Uniform Queens 50th Foot
Richard Pelvin while at North Waitaki, wrote of his experiences as a British Soldier. His original handwritten manuscript was dated 30th October 1889.
His writings were transcibed by Lillias Lane, and typed by Rose Pelvin of Blenheim.

Richard returned to England for a jubilee reunion with other survivers of the Battle of Aliwal (the Waterloo of India) on 28th January 1896.

The Pelvin diary was published in 2 episodes by Joseph Wilson, North Street, Timaru for the “Morning Post” Newspaper Company at the registered printing office, Stafford Street, Timaru (date for the final episode - Saturday, February 23rd, 1901.)

Annie Oakley, another family descendant, a journalist at the Timaru Herald abbreviated it and with photos it was published in several episodes in the 1970's.

Click the links or rest cursor on images to see more.        

Richard Pelvin's Diary

In the reign of His Majesty William the Fourth, on the 31st January 1837, being then only 15 years and 9 months of age, I took it into my head that I should like to enter the service of my country. Being very inexperienced, I got a person to show me where the recruiting offices were in London. He took me to a public-house called the "Blue Anchor" in York Street in Westminster, and I was enlisted in the Majesty's 50th Queen's Own Regiment of Foot, by Sergeant William Stewart of that regiment. This regiment was on service in New South Wales, at that time a convict colony.

In about a fortnight I was drafted with the recruits to Chatham, where we had plenty of drill and not too much to eat. Drill before breakfast, after breakfast, and after dinner continually. Our breakfast consisted of one pound of black bread and one pint of very bad coffee. Dinner, three-quarters of a pound of meat with bone, one pint of soup with vegetables and half a pound of bread. From 12 o'clock at dinner time till 8 o'clock the next morning we did not get a scrap of food of any sort and having no money to buy with as every recruit that joined was five or six months in debt, and only had one penny per day to buy tobacco, blacking, pipeclay, soap and any other little thing he might want.

What would you colonial volunteers think of that style of soldiering? I can tell you it was anything but refreshing for a hungry boy to turn out on a cold winter morning with a keen wind blowing, enough to cut you through, to drill on an empty stomach. The bread we got, if you threw it against a wall it would stick. It was like putty. But when dismissed from drill we used to run our hardest to see who would be in first and get the biggest pound of bread. We were so hungry that we would devour it with the greatest relish and fancy it were made of roller flour, it could not be sweeter.

Six months of that was quite enough for me and I was not sorry when I was sent on detachment to Upnor Castle some five or six miles away where we got a pint of tea in the evening, but no more food, for if you ate your half pound of bread at dinner, you got no more.

After being at Upnor for three months we got an order to join the depot again at Chatham. When we got there, ten of us were ordered to join our regiment in Sydney, New South Wales, with a party of 19 of the 51st Regiment going out by drafts to Tasmania which was relieving the 21st Regiment whose turn it was to go to India. I was one of this party.

We marched from Chatham to Gravesend one miserable, wet day, 25th October 1837, and were put aboard a lighter or barge, wet as we were and without fire or light or food, and went up with the night tide to Deptford, which we reached next morning, and embarked aboard the convict ship 'Moffatt. The next day we took on board from Deptford dockyard, 200 convicts with irons on one leg, and the other end was fastened to a strap round the waist.  

We now got on gloriously for food, one pound of meat, one pound of bread, tea, sugar or cocoa, also one and a quarter pints of rum per man for a penny, which was our beer money.

We also got full pay, as we had to do duty all the time we were on board ship. But our sea kit cost us about three pounds which made a hole in our ship clearance.

The ship then dropped down the river to Sheerness where we took 200 more convicts on board from Chatham dockyard making, in all, 400 convicts on board, who were in irons also. After being at Sheerness a couple of days, we started for Portsmouth where we remained for eight days. We then left for Tasmania, via the Cape of Good Hope

We were told off in three watches, and every musket was loaded when the convicts came on board, with ball, and kept so the whole of the voyage, but the morning watch fired off their muskets every morning when relieved, cleaned them at once and loaded again directly. There were four sentries, one on the poop, one on the main hatch, one on the fore hatch, and one on the forecastle, each with a cutlass and loaded pistols.

Convict deportation conditions on board ship The convicts irons were knocked off when we got out to sea, and were not put on again unless they misconducted themselves which very few did. The convicts were also told off in three watches, one on deck at a time, except when they had to clean their place below, when the whole guard was turned up.

The ship arrived at the Cape of Good Hope safely, and stopped there about ten days. We should have run aground there if the convicts had not worked well to save the ship, as she was drifting on the sands, but we got clear away at last, and had a very good run to Hobart Town, arriving about the end of March 1838 and laid in the Harbour about three weeks, but never was allowed on shore.

The convicts and the soldiers of the 51st Regiment were landed, and we ten recruits were left on board, which we thought was very hard on us, after being so long at sea.

We put to sea again about the middle of April for Sydney with 10 double convicts, scoundrels, on board, for Norfolk Island, and eight black convicts for a sugar plantation in Queensland.

We arrived in Sydney Harbour on 26th April, and landed on the 27th, being six months and two days on board ship, without once putting a foot on shore.

The headquarters of the 50th Regiment being in Sydney, we had no marching to do, which we were not sorry for.

After the first day or so we were at recruit drill again. We got it three times a day under a pretty smart sergeant, but instead of the weather being too cold it was too hot, and the sweat came through our pipeclay belts as if they had been soaked in water.

However, we got through that, and got returned to our duty in time, and duty then in Australia was very severe, there being so many detachments away from headquarters. We had three companies at Launceston, and three companies at Norfolk Island, at that time a penal settlement, with about 1100 double and treble convicts, murderers, bushrangers, highwaymen, burglars, the very scum of creation, who would cut your throat for a stick of tobacco.

But they had a martinet for a governor - Major Anderson of ours. He used to flog them right and left, and they have been known to take to the bush and cast lots who should die, so that the others may go up to Sydney as witness against the one that committed the murder. They considered it a reprieve for the time being as they were about three months away from work.

Well there was the Woolloomooloo Iron Gang Guard, Main Guard, Goat Island, Cockatoo Island, Barracks and Hospital Guards to be done out of 2 companies. We used to get one night in bed and then guard again next day. If you got two nights in bed, you were lucky.

But you had plenty of drill and fatigue duty to perform, carrying the men's dinners to the guard, and then their teas. After coming off guard yourself, as soon as you had a mouthful of dinner, off you went back to drill. There was only one thing that I know of that stood by the men, and that was we had one ration of rum.

Our full pay amounted to the great amount of 3d per day, under stoppages 1d per dram, but we had one consolation, that if we left our grog in the Store with the Quartermaster we got threepence halfpenny a day for it which helped us considerably; but you did not get many of the old hands to leave theirs in. Minor punishments were stopping our ration of rum; confined to barracks with extra heavy drill. In 1838 and 1839 provisions were very dear, the 2lb loaf costing 10d, and soldiers were overworked and badly fed; but we all had good health, and very few in hospital

At this time the gaol was in George Street and the sentries for it were found from the main guard, four by day and five by night. The condemned cells were at each end of the front part of the gaol with an iron door and an iron gate to each. The iron door was left open by day, and we could hold conversation (that is the Sentry) with them. I have often done so on the sly, for if caught and reported, scene of a Regimental Court Martial and very likely 100 lashes for you. I never heard one say he was guilty of murder although they were to be hung the next morning at 8 o'clock a.m. Hanging was pretty general in New South Wales, any bushranger taken with firearms was sure to be hung.

The first man I saw was Comerford(?). I was on Execution Guard, and stood about six yards from him. Quite a young man, hung for shooting a Police Constable at Port Phillip. His body was buried in the gallows yard, and slack lime thrown on it. I believe I saw about 24 men hung in about one year and nine months. One morning there were 7 (seven) prisoners (men) hung at the one time for shooting a number of natives up the country. They were assigned Servant Prisoners to different Squatters, and were entrusted with firearms to shoot native dogs that used to destroy the cattle and sheep. The natives used to do the same and come and attack them in their huts, so it appears a number of them made up their minds they would attack them. They accordingly went and killed a number of them and burnt their bodies, thinking they would never be found out, but the Government got wind of it, had an investigation, found it was true, had the men arrested, tried, found guilty, and hung all at one time. There was great sympathy for them, but it was of no avail, the Governor, Sir George Gipps being determined.

The old Gaol was abolished years ago and is now at Woolloomoolloo, which had about 300 of an iron gang quarrying stone under Captain Johnson of ours, when we used to mount Guard every day and I have seen a poor wretch who had been reported by the Ganger or Overseer, tied up and flogged getting 25 or 50 lashes on his bare back before it has got well from a previous flogging, sent to the dispensary to get his back dressed and again sent out to work quarrying stone to build the present Darlinghurst gaol in a hot broiling sun in the middle of summer. Don't think for a moment, I am romancing, for what I state here I saw with my own eyes.  

This was New South Wales fifty years ago. The soldiers' duty was to prevent the Convicts from escaping and had nothing to do with their working. The soldiers got the "lash" pretty well too for being four times drunk in a twelve month or twice drunk on duty was a Martial and safe for 100 lashes. If tried by a Garrison or District Court Martial, 150 lashes or by a General Court Martial 200 lashes or transported for life. I can assure you that soldiering was no child's play in those days.

In 1839 a mutiny broke out in Norfolk Island and among the troops stationed there of the 80th Regiment, all through Major Bunbury commanding them and who was acting Governor at the same time. The reason was this - The men of the 80th Regiment relieved the detachment of the 50th Regiment by various drafts until all the 50th were relieved. Some of the 50th had been on the island for upward of three years. For amusement the soldiers were allowed to make a garden for themselves and build a hut, keep a pig and some fowls, to pass the time, which they enjoyed, especially cock- fighting.

When the men of the 80th arrived they expected the same indulgence. They bought the gardens, huts, pigs, and fowls from the men of the 50th Regiment. The way of payment was this. The 80th men put themselves in debt in their pay- books, and it was credited in the pay-books of the 50th men, the money being advanced by the 80th officers, so there was no cash transaction, as money was valueless there and you never received any until you joined your Regiment. As soon as Major Bumbury arrived he ordered the men to make away with everything. They refused to do so, he then ordered the prisoners to destroy their things. The men would not allow them. The men of the 80th became so exasperated that one of them snatched his sword from its scabbard. The consequence was that he wrote to the Commander in Chief, Sir Maurice Consello, by the first opportunity, stating the men were in a mutinous state.  

One hundred and seventy (170) of our men were ordered down at once to relieve them and the Alligator Sloop of War of 28 guns to convey us to Norfolk Island. Captain Woolcombe of Timaru was at that time a Master Mate on board the Alligator (and if you ask him. he will tell you something about it) to take charge of the ship if there should be any disturbance. Being very young at the time and hearing the men speaking so much of the place and having so much money when they returned, I was very anxious to see the place. Accordingly I happened to be one of the draft. (I was at the time promoted to rank of Lance-Corporal.) Norfolk Island settlement 1838

We made the Island in eight days, and when the ship was opposite the Settlement we saw a large fire. The soldiers, before they would let their little properties fall into the hands of the relieving party, destroyed everything they had (quite right too) as they had bought and paid for everything they had. Before we left the Govt. had to allow us 2d per day per man as things were so very dear!!

We landed on the island the following day, and the day following the 80th Detachment embarked on board the Cornwallis, that brought us to the island, the Alligator lying on and off to convey her back again to Sydney where she arrived all safe. It was a sad thing for some of them. The ringleaders were tried by General Court Martial, and sentenced to transportation for different periods, some for life, some for 14 years, and some for seven years. Thus ended the muntiny of 1839.

I had at last got my wish, but I had not been there many months before I got weary of it, as it was very monotonous, the same round of duty every day and no excitement. The island is very small being only seven miles long by three or four miles broad, but it makes up for it by its fertility. It will grow almost all tropical fruits and vegetables, also European fruit and vegetables, oranges, lemons, guavas, bananas, plantains, sugar cane, tea, coffee, sweet potatoes, arrowroot, Indian corn, grapes, figs, apples, peaches, plums etc. A perfect garden. The Norfolk Island pine trees used to be much in request for masts for ships. There was a vessel laid on by the Government expressly for the purpose of carrying to and from Sydney. A brig called the Governor Phillip, and no other vessel was allowed to anchor in the roadstead or send ashore any of its crew upon any pretence. Phillip Island It used to be unloaded by boats from the island with convicts and a boat guard consisting of a Corporal and one man to each boat, provided with a ship's cutlass and loaded pistols, but it was a most dangerous service, for when you went you did not know whether you would return safe again as there was a large shelving rock in front of the settlement. It may be calm before you went out but before you returned the breakers may be mountains high, which no boat could live in.

The only excitement that we had was fishing from the rocks in calm weather, and a few of the men would get up a play at which the officers and men used to attend. The play was acted at a different Barrack to the one we stopped in and the Theatre was an old barrack room in what was called the old Barracks. It was a great affair I can assure you. Every man that went had to take his accoutrements and firelock (old Brown Bess) with him, loaded and ready. You would laugh if you saw them trudging along with their pouch belts over their shoulders and their muskets under their arms going to a play, which was very necessary as you did not know an hour the convicts would break out, and if they got the upper hand - might murder us all. For if one musket was fired the order was for every soldier to turn out at once.

The greatest excitement we had was when five convicts, all lifers, as we called them, made their escape in an open boat. It came about that opposite Norfolk Island is another about seven miles away, called Philip Island and on it were some wild pigs, goats, hare, and rabbits. The officers used to get leave to go there sometimes to do a little shooting for a week or two. They had a good hut to live in, and a convict to do everything he might be wanted to do. Also a soldier by the name of Kay.

The party consisted of the Commissariat, the Store- keeper, and three or four officers of the 96th Regiment, who were relieving our men by drafts from Home. At this time Captain MacConnachie, (Royal Navy) had been appointed Governor of the Island, and being a very good man, as we soldiers thought, he struck off the Boat Guard, which suited us all amazingly (you will see the result). The Officers being taken to Phillip Island were landed and the boat returned safely. In about a week or ten days when the Officers' leave had expired, the boat was sent over again to bring them away without any Guard! The first thing they did was to put all their game in the boat and then to hand in their guns to be laid in the boat. As soon as the convicts got the firearms they turned round on the Officers and drove them all up on the and bound them with their arms tied behind them, and tied some inside the hut, others outside, and served all alike. They stripped the Officers. Some lost hats, coats, vests, others trousers, watches, pocket compass and anything they took a fancy to. One convict kept sentry while the others made a sail out of a tent and large flat stones to cook on in the boat, and then made sail away. They offered the Convict his chance to escape, but he declined.

As soon as the boat was away the prisoner released himself, and then he released all the others. They then made a large fire as a signal to us. A boat was sent to them when they were brought over, and such a sight you never saw, and so crestfallen, I can tell you. It was great fun for us chaps. It was no use sending another boat after them, as we had no sails, and they got clear away. This occurred in the later end of 1840. The nearest land was New Zealand, and I often wondered whatever became of them until I was recruiting in the West of England at Bridgewater, after being in India, when I accidentally came across a soldier who was out here (New Zealand) at the time. He told me they made the Bay of Islands in safety, and gave themselves out as shipwrecked seamen to some captains of whaling ships lying there, but suspicion was aroused and the captains put their heads together, and invited them on board one of the ships, when they were seized and made prisoners. The Governor, Sir George Gipps, was made acquainted with it, and sent a vessel to fetch them to Sydney. This information I received about 1855 or early in 1856, some 15 or 16 years after the occurrence, and I do not doubt it.

Foreground: Old Military Barracks in Norfolk Island todayOur time was now drawing to a close on the Island. Some of our men had gone to Sydney, being relieved from drafts of the 96th Regiment, and the last party, of which I was one, left the Island in the Brig Governor Phillip in January 1841. We reached Sydney in about eight or ten days, when we found that we were under Orders for India, which pleased us very much. The men had a good bit of money coming to them, that arrived from Norfolk Island, and were almost allowed to do as they liked until the money was spent, for the sooner it was got rid of the better. Everyone expected a treat out of it and it was soon all gone.

I myself was made full Corporal, and had nine months' back pay to come @ 4d per day extra, which was 4.10.0 in addition to my private pay, which gave me about 7.0.0 altogether. As we were about to sail to Calcutta I saved some of it till we got there. We left in the early part of February 1841, and arrived at Calcutta about the middle of April 1841.

50th Queen's Own Regiment embarked from Sydney for India the month of February 1841 in two ships, the Lady McNaughton and Crusader, and arrived at Calcutta on the 19th April 1841.

Click   to continue the dairy of Richard Pelvin's experiences during his next twelve years as a soldier serviing in India  and the various actions he took part in until his discharge in 1863.

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