Entries in India (2)


Ball, Thomas (1835 - 1886). SOLDIER OF EMPIRE

Thomas Ball 1835 – 1886


We first find Thomas Ball in 1841 aged seven living in Ringstead, with his parents Daniel, a shepherd, and Phoebe and his brothers, “Daniel, John, James, Samuel and Elisher”. On 12 September of the same year he is baptised at Ringstead Parish Church with three of his brothers. Perhaps there was a reduction for a job lot. In 1851 he is still living with his parents but at seventeen he is now an agricultural labourer.

Then, like his siblings George, Daniel, Sarah and John and his younger brother Elisha, he disappears from the censuses. Most have gone to the New World but George and Thomas prove more elusive to trace although fragments of Thomas's life appear. Unlike Elisha,  he does not reappear again in Ringstead with children whose birth places tell of his travels.

There is one possible siting. On a Stray Marriages site I found the following:

BALL Thomas of Raunds, age 21 bachelor, father Daniel, shepherd Sarah GALE otp age 21, spinster, father Henry, carpenter 18 Oct 1855 Pertenhall BDF {Bedfordshire}

It does give his home parish as Raunds rather than Ringstead but it seems too much of a coincidence: same name, same age, same father with same occupation! Also I cannot find any siting of another Thomas Ball in later censuses to fit this same description.  Assuming that this is the correct marriage there is more confusion because some five years later, in the 1861 Census Sarah is still living with her parents, Henry and Mary, in Pertenhall, and is surnamed Gale, not Ball. It appears to show her as married and certainly there is a marriage certificate. By 1871 she has disappeared and I have been unable to trace her. In 1881 her mother, Mary Gale, now aged 79 and a widow is visiting George Pearson, a labourer, living in "The Bear, St. Mary's Street, St Neots in Huntingdonshire. George's wife is Sarah, aged 45 and born in Pertenhall. Could this be Sarah Gale? I have not yet traced any marriage. In 1891 George, now a gardener, and Sarah are living in Yaxley in Huntingdonshire.

Of course this may all be a false trail but Thomas's story is one of alleyways and cul-de-sacs. If we have the right person, the fact that she is put as Sarah Gale and not Ball is a strong indicator that something has gone wrong. There is no sign of Thomas either in 1861 or 1871

In the 1881 Census, thirty years after his last appearance, we find a Thomas Ball living at 1 London Wharf, High Street, Chatham, Kent. This Thomas is only 37 (not 47 as we would expect) but it does show his birthplace as Ringstead, Northants. His wife is Emily J Ball aged 31 and born in Cathrington, Hampshire. They have a son Edgar J aged two months old and born in Chatham, Kent. Thomas is also shown as a Chelsea Pensioner so we know that he had been in the army. Although the Census describes them as married, I have been unable to find a record of their wedding.

Looking at the birth certificate for Edgar John Peter Ball we see that Emily’s maiden name was Ellis. Emily too is something of a mystery and she variously is shown in the Censuses as coming from Cathrington, Chichester and Frogmore. It also shows Thomas as a labourer so he is still trying to earn a living. A Pensioner was allowed to work for a living, for a pension would not have been enough to live on. The great majority of Chelsea Pensioners received outpayments and did not lodge in Chelsea and wear the familiar red uniform.

With this lead we turn to the British Army Records for Chelsea Pensioners in the National Archives of the Public Record Office in Kew (and now increasingly online). Suddenly those missing years are filled in. Here is one of a number of Ringstead farm labourers who has left the security, and insecurity, of a Northamptonshire village for a world full of excitement and danger but one which gave him the chance of earning a living.

What we see are his discharge papers recording his service and his entitlement to a pension. It also tells us a little about the man. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall, of fresh complexion with grey eyes and brown hair. His only scar is from a cut on the end of the forefinger of his left hand. Few coming out of the army would have got away so lightly.

It also confirms that he was born in Ringstead and was a labourer before signing up. He "attested" for the 48th, The Northamptonshire Regiment of Foot , at Northampton on 28th September 1857, at the age of 21 years 10 months which means that he was born in November 1835. Was his enlistment connected to his 'marriage' to Sarah, some two years earlier?

He had been in the army for 21 years so where had Private 2548 Thomas Ball been up to his final discharge on 8th October 1878? We are told that for the first 7 years 14 days he had been a private in the 48th but that on 11th October 1864 he transferred to the 3rd Rifle Brigade with whom he remained until his discharge. It is also recorded that he served abroad for 13 years 77 days of which 28 days were in Gibraltar and 13 years 49 days in India.

The Northamptonshire Regiment of Foot had fought in the Crimean War with distinction and when that conflict had finished moved first to Malta and then Gibraltar for about a year.  The Northamptonshire Militia Regiment had re-embodied (re-formed) in 1857 when news came of the Indian Mutiny. It assembled on 27th October 1857 and proceeded by rail to Plymouth on 4th December. The militia remained in Plymouth until May 1858 when it received orders to return to Northampton to be disembodied. Did Thomas travel down with the Militia and then sail out to join the regular Northamptonshire Regiment in Gibralter. perhaps as one of the replacements for the losses suffered in the Crimea. He was only there for a month when orders were received from London and the regiment embarked for India. Apparently, the 48th had behaved well in Gibraltar and they were given a hearty send-off by crowds of local people as they marched to the docks behind various regimental bands.

SS Hindoostan (from an Indian stamp isued in 1997)

It was the 15th September 1858 when the regiment left Gibralter on the steam transport ship Jura and a week later landed in Alexandria in Egypt. It was transported by rail to the terminus but from there travelled by donkey across the desert to Suez. Thomas and the other soldiers would have seen the construction of the great canal in progress but it would be another 11 years before it was opened for shipping. At Suez they boarded the P & O Steamer Hindoostan and after an unpleasant overcrowded voyage, (there were only enough bunks for half the men), arrived in Calcutta on 20th October They had been at sea for a month and must have been grateful to get their own bunks in the barracks at Barrackpore. It was on the Barrackpore (Barrackpur) parade ground that a single sepoy had first refused to use the alleged "cow and pig fat" bullets, the action that had triggered the rising.

The regiment had just missed the vicious fighting of the Indian Mutiny and it seems that its time in India was comparatively uneventful. They were stationed, over the next seven years, at Allahabad, Calpee, Cawnpore, Lucknow and Calcutta. These had had been places where the rising had been at its most vicious. It is not for us here to allot guilt but, certainly, terrible massacres were carried out by both sides. Although armed hostilities were over it must have been a tense time both between British and Indian soldiers in the army but also between the army and the civilain population. It was because of the Mutiny that India came directly under the Crown rather than the East India Company.

On 1st January  1865 the Northamptonshire Regiment of Foot sailed for home on the S.S. Patrician but Private Thomas Ball was not with them. Nearly three months earlier, on 11th October 1864, he had transferred to the Third Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. We can only speculate as to his reasons for this move. What seems certain is that he realised that this would prolong his time in India. Perhaps he enjoyed the life in the sub-continent and he seems to have been a model soldier. Although he was never promoted, he was never court-martialled and gained five good conduct badges and one good conduct medal in his career. There is also the possibility that we are right in our unproved theory that something had gone very wrong in his marriage and he wanted to keep out of England. The records we have do not help and give no details of his marital status or children.

 Rifle Brigade Uniforms 1871

History of the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own). William Henry Cope

The Rifle Brigade was a famous fighting force with their colonel being Field Marshall H.R.H. The Prince of Wales. Its title usually had "Prince Consort's Own" in brackets after the brigade name. It had been formed in 1806 (check) to make use of the new more accurate rifles in the Napoleonic Wars and was famous for having a green, rather than the usual red, uniform. It is difficult to work out if the two forces were stationed close to each other at the time of Thomas's transfer, but it does not seem likely with the 48th in the east near Calcutta and the Third Battalion of the Rifle Brigade in the west around Rawal Pindee (Rawalpindi). Perhaps Thomas and others who elected to stay travelled partly by the Indian railway system which was one of the legacies that the British left.


A Murree bridge in 1865. Could this be the road that Thomas worked on?


The 3rd battalion moved around the North-West area in what is now Pakistan : from the headquarters at Rawal Pindee to Peshawar and Nowshera. In 1866 and 1867 they worked on a road from Murree to Abbottabad. Thomas was probably one of these road-makers because on 26th April 1867 he was re-engaged at Rawal Pindee.

                            North West India

       From the New Pictorial Atlas of the World (Odhams Press. No date)

On January 10th 1869 the 3rd Battalion left Rawal Pindee and marched to Moradabad and Seetapore. From there they travelled by rail to Allahabad and on to Bombay. Their tour of duty was over and on 21st November 1870 the brigade embarked on H.M. Troopship Euphrates. This time Thomas was on board.

On the way home they stopped at Aden for a week before leaving on December 7th on the final lap of their journey on the Troopship Seraphis . The brigade finally arrived in Portsmouth harbour on 30th December 1871. Even though they had spent much of the time in the cooler highlands of  north-west India an English winter must have come as something of a shock. They occupied the Clarence barracks and were joined by the Depot companies from Chatham. Over the next six years the Battalion moved between Exeter, Darmoor, Plymouth and Winchester before moving to their permanent barracks in Chatham. Each year there would be manoeuvres but Thomas would have no more active service. By luck he had missed both the terrible European and Indian conflicts.

One can only speculate as to Thomas's state of mind on returning home. There is no sign that he went to see his relatives and old friends in Ringstead. Was he pleased to see his home shores after so many years or was he worried about just what awaited him in England.

Thomas left the army with a £5 gratuity and a good conduct medal for his years of service. He also had a small "Chelsea Pension". He still had to work as a labourer, for a pension was not enough to live on. It is also about this time that he probably met a woman called Emily Ellis. The Censuses variously give her birthplace at various places in Hampshire so it is possible that they met while Thomas was stationed or on manouevres in the south west. On his discharge form, in September 1878, he gives his intended place of residence as No. 4 Lower Church Path, New Brompton, Chatham.

As we have seen in 1881 his residence is given as 1 London Wharf, High Street, Chatham and his son Edgar is just two months old so Emily and Thomas  met , if not before he left the army, at least shortly after. It must have been something of a change for an army man in his forties, used to barracks and army discipline, to find himself with a wife and a young family. It is possible that his labouring work was in one of Chatham's military establishments so perhaps he did find an environment with which he was familiar.

Unfortunately for Thomas he was not long to enjoy his new life. After many years of living in the tropics and enduring the tough dangerous life of a soldier, on the 11th April 1886 at Old Luton Road, Chatham, he died, a civilian in England, aged just forty nine. His death certificate records that he is an army pensioner. It also records that he died of Phthisis Pulmonaris an old name for Tuberculosis (TB), a feared disease in the nineteenth century and one that is still a killer in the world today. It was rife in England at this time and much of the milk was contaminated with it.

For Emily his death also meant that she would have to struggle to bring up her young family. The 1891 Census shows Emily Ball, as a widow, aged 41, with her sons Edgar aged 9 and Charles aged 7, both of whom were born in Chatham. She now lives at Church Path, Chatham. Emily is a laundress, one of the occupations resorted to by women who feared the workhouse. This is the address (or close to it) given by Thomas at his discharge. Perhaps it was a friend or relative of his or Emily's which they stayed in for a time after he came out of the army and which she either rented or inherited some time after his death.

In 1901 Emily, now 50, is living with her two sons, Edgar (20) and Charles (19) at 10 Butter Farm (?) Street, Gillingham. She also has a boarder, Jesse Woods, a sixty-five year old house painter from Leeds. It does not show Emily as working but the two sons are both Assistant Corn Factors. By 1911 Emily is aged 68 and shown as coming from Frogmore in Hampshire. She is living at 17 Albany Road Gillingham, still with her two sons, now 30 and 28 and unmarried. Edgar is a carter for the District Council and Charles a General Labourer at the Government Shipyard. For the first time, in 1911, the residents filled in the Census forms themselves. In this case it was Edgar, and we must presume that her age is correct and that she was born in about 1842, rather than the 1850 that we might expect.

Could Edgar have been wrong or had she lied about her age all these years? I believe that Edgar married Olive Trice in 1915 in the Medway District and that Emily died in 1920. Did Thomas tell Emily and his sons of those times in India and have they become part of a family tradition or has Thomas's life, like most, been  lost to his future family. 


Censuses 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871. 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911

Ringstead BMD (NRO)

Birth Certificate for Edgar John Peter Ball 24th January 1881

Death Certificate for Thomas Ball

England & Wales FreeBMD Marriage Index 1837 - 1915 (Oct - Dec 1855 St Neots District Vol 3b p 727)

British Service Records - Other Ranks 1760 - 1913 (NA Ref. WO97 / 2158 / 71 Public Record Office) and transcribed on 

History of the Northamptonshire Regiment 1742 - 1934. Lieut - Colonel Russell Gurney (Gale & Polden Ltd. Aldershot 1935).

History of the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own). William Henry Cope. (Chatto and Windus 1877). This book has been reprinted and has also been digitised on


Knowles Family: John Knowles (1788 – 1839), Morris Knowles (1796 – 1866) and John Knowles (1808 – 1887) SOLDIERS HOME & ABROAD

This is a first draft of the story of 3 Ringstead soldiers in the 19th Century. Any comments, additions etc are always welcome. I hope to improve this over the next few months.


Knowles Family: John Knowles (1788 – 1839), Morris Knowles (1796 – 1866) and John Knowles (1808 – 1887) SOLDIERS HOME & ABROAD

I have written in the past about Ringstead families that had a number of sons who joined the military either by choice or conscription. One of these was the Nichols family and overlapping them were three Knowles men who had very different army lives.

A Morris Knowles, born in about 1755, was living in Ringstead when he married Sarah Timson of Raunds in her parish on 15th April 1781. They had at least six children, two of whom, Mary and Morris died in infancy (a second Mary was baptised on 9th April 1786.). It is John, baptised at Ringstead on 15th September 1788 and a second Morris born on 5th January 1796 but not baptised until 25th May 1800, and a second John illegitimate son of sister Mary, that we are concerned with in this article.

John Knowles (1788 – 1839)

It was John who first signed up, with the 22nd (Light) Dragoon Guards, on the 6th June 1806. The Light Dragoons had originally travelled by horse but fought on foot, but they had become light cavalry regiments by this time. John stayed with them for the next 14 years 9 days but, perhaps surprisingly, never fought in the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. Most of this time, from the 7th July 1807 to the 6th July 1820 he was serving in the “East Indies” which usually meant India.


Trooper in 22nd (Light) Dragoon Guards

While there, the 22nd fought in the Mahratta War in 1817 – 1819. This included actions at Bucktowlie and Nagnore in 1817 and Ashta on 28th February 1818. It was also at the siege of Capaul-droog. Some of his time there, presumably at the end, he was made up to Corporal for one year 228 days.


Indian Camp Scene in the Western Ghats in Maharash (c1817 – 1819)

 From drawing by Captain Barton who was an artillery officer during this time

(Coloured lithograph by Rodolph Ackerman 1820). British Library.  Public Domain

The 22nd was ordered to be disbanded in 1819 and, on returning to England, it was on the 25th October 1820. John had joined the 1st Veteran Battalion at Chatham on 28th July 1820 and served in it for just 335 days, leaving on 21st June 1821. When John signed up originally it was for life. There was no retirement age and a soldier would either be killed or so broken and worn out that he became a Chelsea Pensioner, either at the Royal Hospital or as an out-pensioner living at home. Pensioners could be called back into service. The Veteran Battalions were a sort of halfway house which had disappeared by 1830. The veterans worked in depots and stores doing administrative and support work. Every soldier paid one day’s pay a year (known as “poundage”) and this was used to fund the Chelsea Pensioners, any shortfall being made up by the Government.

When he left the army John was 33 years old.  We get a brief description of him, which was done in order to try to prevent someone else from collecting his army pension. He was 5ft 8 inches tall with brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. We are also told that he was by occupation a labourer.

John returned to the Ringstead area and settled down to civilian life. I had thought originally that he married Mary Cheney by licence in Ringstead Church on November 5th 1826 but I believe now that he married Susanna Morris in Stanwick on 12th August 1822. The couple settled in Stanwick and they had a first child baptised Morris there on 17th August 1823. In the Baptismal Register John is described as a “soldier and labourer”. Perhaps it was the last time that he could describe himself as a soldier. There followed Sarah in 1825, Charles baptised on 12th August 1827, Eliza on 16th August 1829, Elizabeth aged eight months on 24th August 1836, William on 6th May 1837. John died aged 51 and was buried on 5th January 1839 in Stanwick Churchyard but there was a further baptism of John, son of John and Susan, on 13th August 1843. When we look at the 1841 Stanwick Census we see widow Susan Knowles, a pauper, with children Morris (18), Sarah (150, Charles (13), Eliza (11), Hannah (8), William (3) and John (2). We also see that John must have been born at about the same time as his father died.


Morris Knowles (1796 – 1866)

John’s younger brother Morris (sometimes Maurice or Morrice) was born on 5th January 1796 and baptised on 25th May 1800 in Ringstead Church. He enlisted at Thrapston with the 3rd Regiment of Dragoon Guards (also known as the Prince of Wales Regiment). He is shown as serving from 25th June 1815 although his attestation date was the 7th August of that year. He was eighteen years old.

This was very soon after the Battle of Waterloo which had brought the wars against Napoleon’s France to an end. We see form his later discharge that he had similar looks to his brother, being 5ft 8 inches tall with brown hair, hazle [sic] eyes and a fresh complexion. [His brother had grey eyes, but a suspiciously high number of soldiers had grey put down as their eye colour.] We also see that he too had been a labourer.

In 1806 a private earned seven shillings a week whereas a dockworker could expect four times that amount. On the other hand, an agricultural   labourer would have had a poor, uncertain wage and after the glory of Waterloo being heralded across the country, with the richly coloured uniforms and the chance of “loot” many young men would have been tempted. Nevertheless, it was a hard, often brutal and short life with the very real chance of death or disablement and the recruitment of men had become more difficult and in 1813 one fifth of the British Army was made up of foreign volunteers.

When we look at the “Historical Record of the Third or Prince of Wales Regiment” we find that it had arrived in Northampton, after marching down from York, on 5th July 1815 and it would seem probable that it was here that Morris first joined the regiment. It established a depot of four troops in Northampton and the remaining six troops marched to the coast and sailed to Ostend. These troops took part in the grand celebrations in Paris to celebrate the fall of Napoleon. When all the peace treaties had been signed most British troops left France and on the 24th January 1816 the 3rd Dragoons landed again in Dover. It was there reduced to four troops and went to join the rest of the Regiment left in Northampton in Leicester. We cannot be sure but, as a raw recruit would Morris have been left back in England for further training?

The now complete Regiment marched to Manchester, arriving the 29th February 1816 and were billeted in Sheffield, Huddersfield and Liverpool. Even if he had not gone to the Continent Morris would have already seen more of the world than most of his fellow villagers. [Note: When we write that they marched, it would have been on horseback, except in extreme circumstances.]

In June 1816 the 3rd Dragoons sailed from Liverpool to Dublin and from there marched to Ballinarobe, Gort, Sligo, Castlebar, Roscommon and Dunmore. In June 1818 it marched to Dublin, Phillipstown and Tullamore.  In early 1819 the troops assembled at Dublin and a reduction was made in the establishment. The troops them marched to Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir, Clogheen, Fethard and Newross. Ireland had suffered terrible rains and poor harvests and the farm produce was being undercut by the New World. Poverty and famine naturally led to popular risings.

Much of this moving about was to show areas of possible insurrection the might of the British Army but it would also have been training in the logistics of war at that time. Edwin Rutherford, the Curator of the Royal Scots Guards Museum in Edinburgh, has pointed out that:

. . . this was supplemented by Field Days which were grand reviews where regiments would go through clean, tidy and stylised mock battles, with charges, wheels and much showboating to entertain the public. All part of what I would describe as ‘cavalry dash.’

After 1815 the Government reduced the army as fast as it was able. The mounted troops suffered the least because it was the mobile dragoons that were relied on in the suppression of riots. The period from Waterloo to the Crimean War in the home countries was one of the most difficult for the army. Initially without a national police force it was the army that maintained the civil peace. Robert Peel was trying to cut back expenditure on the army in Ireland and replace it with “peelers”, a local police force.

In 1820 Morris sailed with the regiment to Portpatrick in Scotland and marched to Hamilton, Glasgow and Paisley. Trouble had broken out in Scotland. Like most of Britain the end of the Napoleonic Wars saw widescale unemployment and rising food prices. Further insurrection followed the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester when 16 000 protested in Paisley. On the 1st and 2nd of April 1820, the “Radical War” broke out. Posters in Glasgow, Dumbarton, Paisley and Kilsyth called for a general strike to sweep away the government and assert the rights of man and universal male suffrage. As in the north of England it was the handloom weavers from places such as Paisley and Kilsyth who were at the front of the protests. The ringleaders were captured, tried and hung and the strikes collapsed. The “war” was over.

During the summer of 1821 the 3rd Dragoons marched to Newcastle, Carlisle and Penrith before returning to Glasgow in August. The Regiment was again reduced to six troops consisting of 27 officers and 225 non-commissioned officers and privates with 253 troop horses. In November 1821 the regiment proceeded to Piershill Barracks in Edinburgh, Ayr, Greenock and Perth.

In June 1822 the Regiment assembled in Edinburgh to attend the new king, George IV, on his visit to Scotland. He, like Edward Vll, spent too many dissolute years before he finally became king. This was a famous occasion, much of it orchestrated by Sir Walter Scott, the famous author. He had produced a modified version of Scottish Highland dress and this became the accepted national costume for Lowlanders as well as Highlanders.

By contrast with that grand occasion, in September 1822 the regiment marched to Newcastle. On October 24th the keelmen there were striking and forcing crews from the loading vessels. These men worked on the keels (large, shallow draught boats) that took the coal from the dockside chutes (“spouts”) to the waiting collier ships in the deeper waters. There was unrest and rioting which the Dragoons had to suppress. Again, in the summers of 1823 and 1824 Morris marched with his regiment around the north of England.  There was further unrest, this time by the silk weavers of Macclesfield. There were food riots there on 13th April 1824 which the 3rd Dragoons were sent to put down.

In 1824 the 3rd Dragoon Guards were supplied with helmets with bear-skin crests. In June of the following year they returned to Dublin and in 1826 marched to Cahir, Limerick and Clogheen.  Eventually they were stationed in Cork and Fermoy with detachments in aid of the civil authorities and the officers of the revenue.


3rd Dragoon Guards 1838 (from Wikipedia)

In Autumn 1827 the regiment marched to Newbridge Cavalry Barracks and it was here that Morrris was allowed to quit the army. He had applied earlier during the half-yearly inspection, but the doctor had said there were no obvious signs of disease. Now his request was granted on the grounds that he was “worn out”. He was thirty years old and his conduct through his army years had been “good”.

Morris had spent most, and perhaps all, of his 12 years 185 days service in the British Isles, mainly it seems, keeping law and order. As we have said, in the years after the Napoleonic Wars poor harvests and mechanisation caused unrest and sometimes starvation to many areas of Britain and the army had to deal not with a foreign enemy but the poor of its own country. One wonders what Morris thought about his role in forcibly breaking up demonstrations by working men like himself. It may be that as in the heat of battle self-preservation and army training kept any doubts he had at bay.

When he left the regiment on 26th December 1829, his intended place of residence was not Ringstead but Liverpool. He was entitled to a small army pension of five pence a day and the records of this help us to follow him around England. The name “Morris Knowles” is an unusual one but far from unique, and we are sometimes left with possible sightings of him which we cannot absolutely confirm.

One possibility was that his intended location was, in fact, Carlisle. On 10th June 1823 a Morris Knowles had married an Ann Brown at St Cuthbert’s in Carlisle and we know that in the 1821-1823 period that the 3rd Dragoon Guards were marching around the north of England, including time in Carlisle. In the 1841 Census a Morris Knoles [sic] aged 40 (but ages rounded in this Census) was an Army pensioner living at Poundfold Howe, Crosthwaite in the Cockermouth District in Cumberland. He had not been born in Cumberland and living with him is a county native, Ann Knoles also aged 40.

I think that the cottage was in the hamlet of Wythburn near the foot of Helvellyn. Much of the village is now drowned under the waters of Thirlmere Reservoir, although the church remains. It would have been an isolated life in beautiful, but often harsh, countryside.

There are some common threads to make us believe that his Morris is our man. This is reinforced by the entries in the Pension record for it shows that in 1846 he transferred his pension collection point from Carlisle to Northampton. In the 1861 Census (but not in the 1851 one) he is recorded as a widower. An Ann Knowles died in the Kendal area in 1843 aged 50. More research is needed.

Over the next years Morris transferred his pension from Northampton to Nottingham then, in 1849, to Lynn (presumably Kings Lynn). In the 1851 Census for Newton in Lincolnshire a Morris Knowles aged 54 and born in Ringstead is a farm servant in the household of Harriett Swann an Innkeeper and occupier of fifty acres. Newton is some 50 miles from Kings Lynn and over the next few years Morris transfers backwards and forwards between Lynn and Northampton as his pension collection point.

The pension records stop here and it seems likely that Morris had returned to the Ringstead area as it is here that we find him in the 1861 Census. He is a widower aged 68 and a Chelsea Pensioner and born in Ringstead. He is lodging with agricultural labourer William Griffen, born in Stanwick and his wife Elizabeth.

Whether from poverty or infirmity, or both, he went into Thrapston Union Workhouse and it was there that he died on 3rd February 1866, aged 73, and was buried in Ringstead churchyard on 7th February.


John Knowles (1808 – 1887)

If we look at the 1851 Census for Ringstead we see another John Knowles who is a Chelsea Pensioner. He is aged 42 (so born about 1809) and born in Sawtry. He is the son of Mary Major, a washerwoman and pauper. When we look at the Ringstead Registers we see that a John Knowles was baptised on 27th September 1808 the BS (bastard son) of Mary Knowles who was the sister of our John and Morris. Looking further we find that she had married widower John Major on 29th July 1816 in Ringstead. We see that the nephew of John and Morris had also joined the army.

Later in his life John is stated to be a widower but I have been unable to find his marriage. One possibility is a marriage (by licence) of John Knowles and Mary Ann Cheney at Ringstead on 5th November 1826. A Mary Ann Cheney, daughter of John and Mary was born on 3rd December 1809 and baptised at Ringstead on 23rd April 1810 so she would have been only 16 at the time of her marriage but this is possible. I have found no further references to Mary Ann so did she travel with him or, did he desert her, and she re-marry bigamously? There are many other possibilities.

John signed up with the 14th (or Buckinghamshire) Regiment of Foot at Buckingham on the 10th October 1827. He was said to be twenty years old and born in Ringstead. By profession he was a brickmaker. He voluntarily enlisted for the bounty of three pounds. The surgeon’s report on John stated that:

I certify that I have this day examined John Knowles a recruit of the Fourteenth Regiment of Foot and find that he has no Rupture, nor sore Leg, nor Mark of any Ulcer, with adhesion of the Skin to the Bone, no Phthisis Pulmonalia [T.B.] or Asthma, or tendency to Varicose Veins; that his Lungs appear to be sound and his Breathing good; that he has the perfect Use of his Eyes and Ears, and the free motion of every Joint and Limb; no Distortion of his Knees, or Deformity of his Body; that he has no Scrofulous Affection of the Glands, nor Inveterate Eruptions, no Scald Head, no diseased Enlargement of Bones or Joints, that his general appearance is Healthy, free from Marks of Punishment, and seems in every respect fit for His Majesty’s Service.

At the bottom of the form is written “Hospital for vaccination” which would have been for smallpox. This had been discovered by Edward Jenner in 1796 although the Chinese had used a primitive form, called “Variolation” for some 900 years.

The tune that the 14th marched to was “Ça Ira” (“It’ll be fine”), a Revolutionary song that the French were singing in an action at Famars in1793 and which the 14th copied. The Regiment was in India from 1807 until 1831 and was later granted the “Royal Tiger” badge in recognition.


From “Historical Record of the Fourteenth of the Buckinghamshire Regiment of Foot” (London 1845)

In the year after his enlistment, John went to “the East Indies”, which usually meant India, and was there with the 14th from 9th July 1828 to the 30th October 1830. The 14th had been stationed at Berhampore since the 21 February and John Knowles would have joined them there. In 1829 Berhampore had a Cholera epidemic. (There was another among the 49th in 1835 at Hazareebaugh.) It seems that John was based there for all his time in India. In November 1830 the Regiment moved to Fort William which was a fort in Calcutta (Kolkata) built in 1783 on the banks of the Ganges.

After 23 years’ service in India the Regiment was ordered to return to England and the first troops left on the 27th December 1830 for Europe on the East India Company ship Recovery. Those men who wanted to remain in India had to volunteer to join other corps and John was one of these remainers. He had joined the 49th (Princess of Wales’s Hertfordshire) Regiment on October 30th.


A Private in the 49th in 1812 by J.C.H Foster (City of Toronto Museums Canada)   

I have not found any copyright notice but will remove if there is a problem.

The 49th remained in India.  Harold Raugh in “The Victorians at War 1815 -1914” makes the point that the “other ranks” were often bored with life in India. Drill in many regiments was only nine hours a week which left plenty of time to wander around the regimental bazaar and other local towns. Of course, it was usually very hot. Many soldiers spent the time getting drunk. In 1835 the 49th drank 7,217 gallons of arrack (a local strong rice liquor), 77 of brandy and 144 of gin in their canteen.  

The Regiment was sent to China in 1840 for service in the First Opium War. This was not a war on drugs by the British but quite the opposite, although other disputes were involved. British traders had illegally exported opium from India to China. It was a lucrative trade but caused widespread addiction in China. In March 1839 the Chinese confiscated and destroyed some 20,000 chests of opium in a Canton (Guangzhou) warehouse. A few days later some drunken British sailors killed a villager and tensions rose. An expeditionary force, including the 49th, was sent from India and the wars began.

In July1840, John, with the 49th, fought at the Capture of Chusan (Zhoushan) which was the largest island of an archipelago also called by that name. The 49th was part of the Second Division. There was an exchange of fire between the boats and the Chinese on land before the troops landed and further bombarded the city walls. The 49th took possession of the main gate, which had been barricaded with sacks of grain, and hoisted the union flag. There was generally little resistance and the Chinese ceded Hong Kong to the British.

 At the Battle of Canton in March 1841 and the Battle of Amoy in August 1841 as well as the occupation of Shanghai in the summer of 1842.  From there the British launched an attack on Chin-Kiang-Fu, the fortified town that protected Nanking. The 49th were part of the 3rd Brigade. In fact, the 2nd brigade had already taken the own when the 3rd blew open the Main Gate and on entering found the 55th lined up inside waiting for them. The leader of the British forces, Sir Hugh Gough” wrote of the horrors that confronted the soldiers when they entered the city.

Dead bodies of Tartars in every house we entered, principally women and children thrown into wells or otherwise murdered by their own people. A great number of those who escaped our fire committed suicide after destroying their families. . .  

The British were seen as the barbarians who would commit terrible atrocities if the locals fell into their hands. Death was better. Nanking capitulated and the first “Opium War” was over, At the Treaty of Nanking signed on 29th August 1842 the “Treaty Ports” such as Canton, Amoy and Shanghai, were ceded to the British

 John Knowles returned home with the 49th in August 1843. He had been 2 years and 10 months in China and perhaps, like Gough, was “sick at heart of war and its fearful consequences”.

Back in the headquarters in Winchester “NOMINAL ROLLS OF OFFICERS, Non-Commissioned OFFICERS, DRUMMERS and PRIVATES who served in CHINA during the late WAR (August 1841 to August 1842)” was prepared. We see that there were men in all ranks who moved to other corps, some soldiers in order to continue their time abroad. John Knowles (Regimental No. 631) was still seen as “1st Class and Effective” and received £8 4s 0d along with the others in this category.

In March 1844 he was stationed in Portsmouth (probably Devonport). The punishments of serving men was reported to Parliament and the “Accounts and Papers for the House of Commons” published in 1847 lists these punishments. The section on the 49th Foot shows us some of the route that they took and also another side of army life that recruiting officers would not have talked about. I have put some of these entries below for the 49th.






No of Lashes Inflicted

Disgraceful Conduct





Violence to Superiors





Drunk on the March

Tyrrell’s Pass








Disgraceful Conduct (Theft)





Drunk on the March





Drunk and riotous in Billets





Drunk on Duty









Making away with necessaries









In all there were twenty punishments for offences of which drunkenness was by far the most common. In 1846 the House of Commons voted to reduce the maximum number of lashes to 50 after horrific accounts of the floggings and the injuries inflicted were recounted in the debate.

We see that, after Devonport, the 49th went to Ireland and marched around the middle (now middle north) of Ireland. Marching over some of the same ground that his Uncle Morris had ridden over some 30 years earlier. This was the time of potato blight, forced evictions, starvation and emigration. This was particularly bad in 1845 – 1847. Lord Lucan had built a workhouse in Castlebar in 1841/2 but he did not keep up his payments to the Guardians and those in the workhouse were close to starving and hundreds outside attracted to the workhouse could not be admitted. The paths leading to the workhouse were known as the “paths of the dead”. Of course, violence ensued and grain stores were broken into. One would guess that the 49th were there for law enforcement rather than for famine relief but it must have been a terrible experience for any soldiers with any humanity.

He asked to leave the service and on October 23rd 1848 the opinion of the Principal Medical Officer was that he was unfit because of his “worn out constitution and long service”. He had been in service for 21 years and ten days. Of these, 15½ years were spent abroad, 12years 3 months in the East Indies and 2 years 10 months in China on the Eastern Expedition.

 At Dublin, on October 30th 1848 he was discharged from the army. He was 41 years old and, in a familiar description was 5ft 8 inches tall with brown hair, hazle [sic] eyes with a fair complexion. His profession was still brickmaker although his time in that trade must have been very short. He had never been court-martialled but he had had three punishments for drunkenness, in 1838, 1839 and 1844 twice after a tattoo.

He travelled to Ringstead and in the 1851 Census he is 42 and an unmarried Chelsea Pensioner living with his widowed mother Mary Major 64, a pauper and her son Lot Major (oddly put as a lodger) who is 25. By the 1861 Census he is 52 and living by himself in Ringstead and still a Chelsea Pensioner. He is shown now as a “widower” but whether he had been wrongly described in the last Census needs further research.

Lot Major had died, aged 31, in 1857 but I have not managed to find Mary’s death (or her husband John Major who died many years earlier). It looks, however, that John Knowles saw no future for himself in Ringstead for, on 1st July 1867 he was admitted as an “In Pensioner” to “Her Majesty’s Royal Hospital for Pensioners” in Chelsea.

By the 1881 Census John was 72 years old and had been promoted to Sergeant at Chelsea. He died on 2nd September 1887. It was thought that he was about 80 but I think he was nearer to 78 but still a very good age for a soldier at the time.




Parish Registers, &

Censuses 1841 – 1891 (as above).

Recruitment in the British Army (Wikipedia).


John Knowles (1788 – 1839)

22nd Dragoons (Light)

National Archives Ref. WO 97/1115/156 John Knowles service record.

22nd Dragoons (Wikipedia)

The New Annual Army List for 1844. (google books tbc.

Third Anglo-Maratha War (Wikipedia)

1st Royal Regiment of Veterans.

British Army Service records 1760 – 1915 (

Morris Knowles (1796 -1866)

Third Regiment of Dragoon Guards

My thanks to Edwin Rutherford, Curator of the Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Edinburgh

3rd Dragoon Guards (Wikipedia).

National Archives ref. WO 97/78/130. Morris Knowles Service Record

British Army Service Records 1760- 1915. Morris Knowles (

Historical Record of the Third, or Prince of Wales’ Regiment of Dragoon Guards by Richard Cannon. Leopold Class Library (First Published about 1838)

The Annual Register or General Repository of History. Politics etc for Year 1824. (B.J. Houldsworth 1825). Item on Macclesfield Riots.

The 1820 Rising by James Halliday (Scots Independent 1993).

British Army Service Records transcription (WO 22 Royal Hospital Chelsea Returns of payments of Army and Other Pensions 1842–1883. Various Pieces. (

The Macclesfield Courier 1824 (

Visit of King George IV to Scotland (Wikipedia)


John Knowles (1808 – 1887)

14th Regiment of Foot

14th Regiment of Foot (FIBIwiki)

British Army Service Records 1760-1915 for John Knowles WO97/632.  (

Historical record of the Fourteenth, or the Buckinghamshire Regiment of Foot by Richard Cannon (London 1845) Googlebooks.

Post by K. Southall in an online Who Do You Think You Are Forum (2010)

49th Regiment of Foot

British Army Service Records 1760-1915 for John Knowles WO97/632.  (

The 49th (Hertfordshire) Regiment 1743-1881 (The Wardrobe online)

49th (Princess of Wales’s) (Hertfordshire) Regiment of Foot (Wikipedia)

49th (The Princess of Charlotte of Wales’s) Regiment of Foot). Nominal Rolls of Officers, Drummers, and privates, who served in China during the late war and within the period commencing 21st August 1841 and ending 29th August 1842 (30th November 1844). Image 26712 Archives of The Rifles Berkshire & Wiltshire Museum (The Wardrobe)

Reports of Asiatic Cholera in Regiments of the Madras Army from 1828 to 1844. By Samuel Rogers. On Cholera at Hazarhebaugh in 1835 among 49th by James French M.D. Surgeon.

The Victorians at War 1815 – 1914. By Harold E. Raugh. (ABC-CLIO 2004), On British Army in India.

Capture of Chusan. (Wikipedia)

The Opium War ( ).

What is said in the Papers by Brendan Tormey (Lulu 2011) News item on 49th clashing with 88th at Ballinrobe August 1846

Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons Volume 36 (1847). Flogging numbers in 49th.

Distribution of the British Army on 30th March 1844, 29th July 1848, 28th October 1848, .

The Famine in Castlebar in Co. Mayo (discover Mayo) .


Naval and Military Calendar and National Record for 1821, BY George Mackenzie. On Chelsea Hospital.