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Thomas Bunbury (British Army officer, born 1791)

Thomas Bunbury, CB (19 May 1791 – 1862) was an officer in the British Army during the early Victorian period. He was commandant of the convict settlement at Norfolk Island for a period in 1839. He later served in New Zealand and British India.

Thomas Bunbury
Born19 May 1791
Died1862 (aged 70 or 71)
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchFlag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service1807 – 1849
Commands heldCommandant, Norfolk Island
Battles/warsPeninsular War
First Anglo-Sikh War
AwardsCompanion of the Order of the Bath


Born on 19 May 1791 in Gibraltar, Bunbury was educated in England. He joined the 90th Regiment in 1807 and fought in the Peninsular War during which he was wounded. After the war, he considered becoming an artist, spending time in Paris. In 1822, he joined the 80th Regiment, based in Malta. In 1825, he transferred to the 85th Regiment of Foot for a period of service in Spain before returning to the 80th Regiment, with which he later served in England. In 1837, Bunbury was sent to Australia and in due course the Governor of New South Wales, George Gipps, ordered him take command of the garrison and convict settlement at Norfolk Island.[1]

He was commandant at Norfolk Island from April to July 1839. As commandant, he was confident in his ability to manage the hardened convicts under his command. He wrote that he could not understand why "a villain who has been guilty of every enormity, should feel shame at having his back scratched with the cat-o-nine-tails when he felt none for his atrocious crimes." He also claimed that "if a man is too sick to work he is too sick to eat" and claimed that the queue at the hospital was halved. Although his punishments were harsh, he replaced hand hoeing with ploughs, rewarded good behaviour with improved jobs and gave older convicts lighter work. He earned the ire of the soldiers on the island by ordering the destruction of huts built on the small gardens they kept for their own use and for trafficking with the convicts. The soldiers mutinied, a warship was sent to restore peace and Bunbury was recalled in July 1839.

In 1840, after William Hobson, Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand, suffered a stroke, Bunbury was sent by Gipps to New Zealand with instructions to take over as Lieutenant-Governor if Hobson was incapacitated, but he had recovered. Bunbury took the Treaty of Waitangi to the South Island on HMS Herald and took possession of the island. He was made a magistrate in 1841 and acted as Deputy Governor in January 1844. Later in 1844 he was sent to India. While in transit to Calcutta, his ship was wrecked on the Andaman Islands. For his leadership of the 600 odd survivors until they were rescued, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath. He later served in the First Anglo-Sikh War and was present at most of the major battles of the campaign in India, including the Battle of Sobraon.[1]

Bunbury retired from the British Army on 31 December 1849 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and returned to England, marrying soon after his arrival in the country. He wrote his memoirs which were published in 1861. He died early the following year.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Foster, Bernard John (1966). "Bunbury, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas, C.B.". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.

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