Defence Stores Department 1862-1917

In 1917 the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps was formed and 100 years on its immediate predecessor, the Defence Stores Department (also known as the Defence Store Office) has mostly been forgotten. The Defence Stores Department, existing in several iterations between 1862 and 1917, was created due to the Colonial Defence Act of 1862. The 1862 Act authorised the formation of the first Regular Force in New Zealand. The Stores Department to support this nascent Defence Force was established as the Office of the Colonial Storekeeper in 1862 and by 1866 had a permanent staff of Eight:

  • Colonial Storekeeper – Captain John Mitchell
  • Clerk Auckland- John Bloomfield
  • Clerk Auckland – John Price
  • Clerk Wellington – Samuel Anderson
  • Arms Cleaner and Labourer Auckland – W.C Rockley
  • Arms Cleaner and Labourer Auckland – C Phillips
  • Arms Cleaner and Labourer – J Peuligan

In October 1867 the Armed Constabulary Act 1867 disbanded the Colonial Defence Force leading to a reorganisation of the office of the Colonial Storekeeper.

Ordnance Store Auckland
Ordnance Store buildings, Fort Britomart [August 1864]. Alexander Turnbull Library

During this period, the British Forces in New Zealand were maintained by the Military Store Department, which had taken over the responsibilities of the Board of Ordnance which had been disestablished in 1855. With Stores Depots at Fort Britomart in Auckland and Mount Cook in Wellington, the Military Store Department’s primary responsibility was to provide Ordnance support to British units based in New Zealand. The Military Store Department also supported the fledgling Colonial Defence Force, often providing direct support when their units were deployed on operations with Imperial Forces.

With the withdrawal of Imperial Forces from New Zealand in 1869/70, The Military Store Department was one of the last British units to leave New Zealand in July 1870. From then on responsibility for Military Storekeeping became the responsibility of the New Zealand Defence Department.

Responsibility for Military Store Keeping was split between the Armed Constabulary and the Militia and Volunteers. Storekeeping for the Armed Constabulary was managed by Samuel Anderson, who as the Armed Constabulary Storekeeper attended to the needs of the Armed Constabulary Force. Anderson was assisted in the districts by men of the Armed Constabulary who were seconded from their duties to act as Sub-Storekeepers.

The storekeeping needs of the Militia and Volunteers was the responsibility of the Defence Stores, which were managed by the Inspector of Stores, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Gorton. The Defence Stores Storekeepers in Auckland and Wellington were supported by Sub-Storekeepers in the districts. Although the Wellington and Auckland posts were permeant and full-time positions, many of the district Sub-Storekeeper positions were dual role positions in which the holders held other positions such as Drill Instructors for the Militia or Sub-Storekeepers for the Public Works Department. In a number of cases Armed Constabulary Sub-Storekeepers also acted as Defence Stores Sub-Storekeepers.

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Gorton
Lieutenant Colonel Edward Gorton

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Gorton had taken up the appointment of Inspector of Stores on 23 April 1869. Under the auspice of the Public Stores Act of 1867, Gorton assumed control of the Colonial Storekeepers’ office’s in Wellington and Auckland, effectively becoming the head of the Defence Stores. Gorton’s responsibilities increased with the passing of the Public Stores Act of 1871 in which he took responsibility for all of New Zealand’s Government Stores. From 1874 moves began to separate the Defence Stores from the Office of the Inspector of Stores and to merge the responsibilities of the Armed Constabulary and Defence Stores Storekeeper into a single organisation. The change began in1878 with the retirement of Colonel Gorton. Samuel Anderson, the Armed Constabulary Storekeeper, assumed the position of Defence Storekeeper.

The Defence Act (1886) called for the militia functions of the Armed Constabulary to be transferred to the New Zealand Permanent Militia, leading to the Defence Stores Department coming under the control of the Department of the Under Secretary of Defence.

Stores Dept tender 1

Shrinking budgets in 1888 called for the closure and redundancy of the Auckland and Dunedin depots and their staff. All stocks required for the use of the volunteer units were placed under the charge of the local magazine keepers. This left Mount Cook as the Main Stores Depot for New Zealand. By December 1888, the need for a Defence Storekeeper in Auckland was recognised, and Major John William Gascoyne of the New Zealand Permanent Militia was appointed Defence Storekeeper for Auckland.

On 28 September 1899, New Zealand Government committed a New Zealand contingent as part of the Imperial contribution to the South Africa war. Unprepared for rapid mobilisation, the Defence Stores had insufficient equipment and uniforms available for the assembling Mounted infantry contingent. Urgent arrangements for the manufacture or purchase of over 20,000 items of equipment, uniforms, underclothing, horse equipment, saddlery, etc. were placed on the local market. From the 6th to the 21st of October 1899, Captain Anderson and his small staff spent up to 16 hours daily receiving, recording, branding and then dispatching all manner of essential items to the assembled contingent at Karori Camp. With the SS Waiwera due to sail on the 21st of October, most deadlines were achieved, and the 1st New Zealand Contingent to South Africa sailed from Wellington on schedule. Many personal belongings were left behind at the Karori Camp by the members of the Contingent for return to the owner’s home locations. The Defence Stores Department had received lists and directions from the troopers and undertook to see that the things were sent to their homes.

On 7 December 1899, Defence Storekeeper Captain Sam Anderson suddenly passed away. This was at a critical time as the Defence Stores Department which after years of neglect was at breaking point due to the mobilisation. Captain James O’Sullivan, a long-time and experienced member of the Defence Stores, succeeded Anderson as acting Defence Storekeeper.

Defence Stores 1
Fitting out a New Zealand Contingent at the Wellington Defence Stores. Auckland Libraries Heritage Images Collection
Defence Stores 2
Clothing for a New Zealand Contingent being distributed at the Defence Stores, Wellington. Auckland Libraries Heritage Images Collection

Due to the difficulty highlighted in assembling, equipping and deploying the initial South Africa deployment, a Joint Defence (Secret) Committee was convened in 1900 to investigate and make a recommendation on the state of New Zealand Defence. The committee made several recommendations regarding the Defence Stores Department. Changes to the methods of ordering, receiving and issuing military stores were recommended. The most important recommendations were for Mobilisation Stores to be established at the four main volunteer centres. Parliamentary Estimates for the same year provided funds for the erection of the new buildings in each of the main centres;

  • Wellington – a Mobilisation Store to be built at Buckle Street, Mount Cook, completed 1911.
  • Christchurch – a Mobilisation Store to be built at King Edward Barracks, completed 1905.
  • Dunedin – a Mobilisation Store to be built at St Andrew’s Street, completed 1907.
  • Auckland – No finance was allocated for a Mobilisation Store in Auckland because the existing Magazines constructed in 1872 at Mount Eden were considered suitable.
  • Nelson – No finance was allocated for a Mobilisation Store in  Nelson because the existing buildings were considered suitable.

The New Zealand Times of 16 July 1901 reported on the Defence Stores in a positive manner;

“it is evident that there will be no need to make any changes in the personnel of the Defence Stores Office staff. During the whole time, and in the face of exceptional difficulties, Mr J. O’Sullivan, the Defence Storekeeper, ably assisted by his staff, turned out the whole of the officers and men in such a way as to command gratifying encomiums from Lord Roberts and generals who came into contact with them In South Africa it was universally agreed that our, men were the “best dressed, and equipped’’ of all the colonial troops in the field.”

The immediate post-war period brought little respite for the Defence Stores Department, new Rifles and Machines Guns had been ordered from the United Kingdom, and Khaki had been adopted as the new colour of the uniform. As the new stores and equipment arrived, they had to be inspected, marked and then distributed to units. Concurrently as new stores and equipment were received by units, old equipment was back-loaded to the Defence Stores for further inspection, grading, repair and maintenance and either disposal or redistribution to other units such as school cadets.

Early in 1907, a Defence Council was created as part of a major command reorganisation of the Defence Forces. Under the control of the Defence Council were two distinctive positions with the responsibility for Ordnance Stores

  • Director of Artillery Services (Ordnance): Responsible for:
    • Artillery armament,
    • Fixed coast defences, and
    • Supplies for ordnance.
  • Director of Stores: Responsible for:
    • Clothing and personal equipment,
    • Accoutrements,
    • Saddlery,
    • Harness,
    • Small-Arms
    • Machine Guns
    • Small-arms and Machine gun ammunition,
    • Material,
    • Transport,
    • Vehicles,
    • Camp Equipment,
    • All other stores required for the Defence Forces.

On 27 December 1907, James O’Sullivan was confirmed as the Director of Stores, with the Rank of Honorary Captain in the New Zealand Staff Corps. The authorisation for permanent District Storekeepers was also authorised, with the following appointments made:

  • Mr William Thomas Beck – District Storekeeper, Auckland
  • Mr Arthur Rumbold Carter White – District Storekeeper, Christchurch
  • Mr Owen Paul McGuigan – District Storekeeper, Dunedin

Records indicate that the structure of the Defence Stores department at the end of 1907 was;

DSD 1907
Defence Stores Department Organisation 1907

1909 brought significant changes to the Defence Forces of New Zealand. The Defence Act 1909 replaced the Volunteer forces with the Territorial Army, and compulsory military training was instituted. The New Zealand Army Service Corps was initiated in 1910, and discussions started on creating a New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps. Early in 1911, the Director of Stores title was changed to Director of Equipment and Stores, and Captain O’Sullivan was promoted to Major.

James O'Sullivan
CAPTAIN O’SULLIVAN (Storekeeper Defence Department, Wellington).,NZ Truth, Issue 304, 22 April 1911

1911 Regulations (Provisional) for the Military Forces of New Zealand

Published in the New Zealand Gazette of 5 May 1911 updated Regulations (Provisional) for the Military Forces of New Zealand were promogulated detailing the division of responsibilities between the Quartermaster Generals Branch, (to whom the Defence Stores was subordinate) and the Director of Ordnance and Artillery.  Note: although not yet established, responsibility for the organization and training of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps was vested with the Director of Ordnance and Artillery.

1911 Regulations (Provisional) for the Military Forces of New Zealand

With the continuing division of stores and duties between the Artillery and the Defence Stores Department, the Director of Artillery(Ordnance) assumed overall responsibility for managing Artillery stores on 2 August 1911. This resulted in Major O’Sullivan’s deputy, Honorary Lieutenant Frederick Silver, being formally transferred to the staff of the Director of Artillery Services (Ordnance) as the Artillery Stores Accountant along with ledgers previously held by the Defence Stores Department. In 1946 the RNZA Ammunition and Equipment Section based in Army Headquarters handed over responsibility for artillery ammunition, explosives, coast artillery and specialist equipment and stores including some manpower to the NZAOC.

Quartermaster Training

As the Defence Forces of New Zealand transitioned to the Territorial Army system, it was soon realised the care, maintenance and responsibility of equipment were lacking, and the current Regimental Quartermaster Sergeants were not up to the task, and a professional Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant cadre was required. Late in 1911, thirty young men selected from the various military districts spent three weeks at the Defence Stores Department in Wellington. Undergoing practical and theoretical instruction in the duties of the office of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant with instruction conducted under the supervision of Major O’Sullivan, utilising the senior staff of the Defence Stores Department as instructors. The course was thorough with instruction provided by;

  • The Armourers provided instruction on weapon storage, inspection, maintenance and accounting,
  • The Saddler provided instruction on the correct storage methods, inspection and maintenance of leather items such as horse saddlery and harnesses.
  • The Sail-maker provided instruction on the correct methods of storage, inspection and maintenance of canvas and fabric items such as tents, other camp canvas and fabric camp equipment.
  • The Stores Foreman provided instruction on the Packing of stores.
  • The ledger-keeper provided instruction with the keeping of accounts and maintenance of documentation used throughout all the departments.

Examinations were held on the various subjects in which instruction had been given. Records show that at least 18 of the 30 candidates passed the exams successfully and were appointed Quartermaster Sergeants in the New Zealand Permanent Staff under General Order 112/10.


This course of instruction was notable as although an Army School of Instruction had been established in 1886 with Musketry courses the primary focus. Instruction in Tactics and Staff duties were also offered, but this course in the duties of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeants was probably the first dedicated stores’ trade-related course conducted in New Zealand.


From the early day of the Defence Stores there had always been individuals fulfilling the role of Armourers, but with the advent of more modern and complicated weapons, the need for professional Armourers was identified at the end of the 19th century. To fill the immediate experience shortfall and provide experience and skill base to train New Zealand Armourers, two Armourer Sergeants from the British Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) were seconded to the New Zealand Defence Stores in 1900 with a third employed in 1903.  In 1912 General Order 118 was promulgated that as of the 1st of May 1912, all Armourers were to be posted to the New Zealand Ordnance Corps, with its approved establishment detailed in the same order.

1912 armoures John Boyce
New Zealand Defence Forces General Order 118, 1 May 1912

Camp Equipment

As the Territorial Force Army became organised and exercising on a regular basis, the Defence Stores Department was starting to feel the strain of having to provide camp equipment and other stores to each camp. Although each regiment was issued with it core equipment such as weapons. Camp equipment had been centralised and was provided on request to regiments based on their perceived requirements as required, not against a set scale based on the units strength or role.

In 1911 there were 2937 tents (circular) in New Zealand, which had been in service for many years:

  • 16 for seventeen years
  • 311 for thirteen years,
  • 782 for twelve years,
  • 542 for five years, and
  • the balance from one to three years.

Observations by the Defence Stores Department had determined that much of the stock of tents was not suitable for future camps, The same applied for much of the inventory of Camp Equipment, meaning that insufficient tents and camp equipment were available to accommodate the entire Territorial Army if camping at once. To enable more efficient forecasting, management and distribution of camp equipment, ensuring excessive stores were not demanded by units and also to allow the Defence Stores Department to manage individual items on an Army-wide basis, the following scales were developed and introduced for use in the 1913 camps.

1913 block scale
1913 Camp Equipment Scale

Annual Camp Temporary Ordnance Stores Depots

As the Defence Stores Department was primarily a civilian organisation with limited manpower, it was decided that for the annual camps of 1913 to test the new management system for Camp Equipment stores. Temporary Ordnance Stores Depots were established to enable the management of the stores’ functions in the lead-up to, during and after Annual Camps. The Defence Stores Department assembled stores based upon units strength and role and dispatched them to the location by train for receipt by the temporary Ordnance Stores Depots. The nucleus of these Ordnance Stores Depots was formed by the training of selected personnel from within the Territorial Army in the required store’s procedures required to control the receipt and issue of ordnance stores in the camps. As with the Training of the Regimental Quartermaster Sergeants in 1911 the selected personnel were provided with a fortnight’s course of instruction in their duties, under the Director of Equipment and Stores.

For the 1913 camps, all camp equipment was issued to the Regimental Quartermaster-sergeants direct from the temporary Ordnance Depot which had been established before the start of the camps. This negated loss by direct consignment or doubt as to quantities taken into use. On the termination of the camps, all camp equipment in use by the units assembled was returned to the temporary Ordnance Depot, and the necessary arrangements as to deficiencies made without any delay. Regimental Quartermaster-sergeants were instructed to remain on the departure of their regiments until accounts for equipment had been checked and adjusted. Camp equipment was then returned from the temporary Ordnance Depot to the regional mobilisation stores.

The establishment of the temporary Ordnance Depots for the 1913 camp was;

  • Ordnance officer
  • Two clerks
  • Four issuers

The temporary Ordnance Depot concept was repeated at the 1914 divisional camps with the Regional Defence Storekeepers acting as the Ordnance Officers and with an increased ordnance staff of 6 clerks and 12 issuers.

The Acid test of the temporary Ordnance Depot came within weeks of the First World War been declared in August 1914. The Defence Stores Department was at the forefront of the mobilisation efforts, supplying as much as possible for the equipping of the Expeditionary Forces. The four existing Mobilisation Stores, (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin) were provided with additional stocks, and the additional Mobilisation Store that was established in Palmerston North was also provisioned to enable it to carry out its role. By 1916 storage space and manpower was at a premium and Finance was approved to extend the Defence Stores building in Buckle Street and additional storage space had been leased at Te Aro, Taranaki Street and the Wellington docks.

1914 Regulations for the Military Forces of the Dominion of New Zealand

Published in the New Zealand Gazette of 27 January 1914, the updated Regulations for the Military Forces of the Dominion of New Zealand revoked the 1911 regulations and again detailed the division of responsibilities between the Quartermaster Generals Branch, (to whom the Defence Stores was subordinate) and the Director of Ordnance and Artillery.  Responsibility for the organization and training of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps was shifted from the Director of Ordnance to the Quartermaster Generals branch.

1914 Regulations for the Military Forces of the Dominion of New Zealand.

The move to militarisation

The Director of Stores assumed the military designation of Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores in 1916, and the District Storekeepers were designated “Assistant Directors of Equipment and Ordnance Stores.” On 8 April 1916, Captain Thomas McCristell the Trentham Camp Quartermaster was appointed to succeed Major O’Sullivan as Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores. Major O’Sullivan moved on to the role of Inspector of Ordnance Stores.

Major Thomas James McCristell, Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores, 10 April 1916 – 20 January 1920.

The formation of an Ordnance Corps had been under discussion as early as 1902 with little forward momentum apart from the establishment of the New Zealand Ordnance Corps to manage Armourers in 1912 and the Temporary Ordnance Depots in 1913 and 1914. Given the work of the Defence Stores Department since the start of the war, a vast improvement was noticeable in the methods of accounting, care and custody of arms, equipment, and stores throughout New Zealand. As of March 1916, the civilian staff of the Defence Stores Department consisted of :


  • Honorary Captain W.T Beck. DSO – Assistant Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores
  • A.C Bulter – Storeman
  • J Maher  – Arms-cleaner
  • F Jewiss – Arms-cleaner and Labourer
  • E Key –  Labourer
  • R.J Felton – Assistant Ammunition Factory
  • B.E Lambert – Assistant Ammunition Factory


  • Honorary Captain F.E Ford – Assistant Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores
  • D McIntyre – Foreman
  • W.W Dalby – Storeman
  • A.P Williams – Shorthand-writer and Typist
  • R.A.C Frederic – Magazine Keeper, Kaiwara
  • J.A Sloane – AssistantvMagazine Keeper, Kaiwara
  • H McComish – Saddler
  • J Hunter – Carpenter
  • H.A Stephens – Sailmaker and Tentmaker
  • D Fitzgerald – Arms-cleaner and Labourer\
  • J Monahan – Arms-cleaner and Labourer


  • Honorary Captain A.R.C White – Assistant Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores
  • H.F McKay – StoreKeeper Assistant
  • T Riordan -Magazine Keeper
  • H.T Rodgers -Saddler


  • Honorary Captain O.P McGuigan – Assistant Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores
  • J Woods – StoreKeeper Assistant
  • W Sanderson – StoreKeeper Assistant

Ordnance Corps

As of 1 February 1917, the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (NZAOC) and the New Zealand Army Ordnance Department (NZAOD) were gazetted, replacing the Defence Stores Department.

The first soldiers of various trades and ranks who joined the NZAOC were transferred from the Permanent Forces on the 15th of March 1917, with Defence Stores Department civilian Staff who had been selected for militarisation, starting to transfer into the NZAOC on July 1917. This placed the Defence Stores staff who were handling military equipment and stores in the districts and training camps onto a military footing.

The Defence Stores Department had served the Defence Forces as a mostly civilian government department since 1862, and the abnormality of having civilians in the army who are really outside it and are not subject to military discipline and control ended. Defence Stores staff and others doing the same work in the districts have been under the control of the Public Service, wore civilian clothes and now had purely military status, and wore uniforms as members of the NZAOC.

NZ Army Ordnance Corps badge 1917-1937. Robert McKie Collection

Copyright © Robert McKie 2017

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