19 March 1861

The First Taranaki War ends in New Zealand.

On 19 March 1861, the First Taranaki War, between the New Zealand government and the indigenous Maori, ended in a tense cease-fire.

Some 2.4 square kilometres of land lay at the heart of the war. Ignoring a “solemn contract” by the local Maori not to sell, and rebuffing a similar order by a paramount Maori chief, minor Maori chief Te Atiawa iwi sold a parcel of land known as the Pekapeka block to the British. Knowing the full circumstances of the offer, including the Maoris attempts to stop the sale, British colonial administrator Governor Thomas Gore Browne accepted the purchase, a move that angered the Maori chiefs.

When British surveyors were sent to survey and occupy the land, anticipating conflict, the Maoris threw them out. Furious, Governor Browne demanded an apology and swift removal from the land. The Maori refused. Instead, they built a defensive just inside the block of disputed land. Incensed and determined to impress British sovereignty upon the indigenous Maori, the British Army on New Zealand’s North Island prepared for war.

On 17 March 1860, the British Army marched from New Plymouth to the Maori defensive of Pa at Te Kohia and opened fire, commencing the First Taranaki War. The war lasted one year, with early losses for the British troops, who quickly bolstered their thin forces with troops from Australia. Wielding firepower, including two 10-kilogram howitzers, the British engaged in a series of battles with the Maori, hoping to blitz their way into a decisive victory that would cripple the Maori and assert British sovereignty.

Able warriors, the Maori had built an L-shaped pa, or defensive hill fort, covered trenches, and anti-artillery bunkers that, combined, resisted the British blitz. Through the Battles of Te Kohia, Waireka, and Puketakauere, the hostilities continued. Finally, after one long year of fighting, hundreds of casualties, economic hardship, environmental destruction, and growing doubt on both sides whether the war could be won, the First Taranaki War ended in an uneasy ceasefire on 19 March 1861.

On the British side, some 238 of the army’s 3,500 troops had died. Maori casualties reached some 200, though the proportion of dead was much higher. Though the British claimed they had won the war, it was widely viewed as a humiliating defeat for the great colonial force whose aim was to crush and impose sovereignty over the Maori. Eventually, the uneasy truce would lead to the invasion of Waikato and subsequent Taranaki Wars.

Today, the Taranaki Wars are viewed as a sad and exploitative chapter in New Zealand’s history. In 1996, a Waitangi Tribunal found that the war was started by the British colonial government, which was deemed an aggressor that launched an unlawful attack. Long after their homelands were confiscated, the Waikato Tainui people received a compensation of some $171 million NZD from the New Zealand government in 1995, along with the return of some land.

7 November 1861

The first Melbourne Cup horse race is held in Melbourne, Australia.

The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s most well known annual Thoroughbred horse race. It is a 3,200 metre race for three-year-olds and over, conducted by the Victoria Racing Club on the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria as part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. It is the richest “two-mile” handicap in the world, and one of the richest turf races. The event starts at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November and is known locally as “the race that stops a nation”.

The Melbourne Cup has a long tradition, with the first race held in 1861. It was originally over two miles but was shortened to 3,200 metres in 1972 when Australia adopted the metric system. This reduced the distance by 18.688 metres, and Rain Lover’s 1968 race record of 3:19.1 was accordingly adjusted to 3:17.9. The present record holder is the 1990 winner Kingston Rule with a time of 3:16.3.

The race is a quality handicap for horses 3 years old and over, run over a distance of 3,200 metres, on the first Tuesday in November at Flemington Racecourse. The minimum handicap weight is 50 kg. There is no maximum weight, but the top allocated weight must not be less than 57 kg. The weight allocated to each horse is declared by the VRC Handicapper in early September.

The Melbourne Cup race is a handicap contest in which the weight of the jockey and riding gear is adjusted with ballast to a nominated figure. Older horses carry more weight than younger ones, and weights are adjusted further according to the horse’s previous results.

Weights were theoretically calculated to give each horse an equal winning chance in the past, but in recent years the rules were adjusted to a “quality handicap” formula where superior horses are given less severe weight penalties than under pure handicap rules.

29 January 1861

Kansas is admitted as the 34th state of the USA.

On this day in 1861, Kansas is admitted to the Union as free state. It was the 34th state tojoin the Union. The struggle between pro- and anti-slave forces in Kansas was a major factor in the eruption of the Civil War.

In 1854, Kansas and Nebraska were organized as territories with popular sovereignty (popular vote) to decide the issue of slavery. There was really no debate over the issue in Nebraska, as the territory was filled with settlers from the Midwest, where there was no slavery. In Kansas, the situation was much different. Although most of the settlers were anti-slave or abolitionists, there were many pro-slave Missourians lurking just over the border. When residents in the territory voted on the issue, many fraudulent votes were cast from Missouri. This triggered the massive violence that earned the area the name “Bleeding Kansas.” Both sides committed atrocities, and the fighting over the issue of slavery was a preview of the Civil War.

Kansas remained one of the most important political questions throughout the 1850s. Each side drafted constitutions, but the anti-slave faction eventually gained the upper hand. Kansas entered the Union as a free state; however,the conflict over slaveryinthe statecontinued into the Civil War. Kansas was the scene of some of the most brutal acts of violence during the war. One extreme example was the sacking of Lawrence in 1863, when pro-slave forces murdered nearly 200 men and burned the anti-slave town.

10 January 1861

During the American Civil War, Florida secedes from the Union.

Florida joined the Confederate States of America at the beginning of the Civil War, as third of the original seven states to secede from the Union, following Lincoln’s 1860 election. With the smallest population, nearly half of them slaves, Florida could only send 15,000 troops to the Confederate States Army. Its chief importance was in food-supply to the south, and support for blockade-runners, with its long coastline full of inlets, hard to patrol.

On the outbreak of war, the Confederates seized many of the state’s army camps, though the Union retained control of the main seaports. But there was little fighting in Florida, the only major conflict being the Battle of Olustee near Lake City in February 1864. However, wartime conditions made it easier for slaves to escape, and many of them became useful informers to Union commanders. As southern morale suffered, deserters from both sides took refuge in Florida, often attacking Confederate units and looting farms. Tallahassee became the second-last Confederate state capital to fall to the Union army. In May 1865, Federal control was re-established, slavery abolished, and the state governor John Milton shot himself, rather than submit to Union occupation.

26 October 1861


The Pony Express stop its operations.

The Pony Express was a mail service delivering messages, newspapers, mail, and small packages from St. Joseph, Missouri, across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada to Sacramento, California, by horseback, using a series of relay stations.

In 1860, mail contractor Ben Holladay joined forces with the Russell, Majors, and Waddell freight company to create a mail-carrying operation that would be faster and more efficient than the stagecoaches. Holladay then put a call out for small, brave young men that could ride a horse well. He bought 500 of the fastest horses he could find and hired 80 daring riders.

The rides were dangerous, but the pay was good – $25 a week, or the equivalent of over $4,600 in wages today. These were the Pony Express riders. The men, usually younger than 18 years old, were expected to cover 75 miles a day in spite of inclement weather and Indian attacks. Picking up a rested horse at each stop, they rode non-stop, day and night, rain or shine.

This adventurous service came to an end just 18 months after that first ride. On October 24, 1861, the Western Union Telegraph Company completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in Salt Lake City. This accomplishment ushered in a new age of communications in the U.S. It also marked the end of the Pony Express two days later, on October 26.