War by Post and Bullet
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.
Soldiers of Empire goes to the NZHA
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
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
Unlocking a personal view of war
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.