William Henry Free

Born, 9 November 1825, County Wicklow, Ireland

Died, 25 January 1919, New Plymouth, New Zealand

Corporal Free, 58th Regiment, Auckland, about 1850

We were within a hundred yards of the pa when the advance began. When we got to within about fifty paces of the pa we gave a great ‘Hurrah!’ and went at it with a rush, our best speed and divil take the hindmost.

Corporal Free

58th Regiment, the stormimg party Ohaeawi (1 July 1845)

This film footage is the veterans march past at Pukekura Park, 27 January 1911 on the occasion of the Governor’s visit to New Plymouth. W H Free, then aged 85, is clearly visible closest to the camera in the third row – which is behind the two rows of uniformed soldiers.

 

William Henry Free was born on 9 November 1825, in County Wicklow, Ireland.

Information about W.H. Free’s parents may never be known. In his Army Records they appear as William and Mary Free. W.H. Free’s death certificate agrees and also lists his father’s occupation as “Farmer”. However, in his first wedding, in 1853, he lists his father as Robert Free. It is possible that his father was a ‘William Robert Free’ and known as Robert.

During and after the Irish Rebellion of 1798 it has been reported that the violence and destruction in County Wicklow was such that afterwards not a single building was left standing. Certainly, in the upheaval and on-going poverty in the area records of genealogical interest were infrequently kept – so far none have been found.

The surname Free is uncommon in Ireland. There was Free family group in Dublin (not far from Wicklow) and another Irish Free family that settled in the Christchurch area of New Zealand a generation later than W. H. Free. Both family groups used William, Henry and Mary as first & middle names. However, despite significant attempts to connect them no relationship has been found.

A fellow researcher suggests W.H Free’s father, or more likely grandfather, may have been a French Huguenot immigrant with the surname Freeze. Which could explain the absence of W. H. Free’s baptism record in the otherwise complete set for the Catholic parishes across county Wicklow. Regardless of this possibility, it is clear that W. H. Free considered himself thoroughly and utterly Irish.

The first offical record of W. H. Free is of his enlistment with the British Army in Carlow, Ireland on 15 April 1842. Six days later he joined the 58th Rutlandshire Regiment of Foot in Dublin. At the time of enlisting his occupation was ‘Labourer’ and he was seventeen years old.

In ‘Unveiling the 58th’s hatchment in St. Marys Church’, he says he went on to Chatham in December 1842.

James Cowan recorded his experience differently (or perhaps with more detail) as: ‘After putting in his recruit drill, he was sent with his regiment (then armed with the old flintlock musket) to the scene of the Manchester riots.’

Certainly, the 58th’s were active in quelling these riots – in part because the soldiers were not connected to the area (many being Irish) and because of their families agricultural backgrounds they were not likely be sympathetic to its cause.

W.H. Free makes no mention of his role or involvement but after a year in the Army he is promoted to Corporal.

Above: W.H. Free about 1914. The child is assumed to be his grandson Fredie Free.

Above: H.M.S. Anson.

Assigned as a Guard Corporal in July 1843 he was on board the convict ship H.M.S. Anson (Capt. Coglin). Leaving, either from Plymouth on 1 September 1843, or Southampton 1st October, sailing via Rio, arriving Hobart, Australia on 4 February 1844. William H Free recounted his experience on this ship to James Cowan at length in one of his obituaries (below). The troops of the 58th were then relocated to Sydney and later to Windsor in New South Wales. The ship was soon afterwards converted into a floating women’s prison.

Exactly which ship and date W. H. Free arrives to New Zealand is unclear. One source states he arrived Kerikeri, on board H.M.S. British Sovereign, in May 1845 as “part of an advance guard of the 58th Regiment.” According to W. H Free it was the frigate H.M.S Hazard which would place him as an advance guard – but at the time this ship is recorded as carrying troops from the 96th. It is more likely that he arrived in Auckland with one of the two main deployments of the 58th; 24 March (280 men) under Capt Grant, or 22 April with Major Cyprian Bridge. Either option places his arrival to NZ after Hone Heke cut down the flagstaff at Kororaeka (four times) and the subsequent sacking of this town. The H.M.S Hazard was later involved in transporting troops of the 58th (incl W. H. Free) to the battle of Ohaeawai in June 1845.

W. H. Free arrives in New Zealand

Sometime between March and April 1845 Corporal Free arrives in Auckland with the 58th Regiment.

He’s soon in action in the following engagements;

  • Okaihau, 8 May 1845 (an unsuccessful attack on the Puketutu Pa)
  • Ohaeawai, 1 July 1845 (‘The storming party at Ohaeawai’)
  • Ruapekapeka, December- January 1846 – wounded


The Flagstaff War – also known as Hōne Heke’s Rebellion, the Northern War and the First Māori War – was fought between 11 March 1845 and 11 January 1846 in and around the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.[3] The conflict is best remembered for the actions of Hōne Heke who challenged the authority of the British by cutting down the flagstaff on Flagstaff Hill (Maiki Hill) at Kororāreka, now Russell. The flagstaff had been a gift from Hōne Heke to James Busby, the first British Resident. The Northern War involved many major actions, including the Battle of Kororāreka on 11 March 1845, the Battle of Ohaeawai on 23 June 1845 and the siege of Ruapekapeka Pā from 27 December 1845 to 11 January 1846.

Right, Williams, John,  d 1905; Okaihou May 8th, 1845.
Ref: A-079-029. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22310441

Corporal Free with the 58th Regiment caught up with Hone Heke at Puketutu, where a pitched battle took place. Puketutu was then Heke’s Pā. The Pa proved too difficult to defeat and the troops reteated to the Bay of Islands.

Right, Bridge, Cyprian, 1807-1885; Sketch of the action at Mawe, New Zealand, on the 8th May, 1845 by the forces under command of Lt Colonel Hulme 96th Regt. Composed of Head Quarter Division of 58th. Details &c of 96th – a few Marines & Sailors of H. M. Ships. Reference Number: A-079-00

Shows the battle of Puketutu at Lake Omapere, near Okaihou, between the Bay of Islands and Hokianga Harbour, with Royal Marines (in Blue) in the right foreground firing a Congreve rocket, ranks of soldiers (58th or 96th), Maori in the distance, the pa surrounded by the smoke of gunfire in the background at the foot of wooded hills and the shore of the lake to the right. 

A group of six red-coated soldiers (with part of a seventh on the far right) and one “friendly” Maori in the foreground, behind a low shelter, loading and shooting towards the extensive palisades of Hone Heke’s pa at Ohaiawai. The palisades are shown with rifle holes continously along the base to enable firing from behind protection; the English soldiers and their companion, on the other hand, are having to raise their heads above their shelter to fire, with the exception of those on the far right, who are behind a Maori-style palisade. There is a flag flying to the far left of the pa.

 

Above: Bridge, Cyprian (Lieutenant-Colonel), 1807-1885. View of the left angle of Heke’s pah at Ohaiawai that was stormed on the 1st July, 1845, from a breastwork adjoining our right battery. [1845].. Ref: A-079-005. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22431432

The storming party at Ohaeawai

Hero stories of New Zealand; James Cowan, 1935, pages 31-36

“We were in close order, elbows touching when we crooked them,” said the last surviving veteran of the stormers, a fine old Irish soldier, Lieut. W. H. Free, of New Plymouth, in describing to me (in the last year of his life, 1919) that charge up the bullet-swept glacis of Ohaeawai. “I was a corporal in the 58th under Major Bridge. We were in four ranks, the first two ranks with their fixed bayonets at the charge, the third and fourth ranks with bayonets at the slope. Nothing was explained to us before we advanced. We just brought our bayonets to the charge when we got the order and went at it hell-for-leather. We were within a hundred yards of the pa when the advance began. When we got to within about fifty paces of the pa we gave a great ‘Hurrah!’ and went at it with a rush, our best speed and divil take the hindmost.

“The whole front of the stockade flashed fire, from the loopholes, and in a moment we were in the hopeless fight—gun flashes from the foot of the palisade and from loopholes higher up,—yells and cheers and curses and men falling all around. The forlorn hope just ahead of us were nearly all down. Not a single Maori could we see. They were all safe in their trenches and pits, poking the muzzles of their guns under the foot of the outer palisade. We tore at their fence with bayonets and hands, but it was hopeless. The Pioneer party left all the axes and tomahawks behind; the sailors had their cutlasses but they could do little more than slash at the lashings of the fence. We were in front of the stockade for I suppose not more than two minutes and a half. From the time we got the order to charge until we got back to the hollow in which we formed up was only five to seven minutes. In that brief time we had nearly forty men killed and seventy wounded, some mortally. In our Light Company alone in the 58th we had twenty-one men shot in the charge. As we rushed at the pa a man was shot in front of me, and another was shot behind me. When the bugle sounded the retreat I picked up a wounded man and was carrying him off on my back when he was shot dead. I picked up another wounded mate and carried him out safely. Our Captain, W. E. Grant, an officer for whom all of us had a great liking, was shot dead close to the stockade. Lieutenant Beattie, who led the forlorn hope, was mortally wounded. That plucky young naval officer, Lieutenant Phillpotts, whom the Maoris called ‘Topi,’ was shot while climbing the outer palisade. Big Major McPherson was wounded. We had one-third of our troops engaged laid out by the Maori fire that day.”

 

Right, Williams, John, -1905. Ruapekapeka, N.Z. [January, 1846]. Ref: A-079-030. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23177545

Corporal Free is wounded in this conflict.

Ruapekapeka pa in the distance on a hill, with the smoke of gunfire around it. In the foreground on a flat area are British redcoats, some standing in line, some moving amongst the raupo whare of the lower pa. A cauldron is boiling on a fire on the left and the palisades of the lower pa are visible on the right. On the left, bullocks are hauling supplies (of timber?) into the flat area and fighting is continuing in the background with much gunsmoke.

 

In Wellington and the Hutt Valley, May to August 1846.

W. H. Free does not appear to have been at the fight at Boulcott’s Farm on 16 May 1846 – I assume he was either at Fort Richmond or at another Hutt Valley outpost. It is quite likely that he was in the attack of the Horokiwi pa during August 1846.

Left: [Brees, Samuel Charles] 1810-1865: Fort Richmond & the Hutt Bridge. [1845] Engraved by Henry Melville; drawn by S C Brees [1847], ATL Ref: A-109-030

Sailed to Wanganui on the “Calliope” December 1846.

In 1848 he was stationed with the 58th Regiment in Auckland NZ (Auckland being the Capital at the time) – the barrarks where next to Government House.

When Government House burned down, according to James Cowan “he often recounted the fact that he had assisted to rescue Lady Grey and carried her out of the house.” This has not been confirmed from other sources and it is possible that this story has become confused with the role soldiers of the 58th had in assisting with a major Wellington fire later in the same year. but, on balance it is likely this is true as can be seen in the following newspaper report the day after the event…

The New Zealander newspaper described this as follows on 24 June 1848:

He often recounted the fact that he had assisted to rescue Lady Grey and carried her out of the house.

James Cowan

Historian, interviewed W. H. Free in 1918

The New Zealander newspaper described this as follows on 24 June 1848:

Total Destruction of Government House by Fire

Yesterday morning, at half-past four o’clock, the sentry on duty was alarmed by a volume of flame issuing from the north wing of Government House, in immediate contiguity to the kitchen. The alarm was speedily communicated from sentry to sentry; and almost on the instant, the Corporal of the General’s guard (whose post is close to the Government gate) in conjunction with the Sergeant of the Governor’s, hastened with their men to the spot, the Corporal having previously despatched a messenger to apprise the main guard at the barracks of the impending catastrophe.
These united guards, numbering seventeen men, displayed the greatest promptitude and decision, their leaders forcing the western doors of the mansion, and rousing its inmates, who, unconscious of danger, were buried in profound repose. His Excellency the Governor immediately conveyed Mrs. Grey from the burning pile, whence she was forthwith conducted to the residence of General Pitt, where his Excellency has been necessitated to seek a temporary shelter. The guests and domestics of the establishment narrowly escaped, with scarcely a vestige of clothing. The soldiers of the two guards meanwhile, were assiduously employed, removing books, papers, and furniture, and although the fire spread throughout the building with extraordinary rapidity, such was their activity and zeal that nearly all the records of the Private and Native Secretary’s officers, (situate in the southern wing), most of the Governor’s library, and a good deal of the household furniture, were through their meritorious exertions, saved.
The 58th regiment, headed by Colonel Wynyard ; the police, under the supervision of their inspector, Captain Atkyns; together with a party of royal artillery, were shortly on the ground; not with any idea of preserving the mansion, because Auckland, alas, possesses but one of those essentials to the extinction of fire, – an engine, – but with a view to the maintenance of order, and the rescuing as much property as possible from the flames.
The Governor in person superintended the whole of the operations, and the soldiery and police laboured amid the blazing: walls with untiring ardour, until his Excellency, fearful lest the roof should fall and engulph them, directed their retiring from the perilous undertaking;-thankful, as he himself expressed it, – that no life was lost.
The Colonial and Private Secretaries were present, the latter gentleman being particularly active. The bugles of the 58th having sounded the general turn out, the inhabitants were quickly aroused, the vast concourse which hastened to render assistance being witnesses of the grand but destructive spectacle. Within an hour the entire structure, with the exception of the chimneys, was burnt to the ground

Left: The parade of the 58th and 66 Regiments at the Albert Barracks in Auckland. Painted in 1848 (Auckland Museum PD-1963-8-10).

Left: The parade of the 58th and 66 Regiments at the Albert Barracks in Auckland. Thought to be taken in the early 1850s but could as late as 1858 (Auckland Museum NEG-C34221)

Left: An undated photograph of the NCO’s of the 58th in Auckland. There is only one Corporal shown (second from the right) and it is possible that that this is W. H. Free. Quarter Master Slattery stands at extreme left – which places the date range 1848 to 1858.
This photograph is on display at the Auckland War Museum.

Transferred to the 65th Regiment on 1 November 1849. 

Purchased discharge for £4.0.0 in Wellington on 31 January 1850.

His whereabouts between February 1850 to June 1853 are unknown. He settles in Taranaki in June 1853.

Married, Martha Hunt, 13 November 1853 at Omata Church, New Plymouth. W. H. Free is then aged 28.

He appears on the List of Men in the province of New Plymouth qualified and liable to serve as jurors for the District for the year 1855 – as published in the Taranaki Herald on 14 February 1855:

Free, William, Tataraimaka, sawyer

He appears on the List of Persons qualified to serve as jurors for the District of New Plymouth for the year 1856-7 – as published in the Taranaki Herald on 15 March 1856 and again on 20 February 1858:

Free, William, Tataraimaka, farm servant

The Taranaki Rifle Volunteers is formed in 1858. All ranks where elected, W. H. Free is shown on the original roll of Taranaki Volunteers as a Sergeant – February 1859. By March 1860 he was the Colour Sergeant.

The volunteers are issued with the Enfield 1853 Rifle-Musket (below). This was a significant improvement on the flintlock musket and based on the skill and dexterity of the solider could be fired up to three times a minute.

It is worth noting that W. H. Free had demonstrated significant markmanship and had won an impressive trophy still held by his descendants.  In the recounting of the Battle of Waireka he is credited with a 300 yard shot – a remarkable distance.

Left: The Taranaki Militia and Rifle Volunteers’ efforts in 1860 were rewarded by the presentation of an impressive flag in 1861, designed and sewn by the women of the area. Note that the banner with the words “South Africa” in the top right-hand of the flag was added to the corps’ colours following their participation in the South African War.

Right, View of New Plymouth from Liardet Street in 1859. Taken from the seaward side of Liardet Street and looking south west. Marsland Hill and the Barracks can be seen on the left in the background. St Mary’s Church and many city buildings can be seen.

 

The First Taranaki War was an armed conflict over land ownership and sovereignty that took place between Māori and the New Zealand Government in the Taranaki district of New Zealand’s North Island from March 1860 to March 1861.

 

Sergeant, and later Lieutenant, W. H. Free was in action with the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers in the following engagements;

 

  • Battle at Te Kohia (not confirmed he was actualy present), 4-17 March 1860
  • Battle of Waireka, 28 March 1860
  • Mahoetahi, early November 1860

The Battle of Waireka

The New Zealand Wars; James Cowan, 1935, vol 1 pages 174-175

… Meanwhile the Volunteers and the Militia were fighting a desperate battle on the slopes above the beach. Captain Brown, who had not had any previous experience of soldiering, had wisely requested his adjutant, Captain Stapp, to take command, and that veteran of the “Black Cuffs” conducted the afternoon’s operations with the coolness characteristic of the well-skilled regular soldier. He had an old comrade with him who put good stiffening into the civilian ranks, Colour-Sergeant (afterwards Lieutenant) W. H. Free; both had been corporals in the 58th in Heke’s War. The Volunteers were armed with medium Enfield rifles (muzzle-loading), the Militia had the old smooth-bore muskets (percussion cap), such as were first served out in the late “forties.” Of ammunition there were only thirty rounds per man; no reserve supply was brought.

When the Waireka was reached where it runs down on the ironsand beach the advanced guard under Colour-Sergeant Free caught sight of a large number of armed Maoris coming down at a run from their pa on the Kaipopo ridge nearly a mile away. Free fired the first shot in the engagement, and Volunteer Charles Wilson Hursthouse (the surveyor) the second, at 400 yards range. Free and his party doubled forward and took cover behind a furze hedge and rail fence to prevent the Maoris seizing it. Resting his Minie rifle on the lowest rail of the fence, Free sighted for 300 yards and drilled a conspicuous warrior through his cap-band as was afterwards discovered. “Good for you, Free,” shouted one of the veteran’s comrades. Captain Atkinson rushed up the leading company (comprised of half the column, Volunteers and Militia mixed) in support, and took post on high ground on the south side of the Waireka, where his accurate fire kept the Maoris back for a time. However, as the number of the assailants was increased every minute by reinforcements from the pa, and as he was in danger of being outflanked, Captain Stapp ordered a retreat on Mr. John Jury’s farmhouse, a small building on a terrace above the beach. Captain Atkinson, on his own suggestion, was sent to an excellent strategic position above the Waireka Stream and on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea; from here he could command the flanks and rear of Jury’s homestead and the mouth of the Waireka. Holding this position until the battle ceased, Atkinson and his men inflicted numerous casualties on Ngati-Ruanui.

Left: Omata Stockade 1860, New Plymouth, with the Pouakai Range and Mount Egmont in the background – Watercolour by Henry Rawson.
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reference: 1985-0011-2

Above: In the photograph dated 1861 he is listed as Lieutenant Free – it is assumed that this label was added some years after the picture was taken. His commission to Lieutenant was on 8 June 1864 and he had been elected to this on 25 May 1864. It has been suggested through oral family history that he gained this role in part due to the quality of his home-brewed spirits. W. H. Free is then aged 39.

Left, prior to 1865. View of Lower Brougham Street, New Plymouth. Shows Masonic Hotel on corner of Brougham and Devon Streets and the base of Mt. Eliot / Puke Ariki on the far right of the picture. Marsland Hill Barracks visible in background.

Embarked on SS “Phoebe” 22 April 1865 as a Lieutenant in the Bushrangers to the “White Cliffs” action. Owing to a storm the troops were not landed at White Cliffs but were taken first to Auckland and then later to Patea. The Taranaki Rifle Volunteers, also records this, without mention of the diversion to Auckland, and describes that they were in fact at Opunake and in early June were involved in a ‘skirmish’ inland of Warea and destroyed a Pa.

This was W. H. Free’s last military action – he is now 40 years old.

It is not clear what occupation he was engaged in after these hostilities, but I suspect he worked as a farm labourer and/or manager. It is noted that ‘after the war he was employed by Dr. Humphries at Montosa.’

He represented Omata on the Taranaki Provincial Council, 15 September 1865 to 8 September 1869.

His election contested (it was largely uncontested in the other districts around New Plymouth). The Taranaki Herald reports on 23 September:

The result of the polling on Saturday last for candidates to represent the Omata district in the Provincial Council is as follows:

W. H. Free … 31
T . Mace … 28
A. Kingdon … 21
W. M. Crompton … 20
J. Colesby … 18

The first four were declared duly elected.

2 September 1867, he wrote to Harry Atkinson, then a member of Parliament, (whom he addressed as Major) regarding concerns over proposed legislation that would impact on the business of Odd Fellows entitlements. The original is with the Alexander Turnbull Library – with the “Atkinson Papers”.

Above: W.H. Free’s signature. From his 1867 letter to Harry Atkinson.

New Zealand Company Land Grant, 1867 (G14.157)
Bought 27 acres, Pheney Road, Section 38, Omata, 19 December 1867.

In 1869, he held Town Section No 1394.
Appears in Taranaki Crown Land Grants as granted Section 253, Kakaramea Town, on 8 February 1871 and then Section 414 Patea, Block II, Carlyle, on 29 May 1871.

Received the “New Zealand Medal” 22 July 1871 (application AD32/2835) – which was awarded for ‘having been under fire or attached to her Majesty’s Imperial Forces during the war of 1860-1870″.

Martha Free dies on 11 May 1873

FREE.-On the 11th May, Martha, wife of Mr. William H. Free, of New Plymouth, fourth daughter of Mr. Abraham Hunt, jeweler, of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. Norfolk papers please copy. Source: Death Notice in the Taranaki Herald, Wednesday 14 May 1873.

Married Mary Garde-Brown 1874, Auckland 1874.

In the Intension to Marry record (essentially a marriage licence) dated 21 May 1874 W H Free lists himself as 47 years of age, occupation as a Gardiner and his residence of Taranaki but had been in Auckland for 3 days. Mary is listed as Mary Brown, no “Garde” mentioned, occupation of Servant, aged 25 and resident of Auckland of 10 weeks. They married at St Patrick’s Church, Auckland with Rev. W. McDonald officiating.

There has been discussion in current generations of Free descendants that Mary was effectively a mail-order bride. W. H. Free’s first wife dies in May 1873 and Mary departs Ireland in November 1873 – which would align with the era’s time-frames for the exchange of mail correspondence.

While there is no direct evidence to support this but it does seem consistent that W. H. Free would appear in Auckland for three days, then marry this young Irish woman who had recently arrived to NZ.

Around or before this time W.H. Free became the farm Manager of Sir Harry Atkinson’s estate, called Hurworth – there is no exact date but this must have been before 1876 when he used ‘Hurworth’ in the name of his first child.

Sir Harry, then Major Atkinson was W.H. Free’s commanding officer in the ‘Bushrangers’ and they were in action together 1860-65. They would have also shared some political connection while W. H. Free was on the Provincial Council (1865-69).

By 1876 Sir Harry was already a senior politician and was Colonial Treasurer 1875-1891 (the worst years of the depression), Premier four times – the longest stint being 1887 to 1891 – Sir Harry died 1892.

Left: Hurworth cottage about 1894

In 1882 W H Free is 57 years old and has four children under the age of six.

WH Free appears as the contact point for a reward for the return of a Colt that strayed from Hurworth – 1 December 1875.

William Robert Hurworth Free is born, 24 November 1876, and Christened at St Mary’s, New Plymouth 7 December 1876.

Henry John Free is born 22 February 1878, and Christened at St Mary’s, New Plymouth on the same day. Died 7 July 1940 aged 62.

Bought 36 acres, Barrett Road, Section 5, Omata, Taranaki – 6 April 1878.

Bankrupt, 24 December 1879. Published in the Taranaki Herald, 27 December 1879, page 3.

Mary Gretia Annie “Anna” Free is born 22 June 1880, and Christened at St Mary’s, New Plymouth on 3 October 1880).

Is published as a Bankrupt (again), in the Taranaki Herald, 14 March 1881, page 3.

Offers a 10 shilling reward on 6 September 1881 Taranaki Herald (page 3) as follows; “Lost from Waitara East, a 4-year-old Heifer, Dark Red, branded 6 on left hip, and A on right hip. Anyone bringing the same to William Free, Waitara, may receive the above reward.”

Shown on the Return of Freeholders, as William H Free, Labourer, New Plymouth, 25 acres valued £ 75.0.0 – 1882.

Louisa Kate Free is born at Hurworth on 5 August 1882, and Christened at St Mary’s, New Plymouth on 16 August 1882. W. H. Free is 57 years old and has four children under the age of six.

March 1890, backs Mr Purdie to be promoted to the mastership of the Waitara School as a signatory to the petition to support this against the appointment of Mr Mason to this role – Taranaki Herald 19 March 1890 page 3.

William Robert Hurworth Free

William Robert Hurworth Free

born, 24 November 1876, and Christened at St Mary’s, New Plymouth 7 December 1876.
Henry John Free

Henry John Free

is born 22 February 1878, and Christened at St Mary’s, New Plymouth on the same day. Died 7 July 1940 aged 62
Mary Gretia Annie "Anna" Free

Mary Gretia Annie "Anna" Free

is born 22 June 1880, and Christened at St Mary’s, New Plymouth on 3 October 1880
Louisa Kate Free

Louisa Kate Free

is born at Hurworth on 5 August 1882, and Christened at St Mary’s, New Plymouth on 16 August 1882

Appears in the Taranaki Herald, 6 June 1891, page 2, as follows:

WAITARA.
RESIDENT MAGISTRATE’S COURT. Thursday, June 4. — Before C. C. Kettle, Esq., R.M., and J. Elliot, Esq., J P.

Herbert Mason v. William Free. — The complainant charged defendant, under the “Police Offences Act, 1884,” with having, on May 4, at Waitara, used threatening and abusive language towards him, and, with Mrs Mason, gave evidence in support of the charge. The defendant (for whom Mr Roy appeared) denied the charge, and stated that on the occasion in question he merely remonstrated with the complainant for having, in his opinion, wrongly punished defendant’s son, who was a scholar attending the Waitara State school, of which complainant is master. The case was dismissed, without costs.

Gave evidence in an assault court case (witness for the defense). This places him working all day on Saturday 5 March with James Conway (role and business activity not stated) -source – Taranaki Herald, 15 March 1892, page 2.

Attended the formal opening of the new drill hall on or near Gill Street, New Plymouth, and the unveiling of a memorial tablet for those (europeans) who fell in the ‘Maori Wars 1860 to 1866’, on 18 June 1892. (5)

Receives mention in the coverage of the Taranaki Horticultural Society – Spring show. Listed with both cabbages and potatoes. Source, Taranaki Herald, 25 November 1893 page 2.

Listed as giving evidence, in his role as Inspector for the Borough, against Martin Petire for leaving his vehicle and horses not under proper control. Taranaki Herald 12 August 1895, page 4

Above, W. H.Free in full Masonic costume.

Below: re-touched image from the same photograph.

In the Taranaki Herald on 4 November 1901 there is extensive coverage of the “Unveiling of the Hatchments at St. Marys”.

Unveiling of the Hatchments at St. Marys.
AN INTERESTING CEREMONY. The weather smiled on the ceremony of unveiling the hatchments at St. Mary’s on Sunday afternoon, and the church was crowded to the doors, while many were unable to gain admission. The Taranaki Veterans and the Volunteers and Cadets fell in at the Drill Hall and, headed by the Garrison Band, marched to the Church, which the Veterans entered first. They were an interesting group, a convincing group, looking every inch what they were — pioneers and veteran fighters — , and taking the mind back to the old days when to step beyond the town’s ramparts was to court death, they roused the keen admiration which a younger generation is always so ready to feel for the men who have “done things.”

The article continues at length describing the presenters of the hatchments for other regiments.

Mr. W. H. Free had the honour of unveiling the 58th Regiment’s hatchment. He enlisted in the regiment at Carlow on April 15th, 1842, and joined in Dublin six days later. He went to Chatham in the following December and sailed for Australia in the Lord Anson in Ju1y, 1843, landing in Sydney on February 21st, 1844. In 1845, on the outbreak of Heke’s war he sailed with his regiment for New Zealand and landed at the Bay of Islands. He took part in the engagements at Okaihau and Ohaeawae in 1845 and Ruapekapeka in 1846. In 1850 he purchased his discharge, and in June, 1853, came to Taranaki. In February, 1859, he joined the Volunteers under Major Lloyd, and was appointed Sergeant. In the following year he was appointed Color-Serjeant in Captain Atkinson’s company. He was in charge of the advance guard at Waireka, and also took part in engagements at Mahoelahi, Huirangi, Manutahi, and Kailake. On June 4th, 1864, he was appointed Lieutenant.

The article then continues with other presenters.

Above: St Mary’s Church, New Plymouth (1893-1902)
St Mary’s Church, New Plymouth. Photographer unknown: Views of New Plymouth, Taranaki and Dunedin. Ref: 1/2-002138-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22870213

Above: James Cowan, 1929, 1/1-018597, ATL

About 1904 he retires from position of Borough Inspector, New Plymouth. W H Free was then aged 79.

January 1909, gave his apologies (for not attending) the Fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Taranaki Volunteer Rifle Company. 

Around this time there are newspaper stories claiming that a solider is the last remaining from the 58th – often refuted by other solider’s and not just W. H. Free. By 1913 though there can’t have been many left and I suspect an article like this (or was this) alerted to James Cowan that W. H. Free was still alive. Source: Poverty Bay Herald 10 June 1913, page 3. 

A press message from Auckland yesterday stated that Sergeant Sage was the last survivor of the 58th, who came to New Zealand in 1845. This is not so, as Mr W. H. Free, who took part in the same engagements as Sergeant Sage, is still living, in New Plymouth.

Late 1918 and early January 1919, interviewed by James Cowan – about the “New Zealand Wars”. W. H. Free is quoted in Cowan’s 1922 “The New Zealand Wars” and again in his 1935 “Hero Stories of New Zealand”. These comments have rather taken on a history of their own and appear in quite a few New Zealand works – a partial list appears at the end of this webpage.

Died, 25 January 1919, Eliot Street (his residence) New Plymouth, New Zealand. Buried at the Te Huni Cemetery, New Plymouth.

Published obituaries for W.H. Free

This version published on the day he was buried.
Late Mr. W. H. Free
Another of Taranaki’s fast disappearing band of veterans passed away in the person of Mr. W. H. Free at his residence, Eliot Street, New Plymouth, on Saturday night at the advanced age of 93.
Deceased had a long and varied career. He came out to Australia in the ‘thirties as a member of the 18th Royal Irish as a guard on a convict ship for Van Diemen’s Land. Later he proceeded from Australia to Auckland and with his regiment took part in the Maori war in the Bay of Islands. He was in Auckland when the Government House was burned down during the time that Sir Geo. Grey was Governor, and often recounted the fact that he had assisted to rescue Lady Grey and carried her out of the house. Over 60 years ago he came to and settled in Taranaki, and as a volunteer took part in the Maori war here with the Bushrangers, under Major (later Sir Harry) Atkinson, gaining his commission as Lieutenant. He was afterwards manager of Sir Harry Atkinson’s estate at Hurworth, holding that position for many years. Later he settled in New Plymouth, and held the position of Borough Inspector here until about 15 years ago, when he retired into private life. He was well respected and highly esteemed, and was in possession of all his faculties until shortly before his death. He was an enthusiastic Mason, having been an active member of Mt. Egmont Lodge for very many years, holding a number of offices, including that of Secretary of the Lodge.
The late Mr. Free was also a prominent worker in the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows for many years. In 1865, while a member of the Egmont Lodge, he was appointed the first Noble Grand of the Excelsior Lodge at its opening in 1865. Later on he drew his clearance from the Egmont Lodge and affiliated with the Excelsior Lodge, and on several occasions filled the chair of Noble Grand continuing as a member up to the day of his death. He was Past Provincial Grand Master of the New Plymouth District, and took an active part in its affairs until increasing years compelled him to retire. He was the oldest Odd Fellow in Taranaki, having been a member over 60 years. Many years ago he was appointed a Trustee of the Lodge and retained that position until death.
He is survived by a widow and family of two sons – Messrs W. R. H Free, of the postal service, Hamilton, H. Free, Te Kuiti – and two daughters – Mrs Marvel and Miss Free. The funeral, which will be a Masonic one, and will also be attended by the Odd Fellows and Veterans, leaves the residence at 2.30pm today.

W. H. Free, Undated but likely taken only a few years before his death in 1919.

The following version is assumed to be published in the same newspaper after the funeral service.

William Henry Free, Aged 93.
The death occurred at his residence in Eliot Street on Saturday night, in his ninety-fourth year, of Mr. William Henry Free, a man who was held in the very highest respect and esteem by everyone who knew him.
Mr. Free was born in Country Wicklow, Ireland, on November 9, 1825, and enlisted in the 58th Regiment at Carlow, Country Wicklow, on April 15 1842. In July of the following year he sailed for Hobart Town with a draft of his regiment on the Anson, an old 74-gun ship, Captain Cochrane, as a guard over the convicts who were being sent out to Van Dieman’s Land. The Anson belonged to the Royal Navy, and the ship’s company, crew, guard and convicts were all amenable to naval discipline. The captain was well-known in the service as being a thorough-going martinet, and he kept up his reputation on the voyage to Australia, for scarcely a day passed but one or more of the crew or an unfortunate convict was not stretched out on the triangles and unmercifully flogged. So often was this punishment carried out that the crew and guard, in fact all on the ship, knew off by heart that portion of the “Articles of War” finishing up with “Boatswain, do your duty,” which the captain read out before the unfortunate creatures were whipped and lacerated into insensibility. The horrors of the voyage were deeply burnt onto Mr Free’s memory by having to witness, almost ever day, this brutal and degrading operation. The military guard on this ship consisted of twenty-five men posted night and day with loaded rifles on the poop, and twenty-five in different parts of the ship, those between decks carrying a brace of loaded pistols.
Arriving at Hobart Town, the Anson was turned into a female penitentiary. The crew were transferred to ships on the China station, and the draft of the 58th Regiment went on to Sydney to join the headquarters of the regiment, then stationed at Windsor, New South Wales.
On trouble arising with Hone Heke at the Bay of Islands in 1845, the regiment was ordered to New Zealand, and Mr. Free went through the Bay of Islands campaign. At the repulse on Ohaewai, where the regiment suffered heavily, he was carrying off the field the body of a dead comrade, but happening on a wounded member of his company he put down the dead man and took up the living burden and succeeded in bring him – Smith by name – off the field and into safety. Mr. Free was the last survivor of the 58th who took part in this campaign.
Purchasing his discharge from the regiment, he settled down in this district some sixty years ago, and has been a familiar and popular figure in New Plymouth ever since. On the outbreak of hostilities in 1860 he joined the active forces, and was in charge of the advance guard at Waireka, and took part in most of the actions and expeditions of the war, being promoted to the position of lieutenant in the Volunteers on active service.
After the war he was employed by the late Dr. Humphries at ‘Montosa’, and subsequently went to Hurworth to manage Major Atkinson’s farm. Later he returned to town and was employed by the Borough Council until about 15 years ago, when he retired into private life. He was well respected and highly esteemed and was in possession of all his faculties until shortly before his death. He was an enthusiastic Mason, has been an active member of Mt. Egmont Lodge for very many years, holding a number of offices, including that of secretary of the lodge.
The late Mr. Free was also a prominent worker in the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows for many years. While a member of the Egmont Lodge, he was appointed the first Noble Grand of the Excelsior Lodge at its opening in 1865. Later on he drew his clearance from the Egmont Lodge and affiliated with the Excelsior Lodge, and on several occasions filled the chair of Noble Grand continuing as a member up to the day of his death. He was Past Provincial Grand Master of the New Plymouth District, and took an active part in its affairs until increasing years compelled him to retire. He was the oldest Odd Fellow in Taranaki, having been a member over 60 years. Many years ago he was appointed a Trustee of the Lodge and retained that position until death.
Mr. Free’s reminiscences covered a wide and varied field. His memory was abnormal, and he was a born raconteur. When a younger man his store of folklore was remarkable, and it is greatly to be regretted that these stories, gathered up from Irish sources early last century, were not committed to paper and preserved.
He is survived by a widow and family of two sons – Messrs W. R. H Free (of the postal service, Hamilton) and H. Free (Te Kuiti) – and two daughters – Mrs Marvel and Miss Free.

The following item was found in the files of the NZ National Library Biographies. It filed under the date of 1957! The newspaper is not named nor the author. However, the language and quotes make it most likely a newspaper story written by James Cowan.

“A Veteran of ’45
The Storming Party at Ohaeawai
Last survivor of Despard’s “forlorn hope”.

A telegram from New Plymouth a few days ago recorded the death, at the age of 93 years, of Lieutenant William H. Free, a veteran soldier of H.M. 58th Regiment, who served in the war against Hone Heke at the Bay of Islands in 1845, and afterwards in the Taranaki wars. Mr Free was, so far as is known, the very last survivor of the British soldiers who took part in the battles of Okaihau, Ohaeawai and Ruapekapeka, the only one of the musket-armed redcoats who fought in our earliest campaign that lived to see the conclusion of the greatest war in all history. Even at his great age Mr. Free’s intellect was lively, and his memory good, and when he was visited towards the end of last year by Mr. James Cowen, the historian, who is gathering materials for the national history of New Zealand’s pioneering and Maori Wars era, now being prepared under the direction of the Hon. G. W. Russell (Minister of Internal Affairs), he was able to give many vivid details of the Hone Heke War. His account of his experiences in the famous storming party launched by Colonel Despard against the strong Maori stockade at Ohaeawai on July 1, 1845, is described by Mr Cowan as a particularly interesting contribution to our records of that much-criticised operation, an episode which is said to have provoked some strong language from the Duke of Wellington when he read the dispatches. Mr. Free’s recollections of army life went back to a period that at this day seems immensely primitive and remote.
He was born in a village in County Wicklow, Ireland in 1825, and in his seventeenth year, at Carlow, he enlisted in the 58th Regiment. After putting in his recruit drill, he was sent with his regiment (then armed with the old flintlock musket) to the scene of the Manchester riots. In 1843 he was detailed as one of the military guard to sail for Hobart Town in the convict ship Anson, an old converted 74-gun ship of war.
The Anson brought out 500 convicts sentenced to transportation to what was then called Van Diemen’s Land; three hundred of these prisoners were Londoners.
The Anson’s guard consisted of 50 soldiers of the 58th, under a captain and subaltern. There were 25 sentries always on duty, four hours watch; twelve men of these were stationed on the poop, seated on forms lashed facing the main deck, with loaded muskets between their knees. The convicts were divided into three watches; each watch was allowed on deck for three hours each day, and as there were thus over 100 prisoners always on deck during daylight hours strict vigilance was necessary. “We had 80 {number unclear} life sentence men,” the old soldier recollected. “None was in chains. There were two doctors, sentenced for forgery who had iron bands on their ankles.”

The old Flogging Days
Mr. Free had witnessed some atrocious punishments inflicted under the cruel old regime in the Army. At Chatham, just before he came out to Hobart Town, he saw a soldier literally flogged to death. This man, a good duty soldier, was given three hundred lashes in “slow time – a minute interval between the strokes. “We paraded just after breakfast, and it was twelve o’clock before the flogging was finished. Then they took him to the hospital. I went to his funeral three days later – it was all for damning the Queen.”
Even in New Zealand heavy floggings were inflicted. At Ruapekapeka, in the Heke campaign, Mr. Free saw a soldier receive one hundred and fifty lashes for drunkenness while on guard duty. The man had been on inlying piquet with Free, and somehow contrived to get liquor, and was only tied up for it.
“There was a man in our regiment, ” the ancient soldier went on, who, in fourteen years of service had received a thousand lashes, and had moreover spent seven years in punishment at various periods of his soldiering in India, England and elsewhere. He was a ‘good-duty’ soldier, but reckless, brutalised by his treatment. But good old Colonel Wynyard, who was a humane officer, tried different tactics; it was in the old Albert Barracks in Auckland after the Heke war. The soldier, a private, was up for thirteen ‘chalks’ in the twelve months. The rule was that if a man had four chalks against him for drunkenness in the year he was tried by court-martial. The man was brought before the colonel, and fully expected a flogging. When he was marched in, however, the colonel just said ‘Good morning’ addressing him by name, and told him to go back to his barracks. A few weeks later he was reported upon as a first-rate soldier, good-duty man, and a good templar. The colonel sent for him, and took him on as his orderly, and when the regiment finally left New Zealand the reformed ‘hard-case’ had five good-conduct badges on his sleeve.” Mr. Free had seen sailors flogged round the fleet. “They used to flog them round seven or eight ships,” he said; “they’d take them in a boat from ship to ship and give them so many strokes, lashed up against the ship’s side, until the sentence was complete.”

In the Northern War.
The old soldier was one of the twenty-five men of the 58th who came across to New Zealand in H.M.S Hazard, in advance of the regiment. This was just before the outbreak of Hone Heke’s war. Soon he was trudging inland in Colonel Hume’s expedition to Okaihau – “a rough shop and very short commons. The best thing there was a bayonet charge against Kawiti’s men. I didn’t get right up to the Maoris with the bayonet myself, but many of our fellows did.
“Then Ohaeawai, and Despard’s foolish “forlorn hope.” In which between thirty and forty British soldiers and sailors were killed and over seventy wounded. Mr Free, now a corporal in the Light Company of the 58th, was one of those told off for the storming party. The soldiers wore their red uniforms, with the old-fashioned high leather stock, but many of them were barefooted. They carried their full knapsacks even in the charge.
“We formed up in a little hollow,” said Mr. Free, “in close order, elbows touching when we crooked them: four ranks only 23 inches between each rank. We got the orders, ‘Fix bayonets! Prepare to charge!” and then ‘Charge!’ We went along at a steady double, the first two ranks at the charge with bayonet – the second rank had room to put their bayonets in between the front-ran men – and the third and forth ranks with muskets and fixed bayonets at the slope. When within fifty paces of the pa we cheered, and when at it at top speed and it was devil take the hindmost.
Didn’t see a single Maori all this time – only flashes and smoke, and my comrades falling all around. The Maoris, in their sheltered pits, just poked the muzzles of their guns under the outer stockade and we could do nothing.
The pa was built of great thick posts and split timber, and the front was curtained with green flax, The stockade was ten feet high and more, and we were helpless. “One man, one of the ladder party carried up a ladder and set it against the stockade. ‘Now,’ he said. ‘There it is for anyone who will go up it.’ But who’d go up the ladder” It would be going to certain death. If anyone tried it he didn’t live long before the Maori got him.
“In our light company alone we had 21 men killed in the charge. We were, I suppose, not more than two and a half minutes before the stockade, and from the time we got the first order to charge until we got back to the hollow again was only five to seven minutes.
“As we charged up a man was shot it front of me and another behind me. In the retreat I was carrying off a wounded man on my back, when he was shot dead. Then I picked up a second wounded man, a soldier named Smith, and carried him out safely. Our captain (Grant) was one of those killed. “Nothing was explained to us before we charged. We just went at the strong stockade front under orders from a colonel, who had contempt for the Maoris.”

That James Cowan interview:

The interview with James Cowan around late 1918 and early January 1919, which appears in Volume One of his influential book, The New Zealand Wars has been widely re-printed in many New Zealand histories (a partial list of appearances is below).

Of all the found re-printings only James Belich has commented that this interview is not completely reliable, if only because it is recalled from memory around seventy years after the fact, and further he is the only author (that I’ve found) who checked the original James Cowan material (now at the Alexander Turnbull Library) and uncovered and used material not used by Cowan in his original book.

  • The New Zealand Wars, James Cowan, 1922
  • New Zealand’s First War., T. Lindsay Buick, 1926 – page 168
  • Hero Stories of New Zealand, James Cowan, 1935
  • To face the daring Maoris, Michael Barthorp, 1979
  • The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict., Belich, James. Auckland, N.Z., Penguin, 1988.
  • A quote displayed in the Auckland War Museum – picture is from October 2009 (note, colours and constrast have been changed for readability):