George Wishart was born in Darlington, County Durham on 31 December 1883; he was the elder son of Percy Wishart, an insurance broker’s clerk from Port Clarence, and his wife, Margaret Jane Best. Between 1885 and 1891 the family left the northeast for London and can be found on the 1891 census living at 4 Egerton Road in Upper Norwood. By 1901 they had moved to a modest semi-detached property at 4 Northanger Road in Streatham (now the location for a primary school), his father then working on his own account as a coverage adjuster and with enough means to employ a servant at the house.
Perhaps it was George’s uncle, Colonel Sidney Wishart – a decorated Boer War veteran, that encouraged him to join the military; however, his first attempt was unsuccessful having been turned down for being underweight and too short. Undeterred, George tried again on 15 July 1903 and joined the Royal Engineers. A skilled fitter by trade, five feet seven tall, of fresh complexion, brown hair and sporting a striking snake, three fish and beetle tattoo on his right forearm, the nineteen-year-old was sent the Royal Engineers School of Ballooning in Farnborough, where he became a trained balloonist.
On 18 November 1904, George was sent to Gibraltar where he was stationed until 11 April 1905, after which he returned to England four days later and was transferred to the Army Reserve at Aldershot on July 12th the following year. He moved to Ware in Hertfordshire, and wrote to the officers i/c R.E. Records in Chatham on 4 March 1909 expressing a desire to emigrate to New Zealand:
I propose going out to New Zealand in about a fortnight and herewith give you my new address:
Whitecliffs, Christchurch, New Zealand.
I shall be glad to know if I can receive my present pay at there.
Four days later George signed a declaration saying that upon his arrival in New Zealand he would ‘report to the Colonial Treasurer in Wellington and would be willing in the event of mobilization to be transferred to any arm of the service, as may be directed’.
George booked a ticket for New Zealand on the Morayshire, which was due to sail on 27 April 1909, however, around the same time, he discovered that he was about to become a father, and quickly married Lillian Mary Cooke – the mother of his illegitimate child. The wedding took place three weeks before George was due to sail on 5 April at the parish church in Standon, Hertfordshire, and a son was born five months later in Hertford.
Despite being a newlywed, George decided to leave for New Zealand anyway and eventually sailed from Liverpool, arriving in New Zealand at the end of June. Perhaps the idea was for Lillian to follow on after she’d had the baby; however, she did not, and George lived inNew Zealand by himself until 1911 when he returned to the UK and moved in with his widowed mother at 2 Southbrook Gardens in Norbury. At the time Lillian lived with her son and parents in Hertford and having a relationship with a man named Sydney Nicholls. It was later established that she had committed adultery on or around 13 December 1911 and a son was born nine months later on 13 September 1912 in Hertford. Curiously George was named on the birth certificate as the father, however presumably knowing full well he was not, he decided to return to New Zealand – asking permission from the Army on 10 October to leave aboard the Kent eight days later. Permission was granted, however again George delayed, writing on the 21st that ‘owing to unforeseen circumstances I have not sailed by the S.S. Kent.’
It seems likely that George eventually found passage back to New Zealand by late 1913, where he took up residence on Chatham Island and worked as a farmer. Lillian had moved back to London and at the start of 1914 was living at 23 The Gardens in East Dulwich. Another son was born, and again George was wrongly named as the father on the birth certificate.
George received his mobilisation papers six days after the outbreak of war in August 1914 and ordered to return to England. He left Wellington’s Glasgow Wharf aboard the RMS Corinthic with a large number of other reservists at 3:15 pm on 10 October and arrived at London’s Albert Docks over a month later on 20 November. Lillian had applied for separation allowance, which could not be granted until notification of George’s mobilisation in New Zealand had been received. At the time she was living at The Castle Cinema in Hereford and continuing her relationship with Sydney Nicholls.
George rejoined the Royal Engineers and was based in the UK until 20 September 1915, when he departed for France. He was posted to the 139th Army Troop Company, RE and stationed in France until early 1916 when he made his way to Marseille and boarded a ship bound for Salonika. On 10 October he was promoted to lance corporal (latterly acting corporal on 13 May 1918.) His service papers describe him as being ‘reliable, intelligent, of very good sobriety, having good powers of command and control, and tactful in handling his men’.
George’s served overseas until 25 August 1918 when he boarded a ship back to the UK. He was eventually demobilised on 6 March 1919 and began making plans to return to New Zealand. However, there was still the matter of his son, his estranged wife and by then, her four illegitimate children with Sydney, who died on 1 November 1918.
A petition for divorce was served against Lillian on 28 March 1919 and heard at the Royal Courts of Justice on 7 July before the Right Honourable Sir Henry Duke. The court ruled in favour of the plaintive and divorce was granted on the grounds of adultery. George was given custody of his natural born son, and shortly afterwards, while living at 79 Norbury Court Road in London, he applied for repatriation to New Zealand. Unfortunately, he was not given free passage and ordered to remain in the UK until awarded a Decree Nisi by the court.
George and his son eventually sailed from Southampton for Wellington aboard the Ruapehu on the 8 July 1920 – arriving on 30 August. Seven years later on 26 February 1927, George remarried to Muriel Olga Catherine Howden and lived out the remainder of his days as a farm manager. He died in Christchurch on 10 October 1946.