Past Christchurch/Canterbury Personalities 2

Colonel De Renzie James BRETT M.L.C
1809 - 1889
Her Majestys 108th Foot Regiment

His age on his headstone is wrong. Should read 80 years.


I took the photos of Colonel BRETT's grave because i felt it had a story to tell and it most surely does!

I find it sad that such prominent people of the past have passed in to history and the origins of their legacies are not taught or talked about in our schools. We take for granted we have the city or country we do today but too often don't stop to think [nor educate others] about those brave, entrepreneurial people who have walked and worked our soils [and other countries as well] to become the productive places they are. De Renzie James BRETT is one of those men.
  • He was one of 25 children. This probably gave him his tenacious abilities and proclivity to fight for his rights!
  • His military service from the age of 16 reads like a novel! It's a must read...see his obituary below.
  • He arrived in New Zealand in 1865 onboard the 'Greyhound' .
  • He purchased 1000 acres just out of Courtenay in Canterbury and this was developed in to what is now Kirwee a name connected to his military days in India.
  • He was a provincial Council member for the Selwyn district and a proponent for successful water race schemes that lead to arable lands in Canterbury.
His obituary from The Star, 17 June 1889 says it all really. I have copied this below.

Another familiar face will be missed from the streets of Christchurch, and from the benches of the usually quiet Upper House this session. A brave old soldier has fought his last fight with the universal enemy of all men — death; and a warm hearted, impetuous, outspoken Irishman has made his last speech in that Legislative Chamber, whose serenity he was wont occasionally to disturb so terribly. Colonel Brett— as he was always called among us, though we believe he might rightfully have claimed the General's title— died shortly after one o'clock yesterday afternoon. He had seen yet another ten added to those three score and ten years which the Psalmist assigns as the- allotted span of life, and his death must be ascribed rather to collapse through sheer old age than to any other cause. Within the last few days he had taken his usual morning walk to the Christchurch Club to read the papers and chat in the smoking-room, and though his condition . was known to be very critical on Saturday afternoon, people generally were not aware that the old soldier was ailing. An old warrior he was— and looked; a man who had served his Queen and country in many climes, and who was proud of it; one of the type of fighting Irishmen, familiar enough in the pages of our novelists, and in real life in the Old Country, but rarely met out here, and as full as any of them of the strange combination of those emotional Keltic qualities which endear them to men of the colder British temperament, in spite of extravagances of thought and speech and action which they can neither emulate nor understand. Colonel Brett was born in Wexford, Ireland, in the year 1809, and two months ago completed his eightieth year. His father was a barrister, and resided at Clobemon Hall, Wexford, of which County he was Captain of the Yeomanry Cavalry. His school days were passed at Portora, near Enniskilllen. The headmaster at the time being Dr Knox, who was subsequently raised to the Episcopal Bench. Colonel Brett married at St Michael's Church, Limerick, in 1845, Harriet Baker Harris, daughter of Colonel Harris, of the 24th Regiment of Foot. He leaves three sons and two daughters, who survive him. The Colonel was one of twenty-five children the issue of the same parents.

Colonel Brett entered the Indian Army on May 6, 1825, when he was gazetted as Ensign to the 31st Madras Light Infantry. In this regiment he served for twenty four years, nine of them as Adjutant of the regiment, and for some time as Fort Adjutant of Bellary. In the Coorg campaign of 1834 he was under General Waugh, commanding the Northern column. During this service, when a Lieutenant, he was frequently in command of one or two companies, under heavy fire in extended order, covering the front and flanks of the advancing column. On one occasion he commanded the rear guard and repulsed several attacks made by the enemy, who were endeavouring to capture the military cash chest and commissariat stores. Finding the bullocks of the carts conveying the cash chest shot dead, he broke open the chest and distributed the bags, each of which contained 2000 rupees, to his men, taking down each man's name and general number. Two casks of spirits which were with the cash chest, he emptied into large leather water bags and thus succeeded in bringing into camp the whole of the money and a large quantity of spirits. For this valuable service he received the personal thanks of his General. Another affair at which the Lieutenant was present was the capture of the Cassinhully stockade, which was gallantly defended by the Coorgs. Lieutenant Brett was subaltern of the storming party of the Bakh stockade, situated in a very strong position on the summit of a high hill, surrounded by a dense forest and thick wood,. The desperate character of this assault can be estimated from the fact that his regiment lost six out of eight officers, and forty-seven out of sixty men killed and wounded, while H.M. 55th Regiment had seven out of nine officers and ninety-eight out of one hundred men killed and wounded. William IV., on opening Parliament, expressed his admiration of the gallantry displayed by this small force, and his regret for the unprecedented loss it had sustained. In de Warren's "History of India" honourable mention is made of Lieutenant Brett's gallantry during this campaign. In one page he is spoken of as that " heroic Brett," and in another as " the bravest of the brave." The few remaining men of this force were compelled to retire, and on their rejoining the column, below the hill, Lieutenant Brett received the thanks of his General in the presence of the whole force. The expedition was, however, successful in capturing the Rajah in his own capital, and the Lieutenant's share of the prize money was £800. Shortly after this the Lieutanant was promoted to a Company, and returned for a time to Ireland. In 1853 he had obtained a majority, and in the second Burmese war he served as a volunteer, and second in command of the Thirty-fifth Madras Native Infantry. In this position he commanded a post on an island of the Irrawady River, near Prome, five hundred miles in advance of the army, and beat off several attacks made by the enemy, for which, services he received the thanks of Admiral Austin, with whom he was cooperating. He also commanded the flank companies of the 35th Regiment at the taking of Prome. Major Brett for several months commanded a wing of the same regiment at a post two or three miles from Prome, where he repulsed several night attacks of the enemy, for which he received the thanks of General Sir John Cheap, K.C.B. Major Brett received a medal and clasp for this war, and a small sum as prize money. When the Crimean war began, the Duke of Newcastle, then Minister of War, applied to the East India Company's Directors for Major Brett's services, and appointed him to the command of four regiments of the Osmanlie cavalry, with the rank of Brigadier. On his joining the force he was immediately sent to Syria to raise a regiment, six hundred strong, of Albanian cavalry. He accomplished this mission within three months, with the assistance of only an interpreter. Major Brett embarked his new force at Alexandretta in two large transport steamers, and they reached the Dardanelles without the loss of a single man or horse. Subsequently he marched, in command of seven regiments of Osmanlie Cavalry, over the Balkans to Shumla. In recognition of the services of Brigadier Brett, and at the recommendation of the British Ambassador, the Sultan created him Leva Pasha (with the rank of Major-General) and a Knight of the Medjidee of the third class. At the close of the Crimean war he was ordered home to give evidence on the trial instigated by General Beatson, and when a few months later, intelligence of the Indian mutiny reached England, he after but twenty-four hours' notice left England to join his regiment in India. Immediately on his arrival at Madras he was ordered to join a flying column at Kurnool, and was placed on the personal staff of General Whitlock, commanding. Subsequently this force was augmented by Colonel Brett's regiment, the 3rd Madras European, when the force set forth to the relief of Delhi and Lucknow. The Nabob was defeated in a general engagement, and his fort and treasure were captured; and Colonel Brett was appointed President of the Court, whose duty it was to apportion the prize money. Sir George Whitlock led his forces on to Kirwee, where there was a strong fort in possession of a mutinous Rajah which was captured without any great resistance, the Rajah being taken prisoner, with a treasure exceeding three-quarters of a million sterling. The General gave over the command of the fort and the custody of the Rajah to Colonel Brett, who subsequently took the prize-money, under the protection of a strong escort, to Allahabad. In recognition of this service, Colonel Brett received the command of a regiment of Irregular Cavalry, with instructions to join the regiment immediately. In command of this regiment, with two guns and two companies of Europeans mounted on camels and elephants, he was for nearly two months in pursuit of the rebel chief, Tatiatopee, who, however, managed to escape capture. This duty terminated, the Colonel retired on full pay. He returned to England, there to prosecute the claim of Sir George Whitlock's column, as the actual capturers of the Banda and Kirwee booty, and, with the assistance of others, carried the case to the Admiralty Court. For his services in India, Colonel Brett received a medal and clasp, and some £5000 in prize-money.

Colonel Brett arrived at Lyttelton in the Greyhound in 1865, and soon afterwards purchased the Kirwee estate, at Courtenay, where he took great interest in local matters. In 1872 he was elected a member of the Provincial Council for the electorate of the Selwyn district, and before the Abolition initiated the Malvern water-race scheme, of the success of which he was justly proud. Since 1871 Colonel Brett occupied a seat in the Legislative Council, to which he was appointed by Sir William Fox. In the Council a couple of years ago, in moving the Address- in-Reply, he gave an eloquent panegyric on Her Majesty's Jubilee, in which he displayed the enthusiastic loyalty which was his most striking quality, and concluded with the following words, "I must solicit the indulgence of the Council for having trespassed so long on their attention, my only plea being my well-known devotion to my Sovereign, whom I have faithfully and loyally served for sixty-two years of my life." In connection with this speech it may be mentioned that Her Majesty's nephew, the Prince of Leiningen, sent the Colonel the following autograph letter : — "Admiralty House, Sheerness, "June 15, 1887. "Dear Colonel Brett,— l am much obliged to you for your kind letter and the copy of Hansard, which contains a report of your speech, and which I have read with great interest. Indeed it is a long time since we last met, and I am delighted to find you are well and occupying a high position at Wellington. My time is drawing to a close here, at Sheerness, as I haul my flag down early in July on promotion to full flag rank, which I suppose means the end of my naval career. Wishing you every happiness.— -I remain, very sincerely yours, " Leiningen." "Our successors, in the latest Burmese war, have bad plenty of fighting and rough work."
THE FUNERAL. The Hon Colonel Brett will be buried tomorrow, with military honours, and those who read the above record of his services will admit that seldom have such honours been better merited. The hour appointed for the funeral, to leave his late residence in Chester street East, is 2 p.m.
De Renzie James BRETT's death notice in paper:

Article in the Dictonary NZ Biography [with photo]:

There is a Harris De Renzie BRETT who fought in the Boer War on Cenotaph database is this his son [mentioned in the online tree further below? However on that tree it states his son was De Renzie Harris BRETT b1857.] De Renzie Harris BRETT is also mentioned on the following website as being in the 8th NZ South Island Contingent it seems likely that Cenotaph has the wrong information or that it has been wrongly transposed and then transcribed.
His military personnel files can be ordered via Archives NZ here
[please see the comment from JAMIE in the comments section]
She is buried in the grave with her husband [1]



  1. Hi Sandy, we have the pleasure of living in Colonel Brett's house at Kirwee - Kirwee House. If you are interested, drop in and see the place when you are down here sometime.

  2. Well Hello there Trevor!

    How fabulous! Thank you very much :-) Isn't it fabulous living in a property that has history. I loved our house at Balcairn...miss it heaps, even after 17 years. Here is a post i did on it

    Been ages since i've been out Kirwee way. Family have friends at Darfield, and i had a great aunt who used to be a housemaid at 'Kirkstyle' [built by the DEANS] in Coalgate in the 1930's...ironically in the 1990's, i got to know Kirkstyles then owners Vicky and Andrew Scott and had the pleasure of having lunch there with them once. Ohh! I see it's up for sale...

    I also have connections via genealogy to Killinchy and Kowhai Bush, so yes! I must get out that way again some time soon.

    Thank you for your invite :-) In the meantime maybe you might like to send a photo of your property for me to put on this post then everyone could get the pleasure of seeing another wonderful grand Canterbury home.

  3. Hi Sandy - thanks for your interesting information. I can confirm that his son was De Renzie Harris (and not the other way round) - he also lived in the ChCh area until at least the early 1900s. The daughter, Susan, actually married in NZ, not Bristol - William Easton is described as "from Bristol, England". His first wife died either before he came to NZ or shortly afterwards, I'm not sure yet. Also, I'd like to use you photos of the headstone and grave on a family tree site, if you would be happy with that. If so, how would you like to be credited as owner of the photos and when were they taken, please?

    Nick Fleet
    Tunbridge Wells, UK

  4. Hi Jamie
    Thanks so much for your comments. I have amended the info regarding Susan's marriage [the paper clipping made it look like they had married in England] and i have added a note in the post text body to read your comment regarding Harris name.

    If you send me an email to sojourn1962 at sarndra dot com i will forward you large copies of the photos to use.


  5. Wonderful, Sarndra. Interesting to note the spelling of his name on the headstone compared to that used most prolifically elsewhere.

    Coincidently, my parents moved to Kirwee (from UK) 2 yrs ago, my father having been born in India and left after partition. At the time they did not realise they were moving to a settlement named after an Indian place!

  6. Thanks Helen!

    You as much as anyone else knows the fascinating stories that can come from a dilapidated grave.

    How fascinating re your parents story! Life can be very very freaky at times :)

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment :D



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