I remember being surprised when my father stated that Captain Pye, as well as fighting in India during the mutiny, had also fought in the Maori Wars in New Zealand. I recall thinking that was this possible that Captain Pye had fought in both countries? I did not know about the histories of either country at that stage of my life. It was during the 1980s that I first heard about Captain Pye, who had been awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery during the Indian Mutiny. My father didn’t know Captain Pye’s given name then or how he was connected to our family.
My eldest sister “J” had tried to find some record of a Captain Pye being awarded a Victoria Cross in the records in Melbourne, Vic, but it was only years later when my sister “C” and I discovered he was my great, great grandfather’s eldest English-born son and records of his citation were in England, that “J” realized why she had been unsuccessful in finding records in Australia.
Now I have a wealth of information about Captain Charles Pye VC. Charles Pye was born in Forebridge, Stafford, Staffordshire, England in 1820 and about six years later the family moved to Birmingham, Warwickshire. His mother died sometime after the birth of the fifth child (between 1830 and 1836) and his father was convicted, in 1836, of housebreaking and transported for life to Australia. When he was 20 years of age Charles enlisted in Coventry with the British Army. Private Charles Pye was soon on his way to India where he was to spend the next nineteen years. He served throughout the Gwalior and Sutlej campaigns, receiving the campaign medals. From 1846 onwards, Charles began to be promoted quite consistently until he was a Sergeant Major by 1856. Charles was also a member of the Freemasons and was made a Grand Master in 1855 – I wonder if the membership helped his promotions?
Charles met the widow of a fellow soldier, Mrs Mary Ann Farrell (mother of two children), and they married on 3 January, 1857 in Calcutta. 1857 was the year that the Indian Sepoy soldiers rebelled against the English and led to what is known in England as the “Indian Mutiny” and in India as the “Indian War of Independence”.
On the 1 November, 1857 Sergeant Major Pye had been severely wounded at the battle of Khudjwa but continued with his regiment to the great battle at Lucknow. The greatest number of Victoria Crosses to be bestowed for any battle were awarded for action on the 16th and 17th November, 1857 and Charles was selected from the non-commissioned officers to receive the VC for his bravery on the 17th.
This honour resulted in Charles eventually receiving a Commission as Ensign and then Lieutenant – an almost unheard of thing for a common born man to receive a Commission (high-born men normally purchased Commissions in the Army).
At the end of the Rebellion, the 53rd Regiment returned to England in 1860 and by 1862 Charles, Mary Ann and her daughter sailed to New Zealand. When troubles broke out between the English settlers and the Maori tribes, Charles again sought to be involved and was granted a Captaincy in the Colonial Defence Force in which he served during 1863 and 1864. After the disbanding of the Defence Force Charles tried his hand at farming, not very successfully and later owning a gold mine and produce store in the Thames district, North Island.
It was probably some time during his residence in New Zealand that Captain Charles Pye discovered the whereabouts of his father in Australia and possibly at the end of 1875 Charles boarded a ship to Victoria. His obituary states that Charles intended to take his father back to New Zealand, however he actually purchased land from his father, near Kirkstall, and appears to have decided to live in Australia. Shortly afterwards, Charles fell ill and died on 12th July, 1876 and is buried in the Tower Hill cemetery. His wife, Mary Ann, stayed near her grandchildren in Mangere, New Zealand and died there in 1900.
A full history of Charles Pye is to be found in my books, “Tapestry, Many pieces of Pye” and “Tapestry, Bold Blood”.