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.
The 1860s wars were battles of economies as well as of weapons.
Keeping soldiers fed and adequately supplied involved huge expenditure. Troops fighting for the Crown were supported by the Imperial Treasury and resources of the colonial government while Maori were sustaining livelihoods, crops and stock at the same time as campaigning.
Over the 2015/16 summer Angus Crowe worked on a Summer Scholarship investigating the scale and economic impact of provisioning the thousands of British soldiers stationed in New Zealand.
Each man was entitled to 1 pound of bread (around half a kilo), 1 pound of fresh meat and a quarter pint of rum per day. Supplying these rations meant big business. Auckland’s economy boomed with huge spikes in the quantities of supplies landed and traded.
Cattle, wheat and rum came in from New South Wales and Victoria, and further afield. Local merchants vied for lucrative contracts from the Commissariat; bakers and butchers had their hands full. Rivalry and rumour as to who got the best price was rife. And in the field, men complained often about the quality and quantity of food they received.
Getting food supplies from Auckland wharves to inland redoubts and camps was also a major undertaking.
In the StoryMaps that follow Angus has provided an overview of ‘the stomach at war’. ‘The role of the Commissariat during the Waikato Campaign, 1863 – 1864’ contains links to full statistical tables of some of the economic patterns in evidence in wartime New Zealand of the 1860s.
When the majority of British troops departed in 1866 Auckland fell into sharp economic recession.