Colonel Benjamin Aylett Branfill (February 28, 1828 – January 4, 1899) was an artist whose work was a pioneering influence on the New Zealand art scene in the late 19thCentury. However, he is remembered here as the second son (the fourth of eight children) of Champion Edward Branfill and Anne (nee Hammond) of Upminster Hall, the 15thCentury estate that had been the ancestral home of his family since 1685 when it was purchased by Captain Andrew Branfill. Benjamin was educated at Forest School in Walthamstow but tragedy struck twice between 1843 and 1844 when both his father and brother, Egerton, died. On the April 5, 1846, aged 18, he joined the 10th Royal Hussars Cavalry regiment (Prince of Wales’ Own) at the rank of Cornet, but quickly rose to the rank of Lieutenant by 1847. He served in India and later was stationed at the Crimea in 1855. Upon returning to England in June 1856, he married Mary Anna Miers on July 1, 1857 at Cheltenham and they had eight children between 1858 and 1871. On May 6, 1859, he was assigned Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General (DAQMG) in Ireland and lived in Dublin until 1864. From 1864 to 1881, he traveled widely, making trips to Gibraltar, Cape Town, and Mauritius, as well as having extended postings in Bermuda (May 1873- March 1874) and India (1875 – 1876). He retired as a Lieutenant-Colonel in October 1877. He inherited Upminster Hall in 1873 and resided there with his family after his retirement. He was a well-known illustrator and was published in TL Wilson’s History and Topography of Upminster (1880). A year later, he emigrated to New Zealand and settled in Nelson. Once there, he became an art instructor and critic for the Bishopdale Sketching Club. In New Zealand, Branfill’s life focused primarily on art, religious study, music, horticulture and photography. Aylett was a family name coming from Andrew Branfill’s second wife Damaris Aylett of Kelvedon Hatch. She was the granddaughter of the Royalist Captain John Aylett who had raised a troop of horses for King Charles I in the Civil War.
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