The letters, diaries, ships logs, and other reminiscences of the New Zealand Wars kept within our manuscript collection tell a variety of personal and professional stories. Many are first-hand accounts, and as a collection they cover the complete series of conflicts from the Wairau Incident of 1843, through the Flagstaff or Northern Wars that ignited only five years after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi – The Treaty of Waitangi, and continue through the Religious and Land Wars fought in Waikato, Rotorua, Gisborne, Taranaki, and Wellington throughout the 19th century (1846 – 1872).
Though there are many fascinating stories to choose from, Captain Thomas Broun’s red leather-bound letter book is a stand out. Broun was a member of an old titled Scottish family, born in Edinburgh on the 15th July 1838. Intended for the Army, Major Broun received his first commission at the age of sixteen, during the Crimean War. After the close of that war he accompanied his regiment (the 35th Royal Sussex Infantry) to Burma and then, in 1857, went on to fight in the first war of Independence in India. He was present at the assault and capture of Delhi, at the relief of Lucknow, and was attached to Lord Clyde's main force through most of his campaigns.
Following a severe case of cholera, Broun retired from the military. In 1863 he married and, after a brief stay in Scotland, emigrated to New Zealand. He brought with him letters of introduction from the Duke of Hamilton to Sir George Grey, who at once offered him a commission as Captain in the 1st Waikato Regiment, then being formed for service during the New Zealand War. He served through the whole of the war, partly in the Waikato and partly on the East Coast and was awarded the New Zealand medal.
Previously uncatalogued in the Museum’s collection, we expected his letter book to contain standard communications regarding operational aspects of his post and perhaps some descriptions of insects, indicative of his career as an entomologist post-war. Indeed, Broun wrote often about the various goings on in camps around the Mangatawhiri River. He also reported movements of Māori in that area, procured payment for his troops, and wrote to his superiors for the completion of operational tasks such as requesting fresh food rations, carpenters’ tools, and clothing.
Amidst the minutiae of day-to-day living in the camps, an affecting piece of correspondence from November 14, 1863 stood out:
“My Dear Colonel” Broun writes, “The arrival of a canoe with 2 friendly natives gives me an opportunity of reporting a circumstance which I think justifies the removal of Lieut. Nunnington either from the 1st Waikato Regt altogether but certainly from my company.” Lieutenant W. Nunnington was a Volunteer from Malborne who had arrived in New Zealand September 23, 1863. Broun continues, “The Color Sgt. complains of having been grievously insulted by him on the night of the 9th November… Lieut. Nunnington proposed although a married man to have connection with the Senior Sgt. and I am informed that this is not the first attempt on his part other NCOS [Non commanding officers] hinting at having rejected similar proposals… I would deeply regret having to place an officer under arrest to be tried by Ct Marshal on such a charge as that individual as it would bring such deep disgrace on the Rgt. to which he belongs. I trust you approve of the method adopted and that you will do your utmost to have him removed immediately and that you will send another Subaltern to relieve him.”
Unfortunately, there is not a lot more we can say about Lieut. Nunnington. Following his dismissal, Broun recommended he be appointed to the C. Transport Corps. However, he doesn’t appear in Hart’s Army List and there are only sparse mentions of him discoverable on Papers Past. We think he was cleared outward to Sydney aboard the H.S. Machin in January 1864. Despite his anonymity, Nunningtons story highlights the dimension to be found through comprehensive cataloguing projects. More and more we are uncovering and sharing these remarkable tales that provide a window into the lived experiences of people, in this case, during the New Zealand wars.