I've not found much about the early life of Sergeant-Major Stevens. He was an Irishman, born in 1823 and joined the 70th (Surrey) Regiment of Foot in about 1840. He would have spent time in India with the 70th on its posting in Bengal, 1857-1858.
The 70th Regiment came to New Zealand for the "Maori Wars" in 1861 and left in 1866. Presumably Stevens had finished his period of service and chose to be paid off in New Zealand and settle here. He joined the Otago Volunteers - he is reported in 1864, with the title of Drill-Sergeant, escorting Captain Graham, Adjutant of the Otago Volunteers, in his satisfactory inspection of the Caversham Contingent, prior to their election of their officers.
In 1866 the Otago Daily Times reported: "On Saturday afternoon last, as Sergeant-Major Stevens, Volunteer Drill Instructor, was returning from the Kaikorai Rifle Butts, in an express waggon driven by Mr Morton, storekeeper, Richmond Hill, the horse, while passing the latter place, suddenly took fright, causing the vehicle to upset and its occupants to be violently thrown out. Dr Crawford was soon on the spot, and by his advice the Sergeant-Major was conveyed to the hospital, where he was found to be suffering from concussion of the brain, and that a rib was fractured, and one shoulder dislocated and both the fore arms broken. Drs Hunter and Crawford visited him yesterday, and up to last evening he was progressing favorably. Mr Morton was severely cut and bruised and a little boy who was with him received an internal injury which, is likely to prove dangerous. The two latter sufferers were taken to their own homes." At the end of that year Michael Stevens was back of parade with the Volunteers, being presented with a gratuity to acknowledge his "assiduous attention to the interests of the company and the care he had given to the guns while in charge of them."
|"B" Battery, Otago Volunteers. Date unknown. The soldier second from left wears a Sergeant's stripes with an embellishment above - he is identified as James Niven. Hocken Library photo.|
In 1868 his name appears on a list of Volunteers who will have served (by the end of the then current financial period) the prescribed five years and to thus be entitled to remission of monies for the purchase of land. He was announced in the Otago Daily Times, January 1872, as being promoted from Quartermaster Sergeant to Staff Sergeant-Major.
November of 1877 saw a big review, demonstration and "sham fight" of the Otago Volunteers. Men from all around the Dunedin area were involved, as were some from Invercargill. A Queenstown contingent were unable to make it owing to the Mataura River being in flood. Staff Sergeant Stevens served on the staff of the Division Commander, Major Stavely.
"Volunteers left for Forbury Park (from the Exchange) at half past 11 o'clock, and a very large number of persons followed them along the line of march. Others went to the scene of the Review and Sham Fight in vehicles, and a very large number availed themselves of the special trains run on the Ocean Beach line of railway. Altogether between five and six thousand persons must have been present when the sham fight took place.
THE SHAM FIGHT.
"The sham fight was looked forward to an the great event of the day, but the arrangements made by the Volunteer authorities were somewhat marred by the action of several hundred spectators who wholly disregarded the reasonable request that had been made to the effect that they would keep clear of the Sandhills where the volunteers were manoeuvring. Long before the arrival of the main body of the force on the ground the Naval Brigade had erected batteries on the Sandhills, and mounted their howitzers and six pounder guns there, a work of no small difficulty. In a short time the batteries were thronged with people, and when the hour arrived for the fight to commence, all the efforts of the volunteers to induce the public to retire to a respectful distance were futile, and the services of two or three policemen had to be called into requisition. Even then the spectators could only be persuaded to retire to a distance of a few yards from the battery, and all the sandhills immediately adjoining were crowded with men women, and children. The sham fight, regarded as a spectacle, was far from being successful. It was impossible to note with any degree of accuracy the movements of either the attacking party or the defence force, owing to the dense crowd of outsiders, but the spectators on the Grand Stand were good humoured, and being quite willing to take a great deal for granted, regarded the sham fight as a remarkably good piece of mimic warfare. Had the hills been left clear the mock engagement would have been a very interesting sight, but it required a strong imagination to enable the most enthusiastic admirer of the citizen soldiers to picture to themselves a real battle while the batteries were surrounded by picnic parties, and the skirmishers compelled to pick their way among groups of women and children. Before commencing an account of the sham fight we may mention that the enemy were represented by the Dunedin and Port Chalmers Naval Brigade, the Naval Cadets, and the Invercargill contingent, under command of Captain Goldie, Captain Heywood as referee. They were supposed to have landed in the night, and taken up an almost impregnable position on the sandhills. Their main position was on a commanding hill within a short distance of the ocean, where a battery had been erected, and several hundred yards in advance of this, and also on commanding hills were a central battery and two flag batteries, armed with six-pounder guns. The attacking force consisted of three battalions — the first under command of Major Wales, forming the right attacking column, the second battalion under Major Jones, forming the left attacking column, and the third battalion under Captain Murray, forming the reserve of the attacking force. A division of the Artillery and Artillery Cadets accompanied each of the attacking columns. At the command of Major Stavely the attacking column moved to the assault, after which they were left in the hands of their commanding officers. The assault was commenced first by the right column, with Artillery and skirmishers, the left column quickly following suit. The right flank battery of the enemy was soon silenced, and taken, and after the one on the left had shared a similar fate, the attacking forces moved towards the central battery, pouring in volley after volley of musketry, while the enemy responded with three six pounders. The enemy in giving way carried with them their right and left flank guns, but abandoned the guns of the central battery, and fell back upon their main position in the rear. The men of the left attacking column were the first to get into tho central battery when the enemy had been driven out, and when the officer in command jumped over the breastwork, gallantly waving his cap and followed by his men, there was loud cheering. After being driven back to their main position, the enemy were reinforced, and the attacking party, who had followed them up to the foot of the hill upon which the main battery had been placed, were repulsed and driven back on the first line, where the three batteries were, after a hard struggle, recaptured by their former occupants. The position in which the attacking forces discovered the enemy was one from which, in the opinion of military critics, it was next to impossible to dislodge them, the nature of the ground favouring the defending forces in every respect. All credit must be given to the men and officers for the way in which they worked. Ancle deep in sand, the condition in which many of them came out of the sham fight proved that they had been engaged in no child's play. They showed remarkable activity, and in their eagerness to get to the attack several of them were well marked with powder, and one private had his neck artistically ornamented with scratches inflicted with the points of his comrade's bayonets." -Otago Witness, 17/11/1877.
The Evening Star of 23 June, 1886 reported that: "Several Otago petitions were presented to Parliament to-day. Mr Bradshaw presented one on behalf of Michael Stevens, formerly in Her Majesty’s 70th Regiment, serving in the New Zealand War, and afterwards in the Militia as drill-instructor. As he was injured while on duty as a drill-instructor, he prays for some consideration. The petition was informal, as there was only one signature to the petitioner’s mark, but the House waived the informality." Michael Stevens was not to enjoy his "consideration" for long. In 1887, at the age of 64, Staff Sergeant Stevens was buried in Dunedin's Southern Cemetery.