A telegram from Mussolini

Cataloguing and preservation tasks can lead librarians working in heritage collections to come across items which may not have been accessed for some time. These encounters provide an opportunity to explore the lives of historical figures, both locally and internationally, who are connected to the objects.

Ref: AWNS-19381005-50-2, portrait of Signor Mussolini, dictator of Italy, 1938, Sir George Grey Special Collections
A recent 'rediscovery', which sparked a conversation in the Sir George Grey Special Collections workroom, was a telegram sent in 1933 under instructions from the Italian leader, Mussolini.

Ref: AWNS-19350925-41-2, king of Italy with Signor Mussolini during the Bolzano maneuvers, 1935, Sir George Grey Special Collections
The telegram was received on the occasion of Captain William John Newby's 100th birthday. In the telegram, the Italian Consul writes of his 'sincere appreciation' of Newby's service under Garibaldi - known as one of Italy's 'father's of the fatherland'.
Ref: OCM 5-1222 Telegram received on occasion of Captain W. J. Newby's 100th birthday.
William John Newby was born in Cambridge, England in 1833, and was part of the British Legion which was sent to help Garibaldi in his campaign to unify Italy. He arrived in NZ in 1864, married Janet Caitcheon in Whangarei three years later, joined in on the Thames goldfields rush and spent 30 years on a farm in Tapu, near Thames. He lived the last 20 or so years of his life in Auckland. Newby was 101 years old at the time of his death and had 13 children, 33 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Ref: AWNS-19430804-14-1, three contrasting studies of Mussolini, 1943, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Searching for information on Newby on Manuscripts Online database revealed a certificate, newspaper clippings and letters written to him (NZMS 365). You can search for this record by typing the reference number NZMS 365 into the keyword search box in Manuscripts Online. One letter was written in Caserta, Italy in 1860 by non-commissioned officers and privates of the British Legion thanking Newby for his consideration while they were under his command. The certificate, written in Italian, issued in 1860, and signed by the General in Chief of the Southern Army, has a wonderful, detailed stamp and outlines the acceptance of Newby's voluntary resignation from the Volunteer British Brigade.

Ref: AWNS-19380615-53-1, Italian boys guard Mussolini, 1938, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Professionally stumbling across an item can be a chance to learn more about part of a collection. This telegram, and the manuscript material the Central City Library holds, reveals a partial picture of an interesting NZ based man and his connections to some of Italy's powerful historical figures.

Author: Zoë Colling, Sir George Grey Special Collections


  1. William John Newby is buried in Waikumete Cemetery.

  2. Thanks for feeding back this information, great to know where William John Newby is buried. Cheers, NB

  3. Customer comment:
    My name is Ross Newby and I am the Great Grandson of Captain Newby. I found the records mentioned here around 1983 at the Auckland Library and latter placed the photograph of William John in the library records after it was given to me by one of his Grand daughters. I also found his sword which is held at the Auckland Museum. I also know where his grave is in Waikumete cemetery

    1. We are doing William John Newby on our Waikumete Cemetery Guided Walk on 2nd March 2014

  4. I am very Interested. I am a great
    grandchild also. I have been doing some research at the Thames Historic Treasury.
    Niki Mckinnon Dowe


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