Saturday, December 10, 2011

British Legacy -- British Royal Artillery, West Indies 1795

John Headd, 3 great grandfather, was born in 1771--the exact place and date is unknown--but he was baptized Christmas Day 1771 in Romsey, Hampshire, England.  He was not the earliest English ancestor from my dad's English lineage (I've found his lineage back to about 1510), but he was one of the most interesting.

When he was 24 years old, in August 1795, he enlisted in the 1st Royal Artillery to fight for King and Country.  In September. his Battalion moved to Portsmouth and on the November 13, under the command of Captain John Roger, his company embarked on HMS Concord for passage to the West Indies.  John's pay as a gunner was ninepence and a halfpenny a day -- equivalent today to about 2.5 cents.

Not much is known about John's voyage on the Concord, but an extract from "Troopships and their History," by Colonel H C B Rogers tells us this: "For Soldiers carried as passengers the bad old system of feeding them two-thirds rations was still in force.  This changed in 1810."  Other records of the times suggest that as many as 11%  of all soldiers died during the Atlantic crossing.

Captain Roger's company landed at Barbados on February 5, 1796 and on April 1,  the company embarked on the troop ships John, Jane and Arethusa for San Domingo, Haiti.   A muster roll took place at St.  Nicolas Mole, San Domingo, on May 8.   Another muster roll taken at the end of June showed that 28 deaths had occurred in the company that month, including the Captain who died on June 30, 1796.

In another extract from "Troopships and their History: "The Army's casualties from sickness in the West Indies were proportionally greater than the battle casualties in most theaters of war."  In an excerpt from "British Army during the Napoleonic Wars,"  (found on Wikipedia),  "West Indies, 1793-1798--The major British effort in the early French Revolutionary Wars was mounted against the French possessions in the West Indies.  This was mainly for trade considerations; not only were the French islands valuable for their plantations, but they were also used by French privateers preying on British merchant ships.  The resulting five-year campaign crippled the whole British Army through disease, especially yellow fever.  Forty thousand British soldiers died of yellow fever or other tropical diseases, and another forty thousand were discharged, no longer fit for service."

Sometime between July and August 1796, the main body of the company moved to Port-au-Prince.  However, John Headd remained at the command at St.  Nicolas Mole, where he was stationed until he returned to England.

By March 1797, the company deaths had reduced to less than half its former strength.  Captain Wiltshire Wilson was appointed,  and replacements from other regiments brought the company up to strength in May 1797.

In July all NCOs and gunners were awarded five shillings and threepence shoe money.

Captain Wilson was transferred in September and Captain G. Koehler was appointed to the company.

John Headd had a pay raise of two pence per day in January 1798,  but this was not paid to him until September.

John Headd was part of a detachment that returned to England aboard the Iris which left San Domingo in June 1798.

We know that some time before 1802 he went to the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich, Kent.

On May 14,1802, John Headd married Sophia Smith at St.  Nicolas Church, Plumstead, Kent, in the presence of S.  Smith and F.  Buckingham.  John made his mark, but Sophia signed the register.   Both John and Sophia were living in the parish of Plumstead at the time of their marriage, although John was still with the Royal Artillery at Woolwich (the neighboring parish).

At the time, St.  Nicolas Church was half a ruin, with only a former aisle and cross-wing being used.  The tower still stood but the nave was roofless and ruinous.  The church was set in pasture land on the northern slopes of the North Downs overlooking the Thames valley.

It has yet to be researched how long John stayed with the Royal Artillery at Woolwich but he was discharged from the First Battalion, the Royal Artillery on March 31, 1810, having served a total of 16 years 45 days, which included his service in the West Indies prior to his enlistment with the First Battalion.  His discharge was due to rheumatism. 

His description on the discharge papers is given as:  Aged 35 and 3/4; height 5' 8''; brown hair, grey eyes, fair complexion.  He was granted a pension of One shilling (5p or 3 cents) a day from April 1, 1810.  (he was latterly earning something above 11.5 pence a day--so his pension was near his salary in value).

It's worth noting that John's daughter Sarah born December 11, 1814, and his son Stephen, born June 29, 1817, were baptised together on August 24, 1817, at St.  Nicolas.

On January 12, 1836, another daughter, Sarah Ann May, married Thomas Henry Butcher by license at St.  Nicolas in the presence of John and Jane MacDonald.  Thomas signed but Sarah left her mark.

In the 1841 census for Plumstead, John and Sophia Headd were living in Plumstead with their son Stephen, age 24, and grandson, Thomas Butcher, age 5.  (Goodness knows why Sarah and Thomas Butcher were not listed, or why their son was living with his grandparents.)

John's wife, Sophia, died in January 1846, age 76, and was buried in Plumstead churchyard on January 18, 1846.

The 1851 census shows John living with his son-in-law, Thomas Butcher and his wife Jane! (What happened to Sarah? Did she die early--was that why his son Thomas was living with his grandparents in the 1841 census?)

Thomas was listed as a farmer's labourer, and Jane as a Laundress.  John was listed as a pensioner, Royal Artillery.  They were possibly living in an area known as Dawson's Pottery on Plumstead Common.  The enumerator for the census called at five houses here and then at the house of Thomas Butcher, another house, and "The Ship" beer shop.

John Headd died in 1855, age 84, (a very good age, especially considering his exploits abroad and his rheumatism) He was buried in Plumstead churchyard on June 3, 1855.

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