EB Laing, Taranaki Volunteers
NZ War Medal and EVA Cross - EB Laing
The New Zealand War Medal and King Edward Veteran's Cross awarded to Edward Binney Laing of the Taranaki Volunteers, and later customs inspector at Russell in the Bay of Islands.
Edward Binney Laing was born 12th September 1838 at Byker, Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. Son of John and Jane Greaves Laing (née Binney). Following the death of his father in 1846, Edward and his family moved to London. In 1853, at the age of 14, Edward was indentured as an apprentice in the Mercantile Marine for a period of five years. He appears to have served his apprenticeship, but is listed as 'Run' in July 1858, so forfetited his apprenticeship. It is probable he arrived in New Zealand as a merchant sailor, and simply stayed rather than return to England.
Laing enrolled in the Taranaki Volunteers on 5th August 1861, and in March 1862 Edward married Zenobia Joyce Knuckey at New Plymouth. Whilst he was serving in the Taranaki Volunteers at this point, but it was not until 1864 that he came under fire, thus qualifying for the New Zealand War Medal. He served during the action in taking the Maori Pa at Kaitake in March 1864. Wikipedia described the action thus: "In late 1863 Taranaki Māori built a strongly entrenched position at Kaitake, high on a steep ridge overlooking Oakura. The pā was shelled in December by the 57th Regiment and through the week of 20 to 25 March 1864, the pā and nearby fortifications at Te Tutu and Ahuahu were stormed and taken by a force of 420 of the 57th, 70th and Volunteers and Militia commanded by Colonel Sir Henry James Warre, with four Armstrong guns. Cultivations of more than 2.5ha of maize, potatoes, tobacco and other crops were also found in bush clearings and destroyed. Kaitake was occupied by a company of the 57th Regiment and a company of the Otago Volunteers." This would appear to be the only action Laing was directly involved in before he moved to Russell in the Bay of Islands where he was appointed as the collector of customs.
Russell at this time was still an important trading port, and in 1869 land on the foreshore was purchased by the Crown for the construction of a residence and office of the Collector of Her Majesty's Customs. The Collector was one of the main government representatives in the town and was responsible for monitoring and taxing the movement of goods. William Clayton, the Colonial Architect, designed and built the customhouse which still stands to this day. Completed in early 1870, the two-storey residence was constructed largely of kauri and included reception rooms on the ground floor, upstairs bedrooms, a small customs office and an outhouse. Edward Laign and his family were the first occupiers of the house, residing there for 15 years. The Moreton Bay Fig tree which still stands on the corner of the property was planted by Laing. During the Laing's residence, the Customhouse was the focus of official gatherings in Russell. In 1873 it served as the venue for a two-day meeting between the Native Minister Donald McLean (1820-1877) and representatives of Nga Puhi and Te Rarawa, after a memorial to Tamati Waka Nene was unveiled at nearby Christ Church. As a collector of customs Laing had to make a number of interceptions at sea of trading vessels who were keen on evading their tax responsibilities. It is noted in the 1925 obituary of his son that EB Laing was involved in the chase for notorious South Seas trader and blackbirder, William 'Bully' Hayes. This has not been verified, but is entirely possible given Laing's occupation and location at the time Hayes was active around New Zealand. Laing held various other appointments whilst at Russell, including Firearms Licensing Officer and Registrar of Birth, Deaths and Marriages.
Following the closure of the customs in 1890, Edward Laing moved to Auckland where he is recorded as being a 'settler' - quite what his occupation is unknown, but he may simply have retired. Edward Binney Laing died at Auckland on 8th September 1906 and is buried in Waikumete Cemetery.
The medal is correctly engraved for the period 'E B LAING, TARANAKI VOLS' and was issued 7 July 1878. The KEV Cross is unnamed as issued.
The photo of EB Laing is courtesy of Russell Museum, 97/438. The map of the action at Kaitake is courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library, NLNZ ALMA 9918217373602836. A claim for land (which was rejected) is held at Archives New Zealand, which gives his date of enrolment in the Taranaki Volunteers (ANZ R22550232