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William Munson Mills with his Sikh War Medals

William Munson Mills was born on 4th February 1824 in Nayland, Suffolk to parents John William Mills and Sarah Bird. He was their eldest son and child. He was baptised on the 10th March in Nayland.

His middle name 'Munson' was the Christian name of his grandfather, Munson Mills of Beaumont, Essex. William's father, John William Mills, was a veterinarian and is reputed to have served with a troop of Dragoons at Waterloo (yet to be proven).

Death of Mother[]

William's mother Sarah died when he was only 5 years old on the 31st August 1829 in Nayland, Suffolk. Her cause of death is unknown at this time, and she was buried in Nayland on 5/9/1829. William had two siblings at the time of his mother's death - brother's George (aged 4) and Herbert (aged 2).

Father's 2nd Marriage[]

William's father John would marry for a second time at Great Tey, Essex on 16th March 1837 to Sarah Polley. The marriage is likely to have occurred in Nayland, Suffolk.

The marriage produced 3 more siblings for William. Their names were Walter John Polley, Coburg and Victoria, all born between 1830 and 1838 in Nayland. Walter was born some 7 years before his parents were married.

1841 census[]

In the 1841 census, the family are recorded at Bear Street in Nayland. Father John is recorded as 50 years old and a veterinary surgeon. His wife Sarah is aged 40, and children William (a shipwrights apprentice), George, Walter, Victoria and Coburg are all living with them. Son Herbert is recorded as an apprentice tailor with William and Lavana Martin in Crouch Street in Colchester, just across the border in Essex.

Death of Step-Mother[]

William's step-mother Sarah died on the 2nd January 1842 in Nayland and was buried at Chapple in Essex. Her cause of death is currently unknown, but can be determined by obtaining a death certificate. William's youngest twin siblings Victoria and Coburg were only 3 years old at the time. This must have been a particularly difficult time for the family, considering what William did within a week of her death.


In January 1842, William (aged 17) ran away to join the army. Family legend states that his father objected to him joining the military, but his reason is not given. Some have suggested that it was due to his father's experiences at the Battle of Waterloo, but it is also likely that his father had a particular role in mind for William in the light of his second wife's death.

To try and cover his tracks, William enrolled under his two Christian names ‘William Munson’ on the 10th January 1842 with the 3rd Regiment of Light Dragoons. This was within a week of his step-mother’s death and it is likely to have been devastating on the family. He volunteered into the 9th Lancers in the May following and went out to India. This lead to his involvement in both the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars between the Sikh's of the Punjab and the East India Company.


William told a reporter of The Observer newspaper about his experiences in India.

"In 1845 we were ordered to proceed from Meerut to the Punjaub, as the Sikhs had declared war against the British, but through delay in receiving despatches, we were not able to reach Moodkee in time to take part in resisting the attack made by the Sikhs on Sir H. Hardinge's forces on December 18, so we went on to Sobraon, where we stayed awhile. Meanwhile the Sikhs threatened at Aliwal, but as only one regiment of lancers was ordered to proceed there, Col. Campbell, of the 9th Lnacers, and Col. Cureton, of the 16th Lancers, tossed to see which should be the lucky regiment. Col. Cureton won, so that the 16th Lancers went to Aliwal, and suffered great loss in the memorable fight which occurred there."

Battle of Sobraon - First Anglo-Sikh War[]

William was at the Battle of Sobraon on 10/2/1846 and again told The Observer newspaper what he saw.

"The 9th were out looking for trouble, and they got it, for it fell to their lot to take a decisive part in the histroic battle of Sobraon against the Sikhs. So far as the 9th were concerned, we were out reconnoitring almost every other day until the morning of February 10, 1846, when we were ordered to march at 1 o'clock in the morning to engage the enemy at sunrise. A total defeat was inflicted on the Sikhs at Sobraon, which ended the campaign of the Sutlej. We crossed the River Sutlej, and two days later I well remember that, as I was on outlying picket duty, the young ruler of the Sikhs, the Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, came into our lines, and was taken to the Commander-in-Chief. Next day I was one of the escort that accompanied Sir Henry Hardinge (the Governor General) and Sir Hugh Gough (the Commander-in-Chief) to take formal possession of Lahore."

William in daughter Grace's yard

Battles of Chilianwala and Goojerat - Second Anglo-Sikh War[]

William was also at the Battle of Chilianwala on 13/1/1849, and the Battle of Goograt on 21/2/1849. He also described this to the newspaper.

"After the first war the regiment was ordered back to Meerut, where we stayed until the second Sikh War broke out. On the way up, at Moodke, I received a permanent injury. A comrade who was making down his bed in our tent accidently stuck his spur into one of my eyes, which necessitated my going into hospital at Ferozapore. The wound healed, but as the sight of the eye was gone the doctor gave me the option of rejoining my regiment or being sent home. You can imagine that I wanted to see the end of the campaign rather than go home, so that I was once more with the 9th Lancers, finding them on Christmas Day at a place called Heela. Not long afterwards the battle of Chillianwallah was fought. Every British soldier who has been in India will know that Chillianwallah was nearly a disaster for us. It was there that the 14th Hussars got the name of 'Hamilton's Runaways.'
"It was said that it was Brigadier Pope, who was wounded, who gave the order for his trumpeter to sound the retreat, and if Major Grant, afterwards General Sir Hope Grant, had not rallied our regiment we should have lost six guns. We lay there until the battle of Goojerat, on February 21 1849, was fought and won by our troops. That ended the campaign of the Punjaub and gave to 'John Company' the possesion of the Koh-i-noor diamond, and splendid territory as well. I received two medals and two clasps. I was invalided at Umballa, India in 1852, and received my discharge at Maidstone on August 12, 1852."

William purchased his discharge, so he did not receive any pension. Medals received due to his service were the Sutlej Medal (for the Battle of Sobraon) and the Pubjab Medal (for Chiliananwala and Goojerat).

Return to England[]

On returning to England, William went to Wivenhoe to resume an apprenticeship as a shipwright which he had begun before joining the military. He worked for twelve hours a day from 7am to 7pm for 7 days a week for 1/- per day. His original indenture and re-instatement are still in family hands.

William boarded on East Street in Wivenhoe. Down the road lived a family of the last names Kent and they had a daughter Mahala who succumbed to the charms of William, and they were married in the church at Wivenhoe in 1854. Both had their residence recorded as East Street, Wivenhoe, and witnesses to the marriage were Thomas Kent and Thomas Howard. Both bride and groom signed the marriage certificate.

William and Mahala were given a part of the Old Garrison House as a bridal home and they eventually had 14 children. Mahala had a very fine contralto voice, which was used to advantage singing both as a soloist and as a chorister in the Wivenhoe Church and the Colchester Cathedral.

1861 census[]

In the 1861 census, William and family are living at Maldon Street Peter, Wivenhoe in Essex. William is listed as a 35 year old ships carpenter, and Mahala's name is incorrectly transcribed as Martha. Children living with them at the time are George, Wallace and William.

1871 census[]

In the 1871 census for Essex, William and family are recorded at Rose and Crown Lane, Wivenhoe. He is listed as a 46 year old shipwirght, and Mahala as a 38 year old tailoress. Children living with them at the time include Wallace (a groom), William, Arthur, Sarah, Mahala, Victoria and Blanche.

Neighbourhood Dispute[]

The Essex Standard newspaper reports that Mahala had a dispute with one of her neighbours in Wivenhoe on Christmas Day 1873. Mary Simons accused one of Mahala's sons of breaking a window at her property. Mary apparently became very vocal, picked up half a brick, and threw it at Mahala. Mahala caught the brick in her left hand. Mary then went to throw another brick at Mahala, but her daughter intervened. Mahala testified that she thought Mary was drunk and her story was corroborated by an Emma Kent (likely a relation of Mahala). Mary was charged with assault and fined 1 shilling with 11 shilling in expenses or 14 days imprisonment. The court then ordered the husbands of both Mahala and Mary be bound over in 5 pounds each, for 'the better conduct of their partners in future'.

Journey to Australia[]

With the phasing out of wooden ships and the introduction of steel hulls, William's shipwright skills were not in great demand. By 1878 he was listening to the overtures from his brother George, who had migrated to South Australia some time earlier, and who was prepared to act as a sponsor for William and his family to move there too. William's eldest son George had also moved out to South Australia by this time, and may also have assisted.

In October 1878, part of the family set out from Wivenhoe and travelled by train to Portsmouth where they boarded the ship Woodlark on 8th November 1878. When a comparatively new ship, the Woodlark was chartered by the Shaw, Savill Co. for three voyages to New Zealand. She was a fine clipper of 867 tons, built in 1870, and owned by A. Stephens and Son, Dundee. At 869 tons, her captain was Captain W. Gibbons, and it was chartered by Sir Arthur Blyth, K.C.M.G., Agent-General for South Australia. The ship had 290 emigrants onboard, among whom were fifty-nine single female domestic servants.

The ship left Plymouth on 8th November 1878. On the day of sailing, the ship came into collision with a fishing boat named the Mary Ann in the English Channel, near Eddystone at 3am in the morning. The collision resulted in the fishing boat sinking, while the Woodlark damaged some spars, a lower foretopsail and a spanker boom. The Woodlark took aboard the crew of the Mary Ann, and landed them at Weymouth on the evening of November 11th.

They arrived in South Australia on 21st February 1879. Children that had travelled with William and Mahala were Arthur, Sarah, Mahala, Victoria, Blanche, Cicey, Charles and Grace. Son William would eventually come out to Australia of his own accord, and lived in New South Wales.

William in his later years

South Australia[]

It is likely that the family was first housed with brother George and that William worked with his brother as a carpenter until he could move into a home of his own.

The South Australian Directories lists the following residences for William, employed as a carpenter, between 1899 and 1903:-

  • 1882 - Claxton Street, Adelaide
  • 1884-1885 - Sydenham Road, Norwood
  • 1886 - not listed
  • 1887-1897 - Sussex Street, North Adelaide
  • 1898 - King William Street, Kent Town
  • 1899-1903 - Park Terrace, Gilberton.

Mahala and the girls contributed to the family's support as seamstresses. William seems to have retired early, as later documents change his occupation from shipwright/carpenter to 'Gentleman'.

Grave of William Mills

Death of Wife[]

Wife Mahala died on the 23rd August 1902 of senile decay. The death occurred at her daughter, Grace Lloyd's residence at Morcomb Street, Stepney. She was interred at the Payneham Cemetery, and it appears that William retired after her death, living at the residence of his daughter Grace. A copy of Mahala's memorial card is still in family hands today.


William was part of the South Australian Corps of Veterans, but was not always able to be present at their gatherings. He did attend the parade in honour of the visit of Lord Kitchener to Adelaide. As Kitchener walked down the line of old soldiers, William's medals caught his eye. He stopped abruptly and said: - "What, Sobraon! My word! There are few old fellows of that fight left now."

William Mills in the South Australian Corps of Veterans was mentioned in the newspapers "Advertiser" 3 December 1900 page 6; "Advertiser" 26 September 1908; "Register" 10 November 1910 page 4, and "Advertiser" 25 May 1913 when he was absent from the Annual Reunion.


William died at the residence of his daughter, Mrs A W Lloyd, on 19th March 1917, aged 94 years. His cause of death was senile decay, and his usual residence was recorded as Sydenham Road, Norwood. His death certificate recorded his employment as ships carpenter, and that he had 3 male, and 6 female issue living. The death and funeral were reported in various newspapers during the following weeks. A large obituary, including a photo, were included in the Adelaide Observer newspaper on Saturday March 24th 1917. The article mostly described his war experiences.

William is buried in the Payneham Cemetery with wife Mahala and one of his daughters.


Name Birth Death
Children of William and Mahala Mills

John Augustine 22/12/1854
Wivenhoe, Essex
Wivenhoe, Essex,

George William 5/3/1856
Wivenhoe, Essex, England
Adelaide, South Australia

Wallace John 25/5/1858
Wivenhoe, Essex
Wivenhoe, Essex

William Ruffell 30/4/1860
Wivenhoe, Essex
Mt Pleasant near Wollongong, New South Wales

Thomas Jeffrey 15/6/1862
Wivenhoe, Essex
Wivenhoe, Essex

Arthur Frederick 19/9/1863
Colchester, Essex
Adelaide, South Australia

Sarah Jane 19/2/1866
Colchester, Essex
Prospect, South Australia

Mahala Annie 12/4/1867
Wivenhoe, Essex
Sydney, New South Wales

Victoria Emily 25/6/1869
Wivenhoe, Essex
Gilberton, South Australia

Blanche Elizabeth Grace 8/3/1871
Wivenhoe, Essex
New South Wales

Cicey Mary Ansell 20/12/1872
Wivenhoe, Essex
Magill, South Australia

Charles Anthony 21/6/1875
Wivenhoe, Essex
Northam, Western Australia

Grace Maud Beatrice 21/6/1875
Wivenhoe, Essex
Adelaide, South Australia

Marguerita 9/5/1876
Wivenhoe, Essex
Wivenhoe, Essex


  • Obituary of William Munson Mills, from the Observer, March 24th 1917
  • Historical Information received from William Munson Mills (junior) on 22nd September 2000
  • Family Bible information
  • Birth, Deaths & Marriages records
  • Baptism records
  • Indenture records
  • 1861 and 1871 census for Essex
  • London Times, 13/11/1878
  • Grey River Argus, Volume XXII, Issue 3260, 28 January 1879, Page 2
  • White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885 by Henry Brett Chapter VIII. — Vessels Of The 70's And Later
  • South Australian Directories, 1882-1903
  • Information from Joanne Carr and Joanne Stevens
  • The Advertiser, Register and Observer newspapers