Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

William Skipper

William Skipper :

William Skipper : New Zealand Medal

New Zealand Medal

William was born in around 1812 in Kentley, near Norwich in Norfolk. We don't know anything about his early life or family.

On the 24th February 1831 William left his job as a labourer and enlisted in the Army. He chose to join the 96th Regiment of Foot, and was given the service number 751. William was 5 feet 10 inches tall when he enlisted, with a 'dark' complexion, brown eyes and black hair. He could not write, so instead of signing his enlistment form he made 'his mark' (an 'x') instead.

The 96th Regiment was stationed at Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada when William enlisted. His service record doesn't mention any service in Canada, so we don't know whether he joined them there. The 96th Regiment had a Depot in the UK for recruiting and other tasks, so William could have served with them.

The Regiment returned to the UK in 1835. Over the next 5 years they were based in a number of different English, Scottish and Irish towns, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Enniskillen, Dublin, Liverpool, Lancaster and Chatham.

William was promoted to Corporal on the 1st October 1835. He held this rank for just 5 months though. On the 28th February 1836 he was 'tried and sentenced to be reduced'. We don't know what he had done wrong to earn this punishment. He would spend the rest of his service as a Private.

During their time in Chatham the 96th Regiment began sending detachments to New South Wales in Australia. They were acting as escorts aboard ships carrying convicts sentenced to transportation. Around 26 different detachments set sail before the whole Regiment left for Australia in August 1841.

In Australia the regiment was split between a number of different stations, including Sydney, Parramatta, Adelaide and Hobart.

Between 1844 and 1847 the 96th sent detachments from Australia to New Zealand to take part in fighting between British settlers and native Maoris. Around 110 members of the 96th were sent to Auckland, New Zealand in March 1844 in response to a Maori leader called Hone Heke cutting down a flagstaff flying the British flag. This took place in Kororareka, now called Russell.

Hone Heke cut down the flagstaff twice more in early 1845. Members of the 96th Regiment were sent to guard it. On the 11th March the Maoris attacked again. They overwhelmed the soldiers and the town had to be evacuated.

In response to this more British soldiers were sent to Kororareka, including more members of the 96th. They began to march inland and reached Hone Heke's pa in early May.

A pa was a type of fortification. They were very strongly built, well defended and difficult to capture, even by well disciplined and trained British soldiers. The British attack on the 8th May was unsuccessful, and the Maori abandoned the pa.

On the 1st July members of the 96th took part in the Battle of Ohaeawai. This was an attack on another pa. It was also strongly defended and the British lost 33 men killed and 66 wounded out of 160 involved in their attack. Again, the Maori slipped away.

In mid January 1846 the Battle of Ruapekapeka brought the Flagstaff War to an end. The British captured Ruapekapeka pa after hard fighting. Hone Heke and the British agreed peace terms. The members of the 96th returned to Auckland, and then sailed back to Hobart in January 1847.

We know that William took part in this fighting, although we can't say for certain that he was present at every battle.

The 96th Regiment left Australia in February 1849 and moved to India. They were based in Ghazipore (now Ghazipur) and Cawnpore (now Kanpur) in the modern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. They then moved to Meean Meer near Lahore in modern Pakistan.

By this time William was unwell. As the 96th's Surgeon reported, he 'is subject to chronic dysentery and cannot serve in a tropical climate in consequence. Is weak and attenuated. His disease is the result of climate and not caused by vice or intemperance. He is recommended for discharge'.

His superiors agreed, so William was returned to the UK and discharged at Chatham in Kent on the 14th September 1852. His character had been 'Very Good'. He had served for 20 years 219 days, spending half of this time overseas.

The rest of William's life remains a mystery. In 1869 the New Zealand Medal was instituted. This recognised service in the country during the wars of the mid 1840s and in later conflicts during the 1860s. It was only awarded to surviving veterans, so we know that William was still alive at this time. Only 26 members of the 96th lived to receive their medals.

Veterans of the conflicts in the 1860s had the dates they had served in New Zealand engraved on the back of their medal. Only sailors from the 1840s received dated medals. The reverse of William's medal has no dates. It was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in 1959.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Tameside Metropolitan Borough logo
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council