Friday's Faces of the Past: Military Men

This is a photograph series of three military men that are featured in our Album #224 display which we had at the New Zealand Family History Fair, 2-4 August. It is now available for viewing in the Central Auckland Research Centre for the remainder of family history month.

As any family history detective would do, we scrutinized the uniform details of these men to find clues that would help us to identify their rank and regiment. So please take a look at the photographers as we are hoping members of the public will be able to provide us with the most important information about them, their names.

Soldier #1
The uniform's sleeve chevrons denote a rank of Sergeant, and the cap style headgear has a badge insignia which dates this after 1840, as prior to this time there were only numerical cap badges. The tunic style jacket replaced waist-length coats circa 1855, so gives another indicator for determining the time period. Another subtle clue relates to his facial hair, as it can provide supporting evidence for dating a military photograph according to Robert Pols, the author of Dating Old Army Photographs. Beards and side whiskers were often worn by soldiers in the 1850s, 1860s but were less prevalent by the late 1870s.

Portrait was taken in a Dunedin studio, date unknown.

Unfortunately, this photo has not given us enough information to draw any definitive conclusions. We suspect he was a soldier with a New Zealand Volunteer regiment. Possibly the New Zealand Militia or even the Otago Constabulary?

Soldier #2
This young soldier's uniform has many distinctive clues for us to examine. Starting with the lack of chevrons on his sleeves tells us his rank was a Private. Once again, the presence of a beard let us make the assumption that the image dates between the1850s to1860s. The busby hat is a slightly shorter fur hat in contrast to a bearskin, which has a plume in the front was worn primarily by cavalry hussar regiments. Another item that stands out is the chest badge, it does not belong to this soldier because medals are worn on the left side. We considered the possibility that the image was reversed but the jacket appears to buttoned on the correct side. The only explanation for medals being worn on the right side is if they originally belonged to another soldier, usually someone within the family. We originally thought this medal might be associated with a Crimean, African or Indian campaign, but our research had lead us to believe it is not.

We have come to the conclusion that this soldier served with an Irish infantry regiment of the British Army referred to as the Fusilier Fur-cap Grenades, as he wears the cap badge of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers regiment.

Photograph taken at Rutherford Studio in Dunedin.

Soldier #3
Information in this soldier's photograph identified his rank to be of an Officer. Telltale details include the white band on his pillbox hat as well as the presence of an officer’s sash worn across the chest and over the left shoulder. The sleeve badge along with the chevrons indicates the rank of a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), in fact a Regimental Sergeant Major. Drawing on Robert Pols discussion of facial hair, he commented that ‘in the early 1900s it was customary to leave the upper lip unshaven and produce a vigorous moustache’ and soldier #3 is clearly a great example of this!

The photograph reveals that this soldier also served with an Irish infantry regiment of the British Army. Specifically, the Fusilier Fur-cap Grenades, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers regiment. Could this possibly be the same soldier as in portrait #2 but a later time in his military career?

Photograph taken in a London studio.
What can you tell us about these men? Please share your thoughts with us by posting a comment or email the Central Auckland Research Centre at

I would like to thank Mr John Binsley for his assistance with identifying the regimental badges and sharing some of his extensive military knowledge -- it was definitely a learning experience for me!


This entry was posted on Friday, 16 August 2013 and is filed under ,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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