Volunteers backbone of 1800s forces
This Waimea Rifle Volunteers Uniform jacket and helmet, in the Nelson provincial Museum’s collection, belonged to Percy Augustus Baigent (1868-1951), a member of the Waimea Rifles Volunteer Corps. The volunteers’ bright red uniforms would have looked splendid on parade but would have been a liability in the New Zealand bush.
Under the New Zealand 1858 Militia Act, which covered British subjects [ men] aged 18-60 years, there was a clause that allowed for the formation of volunteer companies. The militia and volunteers were to be the basis of New Zealand’s defence, under various acts, for many years.
The fortunes of the volunteer forces rose and fell over the years, with surges of membership during times of tension such as the Taranaki Wars in 1860, the RussianAnglo war scare of 1885, and again in the later 1890s, culminating in the South African War of 1899 to 1902, and during the 1900s when international tensions escalated between European nations. The volunteer and militia forces were remodelled by the Defence Act 1910 and volunteers were replaced with territorial forces.
We know quite a lot about Percy Augustus Baigent, the owner of this uniform and service medal. He was the son of Alfred and Sarah Baigent of Wakefield. He married Eva Evans in 1906 and they had seven children. They lived in the original ‘‘Ryversdale’’ homestead. Percy enjoyed allowing public access to his land, now known as Baigent’s bush, which was a popular picnic spot.
Percy joined the Waimea Volunteer Rifles aged 22 years. He attained the rank of sergeant and was awarded the New Zealand Twelve Years Service medal in 1902. As well as the uniform and medal, the museum holds his promotion notes, certificates, and collection of photographic negatives. Percy died at home in 1951.
To learn more about Nelson’s involvement in the Taranaki War, visit the Taranaki War 1860-2012 exhibition currently showing at the Nelson Provincial Museum, on the corner of Trafalgar and Hardy Sts.