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The Man Behind the Medals: Sgt Henry Neill of the 43rd

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.

Sgt Henry Neill

Henry Neill was born in Mallow, County Cork in 1835, and was underage when he joined the 43rd Regiment at Buttevant near Cork on the 17 th January 1852 as Pte 2753. At the time Henry Neill signed on for 10 years service – calculated from his 18 th birthday. His record shows he was some 5ft 7 inches tall, with grey eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.

The 43rd were abroad at that time, serving in South Africa in the war against the Xhosa, but were posted to India in January 1854 where Pte Neill joined them. He took part in the 43rd’s actions during the Indian Mutiny, including the march to Kirwee where the Rajah’s palace & treasury were captured. During this campaign, the 43 rd marched some 1,300 miles in atrocious conditions, with 3 officers and 44 men dying of disease/sunstroke.

The national census of 1861 records Pte Neill as being in Fort St George, Madras, and in all he served nearly 10 years in India. In 1863 however, Pte Neill’s life changed dramatically. In January he re-engaged for another 11 years with the Regiment and in April he was promoted to Corporal. Then, on the 6th October 1863 the Regiment sailed for the colonies in New Zealand.

A series of conflicts had erupted there between colonists and Maoris opposed to the sale of further land and who refused to accept Crown sovereignty (others sided with colonists), in what is now known as 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

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

It was a long journey there for Corporal Neil, made even longer due to the ship, Lady Jocelyn, having to divert to Mauritius on safety grounds. On the 7th October Corporal Neill was arrested and eventually charged with being drunk on duty.

He spent 5 days imprisoned on board the ship, and another 7 days later in New Zealand, whilst also being reduced to the rank of Private once again. Nevertheless, Pte Neill played his part in the campaign, fought against the dissident Maoris, and was awarded the New Zealand Medal.

The 43rd returned to England in July 1866 but after only 2 years were posted to the Channel Islands, with their HQ in St Helier, Jersey. It was here that Pte Neill was promoted back to
Corporal, and he served as such with the 43 rd when they were next sent to Ireland in 1869, serving at the Curragh, Dublin and then in Cork in August 1870. Their HQ there was in
Fermoy, and that was where Corporal Neill was promoted to Sergeant and recorded as such in the census of 1871.

One of a set of glass magic lantern slides that depict Captain Augustus Smith winning his VC at Tauranga during The New Zealand Wars

In 1872 the 43rd were posted back to India, but Sgt Neill was not with them, remaining at the Fermoy HQ to serve out the remainder of his service time. The Board to consider his
pension was held in Cork on 18 th February 1873, and found Sgt Neill to be suffering from Phthisis – a progressively consumptive condition, better known today as tuberculosis. The Board found that this condition was due to Sgt Neill’s ordinary exposure to military life and that it would incapacitate him on a permanent basis.

He was discharged from the Army with a pension at the age of 38.

Awards: Indian Mutiny Medal, New Zealand Medal

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