Brassey Street (Waverley).jpg Brassey Street sign (2022). Mike Gooch. Word on the Street image collection.

Brassey Street in Waverley was named after career soldier Major Willoughby Brassey.

Born in London in 1817, the son of the High Sherriff of Essex, Willoughby Brassey served in the Royal Navy until 1839 before joining the East India Company, taking part in military action in various locations including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iran. In the late 1850s he immigrated to New Zealand where he married Elizabeth Munhal in 1861 and had five children. She died in 1870 and he later married Frances Slattery, with whom he had four more children.

By 1865 Brassey was in New Plymouth and appointed Major, at that time the second highest military rank in New Zealand, in command of the Taranaki Military Settlers and Pātea Rangers. In this position Brassey travelled up the Whanganui River with a force of 400 to establish a military post at Pipiriki. In July 1865 they were completely surrounded and under fire by local Māori for 12 days before being relieved. Brassey received some fame for the manner in which he alerted Whanganui garrison forces to their situation – by sending several messages, written in Latin, in bottles down the river.

In September 1865 Major Brassey, along with General Duncan Cameron and their forces, left Whanganui for Ōpōtiki where they sought revenge for the killing of Lutheran missionary Carl Volkner. However by November of the same year Brassey had returned to Wellington and resigned, or was forced to resign, due to an undisclosed matter that occurred while in the Ōpōtiki area. No longer a military man – but forever known as Major Brassey – he retired quietly to Whanganui where he lived until his death in 1907 at the age of 90.

While he did not spend much time in Waverley, as a senior member of the Taranaki Militia he was granted 400 acres of land in and around the town as part of his payment for military service and had a street named after him. Brassey Road in Whanganui, where he resided on St John’s Hill, is also named in his honour.


This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

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