- William Holmes was born in the
village of Loscoe (near Eastwood) in Nottinghamshire,
England. He was most probably the eldest child of Joseph
and Ann Holmes. Travers quotes a family tradition that
William ran away from home,his reasons for leaving are
unknown. Potentially, he saw no future in following his
fathers trade as a blacksmith. Alternatively there may
have been some disaagreement with his parents. Whatever
happened, it was significant enough to push him towards
military services, not a popular occupation at this time.
It is understood that he had no furhter contact with his
family. His mother is shown as his next of kin in 1845.
- He enlisted in the 11th Regiment
of Foot (North Devonshire Regiment) on 8 Oct 1843, giving
his age as 18 years. He is reported to have left home and
made his way to Liverpool where he joined the Army (why
did he enlist in a North Devonshire Regiment in Liverpool).
The enlistment papers describe him as 5ft 6in in height,
of fresh complexion with blue grey eyes and dark brown
hair. His regimental number was 2159. William grew
another two inches during the next few years because his
height when he was discharged from the Devonshires is
shown as 5ft 8in.
- He left England on 15 Apr 1845 as
part of a detachment guarding convicts on the ship "Radcliffe".
William arrived in Hobart on 4 Sep 1845 and rejoined the
main body of the Regiment which had arrived in June -
July of the same year . He was probably employed as a
guard in Hobart and Launceston.
- He served with an element of the
Regiment on Norfolk Island from Jan 1846 to Mar 1847.
There were two mutinies during his time on Norfolk Is
including one on 1 Jul 1846 lead by William (Jacky-Jacky)
Westwood. This resulted in the death of three constables
and an overseer. Holmes told his family that two convicts
had drowned the cook in his own porridge. The outbreak
was contained by the troops and 13 (could be 12?)
convicts were hanged in Oct 1846.
- The detachment moved from Norfolk
Is to Port Arthur in Tasmania in Apr 1847 and stayed
there until Jun 1848. It then moved to Sydney apparently
in response to a disturbance in the NSW garrison. The
problem had subsided by the time the Regiment arrived.
The Regiment was the first unit to occupy the newly
completed Victoria Barracks on 6 Aug 1848.
- He spent the next few years
performing various guard duties at Victoria Barracks and
Cockatoo Island. He became entitled to good conduct pay
on 10 Oct 1849. He forfeited and regained it several
times in the period up to 1852. It was finally reinstated
on 17 May 1852.
- He was promoted corporal on 2 Dec
1854. On 3 Sep 1855 he married Jane Hackett . They had 11
children; Ann Jane, Emily Mary, Frederick, William,
Harriet Clarissa (may have been one of twins), Arthur,
Alfred, Henry, George, Charles, and Edith May.
- He appears to have been a frugal
person. At one time he had saved over 554 pounds. Given
his family background, he is unlikely to have received
anymore than a very basic education. However, his
handwriting is reported to have been very good and he
began to move towards administrative appointments. He was
appointed as a Military Staff Clerk or General Staff
Clerk on 31 Dec 1855. In this capacity he appears to have
filled the position of a clerk at the Brigade Office(?).
This appears to be an appointment that supported NSW
Volunteer forces. The North Devonshire Regiment was
recalled to England after the outbreak of the Crimean War
although it did not leave until Oct 1857. However,
William remained in Sydney although he remained a member
of the North Devonshire Regiment. A new family and better
opportunities in Sydney probably led to this transition.
- He was promoted to Staff Sergeant
on 12 Oct 1859 and posted as Brigade Office Clerk or
Garrison Clerk. He appears to have been involved with the
organization of the NSW Volunteer Force. During this
period, he and his family occupied half of a room 
above Door E in the main Barrack building (Building 1) at
Victoria Barracks . This building now houses
Headquarters Land Command. His married quarter (if it
could be called that) was to the west of the clock tower.
- In Oct 1860, he was first
appointed under the Colonial Grant(?) and in 1869
received the Military Medal for long service.
- In 1870, British troops were
withdrawn from NSW and on 5 Aug 1870, he was discharged
from the 11th Regiment of Foot. With the departure of
British troops, Victoria Barracks was left vacant until
1871 when NSW Permanent Military Force was established.
During of this limbo, Holmes and his family were given
permission to remain at Victoria Barracks by the NSW
Governor. On 26 Oct 1870 , he enlisted in the NSW
Military Force and retained his old rank of staff
sergeant. He was the second person to enlist after
Brigade Sergeant Major Henry Green and was given the
regimental number 2. Again he was posted as Brigade Clerk.
The family's accommodation improved marginally because
they no longer had to share the single room with another
- He was promoted warrant officer in
May 1883 as the Superintending Clerk and on 7 Oct 1887,
he was given an honorary commission as a lieutenant and
posted as Chief Clerk. It may be that as a result of his
promotion, he moved out of the Barracks into private
accommodation because when his wife died on 13 May 1888,
her address is given as 25 Begg St.
- William retired from the Army on
30 Jun 1893 with the honorary rank of captain and took up
residence at 13 Bennett St., Bondi.
- Whilst taking his young
granddaughter, Dorothy to visit his daughter Emily, he
slipped between the carriage and platform at Summer Hill
Station. Although he was not killed, it is thought that
this accident hastened his death from pneumonia in 1894.
- William Holmes was accorded a
military funeral and was buried in the C of E section of
Waverly Cemetery. A testimonial at his funeral described
- "The late Captain Holmes had
such a large stock of military intelligence that it was
remarked on several
- occassions that he was a military
encylopedia. He performed his duties intelligently,
carefully and zealously"
- On 19 August 1999, the Dining Room
at the Victoria Barracks Sergeants' Mess was named the
William Holmes Room
- © Copyright B & M Chapman (QLD)
- Last revised: October 27, 2003.