Hi everyone. I'm new to this forum, but have been doing some research on the subject. Here are some notes I have compiled -
The skirted fatigue jacket replaced the shell jacket as fatigue dress first in India in the mid-1850s. This regulation fatigue jacket was red. For the Umbeyla campaign in 1863 on the North-West Frontier British troops wore the red serge frock. [British Infantry Uniforms since 1660, Michael Barthorp, p99]
However, those worn in New Zealand were navy blue. Why blue, instead of red? J. E. Alexander commented -
"I was obliged to equip my men for the bush, in New Zealand, in blue "jumpers" (leaving the red tunics in store), because I could not get crimson flannel shirts." He was one who believed that the natural colour for the British soldier is red. He certainly did not believe in troops being camouflaged - he also stated "At 1000 yards, all colours are alike, as I proved; red, grey, green, blue, black, all look hazy, except any man wearing a white cross belt, he becomes a target. [Bush Fighting, General J. E. Alexander, 1873. p. 4]" It does not seem to occur to him that, even if that were true, actions in the bush would be at vastly shorter ranges, and being inconspicuous would be advantageous. This is despite him being a veteran of the Cape Frontier wars, with possibly the most experience of any officer in the country at the time.
In his first book "Incidents of the Maori War" 1863, Alexander appears to take credit for introducing the blue frock to New Zealand. "Troops were now frequently paraded and inspected, and the skirts of the men's great coats were cut off to enable them to wear them in skirmishing in the bush and scrub. This plan I did not think well of, and afterwards when preparing some of the 14th Regiment for fighting, I gave them blue smocks over which the great coat was worn, neatly rolled horse-collar fashion, and ready for the evening's bivouac; a man cannot sleep well if his legs are not covered with the skirts of his coat." However, Alexander did not arrive in the country until 29 November 1860 and never commanded at the front, taking command at Auckland. Only two companies of the 14th were sent from Auckland to take part in the fighting in Waitara from January-April 1861, arriving at the seat of war on 6 January. The rest did garrison duties in Auckland, Napier and Wellington. Alexander left the country before the Waikato War started in 1863.
I have yet to find the actual General Order for constructing and issuing the blue jumpers, but they came into use after General Pratt came from Australia to take command of the war on 3 August 1860. During the battle of Puketakauere on 27 June 1860, the troops were wearing red coats - "The dress in which we were to parade – was, shell jacket or tunic (optional)" [Private Mackenzie, 40th Regiment, from a manuscript account of the Taranaki war; with supplementary account of the Waikato War, D. H. MacKenzie, c. 1860-66] . However at the battle of Mahoetahi on 6 November 1860, the troops were wearing the blue jumpers. Private MacKenzie first mentions blue serge jackets in his description of the dress of the 40th Regiment at Mahoetahi - "This time we were in light order, blue serge jumpers and accoutrements only."
By March 1861 there is a description of the 65th Regiment on parade in campaign uniform and it states that "scarce two jackets were alike and of the whole there were but two of the scarlet hue"[Taranaki Herald newspaper, 20th April 1861 – p. 4] - presumably the rest were in blue.
BTW Paul, but the photo of the NCOs and bugler in tunics, are of the originals of 'my' unit - Light Company of the 65th Regt. - not 68th.