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The Man Behind the Medals: Colour Sergeant Thomas McManus

The Man Behind the Medals 

In this blog series, SOFO Museum’s Research volunteers look at the stories behind some of the medal sets in the museum’s collection, from those that can be seen on a visit in our dedicated Medals display, to some of those that are still tucked away in the archive.

While medals will tell you a little bit about a soldier’s service, it’s only with further research that their full story can be revealed. SOFO’s Research volunteers respond to enquiries we receive through our Research Service, helping people find out more about their relatives who served in the county regiments, and raising funds to support the museum in the process. Using a combination of the museum’s records and those available elsewhere, they piece together stories like this one.


Colour Sergeant Thomas McManus

Thomas McManus first appeared in our records when he walked into the army base at Runeegunge in India on the 29th of Sept 1862, seeking to join the 43rd Light Infantry. He stated he had been born in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and gave his age as 17.5 years. Pte McManus 710 had joined the army! Like many soldiers in India, he was promptly taken ill with fever 2 weeks later and spent 11 days in hospital.

About a year later, Pte McManus & the 43rd left Calcutta for New Zealand, where there was civil unrest. The ship diverted to Mauritius on safety grounds – a lack of ballast – hence it was a long voyage. It was especially long for Pte McManus, who had disciplinary problems on the ship and was awarded 7 days confinement in the ship’s brig. He wasn’t alone – his comrade in the 43rd, Cpl. Neill, also faced charges for drunkeness on duty during the voyage.

The 43rd arrived in NZ on 11 Dec 1863, to assist in quelling Maori unrest following the British Waikatu Expedition.

The NZ Campaign was a series of small engagements, with the 43rd operating mostly in company sized detachments or smaller against a brave, skilful enemy.  The largest engagement was at Gate Pa, where a Maori force in a strong position defeated a force of regular British troops, including half of the 43rd. Fortunately for Pte McManus, he missed this, but did take part in two other important actions – Maketu and Te Ranga. Te Ranga was the decisive combat of the war and after this the 43rd were in effect garrison troops for nearly two years.  Pte Mc Manus once again had medical problems, spending 52 days in hospital in New Plymouth during the campaign.

A silver medal with Queen Victoria's image. It hangs from a blue tibbon with a vertical red stripe down its centre. The New Zealand medal.

A New Zealand medal from the museum’ display. McManus would have been awarded one like this.

The 43rd arrived back in England in July 1866, to be based initially at Portsmouth, whilst Thomas was promoted to Cpl McManus the next year – and was once again in hospital for 24 days.  In April 1868 the 43rd were posted to the Channel Islands, serving in St Helier where Cpl McManus was promoted to Sergeant.  However, a year later more disciplinary issues saw Sgt McManus demoted to Private once again.

In April 1869, the 43rd sailed for Ireland, serving at Curragh and Dublin, where Pte McManus signed on to extend his service. Promoted to Corporal again in Jan 1872, he was with the 43rd when they sailed for India in Sept 1872 and was then once again promoted to Sergeant  in July 1873.

Thomas left the 43rd in India two years later and returned to the Home Depot in March 1875 as Sgt Instructor. His health was obviously deteriorating, being in hospital again in November 1875 with bronchitis, and later with dyspepsia.

Alex Baker painting depicting a Private of the 43rd Regiment, wearing the type of uniform adopted during the New Zealand Wars

Alex Baker painting depicting a Private of the 43rd Regiment, wearing the type of uniform adopted during the New Zealand Wars

Sgt McManus now married in Ireland – to Frances Huggins – at the Cork HQ and was promoted Col/Sgt in May 1877.  He transferred to the Militia – the Rifle Volunteers – in Sept 1877, joining the Shropshire Volunteer Rifle Corps at Shrewsbury.  It was quite usual for old senior NCOs to serve as the core of Volunteer units, the professionals amidst the very amateur officers. The family settled in Market Drayton, and had 8 children there, though sadly losing 2 as infants.

This was a time of change for the British Army, with the Childers Reforms of 1881 putting Regiments on a geographical basis with 2 Battalions each. The 43rd joined with the 52nd to become the Oxfordshire Light Infantry based in Oxford, whilst the Shrewsbury regiment became the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. Hence Col/Sgt McManus transferred regiments, probably much to his disgust.


C/Sgt McManus was finally discharged from Army in Feb 1891, after over 28 years’ service. The Census of 1891 recorded him as the publican at the Bell in Market Drayton, but this does not seem to have lasted long, since Kelly’s Almanac of 1895 had him as deputy Registrar of Births/Deaths – an office job.


Thomas McManus died in Market Drayton in 1903 aged only about 58.  In many ways he was typical of the Victorian soldier; a man of Irish background; a man who served all round the world often in very hazardous conditions which seriously affected his health; a man who probably had issues at times, but a man who knew no other life outside the army, and a man who loyally served the colours.


Awards: New Zealand Medal, Long Service & Good Conduct Medal

Examples from the museum’s collection of the medals awarded to Col/Sgt McManus

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