Post by Summer Scholar Scott Flutey
Over the summer of 2016/17 I worked as a VUW Summer Scholar with the Gerald Ellott philatelic collection at Te Papa (group reference PH859) for the “War by post and bullet” project: transcribing, digitising, and researching items of correspondence relating to Britain’s military presence in New Zealand during the 1860s. The correspondence in the Ellott collection comprises letters between people in private rather than official capacities, thereby providing an important complement to the official record. The project transcriptions and accompanying high-resolution digital photographs of the material are publicly accessible.
The Ellott collection contains 343 objects. Of these, 185 objects were digitised and transcribed for this project. These objects involve 141 individuals, who were either senders, recipients or military superiors who authorised correspondence with a signature: often individuals fall into multiple categories across the correspondence.
The various postal items which comprise the digitised collection can be grouped into several different categories. 136 are covers (envelopes), eight are entires (letters folded to form an envelope which feature stamps and postal markings on the blank reverse of the letter), and 56 are traditional letters. Most of these items are individual, one-off surviving, pieces of correspondence between senders and recipients. There is also a series of 52 letters from Corporal George Tatler (65th Regiment) to his mother in England spanning the period between 1854 (when Tatler enlisted) and 1865 (when he was discharged from the army).
Outside of entire from H.C. Balneavis to Lieut General Wynyard, 6 May 1862. An 'entire' is a letter folded into an envelope that features full, surviving, postage stamps and markings on the back of the letter itself. PH000905, Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.
Covers (envelopes), even without the original letters they enclosed, have great value for historians of the 19th century wars. The markings on the envelopes show us the elaborate network of communication which war spread across the globe and across New Zealand. An integral aspect of the postal system globally was the use of postmarks to signify that a letter had been processed through a receiving post office, any further post offices along the way, and also whether it had travelled by ship (a commonplace practice when rail was still in a state of early development in New Zealand, and roads were dangerous or non-existent). Postmarks thus show the route that a letter took between being sent and received – with exact dates and locations. Redirected mail, or anything that affected the postal process, was also clearly marked by civilian and military postmasters.
Military postmasters were soldiers appointed to process mail passing through the various redoubts, military encampments, or even sites of battle. The Ellott collection shows that these temporary post offices were integral to the British communication system during the New Zealand Wars. Overall, the postmarks provide highly valuable evidence of the structure and speed along which communication travelled across the globe in the mid-nineteenth century, providing an insight into the speed and modernity of contemporary networks.
This letter, Alfred Harper, a Waikato Volunteer, bears the marks of multiple redirections between 20 March 1864 and 19 November 1864, starting at Auckland then travelling to Otahuhu, Papakura, Kihi kihi, Drury, Lower Wairoa, Queen's Redoubt (Pokeno), Ngahinepouri, and eventually finding the recipient in Auckland. PH000914, Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa
Most New Zealand Wars-related material from the Ellott collection was sent during the 1860s, a decade which saw warfare across the North Island. Much of the fighting occurred in Waikato and Taranaki, and the Ellott collection reflects this in terms of content origin. There are many letters from the period 1863-1866.
Year No. of objects in collection
The Ellott collection holds exceptionally rich and rare material which is useful to researchers in a number of different ways. Data about the nature and specifics of communication can be found in postal markings, while the voices of soldiers and civilians (both Maori and European) and their loved ones make themselves heard very clearly in letters and notes.
The biennial New Zealand Historical Association conference was held this year at Auckland University over 28 November to 1 December. Wednesday morning began with a wonderful welcome onto Waipapa Marae, where, on Friday morning, our ‘Auckland at the Crossroads of Nineteenth-century Military and Civilian Worlds’ panel had the great honour of presenting in the wharenui.
The conference was filled with fantastic papers across a broad range of topics that have left us with much to think about. Several papers were of particular relevance to this project.
One such was a fantastic and moving session by our VUW colleagues Arini Loader, Mike Ross, and Kelly Keane-Tuala, ‘He aroha hoki nōku ki te iwi: An Expression of my Affection for the People’, looking at the waiata recorded by prisoners of the battle of Rangiriri. A short interview with them here, recorded for the conference
One of our core partners, Puke Ariki, was also at the NZHA Conference in the form of Andrew Moffat, Heritage Collections Lead/Pouarahi Tukuihotanga at the museum. Andrew gave a terrific paper exploring the heroic mythology with which Gustavus Von Tempsky surrounded himself, and with which he continues to trail through to the present. Andrew introduced us to a dazzling, troubling, amusing array of Von Tempskyana. We look forward to seeing this in print or on screen soon.
Jamie Hawkins Elder, a VUW MA student working with Charlotte, presented on Thursday afternoon on aspects of her MA research, looking at the ‘emotional and practical responses to refugee settler women during the New Zealand Land Wars 1860-1872’. In that same session Lyndon Fraser presented on death at sea as detailed in 19th century shipboard accounts, leaving us to further examine what similarities there might be between these practices and those among imperial soldiers dying on their way to New Zealand.
We (Charlotte and Rebecca, with John McLellan) presented our panel to a wonderful audience who left us with much to ponder. Charlotte presented on ‘Auckland via Calcutta: Military Cosmopolitanism in the Mid-nineteenth Century’, Rebecca on ‘Death and Disease in 1860s Garrison Auckland’, and John on ‘Soldiers and Colonists: Lives of Imperial Soldiers as Settlers in Nineteenth-century New Zealand’ Though it would have been wonderful to have been joined, as had been the original plan, by Daniel Thompson, presenting on his MA work regarding the Enfield Rifle, Daniel’s absence did mean we had an extra half hour for discussion at the end of our papers which was great. We’re very grateful to all those who asked questions, and who provided some tips and avenues for follow up, in the session itself and in subsequent conversations.
Our congratulations to Vincent O’Malley for winning the Mary Boyd Prize for best article on any aspect of New Zealand history published in a refereed journal for his article ‘Recording the incident with a monument’, charting the changing perceptions of the Waikato War in national memory and consciousness.
We had assumed we would probably never know the story behind John Smith’s buttock wound, described in Max’s blog of March 2017, ‘John Smith’ being the archetype of a person you are unlikely to ever be able to find the correct match for in the historical record. However Michael Fitzgerald, one of our advisory board members, happened upon the story while browsing PapersPast recently. It is quite the story, though the motivations of the shooter still remain unclear.
New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, 12 October 1864, p.4
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.