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.
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