The $58 Button

Would you ever pay $58 for a button?  Well I just did!  It is a very special button though – a gilt button of the 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot.  And what is so special about that, you say?  Well it was the same regiment of the British army my great-great-grandfather joined way back in 1841, so for me it is little bit of treasured family history:
About two weeks ago I googled “58th Regiment button” images for this post, and I came across a recently expired Trademe auction for this button.  I asked the seller to relist – and he did – and I promptly purchased.

It never occurred to me until I was uploading these photos that I had actually paid $58 for a button with ’58’ on it – I take that as a sign that it was meant to be!

The reverse shows the stamp of the button maker – Jennens & Co, London:
Gilt buttons were reserved for the Officer rank – my Great-great-grandfather probably would have worn a pewter button as he only reached the rank of Sergeant, however the design was the same.  You can see Gibraltar-Egypt-Maida inscribed around the edges which are apparently famous historical battles of the 58th Regiment:

These battles were well before his time, but I think his own story is quite interesting anyway, so I’ll share a little with you about my great-great-grandfather Robert, if you care to read…..

Robert signed up to the 58th Regiment in Ireland in 1841 when he was an ~18 year old shoemaker, and spent some time at the regiments’ base in Chatham, Kent.  In 1844 he sailed with 30 other men of his regiment as guards on a convict ship from  London to Tasmania.  There were 344 convict men on board, and although conditions were harsh they were much improved from the earlier convict sailings – rations were monitored and a doctor was on board to regulate the convicts health..  Garrison duty involved maintaining the guns, monitoring convicts above board during the day as they aired the bedding and scrubbed the decks, locking them up at night, and keeping general order to prevent any mutinies I suppose!  The sailing took them 13,000 miles around the Cape of Good Hope and 110 days in total were spent at sea.  Half the convicts disembarked at Hobart, and the other half were taken to Sydney, where the regiment hung out for a few months awaiting orders.

I suppose I could have ended up as an Australian if they hadn’t been called to New Zealand to help quell the rebels uprising in the Bay of Islands in April 1845.  Robert fought in several of the NZ Wars from 1845 to 1847, rising in rank from Corporal to Sergeant after the infamous battle of Ohaeawai.  This was pre-photography days so the regiment had an artist to record what was happening – this painting is of the battle at Okaihau on 8 May 1845 at 3 o’clock PM – our Robert is in there somewhere…

(from the Auckland War Memorial Museum archives)

They returned to the Bay of Islands, nicknamed ‘the Hellhole of the Pacific” due to it’s transient whaling population, where the 58th was based during peacetime.  During this time Robert was court-martialled and demoted to Private – oral family history indicates this was for acquiring rum from a visiting whaling ship.  I can’t blame him really!

Discharging from the army in 1853, he first worked as a Policeman, then opened his ‘first class shoe and bootmaking store’ in what is now Lorne Street, Auckland – about 1 block along from where I opened my boutique 140 years later!  In 1854 he married Eliza, a survivor of Ireland’s potato famine who had emigrated with her family two years prior, and they had 8 children.  Sadly 3 of them died at an early age – two of diptheria only 17 days apart.

Robert died in 1871 of a lung inflammation aged only 48, leaving Eliza widowed with 5 children, one just a baby.  However the eldest, my great grandfather, was of working age and began working at the newly established NZ Herald.  Eliza died in 1889 after caring for her senile father and raising her children to independence.  She is just one of the women from whom my country is made, and Robert is just one of the men.  And this button is just one of the remnants of their remarkable heritage today.  $58 is a bargain really.

Isn’t it amazing how a simple button can hold such stories within?!  Do you have any treasured clothing items from your family’s past?  I’d love to hear about them – let the storytime begin!

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12 thoughts on “The $58 Button

  1. I'm completely amazed. When reading the first sentence, I thought no button could be worth $58, but right now, I'm really touched by what this buttons stands for…

    As someone whose family never moved from France for centuries, I could never have guessed such a story; thank you for sharing it.

    And… what will you do with this button, now?


  2. I loved reading your family history, it could make a novel, don't you think? I would have bought that button and not eaten for a week, would have been worth it and more.


  3. AMAZING story! I love it so much! It's fantastic you know so much detail about your great-great grandfather! And I find it wonderful that you both opened stores very near to one another!


  4. I hope you find a wonderful use for that gorgeous button! The history behind it is amazing…
    I loved your mittens in the previous post! beautiful, and they will be super warm!! (I assume they are knitted in fair isle? so double the wool?)


  5. Lovely story! And I certainly think it's well worth the $58! A bargain really. I'm quite the family packrat, and certainly have some bits of clothing that has some history… I'll have to see what I can dig up.


  6. Such an amazing story! It's great to know some of your family stories and to hold a piece of the history (in this case a button) in your hands.

    It's fascinating to think how people from one island went in such different directions. My Irish ancestors went west – some to New York and some to Canada.


  7. That is not a button it is an heirloom.No I wouldn't pay $58 for any old button. But with your family connection, I'd have been prepared to pay much more.


  8. How cool is that! Brilliant history and button and how lucky you are to know and find out so much. Thank you very much for sharing and we all wanna know what you do with that amazing button. Very cool.


  9. DO you think that if your relative was part of the 49th regiment instead, it would've been $9 cheaper? haha

    I think it's really cool you're preserving some of your family's history in your own crafty way.


  10. I've been reading your blog for a while and really enjoy it. Having a not-terribly-active sewing blog of my own I appreciate how much work you put into this for us readers who get so much out of it.

    That is truly a special button!

    I was a bit amused by the comment about having been Australian if it wasn't for the regiment being then posted to New Zealand. So true! I lived in Auckland for a year a while ago, and my flatmate's mother and mine were both from England, both came out to this area of the world when they were little kids. But her mother's family went to New Zealand, my mother's family went to Australia. Hence she was the kiwi and me the Aussie! lol
    (I did used to say “At least my grandparents got off the ship at the right country” and then she would start telling me lamingtons and pavlova are really a New Zealand invention. You know how it all goes… :-D)

    I know a similar amount of my great grandfather's life. Another interesting story, but probably a bit long to write here. I am definitely going to make sure my own daughter and nephews and nieces know the story as well as I do, then they too will know about their great great grandfather like you know of yours 🙂

    Another side of my family, my great great grandfather (or maybe another great in there?) an Irish immigrant to Sydney went over to fight in the New Zealand wars too. But when they ended he came back here. Another reason why I am Australian, not Kiwi I guess!

    I have some lace of his daughter (or granddaughter?), my great grandmother. So precious to me. Collars and cuffs of a blouse and a few hankies with lace edgings. It inspired me to learn how to crochet properly so I could make my own and actually wear them on my own clothes. I didn't want to use the original for anything! The climate here in Darwin isn't kind to textiles of any sort, let alone antique Irish lace.

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your story. I too wouldn't have blinked twice at paying that or more for something that important to me.


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