Highwic. Image: Heritage New Zealandexpand/collapse

Highwic, one of Auckland’s most well-known historic houses, sits at the head of the warpath trod by hundreds of British soldiers streaming south to the Waikato.

It was built for the family of Alfred Buckland, a respected businessman who sold horses to the British troops.  In 1862 his brand new house was just a few minutes’ stroll from the start of the Great South Road, which became a main supply route for the invasion the next year.

Alfred Buckland of Highwic

One of New Zealand’s finest Carpenter Gothic-style timber houses, Highwic is an enduring symbol of Auckland’s colonial wealth. Now surrounded by the retail suburb of Newmarket, it was built amid the clamour of a pioneer town preparing for imminent war.

Highwic’s owner, Alfred Buckland, came to New Zealand in 1850, and would soon make his fortune in farming and stock sales. It was a time of radical social upheaval. Ten years earlier, Māori had outnumbered Europeans by about 35 to one. By 1858, the tables were turned. Pākehā were in the majority and they were hungry for land.  Inevitably, they looked south to the fertile food basket of the Waikato, still largely in Māori hands. Tensions were high and unfounded rumours of a Māori attack on Auckland were rife. Frustrated by the new Kīngitanga movement that opposed land sales, Governor Grey used these rumours to ensure his British masters would give him the backing he needed for an attack on Waikato. In early 1863 he announced his intention to 'dig around' the Kīngitanga until it fell

Highwic was built in 1862, on land probably settled some 500 years earlier by descendants of the Tainui canoe. It was inside a ring of blockhouses erected by the British army to defend and encircle Auckland. By the spring of 1863, three months after the first shot fired in the Waikato War, most of Auckland’s able-bodied men were shouldering guns and doing duty as soldiers. Up to 1700 troops a day did the backbreaking work of building the Great South Road, the warpath south into the Waikato. The road began near Highwic and edged south into densely forested countryside. Men felled trees and scrub and dug out hard volcanic rock to form the road by hand. Although he did not fight, Buckland was involved in the war, selling horses to the imperial troops.