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Samuel, John and Thomas Nichols: SOLDIERS OF THE KING

Samuel, John and Thomas Nichols: SOLDIERS OF THE KING

Note: the surname is spelt in a wide variety of ways so I will stick to Nichols.

Struck down with a heavy cold and it pouring with rain outside I decided to while away some time by looking at Ringstead man, Sergeant Samuel Nichols, who was killed at Waterloo in 1815. I struggled to find any more about him not contained in Martin Aaron’s booklet, The Waterloo Men of Northamptonshire, so I started to look at his family and background and realised that there were other military connections in the Nichols family.

A William Nichols was baptised on January 23rd 1739 (old calendar so year ended in March) in Ringstead Church along with his twin, Simon, and brother John. His parents were Simon and Mary Nickols (nee Porter) who had married in Ringstead on October 26th 1731. Unfortunately the twins died a few days later so I have not found our William yet.

We first find him in Barnwell, some nine miles north-east of Ringstead, where he was the father of a “natural daughter”, christened Mary, on April 19th 1772. The mother was Susannah (or Susanna)  who was the daughter of John and Jane Berridge. She had been baptised privately on 26th April 1752 in Barnwell St Andrew Church. William and Susannah had actually been married on 5th April 1772 in that same church and it is in the Marriage Register that we see that William is from the Parish of Ringstead and that they were married by licence, (perhaps to speed up the process before the baby was born).

Another daughter was christened Ann on 3rd April 1774 at Barnwell and it seems likely that they returned to Ringstead soon after for it was there that the rest of their children were baptised. I have found no sign of either of the girls in Barnwell or Ringstead Burial Registers. Before the Censuses people are easily lost. However, an Ann Nichols married Menzies Clough Stevens at Barnwell on 3rd December 1793. Menzies was a gravestone cutter and the couple are together in the 1841 Census for Barnwell. Ann is 69 which would be about the correct age. Did the girls remain in Barnwell perhaps with Susanna’s parents or did the Nichols family keep in contact with the area after their move to Ringstead?

Samuel seems to have been the first child baptised in Ringstead Church on 19th January 1777. There followed Elizabeth (06/06/1779) who married Thomas Adams of Raunds on July 1st 1799; Sarah baptised 10/01/1781 and buried 18/03/1782; William (26/02/1786 who I have not found mentioned again); John (10/09/1787); Thomas (baptism not found but buried 04/03/1795); a second Thomas together with sister Susanna (baptised 14/09/1800). I think Thomas was born in about 1797 so they may not have been twins although, as we have seen, twins did run in the family.

In this brief account we are concerned with three of the sons, Samuel, John and Thomas who enlisted during the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

Samuel was the first to enlist. On 1st February 1795, at Thrapston, he enlisted as a Gunner in the 4th Battalion of the Royal Horse Artillery. He was just 18 years old and he was 5 ft 8¼ inches tall with a fair complexion, light hair and grey eyes. The Royal Horse Artillery had only been formed in 1793 as part of the Royal Artillery. All the soldiers were mounted so they could keep up with the cavalry. The troop had three divisions each with two subdivisions. The subdivision would have one six-pounder gun and its own horses, wagons, gunners and support troops. The “D Troop”, which I understand to be the same as the “4th Battalion”, would have some 168 officers and men with 200 horses.

The uniform was blue with gold lace and red facings but their overalls, (trousers worn over the breeches and gaiters to protect them from dirt and damage), were grey with a red stripe. They also wore distinctive Tarleton helmets.

Uniform of Royal Horse Artillery Gunner showing Tarleton helmet

Taken from Pinterest and possibly originally Suzilove. I cannot find any copyright assertion. Please let me know if there is any issue and I will remove or give proper attribution

He was made a Bombardier on 1st July 1804 and was further promoted to Corporal on 25th September 1806. Martin Aaron has written that Samuel served with them through the Peninsular War “seeing many great Battles from Bussaco in 1810 to Toulouse in 1814”. It was during this period, on 1st January 1811, perhaps as a result of his showing at the battle of Bussaco that he was promoted to Sergeant. At this battle the British and Portuguese under Wellington held a long ridge in the Serra do Bucaco The French tried to dislodge them five times but failed and lost 4,500 men in the process (the Anglo-Portuguese had 1,250 casualties).

British and Portuguese infantry deployed in line on the ridge of Bussaco (27th September 1810)

By Thomas S. St Clair [Public domain] via Wikipedia Commons

The British, Spanish and Portuguese troops then pushed the French out of the Iberian Peninsula and moved on into France. Napoleon surrendered the French Empire and went into exile. Not yet aware of this, the “Sixth Coalition” besieged Toulouse, the regional capital. This was strongly defended and the allies suffered severe casualties on 10th April 1814. They pulled back and the entire French army managed to escape. Wellington and his army marched into the city and were generally acclaimed by the many of the inhabitants who were royalists. News of Napoleon’s abdication reached Wellington and on 17th April an armistice was called.  Samuel must have thought that the worst was over

As we saw in the piece on John Phillips, Napoleon escaped from exile and marched his army into Belgium to confront Wellington and the Coalition army at Waterloo on Sunday 18th June 1815. Sergeant Samuel Nichols served in D Troop under the command of Captain George Beane and he and his commander were both killed. It seems that Samuel did not die on the battlefield but at one of the Brussels hospitals set up before the battle. Samuel died as a result of his wounds on 30th June, some twelve days after the battle. 

The second son to join up was John who, following his brother, at eighteen years old, joined the 1st Battalion of the Royal Horse Artillery in 1805. We do not know what happened to John except that in 1807 he died in service. I do not think that he saw any active service and died in this country.

Finally, the youngest son, Thomas signed up in 1812, but this time with the 98th Company of the Royal Marines in Chatham as a boy recruit. He was just fifteen years old. We know that he was discharged but neither the date or reason for his discharge is given in the records and I have not yet found him in any later Ringstead records.

When we add to these deaths and disappearances the burials in Ringstead of the parents William on March 18th 1808 and wife Susannah, aged 63, on 20th September 1814, we see why the name Nichols disappears from the Ringstead Registers in 1818.


Note the last entry in the Register for Nichols - for the christening of Anne daughter of William and Kezia Nichols in 1817 - is actually a mistake by the curate and should have been in the Denford Register. I had thought William was the other son of William and Susanna (born 1796) but I think now that this William was born in Titchmarsh.


The Waterloo Men of Northamptonshire. Martin Aaron.

Ringstead Parish Registers (Rushden Heritage website and

Barnwell St Andrew Parish Registers (

Description of soldiers on joining Royal Horse Artillery 1795 – 1815: Refs. 69/3/2100 and WO69/2/2801 (National Archives, Kew).

Folios 131-132 Thomas Nicholls, born Ringstead, Northamptonshire. Attestation papers to serve in Royal Marines... Ref. ADM 157/11/131 (National Archives, Kew).

British Royal Horse Artillery by Richard Moore (

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