In November 1863, 22 year old Spencer P.T. Nicholl farewelled his family and friends and his dear, darling Evie, departing Gravesend to sail for New Zealand. Nicholl was an Ensign with the 43rd Regiment of Foot. His purchase of a junior officer commission two years earlier was typical for a younger son in a middle class family. In the months leading up to his departure, and for nearly a year after his arrival in New Zealand, Nicholl kept a journal that survives to this day as MS-1712 at the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Nicholl treated his diary as a highly private account, keeping it locked. He inscribed its title page with the injunction: ‘In case of my death I wish this book to be sent to my friends without being read by any one’. Unlocking the journal, we find a source that gives us a very personal view into day to day garrison life as well as events such as the Battle of Gate Pa/Pukehinahina (where he was injured). Such an account provides a more ‘flesh and blood’ account than the official War Office records. It is the view of a young officer experiencing war for the first time, a man who wonders if he will ever shoot anyone with the revolver he has just purchased. It is also the view of a young man who wishes he ‘had not brought such a large box of books’ with him, entertains himself on the voyage to New Zealand ‘by going up and down the rigging’, and pines for the woman he would like for his sweetheart, wondering ‘if she thinks of me ever now’.
Over the 2015/16 summer John McLellan worked on a Summer Scholarship ‘Developing digital narratives’, a partnership between Victoria University and the Alexander Turnbull Library. John produced a full transcript, and created a digital narrative enabling a new form of access to the journal. Excerpts from the transcript have featured in our Twitter feed over the past few months; the StoryMap below and accompanying transcript provide the larger picture behind those Tweet instalments.
Tēnā koutou, welcome to the blog for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Settler – our research project on garrison and empire in the nineteenth century.
Here we’ll be sharing discoveries from the archives, stories from our networks, and news of what is going on in the project.
The summer months have seen work on 4 strands of the project. We have gone ahead in leaps and bounds with the wonderful work of 3 VUW Summer Scholars and a summer research assistant. More on these strands in future posts, but in short: Fiona Cliff has been making connections between men who served in Crimea, India, and in New Zealand; Samantha Hunt has been busily indexing and analysing the New Plymouth Garrison Order book for January to October 1864 at Puke Ariki; John McLellan has been transcribing the 1863-1864 diary of Ensign Spencer Perceval T. Nicholl and developing it into a digital narrative at the Alexander Turnbull Library; and Angus Crowe has been investigating bread, meat and rum and the economic impact of the war in the early 1860s.
Rebecca spent much of February transcribing WO100/18 files – War Office files recording who received the New Zealand Medal. With just a few regiments left to go we’re almost in possession of a list of the 12,000 or so men who served with the imperial regiments in the 1860s.
Charlotte worked across all aspects of the project over the summer. She spoke at the Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists at the end of January, and with Samantha Hunt at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth at the end of February. Two of her articles appeared in the latest issues of the Journal of New Zealand Literature: ‘The First World War and the Making of Colonial Memory’ (33:2), and Law & History. Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Law & History Society: ‘People of the Land, Voting Citizens in the Nation, Subjects of the Crown’ (2015: 2).
Charlotte and Rebecca presented papers at the New Zealand Historical Association Conference at the University of Canterbury in early December 2015 in a session ‘Rethinking New Zealand in the ‘redcoat’ empire.
A visitor via the Peninsula War
Dr Huw Davies, (Defence Studies, Kings College London) dropped by for a visit on 7 and 8 February. A scholar of, among other things, the Wellington our Wellington is named after, Huw had been in Sydney and Canberra for research and the ‘New Directions in War and History’ conference. He made a detour to see us in Wellington, arriving at our offices via the Peninsula War (or, at least, Talavera, Clifton, and Salamanca on the Wellington Cable Car).
His research focuses on 19th and 20th century warfare and in particular on military thinking, innovation, knowledge transfer and networks, so our several hours of discussion on various topics passed by all too quickly. Huw contributes to ‘Defence-in-Depth’, the research blog of the Defence Studies Department, King’s College London, and you can see his post about his trip Down Under here.