Benjamin Grisdale – Collecting Taxes for the Battle of Salamanca

Posted: October 7, 2012 in C19th, Cumbria, Family History, Grisdale, History, Napoleon, Peninsular War
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On the 22nd July 1812 near the Spanish city of Salamanca the Duke of Wellington’s British and Portuguese army was fighting a major battle with Napoleon’s French, commanded by Marshal Marmont. It turned out to be significant victory for the British and helped to consolidate Wellington’s growing reputation as a winning General. The price of course was, as usual, thousands of dead and wounded on both sides. One of these was Lieutenant Bethel, the Adjutant of the 40th Regiment of Foot (South Lancashire). Bethell was “severely wounded” and died of his injuries shortly afterwards.

The Duke of Wellington inspects his Foot soldiers before the Battle of Salamanca

The consequences of such personal tragedies always spread further. Bethell left a widow called Martha back home in Malpas Cheshire. Throughout the Napoleonic Wars the House of Commons regularly granted “relief” i.e. payments to the families of soldiers who had been killed in the wars and had been left in difficult even penurious situations. Though it has to be said the families of officers tended to fare better than those of “common” soldiers. In 1815 the House granted £30 to Martha Bethell:

Widow of the late Lieutenant and Adjutant Bethell of the 40th Foot, who died of the wounds he received in the Battle of Salamanca, in consideration of his meritorious services, and the destitute situation in which she is left.

The award was “back-dated” to 22 October 1822, possibly the date when Martha had appealed for help.

And this brings us to the issue of money. In order to pay for the wars against Napoleon the British crown and government needed as always a lot of money. They introduced many new taxes on an already suffering populace. By the turn of the nineteenth century tax collecting in Britain had taken on many of the features we would be familiar with today, including a nationwide network of tax Inspectors and “Collectors of Customs”.

Being a customs collector was, locally, a prestigious, well remunerated, though still much despised, profession. One Collector of Customs active throughout the wars, and thus helping to finance British battles such as Salamanca, was a certain Benjamin Grisdale. He was born and baptized in Matterdale in September 1764, one of the many children of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple.  On 7th September 1791 Benjamin married Jane Maddock in Malpas, Cheshire. It’s quite likely that he had already started his Tax career, a life that took him and his growing family from Malpas (where he had stayed awhile) to Whitchurch in Shropshire, then to Bolton Le Moors in Lancashire and thence to Halifax in Yorkshire. Benjamin and Jane had at least nine children, the last being baptized in Halifax on 16 April 1813 – so she was conceived it seems at around the time Lieutenant Bethell was being fatally wounded at Salamanca.

Whitehaven Harbour in the nineteenth century

Sometime at the end of the Wars or shortly thereafter Benjamin was appointed “Collector of Customs” for Whitehaven, so it was back to Cumberland, before moving again to Carmarthen in Wales. Jane his wife died there. She was buried on 29th September 1827 in Saint Peter’s Church, Carmarthen.

And so for some years the lives of these two people at the heart of this story, Benjamin and Martha Bethell, continued in their very different ways. Benjamin was quite well-to-do whereas, we might surmise, Martha was still probably struggling to avoid “destitution”. We don’t know how or where Benjamin and Martha met but they were married in Carmarthen on 23 Nov 1830; Benjamin being 56 and Martha 55.

It seems that Benjamin with his new wife and some of his children stayed in Carmarthen for a few more years. Maybe Benjamin had already retired from his tax collecting job, we can’t be sure.

In August 1834, Sarah, Benjamin’s youngest child was married in Liverpool, as reported in the Carlisle Journal:

On the 13th inst., at St. Bride’s Church, Liverpool, Mr Thomas WILLIAMS, youngest son of Mr. Wm. WILLIAMS, Ty-Brith, Vale of Clwyd, to Sarah, youngest daughter of Benjamin GRISDALE, Esq., Carmarthen, and late Collector of Excise, Whitehaven.

But sometime after 1834 they moved back to Whitehaven, to the little village of Hensingham. It is here we find the end of their story. Beneath a bush in the Old Churchyard at Hensingham there is a gravestone with the following inscription:

Sacred to the memory of Benjamin Grisdale Collector of Excise who departed this life 28th of July 1848 aged 84 years.

 Also Martha his wife who departed this life on the 5th June 1865 aged 90 years. And formerly widow of Captain and Adjutant Bethel who was killed at the Battle of Salamanca.

Also Ann daughter of the above Benjamin Grisdale died on the 11th May 1865 aged 70 years.

Frances the widow of John Heylin and fourth daughter of the above Benjamin Grisdale who died Novr 29th 1865 aged 65 years..

Thy Will be Done.

Hensingham Church, Whitehaven, Cumberland

It is pleasing to know that both Martha and Benjamin had led such long and full lives, we hope they were happy together.

Such are the little connections that are English history.

  1. […] Pennsylvania in 1850, and his two nephews, John and Jonathan, who “went America”.  His uncle  Benjamin became the Collector of Customs in the important port of Whitehaven. His cousin John emigrated to Sydney and his more distant […]

  2. […] Pennsylvania in 1850, and his two nephews, John and Jonathan, who “went America”.  His uncle  Benjamin became the Collector of Customs in the important port of Whitehaven. His cousin John emigrated to Sydney and his more distant […]

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