Inside a somewhat weather-beaten black wooden box, nestled in red velvet, is a well-used silver-plated cornet along with mouthpiece and accessories. The cornet was made circa 1865 by the illustrious Parisian firm of Antoine Courtois, a family-run business established in 1789. The brass instruments the company produced were known for their “excellent workmanship and impeccable accuracy”.
The cornet (which had a melodious tone) originally belonged to Thomas Collins, who in April 1861 enlisted in H.M. 65th Regiment as a Private. Thomas’s army record described him as 18 years old, 5 foot 5½ inches tall with grey eyes and fair hair.
The 65th (York and Lancaster) Regiment of Foot, had the distinction of being the longest serving British infantry regiment in New Zealand: the 65th arrived from Australia in 1846 and stayed until 1866, a period of almost 20 years. The official nickname for the regiment was the “Royal Tigers” earned from their service in India and their regimental badge. Pākehā called them the hickety pips after the Māori transliteration of 65th - hikete piwhete.
During 1846 – 47 the 65th Regiment was active in Wellington and Whanganui; they played a significant part in the Taranaki wars and also fought in the battles at Rangiriri and Ōrākau (Waikato) between 1863 and 1864.
Because of ‘Māori unrest’ on the East Coast, a detachment of the regiment was sent to Napier 13th February 1858, on board the Eastfield. By the end of the year there were approximately 160 men along with their families, living in and around the military barracks on Napier Terrace. Close by are Sixty-fifth and Parade Streets, both named after this period in Napier’s history. The detachment remained a presence in the Hawke’s Bay region until 1866 when the Imperial forces throughout New Zealand were withdrawn and returned to England.
Thomas Collins and his wife Elizabeth were among the group stationed at Napier. Instead of returning to England, Thomas chose to be discharged and was eligible to receive an out-pension of 7d per day for fifteen months.
On 13 June 1868, the Hawke’s Bay Herald announced that the “many lovers of harmony” would be delighted to know that a town band for “processions and entertainment” had been established and that well-known cornet and bugler player, Thomas Collins was engaged as bandmaster.
During succeeding years Thomas Collins’ name appeared in the Hawke’s Bay Herald a number of times: as instructor and bandmaster and performer of cornet solos at public concerts. His name was also associated with the Resident Magistrate’s Court. On one occasion, a gentleman named Thomas Floyd was discovered in the middle of the night unlawfully under Thomas and Elizabeth’s bed. In his defence, Floyd cited his penchant for sleepwalking to unknown destinations.
In January 1871 Collins was declared bankrupt, his liabilities amounting to £90.11s.2d. The judge discharged his debts, and admonished that it did not relieve Collins from paying his debtors in the future and if he neglected to do so, he would be guilty of dishonesty. Eighteen months later Collins was again before the court claiming that the Napier Artillery Band had not paid his salary of £27. Captain Routledge of the corps in turn sued Collins for the recovery of “certain instruments and music”. One of the instruments in question
was the cornet which, although originally in the ownership of Collins, had been purchased by the band for £15. There was also a great quantity of music belonging to the band which Collins had copied and arranged for the various instruments.
It is unknown whether Collins returned the cornet to the Napier Artillery Band or whether he retained it in his possession. In the Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust’s records, the donor of the cornet is listed as ‘anonymous’ so we don’t know its full history. Tragically Thomas Collins died on 6th August 1873 of phthisis (tuberculosis) aged 29. His tōtara headstone in the old Napier Cemetery was paid for by the 65th Regiment and both the grave and headstone are in the custodianship of the New Zealand Army.
3 September 2020
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