National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

The Naked Escape

The story of George Crosswell’s remarkable escape naked across the Kaingaroa Plain during the New Zealand Wars provided the National Army Museum’s Director, Jeanette Richardson with pertinent information for her family tree as George Crosswell is her great, great Grandfather.

On 7 June 1869 Constabulary history was made at Opepe, during the campaign against Te Kooti. George Crosswell along with other militiamen, were attacked by the Haushaus, an advance party of Te Kooti’s followers, as they were escorting Colonel St John. The careless detachment of the Bay of Plenty Cavalry numbered fourteen in total, nine of which were killed and the Hauahaus captured all their arms and horses.

The Cavalry group of fourteen camped overnight at Opepe in some disbanded Maori whares which was not the most secure choice of places to camp. Whilst in camp overnight, George Crosswell’s horse had strayed, so in the morning he went to look for it (unsuccessfully), getting soaked in the process due to heavy rain. He stripped off to dry his clothes in the whare, and was naked when a hostile group of Maori approached the Cavalry camp.  The group made a run for the shelter of the surrounding bush, none of them armed and George, like several of the others, managed to get a head start before the Maori opened fire on the men.

George, still stark naked was wounded in the fire when a bullet grazed his left arm but managed to escape in the direction of Fort Galatea. George estimated there were about 100 Maori in the area. A short time later George came across Trooper George Stephenson and they travelled together 40 miles at night and in the middle of winter, to raise the alarm at Galatea.  George later recounted it wasn’t the cold on his naked body that bothered him, but his feet that were badly cut-up in his journey and took a long time to heal. 

Museum Director, Jeanette Richardson said, “Since I was a small child I have been told the story of Trooper George Crosswell and his act of great bravery as well as remarkable endurance. It has only been since coming to the Museum at Waiouru that I have learnt of the presence of his medals in our own Repository.”

George Croswell’s two New Zealand Medals are on display in the museum’s Medal Repository. As his original medal was lost he was re-issued with a duplicate in 1913, hence the two. Both have been donated to the museum, one is slightly damaged having been found in the Waikato River below the Armed Constabulary Redoubt at Taupo.