments influenced by Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois.

Jervois, the military mentor of Scratchley, was appointed as Governor of New Zealand in December 1882 and arrived in the colony in January 1883 to take up his new office. While an experienced Governor, having served in the Straits settlement and South Australia Jervois was primarily a defence consultant for colonial governments who saw it as his duty to advise his ministers on defence. For the six years preceding his arrival in New Zealand he had been engaged with Scratchley on devising schemes for the defence of Australia.

As soon as he arrived in the country Jervois expressed his determination to take up the defence question and offered his military expertise to the government who were more than willing to have his advice. Within three months of becoming Governor, he had visited and examined the ports of Wellington, Auckland, Lyttelton, Port Chalmers and the Bluff. Realising that Scratchley's initial work had been conceptual Jervois noted that it was essential that a more detailed plan be devised. Unfortunately Scratchley was over-committed and could not personally do the task, so Jervois suggested that the government apply for the services of another experienced engineering officer.

Again the government was happy to accept Jervois' advice and went so far as to allow him to arrange the application for a suitable officer. Having already decided what type of defence works New Zealand required, Jervois sought, with Scratchley's assistance, a competent officer to supervise the detailed execution of his plan. Major Cautley, another of Jervois' understudies, was sent by the authorities; and after consulting with Scratchley en route, arrived in New Zealand, briefed to recommend works devised by the Governor.

Though able to obtain the services of a well qualified engineering officer, neither the governor nor the government was able to secure the services of a currently serving Imperial officer to take up the appointment of commandant. As a result the government offered the post to
Colonel George Stoddart Whitmore. Whitmore had proved himself, not only on the battlefield, but also on the Treasury benches. 

Before he was able to take up his new appointment, a unique piece of legislation had to be drafted and passed through Parliament. As a member of the Legislative Council, Whitmore would normally have vacated his seat on taking up the post of commandant. However, Whitmore insisted that he be able to return to politics and a compromise was found with the 'Whitmore Enabling Act of 1885'. Under its to retain his Legislative provisions, Whitmore was permitted to retain his Legislative Council seat as well as hold the office of commander of New Zealand's defence forces so long as he did not sit in the chamber or vote in any of its divisions.

Once the Enabling Act had become law Whitmore, promoted to -Major-General, took up his post and began work on improving the efficiency of New Zealand's defence forces. It would be easy to make exaggerated claims with regard to the importance of the new commandant. On the surface at least, his reforms appear be substantial and all embracing. Whitmore was after all the commandant who was to establish a School of Military Instruction, it was he who insisted on elected officers passing commission examinations three months after their appointment, and it was he who arranged for the establishment of Honorary Reserve Corps as a method of disbanding corps stationed too distant from ports to be of immediate use. 

Yet none of what Whitmore implemented was novel or innovative. The 1882 Board of Inquiry had identified the need for a Military School, while the 1883 Regulations required officers within six months of their appointment to pass prescribed commissioning examinations. Scratchley in his 1880 report and the 1882 Boards report had both recommended the disbanding of country units, with the 1882 Board of Inquiry recommending that they be incorporated into the reservist second line. While Whitmore was not important for originality, he was still an important appointee; his importance lay in his ability to refine, consolidate and, most importantly, implement existing policy proposals.

Capitalizing on the renewal of interest in defence, Whitmore hastened construction of the fortifications already commenced by Cautley for the four main ports, organised administrative battalions for volunteer corps and arranged for the passage of a new Defence Act through parliament in 1886. The new Act, for the first time, regulated all the branches of New Zealand's Defence Forces under one law and transformed the Armed Constabulary into the Police Force and Permanent Militia.

In the same year that the Defence Act was passed, Whitmore issued yet another new set of regulations for the control of the Volunteer Force. 1887 should have been the year of fruition for Whitmore's reforms. The administrative battalions and brigades had been in place for two years, the Defence Act of 1886 had been law for one and his revision of the regulations became effective on 1 January.

Yet this year was to mark the beginning of the end. The economy went into a major recession and demands for retrenchment in government spending were heard throughout the colony. Following the lead of both the New South Wales and Victorian governments, the New Zealand Minister of Defence invited Major-General H. Schaw to review and report on the colony's defence. Having been briefed to reduce expenditure to its lowest Schaw reconsidered the question of New Zealand's defence
needs within limited means. 

Consulting Whitmore and his staff, Schaw was able to ascertain the existing forces available for defence and form an opinion as to the absolute minimum required to protect the colony, and to argue that, since the struggles with the interior Maori tribes had ceased it was a waste of money to maintain any force for internal defence. New Zealand was still, however, liable to attack from external foes determined to obtain money, coals and stores as well as inflict injury and humiliation on a portion of the British Empire. Having accepted Scratchley's basic premises, Schaw went on to accept that New Zealand, like any nation with an extended seaboard, was unable to provide defence for the whole coast-line. 

To be both efficient and effective, defence resources had to be concentrated on the vital points, the main harbours. For minor seaport towns such as Nelson, New Plymouth and the like Schaw suggested that rifle clubs, which encouraged the art of shooting, and honorary Volunteer Corps could provide the semblance of a military presence. For Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton and Dunedin a minimum force of 4,314 was required consisting of 343 Permanent Militia and 3,982 Volunteers. As the Volunteers numbered 8,403 at the time of Schaw's review, he was advocating a reduction of 4,421. More important for the government than the reduction in numbers was the savings in expenditure. Schaw's scheme would save approximately 27,500. 

While Schaw advocated a reduction in quantity, he balanced this by stressing the need for quality. The Garrison Coast Brigade Volunteers, for example, would, under Schaw's reorganisation, be required to undergo more advance training in the special duties of serving heavy guns, laying submarine mines and long torpedoes. When reviewed by the Imperial 'Colonial Defence Committee' in April 1888 Schaw's plan was complimented and his proposed reductions and alterations considered justified.

In the grips of a major economic depression and needing to curtail costs, the government happily accepted Schaw's recommendations.
It also accepted the resignation of Major-General Whitmore as commandant. For the government, Whitmore's resignation was a golden opportunity to save more money and his position was allowed to remain vacant, with the undersecretary of defence acting as a de-facto commandant. Non-replacement of Whitmore was not the only cost saving measure pursued by the government in the field of defence. The central School of Instruction and the administrative battalion structure were abolished, while the practice of issuing free railway passes to volunteers on duty was discontinued. Text from "New Zealand Army" ISBN 0-473-01032-1

 

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