Armed to Defend

Maitland’s Citizen Soldiers Sign Up

At 7pm on 24 October 1860, two hundred people waited in the Maitland School of Arts for the swearing-in of the recently formed Northumberland (West Maitland) Volunteer Rifle Corps’ members. The excited crowd cheered as several uniformed volunteers saluted and took their seats, this ten-page ledger was laid out on the table.

That evening, ninety local men took the oath of allegiance, signing their names on the ledger’s crisp parchment pages. To encourage West Maitland’s working men to sign up, uniforms and rifles were issued free of charge.

Following this gathering, the roll was read at every drill, meeting and parade, quickly making the pages dog-eared, grimy and wrinkled. When members resigned, a clerk drew a line through their signatures, but their names remain visible, evidence of their loyal patriotism. Arnott, Lipscombe, Rourke, Gorrick, Vindin and Wolstenholme, are some of these names.

These and other Maitland men were among thousands throughout the British Empire who, from 1859, signed up for local citizen volunteer military corps. Such groups formed following the Crimean War (1853-56) and its resulting fear of further conflict in Europe. With their motto ‘We arm to defend’, the volunteers were ready for an attack that never happened. This ledger is understood to be a very rare example of an early-made Australian muster roll.