Farmer John Cameron built this blockhouse at Marangai in 1868 as a place of refuge for his family. Though war never actually reached this locality between Whanganui and Turakina, fears at the time were well-founded. That winter and spring, the growing forces of the Ngati Ruanui leader Riwha Titokowaru won a series of stunning victories over the small New Zealand army in south Taranaki. In November, with Titokowaru now just west of Whanganui, the colony was rocked by Te Kooti Rikirangi’s raid on Poverty Bay, in which about 30 Maori and a similar number of Pakeha were killed. Seemingly unable to win a war on one front, the settler government now had to fight on two. There was serious talk of abandoning Whanganui altogether.
The blockhouse was typical of structures that were built in haste around the lower North Island at this time. Clay was packed between its double wooden walls to blunt the impact of bullets. Slits enabled its garrison to return fire. Women and children – and if necessary those defending them – could withdraw upstairs and pull up a ladder behind them.
The well-preserved blockhouse is on private property but there is public access to it. The site is signposted at the end of a passing lane on 8km east of Wanganui on State Highway 3.
Image attribution: David Green.