The shooting of Jeremiah Donovan

“You had better go away, or I’ll shoot you”, threatened Jeremiah Donovan when Corporal Hammerton attempted to get the man to rejoin an escort convoy on its way from Paterangi to Te Rore.

65th Regiment at Rangiaowhia, 1864

Each morning a convoy left either place with two parties of men acting as escort and on this September morning in 1864 it was no different. But now the escort, consisting of one subaltern, one sergeant, one drummer, and 30 rank and file detailed from the 40th and 65th Regiments, had marched about four miles when it was noticed Jeremiah, of the 40th, was gradually slackening his pace until he was left a distance of about 30 yards in the rear.

After the corporal issued his order to Jeremiah it was noticed that his rifle was on full cock and capped. Corporal Hammerton informed the officer in charge and he ordered the escort to halt. The men having halted, Jeremiah halted also. Sergeant Doney approached him and told him to fall in, but he answered firmly “I will not”. The Sergeant then said “how is it you won’t fall in!  Fall in man on the left.” But Jeremiah still, with a horrible curse, expressed his determination to remain where he was.

A plan was devised to take Jeremiah prisoner. This was to march on, and when passing the old redoubt let four men drop silently into the ditch, the remainder proceeding onwards. The ruse was concocted in a very few moments, and four men were detailed to secure Jeremiah, after which the officer gave the word “left face, quick march,” and the escort moved forward.  They had not, however, gone more than five paces when the bugler looked round and saw that Jeremiah had his rifle up to his shoulder and was taking aim.  He cried out, “Look out,” but these words had hardly escaped his lips when Jeremiah fired.

He had taken a deadly aim, firing into the very middle of the men, wounding three of them. The whole of the escort immediately turned round and saw Jeremiah fixing his bayonet. A section of the men were ordered to take him prisoner. They formed a semicircle around Jeremiah and then moved forward, some with their bayonets fixed. Hiram Travers, of the 65th, suddenly rushed forward but in the heat of the moment he had neglected to fix his bayonet.

Jeremiah was in the act of thrusting his bayonet into Hiriam’s breast when a shot was heard and he fell dead to the ground. There was an instant hush, the silence being broken by an officer who called out “who shot that man?”  When no one answered he gave orders to the sergeant to examine all firearms. The sergeant was in the act of obeying this order, when someone said Thomas McCoy had shot Jeremiah.  Thomas McCoy, of the 40th, was then made a prisoner.

A messenger was immediately dispatched to Paterangi for medical help and in the meantime everything was done to alleviate the suffering of the wounded men.

A part of the convoy from Te Rore now arrived on the scene. These men cut a quantity of fern which was placed in the bottom of an empty cart forming a rough bed on which the more severely wounded man was placed.

On arriving at Paterangi the injured men were taken into hospital. Jeremiah’s body was also brought in and laid in a dead tent, where it remained until after the sitting of the inquest. Thomas McCoy was kept prisoner in the guardroom awaiting the verdict. Speculation was rife as to what had possessed Jeremiah Donovan – he must either have been under the influence of delirium tremens or in a temporary fit of insanity. He was said to have had an incorrigibly bad character in his regiment.

The inquest found that Jeremiah Donovan came by his death from a gunshot wound inflicted by Private Thomas McCoy while the deceased was attempting to bayonet Private Hiram Travers. The jury was unanimously of the opinion that it was a justifiable homicide.

Jeremiah Donovan was buried in unconsecrated ground, outside the churchyard, with no religious rites. Only a fatigue party of twelve men attended, who lowered his body, sewn up in a blanket, into its last resting place.

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