William Allen: The Brave BugLer
William Allen was living at Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight when he enlisted in the 58th Regiment in 1839. He was just fourteen years old. Seven years later he would die, far from home, while sacrificing himself to save the lives of his comrades.
During the conflict in the Hutt Valley, in May 1846, a small group of soldiers including Bugler Allen were stationed at Boulcott’s farm. One night a group of about two hundred natives, lead by Kaparetehau, snuck through the valley in silence to reach the stockade. The first sound was a shot in the distance fired by a sentry, and immediately afterwards the natives charged into the encampment.
Rather than running, rather than reaching for a weapon and fighting back, William Allen reached for his bugle, to alert his comrades of the attack. This warning allowed the men to arm themselves, and by doing so he saved the lives of many of the soldiers, militiamen and settlers at the farm, but he gave up his life in the process.
In one unlucky tent, four men were killed. While in the act of sounding the alarm, a blow from a Maori tomahawk nearly severed Allen’s arm, and the young man fell to the ground with several wounds, but he never stopped playing his bugle, taking it with his other arm and continuing, until finally his head was nearly severed from his body.
Thanks to Allen’s sacrifice, the soldiers managed to fight off the attackers, and five of the six men (including Allen) who died during the attack were killed during the initial ambush. The other men killed were Lance Corporal James Dockrell, Private Thomas Bolt, Private James McFadyen, Private Robert Brett and Private Thomas Southam.
Lance Sergeant Edward Ingram, Private James French and the civilian Thomas Hoseman later died of wounds, and Privates Thomas Taylor, Patrick Bevan and John Ward were wounded.
It could have been a lot worse. This could have been a massacre like others that had already happened, and would continue to occur in New Zealand for decades.
The story of William Allen’s sacrifice was remembered by his contemporaries, and he was mythologised, depicted in art as a young boy, alone in the bush, unflinching as a Maori warrior approaches, tomahawk in hand.
His defiance can also be seen in a lot of contemporary writings and poetry. Take this excerpt from a poem by Catherine Redmayne of Napier as an example:
“The storming times are come, my boys,
Throughout this fertile land;
Up! Point the bayonet at ‘em, boys,
And make a gallant stand.
The Volunteers are drawn out,
The Militia appear
Array’d in dark, long, warlike garb,
Looking devoid of fear.
The regulars they march along
In military array
Though they find the Maoris rather tough,
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
They’re going to have a jolly fight
Upon next Christmas Day,
And the Pai Marires are practicing
Their part in Life’s great play.
Be up! And watchful of them, boys,
Nor sleep nor slumber long;
With eye of hawk and heart of steel,
‘Tis the weak against the strong.”
Up! Point the bayonet at them boys and make a gallant stand. The meaning behind the words is clear. The settlers of New Zealand would fight to the death to build a new ‘Rome’, a new civilised nation in an uncivilised land, and many of them did just that.
William Allen embodied the young New Zealand standing unafraid. He represented the civilised, moral European people who at the time were a very small minority in these islands. They were determined to make this land our home, and would give their all to make it a land worthy of their children. With love for each other and their descendants in their hearts, countless heroic pioneers like young William Allen gave up their own lives so that New Zealand may live.