The year is 1861. In the north, conflict between British-led government forces and Taranaki iwi has taken a brief pause. In April, several Te Ātiawa rangatira agree on terms of peace with the Crown. Wiremu Kingi, a notable exception, declares his consent for the peace but declines to sign and retreats into the Waikato. Grievances over land at Waitara in Taranaki continue to generate tension, the truce is uneasy, and the British military presence in the colony of New Zealand remains substantial.
Over the summer of 2017-18 we were once again very fortunate to be joined by 4 Summer Scholars.
At the Auckland War Memorial Museum Max Nichol was exploring the transformation of Auckland from a town dominated by barracks and the coming and going of military in the early 1860s to a confident colonial port city by the end of the century. The thorough and detailed report of his research findings looks at, among other things, the temperance movement in Auckland, leisure and social lives in Auckland, and the transformation of Albert Barracks to Albert Park.
At Puke Ariki Sian Smith worked with amateur photographer and collector William Francis Gordon’s photograph album “Some “Soldiers of the Queen” who served in the Maori wars and other notable persons connected herewith” (PHO2011-1997). A unique historical artefact, the album dates from around 1900 and contains over 450 photographs of soldiers, civilians and Māori involved with the New Zealand Wars. The portraits are loosely ordered into regiments and most are annotated in Gordon’s distinctive handwriting. The album is an integral part of Puke Ariki’s collection of Taranaki Wars material, memorialising those who are depicted and bringing their faces/identities into striking contemporary view/attention.
Sian began her project entering the 20% of the album not yet catalogued into Puke Ariki’s collection management system and created networks between images in the album with other items and records in Puki Ariki’s collection. Beyond this useful work that has made the full album more accessible to researchers, Sian developed biographical information for both a selection of people depicted in the album and the regiments mentioned.
At Te Papa Caitlin Lynch was also working with photographs compiled by W.F. Gordon, in this case a collection of carte-de-visite photographs acquired by the Dominion Museum in 1916. Caitlin worked to contextualise the photographs by identifying related objects in other collections across Te Papa. Beyond this linking of records/items in the collection, Caitlin meticulously pieced together narratives of specific individuals and battles. You can read about some of her speculations/thoughts/research trails while working on the project on the Te Papa Blogs linked below:
Our internal VUW Summer Scholar was Philip Little, who transcribed and analysed the ‘Effects and Credits’ pages of the WO 12 Muster Roll archives of the 50th, 65th, and 68th regiments in search of answers to such questions as where did they come from, what did they do, how did they live and how did they die. A poster of his findings is available here.
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.
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
Post by Summer Scholar Max Nichol
Over the 2016/17 summer, I have been digging into a sample of documents from War Office files held in The National Archives in London. The documents come from the WO 97 series, which holds the products of an extraordinary exercise in bureaucracy.
The series contains the discharge documents of thousands of imperial soldiers who served in Her Majesty’s army during the nineteenth century. The documents were created at the time soldiers applied to leave their regiment, as it was necessary for them to gain authority to be ‘discharged’ from their oath of service. The sample I have analysed contains 118 of those documents, all relating to soldiers who served in the New Zealand Wars in the 1860s. Specifically, this sample is drawn from the 50th and 65th Regiments of Foot, and the 68th Light Infantry. These documents contain a concise overview of a soldier’s time in the army: where they were born, where they enlisted, where they served, whether they were reprimanded (and for what), their reason for being discharged from service, and more.
Some of the richest, most interesting information is contained in the reports completed by military surgeons as part of the application for discharge. Inspections were necessary for those men applying to leave the army on the basis of being found ‘medically unfit for further duty’. Not all soldiers had such an examination performed – for just under half of the sample who were discharged after completing their term of service (usually twenty-one years among this sample) this document is left blank. For the rest of the sample, these medical records offer a fascinating insight into the misfortunes which befell soldiers serving the British Empire.
What stood out to me as I looked at these reports seems obvious with hindsight – the life of a soldier presented so many more opportunities for bodily harm than simply injury in battle. Certainly, injuries sustained in battle account for a reasonably high number of injuries resulting in discharge. To name just a few, Richard Colebrook and Francis Horne, both of the 65th Regiment, received wounds at the battle of Rangiriri in 1863, and John Moffet of the 68th Regiment took a musket ball in his right leg at Gate Pa Pukehinahina in 1864. However, the battlefield was far from the only places where soldiers sustained injury.
The case of John Smith is particularly intriguing. He received a bullet through his left buttock in September 1864, leaving him permanently lame in that leg. However, the wound was not inflicted on the battlefield, nor even by the enemy. While transporting provisions to Te Awamutu, the wound was inflicted by ‘a comrade with homicidal intent’ – one of John’s own cohort. Frustratingly, the report does not elaborate beyond this. Who took a shot at poor John Smith, and why? Revenge for a long-standing grudge, or for some perceived slight perhaps? Or maybe tensions flared in the dangerous and uneasy environment of the Waikato in 1864. I like to think that somewhere deep in the stacks of the National Archives in London exists an accompanying document which tells the other side of this story. In its absence, we are left to imagine.
The effects of disease also contributed heavily to the discharge of soldiers. The British Army did not suffer so many casualties to disease in New Zealand as in other colonies, like India, where diseases such as malaria, cholera, and dysentery wreaked havoc on European troop numbers. Nevertheless, many soldiers in the sample suffered from respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and tuberculosis, often attributed to exposure to the elements and the New Zealand climate. Some soldiers contracted illness elsewhere, and continued to be plagued by its effects during service in New Zealand. John Wilson and William Hyde were both discharged for chronic dysentery in New Zealand, but had contracted the disease while on service in the ‘East Indies’ (Rangoon) and India respectively. In this way, the effects of a soldier’s route through the Empire could have ongoing effects on his health for the rest of his service, and indeed his life.
In some cases, the reason for discharge was not a specific incident or illness, but rather the cumulative effects of performing the duty of a soldier. In many cases, this manifested as chronic rheumatism. John Collins for example served for almost twenty-two years, and was discharged in 1861 with rheumatism and palsy of the hand. Charles Gallagher discharged with rheumatism in 1867 after twenty-two years of service. His medical report describes him as an “Old worn out man”. Alexander Crow also served for twenty-two years and was discharged in 1866 with chronic rheumatism attributed to “long service in New Zealand”. These men managed to avoid any significant injury or illness during their lengthy periods of service. Nevertheless, marching through rugged terrain with packs over their backs and rifles over their shoulders for over two decades clearly took its toll on their health.
The imperial soldier’s purpose was ultimately to be engaged in battle in order to secure the sovereignty of the British Empire. However, it is worth considering that active participation in battle comprised only a fraction of the experience of an imperial soldier. The WO 97 files are once removed from the individuals that they catalogue – they exist as an attempt by the bureaucracy of the British Army to keep track of its soldiers for its own pragmatic purposes. Despite that abstraction, these records enrich our understanding of the lives of imperial soldiers in New Zealand with personal information and experiences which might otherwise be obscured or omitted from the historical record. As well as looking at the outcomes of certain battles and the movement of troops through New Zealand, we can consider the outcomes of actual soldiers who served in those battles and made those journeys while acting as agents of the British Empire.
Images from the first and last forms in Sergeant John Knight's WO 97 file. WO 97/1587, TNA