Abstract For several centuries, the reputation of the working class British soldier was that of a violent, drunken boor. Yet, but the end of the nineteenth century, the working class British soldier was celebrated by the public as the expander and defender of empire. This article will assess how the change in the working class British soldier’s reputation came about, arguing that the key drivers for change were the impact of the Crimean War, and working class soldiers’ growing involvement with the British empire in the later nineteenth century.
Charlotte Macdonald and Rebecca Lenihan, Paper Soldiers: the life, death and reincarnation of nineteenth-century military files across the British Empire, Rethinking History, Volume 22, Issue 3, 2018 Abstract From the moment a man took ‘the king’s shilling’ and was sworn to serve as a soldier in the nineteenth-century British Army, his life proceeded as a file as well as a fighting man. Disorder and desertion drove the utilitarian purposes of discipline and tracking, while constant pressure to account for expenditure in lives and money added further impetus to the copious industry of military record-keeping. Individuals were enumerated, named, appraised and allocated pay. Such archives produce a disorderly silence where men are present but without voice. Carefully archived and always public, military files have a continuing currency through the post-army lives of soldiers into the twenty-first century for descendants and historians. Tracking the life of ‘files’ over time, the paper reflects on the shifting forms of knowledge produced. In particular, it notes the tensions between the densely written form of the files in a population of rank and file soldiers who were partially literate; the highly detailed individuation of the files within a heavily conformist institution, and the modernity of post-1850s record-keeping in an institution bound by tradition. It ends with a reflection on the limitations and opportunities presented by digital access to this substantial archive of imperial-colonial conflict.
John McLellan, ‘Soldiers and Colonists: Imperial Soldiers as Settlers in Nineteenth-century New Zealand’, MA Thesis, VUW, 2017 Abstract The approximately 18,000 imperial troops who arrived in New Zealand with the British regiments between 1840 and1870 as garrison and combat troops, did not do so by choice. However, for the more than 3,600 non-commissioned officers and rank and file soldiers who subsequently discharged from the army in New Zealand, and the unknown but significant number of officers who retired in the colony, it was their decision to stay and build civilian lives as soldier settlers in the colony. This thesis investigates three key themes in the histories of soldiers who became settlers: land, familial relationships, and livelihood. In doing so, the study develops an important area of settler colonialism in New Zealand history. Discussion covers the period from the first arrival of soldiers in the 1840s through to the early twentieth century – incorporating the span of the soldier settlers’ lifetimes. The study focuses on selected aspects of the history of nineteenth-century war and settlement. Land is examined through analysis of government statutes and reports, reminiscences, letters, and newspapers, the thesis showing how and why soldier settlers were assisted on to confiscated and alienated Māori land under the Waste Lands and New Zealand Settlement Acts. Attention is also paid to documenting the soldier settlers’ experiences of this process and its problems. Further, it discusses some of the New Zealand settlements in which military land grants were concentrated. It also situates such military settlement practices in the context of the wider British Empire. The place of women, children, and the regimental family in the soldier settlers’ New Zealand lives is also considered. This history is explored through journals, reminiscences, biography and newspapers, and contextualised via imperial and military histories. How and where men from the emphatically male sphere of the British Army met and married women during service in New Zealand is examined, as are the contexts in which they lived their married lives. Also discussed are the contrasting military and colonial policies towards women and marriage, and how these were experienced by soldier settlers and their families. Lastly, the livelihood of soldier settlers is explored – the thesis investigating what sort of civilian lives soldier settlers experienced and how they made a living for themselves and their families. Utilising newspapers, reminiscences, biography, and government records the diversity of work army veterans undertook in the colony is uncovered. Notable trends include continued military-style roles and community leadership. The failed farming enterprise is also emphasised. Going further, it offers analysis of the later years of life and the different experiences of soldier settlers in their twilight years, particularly for those with and without family networks in the colony. The thesis challenges the separation between ‘war’ and ‘settlement’ by focusing on a group whose history spanned both sides of the nineteenth-century world of colony and empire.
Daniel Thompson, ‘Trajectories of Violence. A Cultural History of the Enfield Rifle in the British Empire’, MA Thesis, VUW, 2017 Abstract This thesis explores the material, cultural, and political significance of the Enfield rifle in the British Empire from c. 1850 to 1870. Unravelling the weapon’s links with imperial ideology and violence, it argues that the Enfield helped to produce discourses of race, gender, and civilisation during this era. Furthermore, it contends that these discourses shaped the ways in which Britons viewed the Enfield and influenced how they saw themselves. The rifle is best known for its well-chronicled role in the 1857 Indian Rebellion, where it was central to British narratives of the conflict. While acknowledging the Indian context, this thesis aims to draw the Enfield deeper into debates about British imperial culture, comparing the rifle’s physical and discursive influence across a range of imperial spaces.
The Enfield rifle was one of the most important weapons of the nineteenth century. The product of a revolution in rifle technology, it amazed the British public and military with its accuracy and range. The weapon’s invention prompted the introduction of large scale factory production techniques in Britain. It also stimulated a massive rethinking of military tactics and was a central component of the militarisation of British society during the 1850s and 1860s. The Enfield then had extensive use in conflicts including the Crimean War, the Indian Rebellion, the New Zealand Wars, and the American Civil War. It also found a home in the burgeoning Volunteer Movement in Britain and New Zealand.
Through its use in these arenas, the Enfield had a considerable physical impact on the British Empire, but it had even greater discursive significance. During the 1850s and 1860s, discussions about the Enfield’s invention, production, and usage promoted ideas of rationality, modern science, and individualism. After the 1857 Indian Rebellion, the rifle came to epitomise British technological might and racial ‘superiority’ in the minds of Victorians. The Volunteer Force, established in 1859, embraced the Enfield as its weapon of choice and conceived of it as a weapon that embodied the Force’s values of skill, education and respectability. In the New Zealand Wars however, the rifle failed to bring the decisive victories many settlers expected, and they began to disparage the weapon as a result. Nevertheless, the Enfield was still deeply implicated in the contested process of colonisation in New Zealand. Ultimately, the Enfield’s role in these events transformed the weapon into a deeply raced and gendered object.
Jamie Hawkins Elder, Unsettling the Colony: Gender, fear and settler colonialism during the evacuation of 'refugee' settler women from Land Wars conflicts at Taranaki (1860-1861) and Poverty Bay (1865, 1868), MA Thesis, VUW, 2018 Abstract Anxiety and fear were central to the condition of settler colonialism in 1860s New Zealand. The Land Wars of the 1860s in New Zealand provoked potent anxiety about the enemy, about loved ones’ lives and about survival. The anxiety could transform into full-blown fear and panic with the onset of violence, or even the prospect or threat of violence. This thesis examines and compares evacuations of ‘refugee’ settler women and children from the sites of Land Wars conflicts in Taranaki (1860-61), and at Waerenga-a-hika (1865) and Matawhero (1868) in Poverty Bay. It explores the character and response to danger of what might be described as ‘settler anxiety’. Settlers of the 1860s used the specific term ‘refugee’ to describe the displaced settler women and children. Māori also faced displacement during the wars, though their situation is not within the scope of this thesis. The story of the Land Wars thus far has focused mainly on the narrative of the military conflict and examines events primarily as a male-centric, racial conflict. However, the time has come to examine experiences off the battlefield – of non-combatants. Women and children in particular are far more central to the history of the wars than is currently acknowledged. The first part of the thesis explores how the Land Wars ‘refugees’ coped with separation from homes and family. The second part examines how settler society, both on a formal governmental basis and on a more informal community level, reacted to the presence of ‘refugees’ emotively and with practical assistance. The research examines the language settlers used and the points they emphasised in their writing or speeches to reveal the frameworks of settler colonialism. Personal diaries, letters and memoirs are used to understand the settlers’ situations. To understand the broader reaction of settler society the thesis draws on newspapers, provincial council correspondence and records, and general government debate and legislation. This thesis argues that the existence of women and children settler ‘refugees’ during the Land Wars represented the settler colonial system in turmoil, providing evidence that the wars involved a conflict off the battlefield as well as on it. Colonists dreamed of creating a safe and secure colony where settlers could acquire land and make a livelihood to support a family. Consequently, attacks on family went to the heart of settler colonialism. The ‘refugees’ symbolised the ‘unsettling’ of settler colonialism, both literally by their locational displacement and figuratively by igniting fear about the stability of the settler colony. In response to the ‘refugee’ crisis settlers vehemently asserted their attachment to ‘home’, to prove their right to live in the colony, and promoted their solidarity with the ‘refugees’ and against enemy Māori, who they saw as threatening the settler dream. The evacuation of Land Wars ‘refugees’ is also considered for its similarities and differences to other ‘refugee’ situations internationally during the colonial era.
Banner image: Detail of Breech loading rifle, Snider action, made by the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield, England, 1861. Calibre .577, Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, DM000046 Favicon image: Thomas Matravers album, Sir George Grey Special Collections, 3-137-26d, Auckland Libraries