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!
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!