In Whanganui District Council discussions George Maxwell has been described as "probably not the nicest guy." Whether he was or not it's indisputable that he played a prominent part in an infamous event.
Just over 150 years later the district named after him is on course to revert to its earlier name of Pakaraka.
So who was Maxwell and how did it come to this? He was born in Alloa, Scotland, and arrived as a young boy in Wellington in March 1852 on the Agra with his parents John and Catherine Maxwell.
After spending several years farming with his father in the Wellington area, Maxwell's father bought property just north of Whanganui and the family moved to this property, named Parkhead, on May 7, 1862.
In 1867 Maxwell purchased a 288-hectare Manutahi farm between the Upper Taumaha and Upper Manutahi roads.
He kept a diary from January 1 to June 8, 1868, in which he recorded establishing the farm and cutting rails for the stockyard from the railway reserve that ran through the property.
When Whanganui came under threat from Ngati Ruanui leader Titokawaru, local farmers, including Maxwell and notable settler and politician John Bryce, formed the Kai-iwi Yeomanry Cavalry Volunteers. Bryce was commissioned as lieutenant and Maxwell was a sergeant.
On February 1, 1868, Maxwell received his arms and accoutrements but there was no mention of military training or engagements.
He was in close contact with his family at Parkhead throughout the period of the diary and likely returned to Whanganui when, according to the Evening Herald, his house was burnt by Māori on September 29, 1868.
The Kai-iwi Cavalry were tasked with patrolling the country from Kai Iwi to Wairoa (Waverley) and back. A letter from Bryce's commanding officer, Colonel George Whitmore, described the unit as "a motley group of horsemen from 14 to 60 years of age, a perfect pack of devils and most uncontrollable".
"If they smell natives they follow Bryce like a pack of hounds and cut, slay and destroy the poor natives before you have time to look around you."
On November 25, 1868, these troops - led by Bryce and including Maxwell - encountered a group of Māori boys aged 10 to 12 outside William Handley's woolshed on the Nukumaru flats.
The cavalry charged and according to Pākeha accounts, killed two boys and wounded others, though the Māori narrative states a higher toll.
Reports of what really occurred are contradictory. One historian claims that after the charge began it was realised the Māori they were chasing were young, unarmed boys and the officers tried to regain control of the troops.
Bryce is said to have got ahead of Maxwell who was leading the charge and ordered him and the rest of his men to retire but they refused.
Whatever the truth of the matter, an official dispatch noted the "extreme gallantry of Sergeant Maxwell who sabred two and shot one of the enemy". As for Bryce, he gained the nickname among Taranaki Māori of Bryce Kohuru — Bryce the Murderer.
A month later Maxwell was killed in a skirmish. On December 28 he and other troopers rode up to Tauranga-ika pā inland from Nukumaru to ascertain whether any Māori were present, as the place seemed unusually silent.
Heavy fire was opened on them and Maxwell was shot. He remained in his saddle for about 100 yards before falling.
Maxwell was buried at the Heads Rd cemetery in what was described as "a widespread display of public sorrow". His monument records his age as 26. Maxwell was named in his memory, although the area was known as Maxwelltown until 1927.
His brother-in-law James Hamilton, a Whanganui coachbuilder, inherited his Manutahi farm. After a series of family events, the land was transferred to James and Mary Crabb, whose granddaughter Mary inherited the property. This was later subdivided for returned servicemen following World War II, leaving her with 34 hectares, which in turn was left to David Harrop, a member of the Waikouaiti Maxwell family.
A family historian, Taranaki man Harrop published a book on his forebears nearly 10 years ago titled The Wanganui Maxwells 1814-1966.
Another link is a painting by historical artist John Elder Moultray of the death of Maxwell, which is in the Auckland War Memorial Museum and is believed to be an accurate interpretation of the event. The same artist also painted his version of the woolshed affair.
In 1883 a Māori chief, Uru Te Angina, supplied a written account of Handley's woolshed which was published in The Yeoman, a Whanganui weekly newspaper. He added: "Trooper Maxwell was shot soon afterwards in a very foolish attempt to carry off a flag we had attached to our double-partitioned and entrenched pā. He met the fate of a brave man but it was the act of a lot of fools to ride up as they did, especially after killing our little ones who only went out to catch a few geese."
The affair had a sequel in 1883 when George Rusden published his History of New Zealand in which he stated that Bryce and Maxwell had dashed upon women and children "and cut them down gleefully and with ease". Bryce sued for libel.
The case was heard in the High Court in London. It was proved there were no women present and Bryce claimed that far from being prominent in the affair, he had really taken no part in it.
The verdict went against Rusden and resulted in the suppression of his book and the award to Bryce of damages of £5000. Bryce, who felt vindicated by the judgment, accepted a lesser sum merely to cover his costs.
As for Maxwell, it may seem unjust to define a person by one mad event but in the eyes of today's world he crossed a line on November 25, 1868, from which there was no coming back.