Octavius John Blake Marsh
The final part of my story about three brothers who joined the army in the 19th century concerns Octavius (yes, that’s quite a name!) born on 21st Jan 1829. And it’s a somewhat melancholy tale.
Once again, I know little of Octavius’ education but his military service record with the 65th Regiment of Foot still exists at the National Archives.
So, simply in terms of facts and figures, he joined the regiment on 14th June 1850, purchasing a commission as Ensign (as did his brother in the 34th) at a cost of £450, roughly the equivalent of £60,000 today.
On 28th May 1852, he purchase a promotion to Lieutenant which would have cost an additional £250, approx. £35,000 today and finally on 7th Sept 1855 he purchase his final promotion to Captain. That would have cost an additional £1,100, or approx. £160,000 today.
Regular foot regiments were the cheapest units within which to purchase commissions for would-be officers. If he had purchased the same commissions in the Life Guards (the mounted troops of the Queen’s Household Division) then the cost would have been over double.
Octavius spent his first two years’ service in England, and in the 1851 census he is recorded at the Chatham depot in Kent. Most of the regiment had shipped out to New Zealand in 1846 and Octavius finally travelled out there to join up with them, arriving in September 1852.
This was a peaceful interlude in New Zealand between outbreaks of violence between Maori tribes and the government over land rights. These intermittent actions became known later as the Maori Wars. But in the period when Octavius was a serving officer there was peace and he saw no action.
Octavius married Bedelia McGillicuddy on 19th July 1858 in Wellington, having known her since she was 13 or 14 years old. They met on the journey to New Zealand, Bedelia being taken there by her parents on the same ship as Octavius.
Two months after his marriage Octavius left the army, selling his commission but choosing to remain in New Zealand, living in Napier on the North Island.
Octavius and Bedelia were to have five children, two sons and three daughters.
It would seem that Octavius had a serious drink problem, one that worsened over the years and it would seem this led ultimately to his demise. On 13th January 1865, Octavius killed himself with his service revolver. A few days later it was reported in the Hawke’s Bay Herald:
The same newspaper later reported evidence at the coroner’s inquest where Sergeant-Major Scully of the Napier Police said, “His manner was always eccentric. I believe his demeanour lately has been such as to be dangerous to those about him. I believe differences had existed between himself and his wife which preyed on his mind.”
The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased shot himself when under the influence of temporary insanity.
Five months later, on 5th June 1865, Bedelia Marsh gave birth to a daughter, Margaretha. Bedelia remained in New Zealand, marrying again in 1873, to a Danish immigrant, Emil Semmelhag. She died in 1888.