Richard Bytheway – Just Another Pointless Death in a Pointless Sideshow

Richard Bytheway, born in 1892, was a younger brother of my great grandmother, hence my great-great-uncle. He was the second youngest of 8 children, all born and brought up in a tiny, 3-roomed miner’s cottage tied to Seymour Colliery just outside Staveley in Derbyshire.

The 1911 census has him still living in the Seymour cottage but shortly after that he must have moved away because when he enlisted in the army in late August or early September 1914, no doubt responding to Kitchener’s famous appeal for volunteers, his residence was listed as Rotherham in Yorkshire.

He was duly enlisted as 14663 Private Bytheway of the York and Lancaster Regiment (known more colloquially as the Yorks and Lancs).

After basic training Richard’s battalion embarked not for France or Belgium but were assigned to what has commonly been labelled an infamous “sideshow” – they were bound for Gallipoli.

At the end of July 1915 the battalion arrived at Mudros on the island of Limnos, the common staging point for troops before crossing the final stretch of Aegean to Gallipoli itself.

It would seem that it was there that Richard Bytheway, with others, was transferred to the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers who were under-strength. The war diary of the Connaughts records reinforcements joining on 4th August when they too were at Mudros and I am guessing Richard may well have been part of that contingent. Anyway, he definitely became 3157 Private Bytheway of the Connaught Rangers.


Connaught Rangers moving up into position

Two days later, on 6th August, the battalion embarked on HMS Clacton at 3am and sailed from Limnos to ANZAC Cove where they disembarked at 4pm that afternoon, taking positions in the aptly named Shrapnel Gully before moving up to the front line the following week.

Here, their introduction must have been horrific as they spent the next couple of days retrieving and burying corpses from Aghyl Dere Gully which was full of bodies after an earlier attack. Remember that this was in the middle of summer in Turkey where the heat was stifling and the stench must have been appalling.

A week of back-breaking trench improvement followed this before the Connaughts were assigned to support a major attack by the ANZACs on Hill 60, scheduled for 21st August. The Connaughts’ role was to attack the wells at Kabak Kuyu on the flank.

anzac cove

ANZAC Cove with Hill 60 on the horizon

On the evening of 20th August the battalion moved up to a position behind the 4th Battalion South Wales Borderers. They remained there until the afternoon of the following day when the attack was launched.

I will let the unusually effusive war dairy entries take over the story from there:
connaught diary 1
Transcript: “Kabak Kuyu 3.40pm: The first Company (C) dashed forward with a cheer through the gap and with great dash made for the well and trenches at Kabak Kuyu. They were followed by D Company, who followed close by and in successive lines at 4 paces distance and all cheering with fixed bayonets but no firing was allowed until the line was won. The two leading companie,s as soon as they had rushed the trenches, wheeled to the right and engaged the enemy along the Sunken Road and the Communication Trench. One platoon under 2nd Lt. G R Bennett bombed and blocked the Communication Trench and forced the Turks to leave this trench.
4.20pm: A Company was sent up in support and dashed forward to reinforce the left of the line. The reserve (B Coy) moved up the Sunken Road with two platoons and supported the right of the line and got up communication with the New Zealanders who had captured a trench on Hill 60.”
connaught rangers diary 2
6.55pm: The O.C. 5th Bn the Connaught Rangers now began to consolidate the line won and when the 5th Ghurkhas came up on the left of the line night came on rapidly and as the sun went down the men of the Rangers began to dig and make their position capable of resisting any attack. A Platoon of the Rangers had been sent forward and were actually in the New Zealanders trenches and although losing their officer and many men remained there until relieved the next day (22nd Aug). The charge was most brilliantly and gallantly carried out and although the losses were severe (3 Officers killed, 9 wounded; Other Ranks killed 43, wounded 158, missing 47. Total 260; together with losses up to date, 15 killed and 119 wounded and 7 Officers = 401 casualties exclusive of sick) the Battalion held on gallantly throughout the night of the 21st-22nd August (strangely enough the anniversary of its formation) and the next evening were relieved with the exception of 1 Officer and 50 men and marched back to the bivouac of two nights ago behind the SWB entrenchments. They had done splendid work in digging saps to the New Zealand trenches and to the Well, and the position was secure when they left it.”

“Secure” it may well have been but at the cost of nearly half the battalion’s effective strength and one of those killed was Richard Bytheway.

His body was not recovered and his final resting place remains unknown so his name is just one of the 20,956 names on the Helles Memorial commemorating Commonwealth service personnel with no known grave.
helles memorial
Oddly, because he was serving in an Irish regiment when he was killed, Richard also appears in the memorial record created after the war to commemorate the “Irishmen who fell in the Great European War”:

irish dead memorial

A Fishy Tale…

My partner, Vinnie, has never really known much about her family history so I have been doing some digging and, going back to the mid 1800s, a fishy story begins to emerge.

Vinnie’s great-great-great-great-grandfather was a chap named John Brewer who was born in Hackney in East London and, coincidentally, was baptised in a church in 1812 just round the corner from where she is currently working.

John Brewer married Martha Rumer, a local woman, in August 1835 in East Ham who had a bit of a scary adventure the following year. Together with a certain Martha Martin, Martha Brewer was committed to trial at the Essex Assizes on 17th May 1836 for “Larceny from the person”, legal-speak for pick-pocketing. Luckily for her the judge threw out the case, the outcome logged in the court record as “No Bill” which was a specific order from the judge if he was satisfied that the depositions or committal statements did not justify putting the accused on trial.

With the brush with the law behind them, by the time of the first census in 1841 John and Martha Brewer are recorded as living on Barking High Street with John’s profession listed as fisherman.


Barking Dock in the early 1800s

It may seem difficult to believe now but in the mid 1800s Barking was home to the largest fishing fleet in the world. There had been a tradition of fishing there on a small scale since the 1300s but the dramatic escalation of the trade based out of Barking in the 1800s was down to one entrepreneurial family – the Hewetts – who established The Short Blue Fleet (named after the short blue emblem they flew at their mastheads).

By 1850 they had grown their business to become the largest fishing fleet in the world with over 220 boats.

Before the 1820s, fish caught off the boats were either killed and salted immediately or kept alive, in large, on-board tanks until they reached port.

Samuel Hewett felt this was not a cost-effective system because the boats, which would often sail as far as Iceland, would be forced to make frequent trips back to Barking to unload the catch. This, he believed, was wasting time that could have been spent fishing. So Samuel decided to introduce a system called fleeting.

The fish were now caught, killed, then preserved in ice, before being collected by fast boats, called cutters, and taken back to London. Every time the cutters returned to the fishing grounds they would bring more ice and provisions for the sailors, which meant the fishing vessels could stay at sea continuously for three to six months at a time.

trunkingThe picture shows “trunking” when trunks full of fish were transported from the fishing trawlers to a cutter for delivery back to base.

The new fishing system was extremely successful and helped the Hewett fleet grow substantially.

short blue fleet1

The Short Blue Fleet at sea

But the industry was savagely dangerous. We think of 19th century mining as dangerous, and it was horribly so, but for every miner killed in Britain, seven seamen were lost in the fishing industry.

By the mid 1850s John Brewer had been made master of one of the boats in the Short Blue Fleet, the Tartar, purchased by the fleet in 1852 which was one of the fast cutters that used to race back and forth between Barking and the fishing grounds.

By the mid 1800s almost every family in Barking was involved in the fishing industry in some form or other. But as the town headed into the second half of the century Barking’s fishing fortunes were to change dramatically.

In 1862 Samuel relocated his fleet head-quarters to Gorleston, Suffolk, which was at least 120 miles closer to the fishing grounds. And three years later Barking effectively lost any advantage it once had when a cheap and fast rail link was built from London to Gorleston. Many families followed the Short Blue fleet to Suffolk, while others headed to Grimsby, attracted by a newly opened dock.

John Brewer was one of those who ended up in Grimsby after the Short Blue Fleet sold off the Tartar in 1863. (Another coincidence as Grimsby is where I grew up.)

In the census of 1871 he is still listed as a fisherman, now living at the charmingly named (but probably not very charming to live in) 8 Foot Road.

John Brewer died in 1874 and was buried at St Andrew’s Church on Freeman Street which sadly was lost many years ago. The picture below is from about 1911 and shows the church as it was.

st andrews freeman street

The year before John’s boat, the Tartar, was sold off, his daughter Esther who had been born in 1844 married an Essex man called Edward Cornell, another fisherman.

grimsby docks 19th c

Grimsby Docks in the late 1800s

When her parents moved north to Grimsby, Esther and Edward elected to stay in London and were recorded as living in Bermondsey in the 1871 census. But either later that year or early in 1872 they too moved up to Grimsby like many of the London-based fishermen, a port that was fast becoming the busiest fishing port in the world.


Indeed, the Cornell’s ordered their own boat in 1872, a Dandy-rigged ketch of 60 tons which they named the “Edward and Esther”, the shipping order listing their address as 28 Orwell Street, Grimsby.

SBFT6-Little-Wave-1024x905There are no images of the Edward and Esther but she would have looked almost the same as this Dandy-rigged ketch, photographed in the 1890s. We know that she had a crew of 5 including Edward as skipper; an experienced first mate and three younger men working as deck hands. I’m guessing they would have looked a little like this crew from another Grimsby trawler, taken in the 1890s.


It shows the thoroughness of the exercise of conducting a national census that boat crews were included if they were in port near enough to the census date. In the case of the Edward and Esther for the census of 1881, Edward completed the forms for his boat when docked in Grimsby Fish Dock on the 30th March. For the actual date of the census (3 April) he listed his location listed as the “Dogger Bank, No Sea“… not the most common address for a census.

edward and esther censusSadly Esther died young in 1888.

Edward did not re-marry but sailed on, spending his whole working life as a mariner until he retired and spent the last years of his life living with his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law, George Bevers.

Edward died in April 1919.

John Mansbridge Swatton – Plod of the Met

My great-grandfather’s older brother was named John Mansbridge Swatton, Mansbridge being the maiden name of his mother, and he was born in Kings Somborne, a small village in rural Hampshire on 16th April 1847.

His father was a bricklayer and the family moved to Gosport in the 1850s when the massive fortress complex there was begun which must have drawn in building labour from all over the region.

Indeed, in the 1861 census John, then aged 13, is described as a public works labourer so I would guess he was working on one of the forts with his father at that time.

However, John must have decided relatively early on that following his father’s example and being a brickie wasn’t for him. In 1866 he had seen his younger brother leave home to join the Royal Navy and the following year John packed his bags and moved to London where, just a week before his 20th birthday he enlisted as a constable in the Metropolitan Police; Warrant No: 48283.

John Mansbridge Swatton

John Mansbridge Swatton

Following training, of the 19 regional divisions within the Met, he was assigned to “V” Division; Wandsworth. As per the instructions given to police officers, he was expected to live in the vicinity of his division and in the 1871 census he was living at 16 Blesborough Place, Pimlico – just over the river from Wandsworth, not far from Vauxhall Bridge and the Tate Gallery.

He was to remain a police constable in Wandsworth for the next 26 years.
During his time on the force, the police and criminal system in general would see many changes.

It was only the year after John joined the Met that Britain witnessed its last public executions.

In April 1868, Frances Kidder was the last woman to be hanged in public, outside Maidstone jail for the murder of her step-daughter. The following month saw the final public hanging in Britain when Fenian Michael Barrett was executed outside Newgate Prison for mass murder, having been found guilty of participating in the Clerkenwell Outrage, an explosion that killed 12 people outside Clerkenwell jail the previous year.
It was in the same year, 1868, that the policy of transportation to Australia was finally abolished which resulted in the incarceration of many more convicted criminals at home. One such place they were housed was Wandsworth Prison, in John’s Division, which was built in 1851 on the “Panopticon” design to enable the “separate system” to be used for 700 prisoners in individual cells, each with toilet facilities. The main part of the prison, having four wings radiating from the centre, was for male prisoners with a smaller separate building for females. From 1870, conditions at Wandsworth deteriorated when the toilets were removed from the cells to make room for extra prisoners and the practice of “slopping out” introduced which was to remain in force until 1996.

Considering what the daily routine would have been like for a “bobby” on the beat in the 1870s and 80s I guess it could be characterised as a mix of tedium and violence. Police constables had prescribed “beats” that they walked every day at a prescribed pace with their behaviour and performance carefully monitored – it must have been a pretty boring routine. But that seems to have been regularly broken up by violence.

We think of London being a relatively violent city – it is indeed difficult to get away from the outrage and the horror presented on the news all the time about rising levels of violent crime in the city. But in reality, Victorian London was a MUCH more violent society. And the assaults on the police are a good indication of the level of that violence.
In 2017, police officers in the Met (a force numbering 31,000 officers) reported just over 2000 assaults on them, most of which resulted in no injury. In 1868, in a force that numbered under 8900 officers there were 1130 assaults leading to injury from what the wonderfully descriptive commissioner’s report described as “criminals of the most desperate and abandoned character”.

met police pc 1870It is not without reason that standard issue for officers patroling some of the rougher beats in London was a sword!

John resigned from the Metropolitan Police on 10 May 1893 whereupon it seems he chose to move back to Gosport. Once there he took over a pub, The Alma on Forton Road, with his son, George, working with him as a barman and living in the pub.

Finally, George took over the pub when John retired but John is still recorded in the census of 1911 as living at The Alma.

John died in Gosport in June 1915.

Sadly The Alma is with us no longer either. It ceased to be a pub in the 1990s and has since been demolished.

Pentonvillain to Aussie Pioneer…?

Well, coming from a line of dirt-poor working class folk it came as no surprise that in researching some of the characters in my ancestry I came across criminality. I have written previously on some of that related to military offenses but it still came as a bit of a surprise when I looked at Henry Barnaby.

He was the brother of my great-great-great-great-grandfather; so my fifth-great uncle.
As with many on my grandmother’s side he came from Harefield in Middlesex; born in May 1822 and baptised in the very same church as myself – St. Mary’s in Harefield, across the road from where my gran lived.

An agricultural labourer, and evidently completely illiterate, he signed his marriage certificate to Jane Thrift in Sep 1844 with a “x” as he could not even write his name. A year later they had a daughter, Margaret. But then things went very wrong. The following year, 1846, saw Henry and his elder sister, another Margaret, on trial at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey. Henry was charged with larceny and his sister with handling stolen goods.

The transcript of the trial still exists in the Old Bailey archives.

A quick note on terminology and abbreviations – the old-fashioned shorthand for currency was LSD: L (easier than writing £) for pounds, S for shillings (20 to the pound) and D for pennies (12 to the shilling)

“HENRY BARNABY was indicted for stealing at Harefield, 1 bag, value 6d (6 pence).; 1 purse, Gd.; 20 pieces of parchment, 20s (20 shillings).; 1 20l.(20 pound), 4 10l., and 7 5l. Banknotes; 1 600l., 4 10l., and 7 5l. promissory notes, and 1 order for 100l.; the property of John Ratcliff, in his dwelling-house; and MARGARET BARNABY , for feloniously receiving one 20l., and 2 5l. promissory notes, well knowing the same to have been stolen.”

The trial would have lasted only about half an hour with half a dozen witnesses for the prosecution being called. The defence had no witnesses and neither of the accused had defence counsel… consequences of being poor.

The key witness for the prosecution was a self-confessed poacher who admitted he had also been accused of the theft but stated under oath that Henry had admitted the crime to him. Henry’s sister admitted that her brother had given her some bank notes but she said he claimed to have found them and didn’t know what they were anyway as he couldn’t read.

Henry was allowed a brief statement in his own defence, quoted here in full from the Old Bailey transcript: “Henry Barnabys Defence. I gave my sister the notes, I did not know what they were.”

Henry was found guilty and his sister not guilty.

At that time, sentencing was immediate and Henry was sentenced to transportation to Australia for 15 years.

I think I should just mention here that it might seem very odd that anyone could not know what, for example, a 5 pound note would look like. However, back in the 1840s there were many local banks, each with their own style of notes and a typical note might look like this:
bank note
For someone so illiterate they could not even write their own name it doesn’t seem unreasonable that he wouldn’t know what this was.

After sentencing Henry was incarcerated in Pentonville Prison where he remained for 18 months.

It wasn’t until 9th March 1848 that Henry, together with 189 other male convicts, set sail on the Anna Maria, a 421 tonne barque under the command of Master Edward Smith.
But theirs was not to be the typical convict transportation.

Between 1844 and 1849, the British government transported 1739 convict “exiles” to the Port Phillip District of New South Wales. Unlike transportation that had occurred in other parts of Australia, the convicts sent to Port Phillip were given a conditional pardon, provided they didn’t return to England within the term of their original sentence. This was essentially a fudge to get around the local rules that convicts were not supposed to be transported to Port Phillip at all. However, cheap labour was in high demand there so the convicts were “re-badged” as “exiles”.

Some Port Phillip residents were outraged at convicts being dumped in their colony and the in-comers were labelled Pentonvillains!

Anyway, Henry’s passage to the other side of the world took three months – a fast passage for those days. First port of call, on 7th June 1848, was Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) where 27 prisoners, convicted of more serious crimes, were put ashore. Then the ship sailed on to Port Philip Bay where the remaining prisoners, including Henry, were off-loaded at Geelong and given their conditional pardon.

Unfortunately, that’s where the record ends for Henry. There is no record of him returning to England and I wonder if there is a Barnaby family over there that can trace its origin back to this illiterate exile?

Another Family Mystery… in the Empire of the Rising Sun

Firstly, some background: my great-great-grandfather was a certain Thomas Swatton (yes, another Thomas), born in about 1812 in Hampshire – so a direct paternal ancestor.
Now, he married a woman called Louisa Mansbridge from Kings Somborne in Hampshire on 30th August 1840 and they subsequently had nine children. It was common practice back then (and until recently) for children often to be given a middle name that was their mother’s maiden name. For example my dad had the middle name Owen which was his mother’s maiden name; my grandfather had the middle name Chadwick which was his mother’s maiden name… you get my drift.

So it is no surprise that I found that three of Thomas’ and Louisa’s children had the middle name Mansbridge, Louisa’s maiden name, the last of them with that middle name being born in 1849.

Clear enough so far…

So, what was I to think when I stumbled across a chap yesterday called George Swatton Mansbridge born in 1849? Here’s my theory.

I think his parents were brother and sister of Thomas and Louisa – i.e. a sister of Thomas married a brother of Louisa – which would mean their children’s surname would be Mansbridge but it being highly likely some of them might be given the middle name Swatton.

Disappointingly, I have been able to find no record of George Swatton Mansbridge in the census record – there are a few George Mansbridges but missing the middle name on the census it isn’t clear which might be the one in question. Finding him in later censuses will also be impossible because, and here’s the interesting bit, in 1875 he emigrated but not to America, Canada or Australia which were the most common destinations… but to Japan!

He became a constable in the Yokohama Municipal Police. There is another tie in here to Thomas and Louisa because one of their sons, John, became a police constable in London.

In 1880, he changed careers and joined the Mitsubishi Company, employed in the docks at Nagasaki working on ship salvage – at that time shipping was the core business of Mitsubishi. He would work for them for 28 years until he retired.

What I find most remarkable about this is the unusualness of such a lifestyle change – Japan in the 1870s was only just coming out of the rule of the Shogun warlords. It was only in 1872 they were finally defeated and the emperor regained central control of the country ending a period of 250 years of cultural isolation during which the death penalty was prescribed for foreigners entering or Japanese nationals leaving the country!

George Swatton MansbridgeLess than 5 years later we find George coming into the country to settle and marrying a local lady with whom he would have 5 children. I think this picture is great even though the two little girls at the front (who appear to be twins) look singularly unimpressed having their photograph taken!

I frankly have no idea how to go about tracing their descendants but it makes me wonder if those children, as adults about the same age as their father in this picture, might still have been living in Nagasaki at 11.01am on the morning of 9th August 1945 when Major Charles Sweeney’s B-29 Superfortress dropped the Fat Man plutonium bomb on the city. I hope they weren’t.


Alfred Swatton – a minor mystery solved

Alfred Florence Wedding

Alfred and Florence married in 1908

In the lead up to the centenary of the end of World War 1 I wrote a piece about the service my grandfather, Thomas, and his two brothers, Walter and Alfred performed during the war.
At the time, I had no idea why the oldest brother, Alfred, had been made a sergeant as soon as he volunteered. Similarly, I was puzzled why a man in his early thirties with a wife and four children, a fifth on the way, would volunteer for service.
Having done some more digging I think I have answered these questions. I have also discovered a postscript to the story which is just a little weird.
I’ll start off with the crucial information that solved the initial mystery. I found enlistment papers for Alfred for the Boer War, dated February 1901 which essentially answer everything.

boer war enlistmentSo, going through this document, it would appear that as a 21-year old Alf volunteered for service in South Africa, stating on his papers that he already had previous military experience with “1st Hants RE (Vols)”, which translates as the 1st Hampshire Royal Engineer Volunteers.
This unit was formed at Portsmouth in April 1891 with the majority of the rank and file being workers from the Portsmouth dockyard. They renovated an old drill shed for their use and acquired forty tons of gravel to lay down to form a parade ground. While their facilities may have been rough and ready it seems they became a very professional outfit.
In 1896 the 1st Hampshire took first place at a special course of instruction in fortress engineering at Chatham. Of the nine NCOs in the team from Portsmouth, six passed the examination as “very superior” whilst the other three passed “very satisfactory” placing them first in all England for the third time in the five years since they were formed. So it was no trivial matter that Alf had served with them.

hants vols

Following his enlistment in 1901 (note that on the form it was so soon after the death of Queen Victoria, no new form had been printed, and the recruiting sergeant has manually crossed out “Her Majesty” throughout), Alfred joined the Royal Engineers and was assigned to 37th Field Company.
Once serving he would probably have looked something like the soldiers in this picture (these are members of 11th Field Company RE in Durban).

royal engineers boer war
But his prior service in the 1st Hants RE (Vols) and in the Boer War explains why he volunteered again at the start of WW1. With the huge numbers of raw recruits that flooded into the army then, the authorities were desperate for recruits with previous experience who could immediately be made NCOs to help knock the untrained masses into shape.

So he volunteered in answer to the call for experienced former soldiers and was made a sergeantFlorenceand Childen1 because of his former service in South Africa.

And as for the postscript I mentioned…. unfortunately, Alf would not survive the war, dying on active service in the Balkan campaign in October 1916, probably of malaria that killed so many allied troops in that theatre.
The picture here is a family portrait his wife organised, the baby in her arms having been born within 2 days of his father’s death. I guess as a form of commemoration Florence decided to give the baby a middle name, Salonika, where his father died and is buried… and I’m not sure if that is poignant or just odd!

Henry Charles Swatton – a military split personality

I will state from the outset that the story of Henry Charles Swatton is an odd one. He was my first cousin twice removed – that is, my great great uncle’s son.

He was born in Wandsworth, London in 1873; his father being a police constable in V (Wandsworth) Division of the Metropolitan Police.

enlistment papersOn 16th Sept 1891 he enlisted in the army at the age of 18 years and 5 months and became Private H C Swatton (Reg. Num.: 4184) of The Royal Scots infantry regiment.

From what survives of his record it looks like that was a mistake because he got himself into disciplinary problems pretty much straight away.

The litany of offences on his Company Defaulters record begins within a month of him enlisting and goes over two meticulously handwritten pages:

17th Oct 1891 – Improperly dressed on fatigues and losing by neglect 1 coal box – pay stopped to cover the cost of the coal box

28th Oct 1891 – Having articles of kit in his possession belonging to Private Kelly (by implication, stolen) – 7 days confined to barracks

5th Dec 1891 – Using improper language to an NCO – the sentence for that isn’t legible

30th Jan 1892 – the offense is not legible – sentenced to 7 days  imprisonment with hard labour

2nd May 1892 – Improperly dressed on parade – 4 days confined to barracks

20th May 1892 – Using improper language to an NCO – the sentence for that isn’t legible

15th Aug 1892 – Late falling in for inspection – 2 days confined to barracks

30th Nov 1892 – Absent from midnight until 8.30am – stopped 1 day’s pay and 5 days confined to barracks

7th Jan 1893 – Not complying with an order – 5 days confined to barracks

20th Apr 1893 – Dirty on parade – 2 days confined to barracks

But the following day he evidently decided he had had enough and matters took a serious turn for the worse when he deserted from the barracks in York where the regiment was stationed. He was reported missing on 21st April and was apprehended by the police in Sheffield on 9th May dressed in civilian clothes.

He was confined in HM Prison Wakefield pending collection by the military authorities and his prison entry survives:

wakefield prison record

He was taken back to York for court martial. His trial was held at Strensall Barracks in York on 20th May 1893. The record for this still exists and it is almost comedic that aside from desertion, the army records he was accused of “losing by neglect his equipment, clothing and regimental necessaries” and then goes on to list specific items and their cost which Henry had evidently dumped when he ran including trews, belt, haversack, boots, Glengarry cap, cap badge (separately listed) and “31 articles of necessaries”.

He was sentenced to 56 days hard labour and stoppages of pay to cover the cost of the lost equipment.

Once he had served his time in the military stockade he was back on the defaulters list:

15th Jul 1893 – Improperly dressed when parading for rations – 2 days confined to barracks

But it’s at that point that his service record ends. I haven’t found discharge papers for Henry so it is unclear how the remainder of his army service went.

All we can conclude from the documentation that still exists is that 4184 Private H C Swatton was really not a very good soldier which makes the second half of this tale even stranger….

When I was researching the service history of Henry Charles Swatton I started to get quite confused as there seemed to be two service histories for the same man. I assumed I must have made a mistake and went back to double and triple check because this was turning out to be a very strange tale.

I have already told the first half, the lamentable service history of 4184 Private H C Swatton of the Royal Scots… a not very good soldier by any measure. As I said, it is uncertain what happened to him in the second half of his original army service as his record is missing from the middle of 1893.

So all I can do is pick up the story a few years later…

enlistment papers boer warI found another set of Army enlistment papers for a Henry Charles Swatton dated March 1901. Initially I thought there must have been another Henry Charles Swatton (unlikely, but certainly possible), especially as some of the details of background in the second set of papers were at odds with what I knew of Henry.

Our HC Swatton was born in Wandsworth but the new papers said he was born in Ashtead near Birmingham in the county of Warwick.

The form also claims the new recruit had previous army experience in the Royal Anglia Reserves and the Manchester Regiment. So my first reaction was this must be another chap coincidentally having the same name as the one I had previously been researching.

However, later on in the enlistment forms he identifies his wife’s maiden name – Frances Mary Bowman – who I knew definitely to be our Henry’s wife (they having married in April 1899) and their address in Gosport like most of the other Swattons at that time.

Also, there is no place called Ashtead anywhere near Birmingham – the only place of that name in England is near Epsom in Surrey.

So here we had our defaulting deserter of 1893 re-enlisting in 1901, falsifying some of his details, to serve in the 93rd (Sharpshooter) Company, 23rd Battalion Imperial Yeomanry bound for South Africa and service in the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Just 12 days after enlisting he was on his way to South Africa where he served for the next 10 months.

imp yeoThe picture here is of the 21st Battalion raised at the same time as Henry’s 23rd so in appearance they would have looked very much the same. The 23rd were deployed around Bloemfontein, their usual role being to protect the lines of communication which stretched from Cape Town some 800 miles to Pretoria.

From his service record we know that he was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa medal for service in the war with two clasps (Cape Colony and Orange Free State) indicating the areas/campaigns in which he served.

henry charles swattonOne other oddity about this story is that another person researching their family posted a picture of a soldier on Ancestry which they asserted was Henry Charles Swatton and he is shown with corporal’s stripes (known at the time as Lance Sergeant). This posed a problem for me because the uniform is very specific – consulting experts on a Victorian military forum I found out only four regiments had sphinx collar patches as shown in the photo which included neither the Royal Scots nor the Imperial Yeomanry.

However, one of them that did was the Manchester Regiment, the very same regiment Henry asserted he had experience with on his second enlistment.

Perhaps, our Henry got a transfer to the Manchesters from the Royal Scots at some point and that part of his service record is missing – I don’t think we will ever know. But it looks like he managed to turn his career around and at least became a better soldier than his first couple of years demonstrated.

pubAnd after the Boer War, when Henry returned to Hampshire, he followed his father’s example and took over a pub – the West End Inn in Titchfield.  The 1911 census records him living on the premises with his wife and, by then, six children.

Unfortunately the pub closed a few years ago, otherwise I think I might have been tempted to go down there for a beer.

Thomas Swatton – a tale of drink and the lash…

This story will be another of a series of odd ones following on from that about Thomas Swatton of the 66th Foot. This is a tale of yet another Thomas Swatton ( a name seemingly as common as muck in our family) who joined the army and, like the former Thomas, I have no concrete evidence that he is a direct relation but reiterating how unusual the surname is and that he was born in the same region (around Hampshire/Wiltshire) as all the others, again I’m convinced there must be a familial link.
This tale, however, will be rather more depressing than Thomas of the 66th.
The Thomas Swatton of this tale was born in 1834 in Ogbourn, Wiltshire and at the age of just 16 or 17 he enlisted in the 38th Regiment of Foot in October 1851. The regiment had just returned from a three-year tour of duty in North America, landing back at Portsmouth in August of that year. The next couple of years, Thomas’ introduction to the army, saw it based in the UK but things would change with the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854.

38th foot light company 1855

1854 – Members of 38th Light company parading for Lieutenant-General Sir John Campbell

The strength of the Regiment on embarkation from England was 32 officers and 910 men and they sailed on two steam ships, the Megara and Melbourne, bound first for Gallipoli where they disembarked in the middle of May. In June they moved to Scutari (now in the outskirts of Istanbul) and then to Varna (now a city in Bulgaria), then still part of the Ottoman Empire.
For the following 10 weeks the 38th were to be involved in the loading and unloading of ships at Varna docks – a somewhat unglamorous start to the expedition to the East. Finally on the 14th September the 38th landed in the Crimea some twenty-eight miles march from Sebastopol – and the capture of Sebastopol was to be the main war aim of the Allies.
On the 19th September the whole Allied force of some 60,000 men began their advance on Sebastopol when, only some 12 miles from the city, the first major action of the war involving the British was to be fought near the Alma River the following day. The 38th would play little part in the battle, their commanding officer later complaining loudly about the delays that had prevented his regiment from being engaged.

38th veteran

38th Regiment veteran from the Crimea

In November, however, under foggy conditions the Russians made a huge sortie and launched a surprise attack on the British. This would become known as the battle of Inkerman. The superior firepower of the British, including the bulk of the 38th, inflicted heavy casualties on the Russians who, nevertheless, continued to pour men into the fight. But when the French arrived, attacking the Russian flank, they were forced to withdraw.

After this, the British troops were faced with the grim siege of Sebastopol dragging on through the Russian winter. The logistical support for the army failed utterly and the troops had no warm winter clothes, inadequate shelter and meagre rations. On top of this the army was ravaged by cholera and typhus.

A substantial number of men of the 38th were to lose their lives to disease. In fact far more men died of disease than in the actual fighting and the number of British troops quickly whittled away. Indeed numbers decreased so much that the British could not spare any for a major offensive against the Russians and it wasn’t until 18th June 1855 the men of the 38th were to find themselves in another major attack. Lord Raglan, with typical hubris, had chosen the anniversary of Waterloo to claim his final victory at Sebastopol so confident was he that the allies would carry the city. As part of the British assault on the Great Redan, the 38th were to fight a diversionary action to the left of the fort. The brigade of which the 38th was part captured the cemetery and went on to occupy some of the suburbs of Sebastopol but the main French attack on the fort got pinned down so Raglan ordered the British troops to attack the Redan directly. The result was a massacre.

But what of our Thomas Swatton?

After coming through the appalling winter of 54/55 and being promoted in the spring to corporal, he was promoted again, to sergeant, after the failed attack on the Great Redan in July.

floggingBut something finally broke Sergeant Thomas Swatton and in November he was disciplined, probably for drunkenness as that was by far the most common offense. His service record states that he was imprisoned for a month. Most likely this was on a prison ship in Balaklava harbour. He was broken back to the ranks and given 50 lashes…

What made flogging so powerful was the very thing objected to by reformers: it was a punishment designed to humiliate and degrade. As the government explained in 1834, ‘The object of the punishment was, to strike terror into others by the example.

To achieve that end, the army created a flogging ritual. To make the punishment even more degrading, the man wielding the cat was not a proper soldier: cavalrymen were whipped by the regimental farrier, while infantrymen were scourged by drummers. On the day of the flogging, the corps formed a square around a triangle of halberds to which the man was tied. All ranks were compelled to watch the punishment to the end but fainting was common and insensible spectators had to be carried to the rear. The image above shows a man in the foreground, who has been overcome and fainted. To see the flesh torn from a man’s back must have been a gruesome sight. But the gory horror of the flogging itself does not explain why ‘shame’ is a term that both advocates and critics of flogging used time and again. Why was it shameful, a disgrace, to be flogged?

slaveUndoubtedly, it was the flogging of slaves that associated the punishment with the utmost degradation in the British mind. Many soldiers must have had scars similar to this slave’s, particularly before the number of lashes was restricted.

In 1846, less than 10 years before Thomas’ experience, the case of the death of Trooper John White of the 9th Hussars brought flogging to the public’s attention. Following a post-mortem the jury brought in the verdict that Private White had died “from the mortal effects of a severe and cruel flogging of 150 lashes”.

The reporting of this case and many similar and often fatal lashings, in barracks, penal colonies and aboard ships caused the public to react. A petition demanding the end of flogging was presented to the House of Lords on 14th August 1846 obliging the government to devote a whole day’s debate to the subject of military floggings. As a concession, following the advice of the Duke of Wellington, the War Office altered its regulations, making fifty lashes the maximum punishment, soothing public opinion somewhat.

As for Thomas, after his experiences of the gruelling winter of 54/55, the death from cholera of many of his comrades and the actions at Inkerman and the Great Redan and the grinding attrition of the trenches around Sebastopol, we would these days probably put his lapse down to post-traumatic stress but it seems that after this first disciplinary episode his performance as a soldier fell apart, the consequence for him being grimly predictable.

The regiment embarked for England on the 26th of June 1856 after the peace treaty ending the Crimean War was signed in Paris. Landing back in England, Thomas Swatton, absconded and was listed as a deserter. For whatever reason, whether he was captured or returned voluntarily I don’t know, but the following month, with the regiment having moved to Ireland he was court martialled.

He was sentenced to receive 50 lashes once more and imprisoned for 84 days with hard labour.

Almost exactly a year later, the 38th embarked for India, the jewel of Empire that was in the midst of the horrific Mutiny.

Landing at Calcutta in November 1857, the 38th Foot marched on Cawnpore which had witnessed appalling atrocities perpetrated by the mutineers during the summer, and matched by the subsequent dreadful reprisals meted out by the British and East India Company troops. In December the city was threatened again by a mutineer force but they were defeated at the Second Battle of Cawnpore in which the 38th took part.

With the regiment billeted in Cawnpore, less than a month later Thomas was in trouble again, court martialled for being “Drunk on march. Violence towards a superior officer.” Found guilty he was sentenced to 42 days imprisonment with hard labour and yet another set of 50 lashes.

Just over a week after Thomas was released from this spell in confinement, his regiment marched with the force under the overall command of Sir Colin Campbell to recapture Lucknow that had be abandoned to the mutineers the previous November. The attack on the city began on 3rd March and by the 21st the city was declared clear of rebels.

As the majority of rebels escaped the city, the next months over the following summer and monsoon season were spent clearing the rebels from the surrounding countryside. As a result, the army suffered heavy casualties from heatstroke and other diseases.

The 38th used Lucknow as its base and Thomas once again managed to get himself into trouble. In July he was court martialled for the final time and, being found guilty of being drunk on duty, the sentence was the by now inevitable 50 lashes, bringing his total to 200 lashes in two and a half years.

Quite how long this sequence of behaviour could have gone on I don’t know but it wasn’t to be as in 1859, when the regiment was stationed at the Bareilly Cantonment, Thomas was badly injured. He was in the hospital hut there when the roof collapsed injuring his back which was assessed as being severe enough for him to be declared medically unfit for further service.

He was discharged from the service on 10 July 1860 and I’m afraid that’s where the trail ends; I can’t find any records that definitively relate to him after that… I’ll keep looking.

Peninsular War survivor and Napoleon’s jailer…

Private Thomas Swatton – 66th Regiment of Foot

This story will be one of a series of odd ones in the sense that I have no concrete evidence that the subject is a direct relation but there are a few strong indications that he really couldn’t be anything else. Firstly, my surname is unusual, there being less than 700 people sharing it in the UK, less than a 1000 in the world. Secondly, the name doesn’t come from a profession (like Smith or Cooper) or a physical characteristic (like Short or Brown) which could easily have very discrete origins for people sharing that name; rather it would seem it comes from a village name in Lincolnshire – a single root which, however remotely, we all seem to share. And thirdly, the Thomas Swatton here was born just a few miles down the road from where my own great-great-great grandfather was born… altogether, I’m convinced there must be a familial link.

So why is this Thomas Swatton of interest? Well, anyone who has read any of my articles will have picked up I am very interested in military history and it just so happens that this Thomas joined one of the more interesting regiments at just about the most interesting time in its history and he served through some of the most traumatic experiences any soldier would care to experience.

Thomas’ discharge papers somehow still exist and they reveal quite a story.

66th foot soldier

A private in the 66th Regiment light company

He enlisted in the 66th Regiment of Foot on 29th Aug 1804 at the age of nineteen. He would go on to serve in the same regiment for 20 years 270 days (the army is very specific when it comes to record keeping).

The early years of his service were spent in relatively uneventful garrison duty in southern Ireland but when the British government decided to send a land force to the continent to oppose the French armies of Napoleon, the 2nd Battalion of the 66th Regiment (2nd/66th) were assigned to the force that embarked for the Peninsular in March 1809, arriving at the mouth of the Tagus on 4th April, disembarking two days later and immediately marching north towards Oporto under the overall command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, not yet titled the Duke of Wellington.

Marshal Soult, commanding the French garrison in Oporto, had the bridges across the River Douro destroyed and mistakenly assumed his force was safe from attack across the wide, fast-flowing river. However, Wellesley pushed across the light companies of the 3rd, 28th and 66th regiments who were brigaded together in a few barges that had been cut out from the far bank. They secured a foothold in a seminary building on the French bank and the rest of the brigade followed across as quickly as they could.

The arrival of fresh troops enabled a portion of the brigade to assume the offensive, and advance against a 7-gun battery, which they carried in the face of a withering fire of grape and musketry.


Crossing the Douro

Shortly after noon, the French evacuated the lower town of Oporto, and the inhabitants rushing down to the now unguarded quays, jumped into boats and rowed across to the south bank.

Sherbrooke’s Brigade of Guards at once went over in these boats; and almost at the same time General Murray, who had crossed the river at a ferry point three miles upstream, was seen advancing down the right bank with the German Brigade and the 14th Light Dragoons.

At this the French broke and abandoned the city. In this action the French lost 500 men and 5 guns, (one of which was taken by the 66th) in the field, besides leaving 50 guns, a quantity of military stores, and all their sick at Oporto. The British casualties numbered 115 killed and wounded; the 6th alone lost 35 men, or nearly one-third of the total.

That same evening, Sir Arthur Wellesley issued the following Order : —

“G.O., Oporto, 12th May, 1809. The Commander of the Forces congratulates the troops upon the success that has attended the operations of the last four days; during which they have traversed above 80 miles of most difficult country, have carried some formidable positions, have beaten the enemy repeatedly, and have ended by forcing the passage of the Douro and defending the position so boldly taken, with a number far inferior to that by which they were attacked.

In the course of this short expedition the Commander of the Forces has had repeated opportunities of witnessing and applauding the gallantry of the officers and men.”

It had certainly been a baptism of fire for the 66th.

More was soon to come…

Two months after the crossing of the Douro at Oporto, the 66th was part of Rowland Hill’s division at the two-day battle of Talavera where the exhausted survivors witnessed the horror of many wounded troops, incapable of moving by themselves, being burned alive when the tinder-dry grassland caught fire towards the end of the battle. And their sacrifice had been for nought as the following day Wellington received intelligence that Marshal Soult was advancing with 30,000 troops to cut his lines of communication and so he was forced to retreat back to the Portuguese border.

After engaging the French again at Bussaco, Wellington then withdrew his forces into the prepared defences of Torres Vedras and it wasn’t until May 1811 that the 66th was involved in another major action, at Albuera, where they were all but annihilated.

The 66th had been assigned to the command of Marshal Beresford, leading a combined British, Portuguese and Spanish force besieging the city of Badajoz. When the French Marshal Soult marched up from Seville, with his Army of Andalusia, to relieve the garrison in Badajoz, Beresford broke off the siege to meet them in battle around the village of Albuera.

The main French attack fell on the Spanish brigades on the flank. In response, Beresford brought up Stewart’s 2nd Division to support the Spanish on their right. The leading brigade, Colborne’s, climbed the hill in the face of a blinding hail storm and went into action as each battalion reached the crest, only to be caught still deployed in line by the French light cavalry, the lancers of the Polish Vistula Legion and a regiment of hussars.


Massacre at Albuera

Three battalions of Colborne’s brigade, including 2nd / 66th Foot were virtually annihilated in just a few minutes as the French cavalry broke through them.

At this point in the battle, Soult failed to act to secure the victory by vigorous use of his overwhelming strength in cavalry and Beresford was given the opportunity to reform his line. The brigades of the 4th Division were brought up to relieve the Spanish and held the French back under a storm of artillery fire and musketry. In a twenty-minute exchange of fire these battalions were reduced to ruin but they held their ground.

When the Fusilier Brigade ascended the ridge and attacked the French with the Portuguese battalions of the 4th Division and Abercromby’s Brigade, Soult realised he had lost the initiative, abandoned his attack and withdrew.

After the battle, Wellington acknowledged that another such “victory” would ruin his army and Marshal Soult wrote: “There is no beating these troops… I had turned their right, pierced their centre and everywhere victory was mine – but they did not know how to run!”

And what of Thomas’ unit? The 66th had 16 officers and 310 men killed, wounded, and missing in the devastating attack by French cavalry. The battalion went into action 400 strong, and the following day only 53 bayonets mustered at parade.

If Thomas was one of the wounded we will never know but we know he survived to fight on, and much more fighting was yet to come.

Following the massacre at Albuera the 66th Foot struggled to replace its losses from its depot back in England and opinion was divided on what to do with seriously under-strength battalions as Sir Charles Oman wrote in his history of the war:

“What was to be done if a Peninsular battalion had got very low in numbers …and had few or no recruits at its British depot ready to be sent out?   This was the case in December 1812 with twelve good old battalions of the Peninsular Army.  The Duke of York maintained that since they all showed under 350 effectives…they must come home at once.  But Wellington had other views.  He held that a well-tried battalion acclimatised to Peninsular service was such a precious thing…that it would be best to combine the wasted units in pairs as ‘Provisional battalions’ of 600 to 700 bayonets.”

Thus was the situation with the 2nd / 66th Foot in June 1813 as Wellington faced up to Joseph Bonaparte at the Battle of Vitoria in northern Spain. They were combined with the 2nd / 31st Foot to create the 1st Provisional Battalion.



Vitoria was to be the largest battle of Wellington’s career to date, he having 80,000 troops at his disposal which he used to devastating effect, completely routing the French and capturing all but one of their 150 guns. The aftermath of the battle was notorious for the looting which took place of Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage train full of the loot he has brought out of Madrid when he abandoned the capital. There being no evidence of any great wealth coming into the family I’m guessing that Thomas missed out on any rich pickings!

However, the victory at Vitoria opened the way for Wellington to cross the Pyrenees and invade France which he duly did.

As part of Wellington’s victorious army, the 66th pursued the French Army into France and fought at the Battle of the Pyrenees in July 1813, the Battle of Nivelle in November 1813 and the Battle of Nive in December 1813 as well as the Battle of Orthez in February 1814 and finally the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814, the last battle fought by the British before Napoleon abdicated.

When Napoleon escaped from Elba in the spring of 1815 and the 100 days campaign began which culminated in his final defeat at Waterloo, the 66th Foot played no part.

However, their experience of Napoleon was not quite over.

napoleonIn 1816 the 2nd / 66th sailed for St Helena to guard Napoleon, who had been sent there in exile following his defeat at Waterloo. For five long years the regiment was posted there guarding the emperor. In the well-known engraving of Napoleon staring forlornly out to sea there is a sentry standing guard in the background… just maybe that would be Thomas!

When Napoleon died in 1821 the whole regiment formally paraded past his coffin as a mark of respect. Finally, it was grenadiers of the 20th and 66th Regiments who bore the emperor’s body to the grave.

At last, the 66th could return home.

The final few years of Thomas’ service were uneventful and after almost 21 years of service he was honourably discharged, described as being “worn out from service in the Peninsular and St. Helena”. I think the poor bugger had done enough.

It’s all Greek to me..

This post concludes the story of my great-great-great-grandfather’s naval service that I started a couple of posts ago. On leaving HMS Atholl, he was posted to HMS Blonde.


HMS Blonde by Robert Dampier (1825)

It is unclear how James got to the Blonde because at the time of his joining, the ship was already in the Med, its new captain, Edmund Lyons, arriving with it in Malta in May 1828.

HMS Blonde was a 46-gun frigate, considerably more powerful than either of the ships James Hubsdell had previously served on.

Edmund Lyons was a rising star in the service, described in letters to the fleet commander as “’a man of intelligence and great ability” who was “blessed’ with military competence”.

In October, after having for some time blockaded the port of Navarin (modern Pylos, Greece), Lyons was in charge of directing the movements of the naval part of an expedition ordered to co-operate with the French in the siege of Morea Castle, the last hold of the Turks in the Peloponnesus. During an arduous service of twelve days and nights, in very unfavourable weather, which preceded the castle’s unconditional surrender, he distinguished himself to the extent that he was invested with the insignia of the order of St. Louis of France and of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Redeemer of Greece.

In the summer of 1829 the Blonde conveyed Sir Robert Gordon as Ambassador to Constantinople and thereafter undertook a cruise around the Black Sea to become the first British warship to visit Sevastopol, the Caucasus, and Odessa: 25 years later, Lyons was the only senior officer involved in the Crimean War to have prior knowledge of the Black Sea.

In 1831 Lyons was appointed to command of the frigate HMS Madagascar at just about the time my ancestor James Hubsdell left the service.

After leaving the navy James Hubsdell went on to a number of manual jobs and he lived to a ripe old age for the time. He died just after the census of 1881, aged 80, at which time he was living in his son’s house and although in the intervening years he had described his occupation as everything from “general labourer” to “dairyman”, just before his death he described himself as “sail-maker”…. perhaps recalling a period of his life that meant more to him. Who knows?