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Furnish of the 77th.

A small booklet titled Military & Naval Forces, New South Wales and printed circa 1887 provides a useful section covering the active service experience of some 37 Officers and 10 Warrant Officers then serving either on the Permanent Staff or with the Volunteers. The bulk of the Officers had served with the NSW Contingent to the Sudan in 1885. `A few skirmishes and many weary marches produced much sweat, but little glory' commented Colonel A J Bennett, recalling his service in that campaign. The Warrant Officers had seen much fiercer fighting. Many served in at least two hard fought campaigns ranging from the Crimea, to New Zealand, South Africa and India. Perhaps the sharpest of this `sharp-end soldiering' was epitomised in the entry of the Sergeant Major Instructor of Musketry:
 Crimea Campaign 1854-5 (77th Foot); present at Battle of the Alma, wounded
 at Battle of Inkermann, present at the taking of the Russian Rifle pits,
 dangerously wounded in the Assault of the Redan; New Zealand Campaign 1863
 (12th Foot).

His name was James Charles Furnish. His military service commenced as an under-age recruit in 1843 and ended 45 years later in 1888 when his fellow Officers, NCOs and Men of the Military Forces, New South Wales laid him to rest in Waverley Cemetery, Sydney.

Early career and the Crimea

James Furnish was born in Norwich, England in 1826. He enlisted (underage) at 17 into the 77th Foot in December 1843. On 1 March 1846 he was promoted to Corporal and 3 years later to Sergeant. The only blemish on his record occurred in March 1854 when he was found guilty of a minor charge and reduced to Private. Within three months he was back to Corporal and in his rank took part in the Battle of the Alma on 20 September 1854, the first of the major actions in the Crimean Campaign.

Following the Battle of Inkermann on 5 November where he was wounded by a piece of shell he regained his Sergeant's stripes on 21 November 1854.

The 77th Foot then took part in the long drawn out period of trench warfare at the siege of Sebastapol. Furnish was in the attack on the Quarries on 7 June 1855, and was badly wounded during the major allied assault on Sebastapol on 17 June when British troops attempted to capture the Redan positions. He took no further part in the fighting, his severe head wound a test for the primitive hospital facilities and his own physical stamina.

The Regiment returned to Ireland in June 1856 after a treaty of peace had been signed. Furnish was promoted to Colour Sergeant in April 1857 and in May the 77th were warned for duty in the Colony of New South Wales, sailing on 1 June from Kingstown. After a stormy voyage they landed in Sydney on 30 September 1857.

The 77th in NSW

The Sydney Morning Herald described the regiment as `an exceedingly smart body of men, with all the dash and soldierly mein about them which active service in the field imparts, and which so well becomes the defenders of old England'. At 3pm on 30 September the Regiment marched from Circular Quay to Victoria Barracks, Paddington behind the bands of the Artillery and the 11th (North Devonshire) Regiment. At the Barracks, the 11th Regiment was drawn up to receive them, and after an address by their Commanding Officer Colonel Straton, the 77th piled arms and raised tents for 300 men, there being insufficient space in the Barracks until vacated by the 11th.

In October the 77th, the 11th, and the Artillery combined in a review held in the outer Domain. Watched by 8000 spectators they went through a series of evolutions; formed a square, 'charged bayonets', and volley firing. The locals were highly delighted with this martial show and `the fine cleanly, soldierly appearance of the men was the subject of general remark'. At the end of October the 11th departed for home but by the end of November the magistrates' patience was wearing a little thin with the 77th after a number of assaults on police by drunk and disorderly soldiers.

Colonel Straton took outrage at the treatment of his men stating that there were several old soldiers from the 11th regiment now in the police and that these men were jealous of the hard-won honours of the 77th, picking quarrels with Straton's men in the hope of getting them into trouble. The Regimental band attempted to soothe these problems with frequent appearances at charity concerts and a regular performance in the Government Gardens every Tuesday.

In April 1858 the headquarters of the 12th Regiment were ordered to depart Hobart for Sydney to replace the 77th who were called for service in China. In fact the Regiments' next stop was India. They embarked aboard the screw steam-ship Megaera on 20 April arriving at their destination in the dying days of the Indian Mutiny. They did not receive the Indian campaign medal or qualify for any of the battle clasps.

Treated by the Herald as heroes on their arrival in Sydney, the 77th left a mere 7 months later to the newspapers censure. `They are fine gallant fellows, although there was a sad lot of disorderlies among them and the black sheep have given a bad name to the entire flock.' No doubt this judgement mattered little to the hardy Crimean veterans who went on to nearly ten years of fighting on the North West frontier of India before they finally returned to the United Kingdom in 1870.

A return to the colonies

Colour Sergeant James Furnish had married an Irish girl, Mary Ward in 1848 whilst the 77th was serving in Ireland. Their first child did not survive infancy and it may have been the prospect of better living conditions and a healthier climate that prompted Furnish to request his discharge in October 1859 after just over 15 years service. His stated place of residence was Sydney. His conduct was noted as `very good' so he was obviously not one of the Herald's `disorderlies'.

The family returned to Sydney in early 1860. Mrs Furnish giving birth to a daughter Deborah and Mr Furnish presumably feeling at loss in civilian dress attesting for service with the 1st Battalion, 12th Regiment on 2 April 1860! His experience was appreciated and he was appointed Probationary Orderly Room Clerk in June 1860 and regained three stripes 6 months later. His previous service was allowed to reckon and his good conduct pay permitted to continue. Promoted Colour Sergeant in June 1863, he remained in this rank combined with his duties as Orderly Room Clerk until his second discharge in October 1867.

In New Zealand the 12th Regiment formed part of the garrison in New Plymouth, arriving late in 1860. They took a minor part in the Taranaki campaign of 1860 and 1861, and were also involved in a number of engagements in the second Maori war. Col. Sgt Furnish received the NZ War Medal for his campaign service. The roll gives his number as 532, (it should be 663) and lists him as James Charles Feverish. The next man on the roll also has the wrong number against his name ... James Feaver ... the gentleman writing up the roll appears to have been a little hot and flustered!

With a second daughter, Mary, born in 1866, Furnish must have decided after nearly 23 years of soldiering a slightly more sedate career would be more suitable. On his discharge papers he lists his residence to be Auckland, New Zealand, and he may have lived there for a number of years but by 1871 the family were back in Sydney and Furnish changed to another uniform for the final 17 years of his military career.

With the NSW Volunteers

The museum at Victoria Barracks holds some military documents of Sgt John Bennett late of the 77th Foot and 2nd Regiment NSW Volunteer Infantry. Like Furnish Sgt Bennett left the 77th in India in 1860 returning to Sydney and joining the permanent staff of the Colony's Volunteer Forces. When Furnish returned to Sydney in 1871 he no doubt contacted his old comrade from the Crimea days. I suspect it took very little to convince him to once again don a military uniform. Regrettably no photos appear to exist of the instructional staff at Victoria Barracks for the period of Furnish's service 1871-1887. By 1881 he was Sgt Instructor of Musketry and by 1885 Sgt Major Instructor receiving 9s6d a day and 18s 8d per week for rent, rations, fuel and light. He was living in Campbell Street, Paddington, a short walk from Victoria Barracks.

Proving the old axiom for all NCOs, `do it better than the soldiers can', Furnish entered the New South Wales Rifle Association contest in November 1881. He won the Queen's Match. This was open to all Volunteers, the winner received a prize of five pounds and the silver medal of the National Rifle Association, a forerunner of the Queen's Medal.. Furnish has added a silver suspender as used on the Crimean War medal to this medal to allow it to be worn with his other campaign medals. It hangs from a plain green ribbon with an ornate buckle and suspender brooch. The competition was held on the old rifle range at Paddington. The range was sited at the rear of Victoria Barracks roughly aligned along Moore Park Road with the butts at the Centennial Park end giving a range of up to 600 yards. The range was in use by military and naval forces until 1890 when, after a long series of complaints by workmen attempting to build the fencing around Centennial Park it was closed down. There is an amusing series of `correspondence respecting bullets flying into Centennial Park' published by the NSW Legislative Council and reprinted in the September 1990 issue of Despatch, the journal of the NSW Military Historical Society.

On 20 June 1889 Warrant Office Tuite advised the Instructor of Musketry that Mr Moore, Director of the Botanic Gardens, told him that a groundsman had been shot whilst working in Centennial Park. In a classic touch of inter service rivalry, Captain Cuthell, Instructor of Musketry advised the AAG, `this man must have been shot by one of the Royal Navy or a Marine. The reckless firing of these men is proverbial, and is common talk in Sydney as well as on the rifle range!' However the long suffering workmen on the fence building project would have received a rude awakening in the three weeks commencing 12 February 1885. William Dalley, acting premier of New South Wales, had offered the British Government two batteries of Permanent Field Artillery (only one was accepted) and a 500 strong battalion of infantry `effective and disciplined,' to be dispatched to the Sudan following the news of the death of General Gordon.

The task of ensuring the infantry matched this description no doubt taxed Furnish to the limit of his capabilities as the Senior Warrant Officer in charge of Musketry at Victoria Barracks. As recruits flooded in they were medically examined and if passed fit, signed up at the staff office and issued uniforms, weapons and accoutrements. Whilst all were from the local Volunteer Regiments there was only a small number who had seen active service in the British Army. Together with the Regiment Staff drill instructors, Sgt Major Furnish commenced an intensive course of weapon training and range practices armed at turning the `weekend volunteers' into soldiers that would be proud to take their place alongside the veteran British Regiments in the Sudan.

On 3 March 1885 he watched the Contingent march out of the Barracks bound for the front with only 16 days training behind them. No doubt his thoughts went back some 31 years to his first experience of battle: how would these men react to the massed charges of the fierce Arab warriors. But as Colonel Bennett said, `there was little glory' for the Contingent. By 23 June they were marching back up Oxford Street to Victoria Barracks, soaked to the skin by torrential rain and fed up listening to a series of political speeches welcoming them back. There had been no battles and few casualties and most of the men were more than happy to see the end of Sgt Major Furnish and his staff. Indeed at a reception in July there was groaning when the senior NCO in the Contingent, Sgt Major Michael Tuite, was presented with a silver tea and coffee service for his contribution to the efficiency of the expedition. Most of those present had been lashed by the RSM's efficient bellowing and took this opportunity to express their feelings now that they were free of his discipline.

Fading away

In June 1887 Sgt Major Furnish took leave in an attempt to improve his ailing health no doubt acquired by his old head wounds from the Crimea, but after a number of operations he died peacefully on 31 March 1888. The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 April 1888 reported under deaths: James Charles Furnish beloved husband of Mary Furnish. Late of 77th and 12th Regiments, and Musketry Instructor to the Volunteer Forces of the Colony. Age 62 years.

Furnish was buried in the Church of England Section at Waverley Cemetery. There is a handsome white marble headstone above his grave erected by the Officers, Non-commissioned Officers as men of the Military Forces, NSW. James Bennett, his old comrade from the 77th, who died three years later, lies buried 100 metres away in the Roman Catholic Section. These two men were amongst the first of a long line of Australian Soldiers to hold the respected rank of Warrant Officer. Their battlefield experience has been passed on through generations, perhaps culminating in the WOs of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, who at great personal risk worked so hard to instruct and assist the military forces of South Vietnam in the defence of that country.


But Little Glory. The NSW contingent to the Sudan, 1885. Edited by Peter Stanley

The Remote Garrison. The British Army in Australia, Peter Stanley

Despatch. Journal of the NSW Military Historical Society, July 1976, April 1977, September 1990

Town and Country Journal 19 November 1881

Military and Naval Forces NSW circa 1887

WO 100/32 Crimean War Medal Roll for the 77th or East Middlesex Regiment of Infantry

Medals International Magazine, May 1981, `NZ War Medal Roll'

Discharge Documents of Col Sgt J.C.Furnish

Waverley Cemetery Records:

Section 6, Grave No. 1796 J C Furnish

Section 8, Grave No. 1013 J Bennett

Copy of Death Certificate for J C Furnish
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Author:Downey, Michael
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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