Archive for the ‘British army’ Category

“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”

What was a Grisdale man’s connection with The Charge of the Light Brigade? How did a soldier in an elite British cavalry regiment in India? This is the first part of the story of Thomas Grisdale, a son of an extended Bolton cotton weaving family who would end his days in Melbourne in Australia.

Thomas Grisdale was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1804. He escaped the cotton mills by joining the army. I’m not yet precisely sure exactly when, but it seems clear that as a private in the 15th King’s Own Light Dragoons (Hussars) he sailed for India with the regiment from their base in Maidstone, Kent, in September 1839 – under Lieutenant – Colonel Sir Walter Scott, the son of the famous novelist. He was to spend the next fourteen years in India, first in Madras but mostly in Bangalore. The ‘Madras Presidency’ which covered most of southern India was run by the British East India Company.

Peterloo Massacre

Peterloo Massacre

The 15th Hussars was an illustrious regiment. They were called both The Fighting 15th and The Tabs. They were raised in 1759 and had fought in the Peninsular War at Sahagun and Vittoria and later at Waterloo. Unfortunately they had also played a pivotal role in the notorious Peterloo Massacre in 1819:  ‘Where a 60,000 strong crowd calling for democratic reform were charged by the Yeomanry. Panic from the crowd was interpreted as an attack on the Yeomanry and the Hussars (led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange) were ordered in. The charge resulted in 15 fatalities and as many as 600 injured.’

Captain Lewis Nolan

Captain Lewis Nolan

After an initial spell in the regional capital, Madras, Thomas was mostly on garrison duty with the regiment in Bangalore. The regiment became one of the best trained cavalry units in the British army, thanks in no small measure to the efforts and new ideas of a certain Captain Lewis Edward Nolan – under whom Thomas served. In a list of the men of the 15th Hussars stationed in Bangalore in 1845 (although I think the list comes from slightly later), we find Private Thomas Grisdale as well as Captain Lewis Nolan.

Nolan wasn’t a typical British cavalry officer. Though British Canadian by birth, through his father’s connections he had been commissioned into the Austrian Imperial Cavalry and seen action as a Hussar in Poland and Hungary. But he was persuaded by certain ‘English gentlemen’ to resign his commission and buy a commission in the British army. This he did in 1839 and he was with Grisdale and the 15th Hussars on the trip to Madras. Nolan had strong ideas about how cavalry should be used, how horses should be trained and about the inappropriateness of the Hussars’ uniforms. He later published two treatises on the subject called: The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses: A New System (1851) and Cavalry: Its History and Tactics (1853). Given his expertise, Nolan was made the regiment’s riding master and his methods were later adopted throughout the army. Two quotes from his writings give us a flavour:

Write up in golden letters – or in letters distinguishable, and easy to read – in every riding-school, and in every stable: “HORSES ARE TAUGHT NOT BY HARSHNESS BUT BY GENTLENESS.” Where the officers are classical, the golden rule may be given in Xenophon’s Greek, as well as in English.

To me it appears we have too much frippery – too much toggery – too much weight in things worse than useless. To a cavalry soldier every ounce is of consequence! I can never believe that our hussar uniform (take which of them you please) is the proper dress in which to do hussar’s duty in war – to scramble through thickets, to clear woods, to open the way through forests, to ford or swim rivers, to bivouac, to be nearly always on outpost work, to ‘rough it’ in every possible manner. Of what use are plumes, bandoliers, sabretashes, sheep-skins, shabraques, etc?

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

But besides the fact that Grisdale knew Nolan, what’s the interest in mentioning this? Well it is this: When the regiment was about to depart for home in 1853, Nolan obtained leave to precede it to Europe. After a bit of spying for Britain in Russia, he was sent to purchase horses for the army for the Crimean campaign. Nolan travelled around Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. ‘He arrived in Varna, Bulgaria… with nearly 300 animals.’ For once Britain and France were not fighting each other; they had come to the aid of the Ottoman Turks in their fight against an expansionary Imperial Russia. Nolan was made aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General Richard Airey.  On 25 October 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava, it was Captain Nolan who brought the message from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan which read:

Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French Cavalry is on your left. Immediate.

Raglan’s idea was to have the cavalry prevent the Russians taking away the naval guns from the redoubts that they had captured on the reverse side of the Causeway Heights, the hill forming the south side of the valley. Lucan was unclear what the order meant and asked Nolan for clarification. Nolan is reputed to have replied, ‘Lord Raglan’s orders are that the cavalry should attack immediately.’ Lucan replied, ‘Attack, sir! Attack what? What guns, sir? Where and what to do?’

There, my Lord! There is your enemy! There are your guns!

Nolan is said to have indicated, by a wide sweep of his arm, not the Causeway redoubts but the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile away.

So Lucan ordered Lord Cardigan, the officer commanding the Light Brigade, to charge straight at the Russian guns. So began The Charge of the Light Brigade, when just over 600 British cavalry charged straight at the main Russian cannons, into the ‘Valley of Death’. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Captain Lewis Nolan was one of the first to die in the charge. One historian writes:

After delivering the order telling Lord Lucan, the Cavalry Division commander, to attack “the guns,” Nolan joined his friend, Captain William Morris, Acting Commander, 17th Lancers.  Although a staff officer, Nolan was determined not to be left out of this action.  As the Light Brigade advanced, Nolan was seen to ride forward on his own.  His reasons are the subject of vast controversy and much speculation.  In any event, his audacity didn’t last long.  He was struck in the chest by a piece of shrapnel, making him one of the first casualties of the charge.

Nolan, or perhaps only his body, remained upright in the saddle.  The horse veered right, then back through the advancing line of the 13th Light Dragoons, the horse’s former regiment.  After passing through the lines, Captain Nolan finally fell to the ground, but his gallant horse was not through.  Troop Sergeant Major John Linkon of the 13th had just lost his horse.  He managed to mount Nolan’s horse and rode after his regiment.  Thus, although Captain Nolan did not complete the famous charge, his horse did.

After the debacle, his superiors, probably unjustly, put the blame on Nolan. The French General Bosquet, who witnessed the charge, commented: C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre’: c’est de la folie’. (‘It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness.’)

Such was the fate of the man under whom Thomas Grisdale had served for so many years in India. But unlike his former officer, Grisdale had avoided the Valley of Death (the 15th weren’t actually there). He left the army in 1853 and with his young family made his way to Melbourne in Australia.

Before I tell of this let us go back a little to Thomas’s roots and the facts of his family. Thomas was the third child of Lancashire cotton weaver Thomas Grisdale and his wife Elizabeth Crossley. He was born in 1804 in Bolton. In previous articles I have tried to show what became of several of his close relatives who had also left England and some who stayed. Among his close relatives was his brother, the weaver Doctor Grisdale, who emigrated to 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 cousin also called John became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop!  His uncle George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest of America as “King of the Douglas Fir Loggers”. Every single one of these people was a descendant of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple of Dockray, Matterdale, Cumberland.

Madras 1850

Madras 1850

When Thomas arrived in India in 1839 he was a single man of 35. But while stationed in Bangalore he married the locally born Mary Cartwright, the daughter of army farrier William Cartwright and his Indian wife Jane. The marriage took place on 5 January 1847 in Bangalore’s Holy Trinity Church. Three Indian-born children were to follow: Thomas (1848), Jane (1850) and William (1852).

Throughout his time in India the British army (or the army of the East India Company to be more precise) had been involved in many nasty little wars, for example the early Sikh and Afghan wars. But these all took place in the north of the country and because Thomas’s regiment were based in the south it seems he took no part in them. I would like to know if this was not the case.

Whatever the case, in 1853, having recently left the army, he, his wife Mary and their two children (Thomas junior had died just before they left) boarded the ship Strathfieldsaye bound for Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. We don’t know why the family chose to go to Melbourne but we can make a good guess. The Victoria gold rush had just started and there is no doubt that news of diggers becoming immensely wealthy would have reached India. So perhaps Thomas wanted to see if he too could strike it rich. The family arrived in Melbourne harbour in November 1853.

See Thomas Grisdale in Melbourne – digging for gold and lugging coal.

 

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“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”

What was a Grisdale man’s connection with The Charge of the Light Brigade? How did a soldier in an elite British cavalry regiment in India end up lumping coal in the Melbourne docks? And did he sire one or more ‘half-breeds’ while trying to get rich in the Victoria gold rush? This is the story of Thomas Grisdale, a Bolton cotton weaver’s son.

Thomas Grisdale was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1804. He escaped the cotton mills by joining the army. I’m not yet precisely sure exactly when, but it seems clear that as a private in the 15th King’s Own Light Dragoons (Hussars) he sailed for India with the regiment from their base in Maidstone, Kent, in September 1839 – under Lieutenant – Colonel Sir Walter Scott, the son of the famous novelist. He was to spend the next fourteen years in India, first in Madras but mostly in Bangalore. The ‘Madras Presidency’ which covered most of southern India was run by the British East India Company.

Peterloo Massacre

Peterloo Massacre

The 15th Hussars was an illustrious regiment. They were called both The Fighting 15th and The Tabs. They were raised in 1759 and had fought in the Peninsular War at Sahagun and Vittoria and later at Waterloo. Unfortunately they had also played a pivotal role in the notorious Peterloo Massacre in 1819:  ‘Where a 60,000 strong crowd calling for democratic reform were charged by the Yeomanry. Panic from the crowd was interpreted as an attack on the Yeomanry and the Hussars (led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange) were ordered in. The charge resulted in 15 fatalities and as many as 600 injured.’

Captain Lewis Nolan

Captain Lewis Nolan

After an initial spell in the regional capital, Madras, Thomas was mostly on garrison duty with the regiment in Bangalore. The regiment became one of the best trained cavalry units in the British army, thanks in no small measure to the efforts and new ideas of a certain Captain Lewis Edward Nolan – under whom Thomas served. In a list of the men of the 15th Hussars stationed in Bangalore in 1845 (although I think the list comes from slightly later), we find Private Thomas Grisdale as well as Captain Lewis Nolan.

Nolan wasn’t a typical British cavalry officer. Though British Canadian by birth, through his father’s connections he had been commissioned into the Austrian Imperial Cavalry and seen action as a Hussar in Poland and Hungary. But he was persuaded by certain ‘English gentlemen’ to resign his commission and buy a commission in the British army. This he did in 1839 and he was with Grisdale and the 15th Hussars on the trip to Madras. Nolan had strong ideas about how cavalry should be used, how horses should be trained and about the inappropriateness of the Hussars’ uniforms. He later published two treatises on the subject called: The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses: A New System (1851) and Cavalry: Its History and Tactics (1853). Given his expertise, Nolan was made the regiment’s riding master and his methods were later adopted throughout the army. Two quotes from his writings give us a flavour:

Write up in golden letters – or in letters distinguishable, and easy to read – in every riding-school, and in every stable: “HORSES ARE TAUGHT NOT BY HARSHNESS BUT BY GENTLENESS.” Where the officers are classical, the golden rule may be given in Xenophon’s Greek, as well as in English.

To me it appears we have too much frippery – too much toggery – too much weight in things worse than useless. To a cavalry soldier every ounce is of consequence! I can never believe that our hussar uniform (take which of them you please) is the proper dress in which to do hussar’s duty in war – to scramble through thickets, to clear woods, to open the way through forests, to ford or swim rivers, to bivouac, to be nearly always on outpost work, to ‘rough it’ in every possible manner. Of what use are plumes, bandoliers, sabretashes, sheep-skins, shabraques, etc?

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

But besides the fact that Grisdale knew Nolan, what’s the interest in mentioning this? Well it is this: When the regiment was about to depart for home in 1853, Nolan obtained leave to precede it to Europe. After a bit of spying for Britain in Russia, he was sent to purchase horses for the army for the Crimean campaign. Nolan travelled around Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. ‘He arrived in Varna, Bulgaria… with nearly 300 animals.’ For once Britain and France were not fighting each other; they had come to the aid of the Ottoman Turks in their fight against an expansionary Imperial Russia. Nolan was made aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General Richard Airey.  On 25 October 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava, it was Captain Nolan who brought the message from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan which read:

Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French Cavalry is on your left. Immediate.

Raglan’s idea was to have the cavalry prevent the Russians taking away the naval guns from the redoubts that they had captured on the reverse side of the Causeway Heights, the hill forming the south side of the valley. Lucan was unclear what the order meant and asked Nolan for clarification. Nolan is reputed to have replied, ‘Lord Raglan’s orders are that the cavalry should attack immediately.’ Lucan replied, ‘Attack, sir! Attack what? What guns, sir? Where and what to do?’

There, my Lord! There is your enemy! There are your guns!

Nolan is said to have indicated, by a wide sweep of his arm, not the Causeway redoubts but the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile away.

So Lucan ordered Lord Cardigan, the officer commanding the Light Brigade, to charge straight at the Russian guns. So began The Charge of the Light Brigade, when just over 600 British cavalry charged straight at the main Russian cannons, into the ‘Valley of Death’. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Captain Lewis Nolan was one of the first to die in the charge. One historian writes:

After delivering the order telling Lord Lucan, the Cavalry Division commander, to attack “the guns,” Nolan joined his friend, Captain William Morris, Acting Commander, 17th Lancers.  Although a staff officer, Nolan was determined not to be left out of this action.  As the Light Brigade advanced, Nolan was seen to ride forward on his own.  His reasons are the subject of vast controversy and much speculation.  In any event, his audacity didn’t last long.  He was struck in the chest by a piece of shrapnel, making him one of the first casualties of the charge.

Nolan, or perhaps only his body, remained upright in the saddle.  The horse veered right, then back through the advancing line of the 13th Light Dragoons, the horse’s former regiment.  After passing through the lines, Captain Nolan finally fell to the ground, but his gallant horse was not through.  Troop Sergeant Major John Linkon of the 13th had just lost his horse.  He managed to mount Nolan’s horse and rode after his regiment.  Thus, although Captain Nolan did not complete the famous charge, his horse did.

After the debacle, his superiors, probably unjustly, put the blame on Nolan. The French General Bosquet, who witnessed the charge, commented: C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre’: c’est de la folie’. (‘It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness.’)

Such was the fate of the man under whom Thomas Grisdale had served for so many years in India. But unlike his former officer, Grisdale had avoided the Valley of Death (the 15th weren’t actually there). He left the army in 1853 and with his young family made his way to Melbourne in Australia.

Before I tell of this let us go back a little to Thomas’s roots and the facts of his family. Thomas was the third child of Lancashire cotton weaver Thomas Grisdale and his wife Elizabeth Crossley. He was born in 1804 in Bolton. In previous articles I have tried to show what became of several of his close relatives who had also left England and some who stayed. Among his close relatives was his brother, the weaver Doctor Grisdale, who emigrated to 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 cousin also called John became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop!  His uncle George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest of America as “King of the Douglas Fir Loggers”. I will tell their story at a later date. Every single one of these people was a descendant of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple of Dockray, Matterdale, Cumberland.

Madras 1850

Madras 1850

When Thomas arrived in India in 1839 he was a single man of 35. But while stationed in Bangalore he married the locally born Mary Cartwright, the daughter of army farrier William Cartwright and his wife Jane. The marriage took place on 5 January 1847 in Bangalore’s Holy Trinity Church. Three Indian-born children were to follow: Thomas (1848), Jane (1850) and William (1852).

Throughout his time in India the British army (or the army of the East India Company to be more precise) had been involved in many nasty little wars, for example the early Sikh and Afghan wars. But these all took place in the north of the country and because Thomas’s regiment were based in the south it seems he took no part in them. I would like to know if this was not the case.

Whatever the case, in 1853, having recently left the army, he, his wife Mary and their two children (Thomas junior had died just before they left) boarded the ship Strathfieldsaye bound for Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. We don’t know why the family chose to go to Melbourne but we can make a good guess. The Victoria gold rush had just started and there is no doubt that news of diggers becoming immensely wealthy would have reached India. So perhaps Thomas wanted to see if he too could strike it rich. The family arrived in Melbourne harbour in November 1853.

Victoria Gold Diggers

Victoria Gold Diggers

Things then go a little dark, but not completely dark. Maybe initially Thomas got work in the Melbourne docks, where he later worked, we don’t know. Yet it is certain that he pretty soon tried his luck in the rough and tumble of Victoria’s gold diggings. The family moved to Heathcote, a gold rush town 110 kms north of Melbourne. Two more children were born there: Elizabeth in 1855 and Caroline in 1857. Heathcote itself had ‘developed on the back of a series of gold rushes along McIvor Creek commencing in 1851. One of the major strikes (1852) was a Golden Gully, behind the old courthouse’.

At the peak of the gold rushes there were up to 35,000 people, largely housed in tents and shanties on the fields. 3,000 Chinese walked to the digging from Robe in South Australia where they had disembarked to avoid paying a tax levied upon Chinese disembarking in Victoria. There were at least 3 breweries; 22 hotels; 2 flour mills, reflecting the emergence of wheat growing in the district; a bacon factory, hospital, banks and several wineries.

What sort of life did the family have in Heathcote? Perhaps we can get some idea from letters sent home by other immigrants who had done the same thing at the same time. In May 1855 Alma digger P.H. Brain wrote home to a friend:

There is no friends here, everyone for his self and the biggest rogue – the best man, that is the principle that the colony is carried on, by most people rich and poor. I am happy to say I have never wanted for anything since I have been in the colony, although I have seen more in want than ever I have in England. I have many times thought of you staying in England, I would rather live in England with one meal a day, than here with all the best in the world as there is no comfort to be had here day or night, for by day you are poisoned by dust and flies and by night perhaps nearly blown out of your bed, if it may be so called. Although I have got a feather bed, I cannot sleep…

I should not advise anyone to come out here, although I do not wish to keep them away but I am sure there is nothing to be obtained here but at the risk of your life and hard work and no comfort. You would be surprised perhaps if I say I work 60 or 70 feet underground and have got to sink the hole first. I can assure you that it is the case, one sometimes would sink 10 or a dozen of these and not see gold. I have got a hundred pounds and obliged to spend it nearly all before I could get any more, so you see it’s not all profit. The hole is sunk like a well on, a chain of 24 feet square. You must not have any more than that at any one time but you can sink as many as you want. Where you have sunk one of these holes you try 3 or 4 inches of dirt at the bottom, it is put into a tub and washed so as to wash off the dirt and leave the gravel in the bottom and from thence into a tin dish and divide the gold from the gravel, if there be any. If not you must wash it so before you can tell. So you see what work it is to get gold. I have sunk 10 or 15 before I have seen it and perhaps many around me getting it. I am thinking I shall send you and your dear wife a small nugget, so as you can say you have got some, as I may never have it in my power to bring it personally. If so I have to be more pleased to do so in a larger quantity wont if not to be a pleasure to me once more to see my friends in England all well, which I hope very much is the case now.

James Douglas Ferguson wrote to his parents in 1854 from McIvor (Heathcote):

Gold Rush Camp

Gold Rush Camp

We all live in tension the diggings that you will know I should not think there is a man on the diggings but has a brace of pistols ready for action under his head every night. I have 3 dogs round our tent there is nothing in the shape of beast or body can get near the tent for them, any one was to lay me down £20 for the 3 I would not take it. Some time ago these two men on horseback stuck us up. My dog did his duty she got one of them to an out she made him ten thousand murders. I like a fool had not my pistol charged, perhaps just as well it was not for I should have fired as sure as I am writing this letter to you, anyone comes round your tent at night you are justifiable in shooting them, this was between 12 and 1 o’clock in the morning. I got up and opened the tent door and give my faithful old dog the word of command and got the axe for a weapon myself, I darted out from the side of the tent and got a slip at one of them with the axe, the next moment the dog made the other shout like a bull they did not know that I was up ready to receive them. The wife and children screaming, the dogs barking. People came rushing from all quarters, believe me the fellow would not forget that blow I gave him for sometime. You know I am pretty sharp mettle when set on my pins. They were both armed with pistols but had not time to make use of them. We let them go quietly as there might be a party and some of them come at another time and call on us.

Such was probably the Grisdales’ life in the gold diggings. Thomas must have found some gold; otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to support his family for several years. But he clearly hadn’t struck it rich. The family moved back to Sandridge, Melbourne, where the couple’s next children were born:  Thomas (1859), Joseph (1861), Mary (1863), Isaac (18660 and Sarah (1869).

It is only in Melbourne that we start to find actual reports of Thomas and some of his family. The first to appear in the Melbourne Argus on Tuesday 12 September 1865 concerned Thomas himself:

At the Sandridge Police Court yesterday; before Mr. Call, P.M., an old man named Thomas Grisdale, charged with stealing fish, the property of James Lewis, was sentenced to be locked up until the rising of the Court.

Four years later, after having borne ten children, Thomas’s wife Jane died on 24 April 1869 as a result of giving birth to her last child Sarah, who herself died three  days later. On 26 April the Argus reported:

At Sandridge yesterday, the city coroner held an inquiry respecting the death of Mary Grisdale, who had died on the day previous somewhat suddenly. She had been prematurely confined on Saturday last, and from that time until Wednesday was progressing very favourably. On that morning, however, she was seized with sudden illness. Her husband went for the purpose of procuring medical assistance, but before he returned her life had expired. From the medical testimony, the jury returned a verdict that the deceased died from fatty degeneration of the heart.

After Jane’s death it seems that some of her children had to resort to begging. On Wednesday 22 February 1871 the Argus reported:

Sandridge. – On Monday, before Messrs. Molifson (?). P.M., Curtis, and Barker, Caroline Grisdale, a girl from 14 to 15 years old, was charged with stealing a pair of drawers. The prisoner went to Mary Clyans, wife of Michael Clyans, to beg, and Mrs. Clyans took her into her service. At the end of a week the prisoner left, and several articles of clothing were missed at the same time. The prisoner next went to a Mrs. Elizabeth Foley to beg for bread. Mrs Foley gave her 3 1/2d. to buy a loaf for herself and sisters, and the prisoner in return, offered the drawers, which she said belonged to her sister. The prisoner’s father, who described himself as a “lumper” appeared in court, but had nothing to say except that his daughter did not beg, or at least had no occasion to. The Bench sentenced the girl to 24 hours’ imprisonment, and to two years’ confinement in the reformatory, with a recommendation to the police to sec that Grisdale paid for his daughter’s maintenance.

Caroline was to marry John Berkley David O’Neill in 1877. One of Caroline’s sisters was Mary, who had been born in Sandridge in 1863. Later the same year, on 6 October 1871, we read:

A man named James Amos was charged at the police court, Drysdale, yesterday, with an attempt to commit a capital offence upon the person of a girl about 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale. The prisoner, who reserved his defence, was committed to take his trial at the next sittings of the Circuit Court.

And then the 12 October:

James Amos, an elderly man, was charged with having, on the 14th ult, indecently assaulted a little girl, under 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale, at Swan Bay. He pleaded “Not guilty,” and was undefended. The jury returned a verdict of “Guilty.”

James Amos would probably have been hung. Mary herself married James Broderick in 1882. The two other surviving sisters, Jane (born in 1850) married James McFarlane in 1874 and Elizabeth (born 1855) married Alfred James Fawcett in 1875.

But what of Thomas’ sons? Most either died in infancy or when young. Only one, William Grisdale, who had been born in India in 1852, seems to have lived long. In 1879 he married Elizabeth Corfield in Melbourne. They had one child, William James, but he soon died. Elizabeth herself died aged 22 in 1881, miles away in the mountain community of Hotham. In the Melbourne newspapers throughout the 1880s we find multiple reports of a man called William Grisdale. Was this Thomas and Jane’s son? I’ll return to this question. But first, in September 1881, the Sandridge Court tried ‘an impudent case of hotel robbery’.

The prisoner, who gave the name of William Grisdale, entered the Southern Cross Hotel, in Inglis street, on the 15th inst, accompanied by a man named Mullinger. They called for drinks, which were supplied to them by the barmaid, and for which they paid. The prisoner then asked for biscuits and matches, and while the girl temporarily quitted the bar to procure them, he leaned over the counter, and was in the act of abstracting the till, containing £1.12s 6d, when she returned. He at once ran out of the hotel, but after running some distance was stopped by two young men whose attention was attracted by the cry of ‘Stop thief.’ After a violent struggle the prisoner got away from the young men, but was eventually arrested on a warrant by Constable Good. These facts were proved by the evidence of the barmaid, Mullinger, and the arresting constable, and the prisoner, who had frequently been before the court, and had only just completed a term of imprisonment for an assault, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.

In May 1882 ‘two wharf loafers, named James Sullivan and William Grisdale’ were charged with ‘ feloniously stealing’ silk dresses and other articles and selling them on in Sandridge. Grisdale claimed they belonged to his wife. In January 1884 ‘two young men named William Hilton and William Grisdale, who had been both frequently convicted were charged by the police with being rogues and vagabonds and also with the larceny of boots…. Both prisoners pleaded for a lenient sentence on the ground that they intended to reform and leave the colony. The Bench pointed out, however, that they had already neglected their chances, and they accordingly sentenced both men to 12 months imprisonment, with hard labour’.

Given the fact that these crimes took place or were tried in Sandridge, where the Grisdale family lived, it would seem to indicate that the ‘wharf loafer’ William Grisdale was indeed Thomas and Jane’s son. I think he probably was. But a little later in May 1887 the Argus reported:

About midnight on Tuesday Constable Lockhart observed a powerfully built half-caste named William Grisdale accosting a woman, and demanding money from her. When refused he struck the woman a violent blow and knocked her down. The constable arrested the man, who resisted most violently, striking him on the face and kicking him on various parts of the body. The prisoner had a very bad record, and he was fined £5, or in default three months’ imprisonment, at the City Court on Wednesday.

This can’t have been Thomas and Jane’s William, who was not a half-caste. So who could it have been?

Boundary Rider's Hut

Boundary Rider’s Hut

Was he an illegitimate son of Thomas Grisdale conceived with an aboriginal mother while Thomas moved around the gold diggings or later on back in Melbourne? Surely his father must have been a Grisdale? In the early years after 1853 there were probably only two Grisdale families in Victoria. I wrote about one before. This was the family of William Grisdale who arrived in Melbourne in the same year as Thomas. The family settled near Mansfield and worked in and around the gold digs situated there. And as far as we know that is where he stayed.

We also find other ‘criminal’ Grisdales in the Melbourne courts. One a ‘Singhalese’ called John Grisdale (this means a half caste from Ceylon or south India) and a mysterious Arthur Grisdale. Somebody was putting himself about!

Finally in 1924 on the electors’ list for Willaura we find a William Burrumbeep Grisdale working as a ‘boundary rider’ – that is maintaining fences on a sheep or cattle ranch. Burrumbeep itself is not far from Willaura and had a gold rush of its own. It would be tempting to relate this man with the half-caste in Melbourne in 1887, but maybe the possible ages would tell against it?

Actually I believe that sometime after his wife’s death William Grisdale headed out west to help build the Goldfields’ Water Pipeline to Perth and later became a bullock driver. But that’s for another time.

Railway pier sandridge 1858

Railway Pier Sandridge 1858

Returning to firmer ground; where did Thomas and his family live in Melbourne and what did he do? I mentioned already that after coming back from Heathcote the family settled in Sandridge. Referring to the arrival of William Free’s family in 1853, the same year as Thomas, one writer says:

They were landed not at a wharf but on a beach – Liardet’s Beach or Sandridge as the respectable classes preferred to call it – at which there were present some ramshackle buildings, but no quay, no warehouses, no merchants, and no shade in which the women and children could rest while the men looked for transport. The shore up to the high-water mark was lined with broken drift spars and oars, discarded ship-blocks, mattresses and pillows, empty bottles, ballast kegs, and sundry other items of flotsam. The township of Melbourne was out of sight, some eight miles distant by river and three across land.

Sandridge became Melbourne’s second port – taking the name Port Melbourne. ‘For many years Port Melbourne was a focus of Melbourne’s criminal underworld, which operated smuggling syndicates on the docks. The old Ships Painters and Dockers Union was notorious for being controlled by gangsters. The Waterside Workers Federation, on the other hand, was a stronghold of the Communist Party of Australia.’

We know that Thomas worked as a coal ‘lumper’ in Sandridge port. Margo Beasley, Australia’s expert on coal lumpers, writes: ‘Unlike wharf labourers, who shifted all manner of cargoes between ship and shore, coal lumpers worked exclusively on coal and most, but not all, of that work took place out ‘in the stream’ as they put it… some distance from the wharves…  coal lumpers saw themselves as akin to miners rather than wharf labourers and their main task was to move the coal from colliers or hulks that brought it…  into other vessels.’

Coal lumpers at work

Coal lumpers at work

There were five categories of coal lumping work. The shovellers, winchdrivers and planksmen worked on the collier or hulk that was carrying and discharging the coal, and carriers and trimmers worked on the ship that was receiving the coal or being ‘coaled’. Coal lumpers’ tools were basic: shovels, baskets, boots, ropes and their own brute strength. The ‘gear’ on the collier, which included winch, rope (called the ‘fall’) and baskets, had to be rigged so that the coal could be shifted from down below up to a suitable level on the deck for moving it into the ship that was to be coaled. The baskets were attached to a hook, which was fastened to the fall, which was run through a pulley and a winch on the deck above the hold.

Beasley describes coal lumpers’ working conditions as ‘Dantesque’. She writes:

Billy Hughs, who later became Prime Minister of Australia, was president of the Sydney Coal Lumpers’ Union in 1905, and also its advocate. He said coal lumping work ‘finds out the weak places in a man. If a man has a weak spot in his heart, lungs or back, or … say his nervous system is not all that it should be, he falls out.’ Hughes argued that only the very strong remained in the work and coal lumpers aged 45 or 50 were simply ‘the strongest who have survived’, by natural selection.

Indeed, many men tried the work for a week or two, and even an hour or two, but they couldn’t last. One coal lumper said that some men were forced to leave the work because they because they had started at too hard a pace and they were unable to keep going. Hughes judged that no other occupation called for the exercise of greater physical strength and endurance, supporting his assertion with two illustrations. Employers were unable to get sufficient men who could do coal lumping satisfactorily, or even unsatisfactorily, during strikes and lockouts; and the work necessitated certain conditions that didn’t occur in any other trade: paid two hourly breaks, because a spell was ‘absolutely essential for recuperation and food and rest.

Coal Lumpers

Coal Lumpers

Such was the hard and dangerous life of Thomas Grisdale. The son of a Bolton weaver, descended from the Matterdale Grisdales. A man who had spent years serving Queen and country in India. A man who had been under the command of Captain Nolan who became famous for ‘starting’ the Charge of the Light Brigade. A man who had tried his luck in Australia only to spend the rest of his life lumping coal in the docks. A man who just might have sired one or more half castes while looking for gold. Such I’m afraid was the fate of many, indeed most, of the common soldiers who served Her Majesty throughout most of British history. A fate in stark contrast to that of the wealthy officer class.

Thomas Grisdale died aged 74 on 28 February 1879, at 11 Montague Street, Emerald Hill in Melbourne.

“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”

On the 19th October 1781 the British and German forces besieged at Yorktown, Virginia commanded by General Lord Charles Cornwallis “having little ammunition, food and supplies left” agreed to surrender to the French and American armies, the latter under General George Washington. Cornwallis had been waiting for a relief force under General Henry Clinton, but it came five days too late. The British and Germans marched out into captivity with their colours furled, the drummers playing a British march, reputedly (but in no way proved to have been) The World Turned Upside Down. This defeat led to Britain eventually acquiescing to American independence and the creation of the United States. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. But not far from Cornwallis on this day in 1781 would have been his good friend Benjamin Grisdale from Matterdale in Cumberland. One more example of how members of this small rural family seem to have spread throughout the world and been present at some key moments in history.

Surrender at Yorktown 1781

Benjamin Grisdale was born in Threlkeld in Matterdale and was baptized there on the 21st February 1744. He was the son of Benjamin Grisdale and Ann Browne. Benjamin followed a route already well trodden by the clever children of poor Cumberland families. He was probably a pupil at the Free Grammar School at Barton in Westmorland and entered Queen’s College, Oxford University in 1760 to study Divinity, aged 15. His maternal uncle Joseph Browne had been educated at Barton School and Queen’s College and was later to become the University’s Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy.

Benjamin received his BA from Oxford in 1764 and his MA in 1767. His brother the Rev Dr Browne Grisdale would follow the same route to Oxford and to ordination and was subsequently to become “Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty”, “Chancellor” of Carlisle and a powerful Justice of the Peace.

On the 22nd February 1768, shortly after receiving his MA, and probably through connections he had made at Oxford, Benjamin became the Chaplain of the British army’s elite infantry regiment: the 33rd Regiment of Foot, commanded by Colonel Charles Cornwallis, the “Earl Cornwallis”. For its conduct, professionalism and discipline during the War of Independence the regiment was later given the nickname ‘The Pattern’. One Sergeant commented:

I am bound to record here that I have felt a certain shamefacedness, on visiting the barracks of the 33rd Regiment, who were commanded by the young Earl of Cornwallis, to compare their high state of appointment and the steadiness of their discipline with the slovenly and relaxed bearing of most of our own companies. One can always correctly judge a regiment by the behaviour of its sentries. I have seen men go on duty in the 9th dead drunk and scarcely able to stand, but with the 33rd the sentry was always alert and alive in attention; when on duty, he was all eye, all ear… During the two hours he remained at this post the sentry continued in constant motion and could not have walked less than seven miles in that time. The 33rd thus set a standard of soldier like duty which made me secretly dissatisfied with the 9th, and which I have never since seen equalled but by a single other regiment [the 23rd RWF] which was brigaded with the 33rd under the same Cornwallis in the later campaigns of the American War. – Sjt. Roger Lamb, 23rd RWF

We know nothing of Benjamin’s early years in the army but when the American colonies rebelled the 33rd of Foot was sent to help in their repression. Benjamin Grisdale went with them. The 33rd landed at Cape Fear, North Carolina on the 3rd May 1776.

Cornwallis wrote this aboard the HMS Bristol about two weeks before their arrival in America:

I have nothing to inform your lordship of but that our passage has been very tedious and that we are still 370 leagues from our rendezvous at Cape Fear. We have with us twenty ships in company, besides two artillery-ships and four victuallers…. The troops are in general healthy…

The 33rd Regiment of Foot Guards

The regiment saw action almost immediately after landing; starting at the first siege of Charleston, South Carolina in June-July 1776. They then fought in many of the engagements of the American War of Independence: Long Island, NY (August 1776), Harlem Heights, New York (September 1776), Fort Washington, New York (November 1776), Brandywine, Pennsylvania (September 1777), Germantown, Pennsylvania (October 1777), Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania(December 1777), Monmouth, New Jersey (June 1778), the defence of Newport and Quaker Hill, Rhode Island (August 1778),  Old Tappan, New York (September 1778), Charleston, South Carolina (March-May 1780), Camden, South Carolina (August 1780), Wetzell’s Mill, North Carolina (March 1781), Guilford Court House, North Carolina (March 1781), Green Spring, Virginia (July 1781), before arriving in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781.

Benjamin Grisdale was there throughout.

There is much to tell about the exploits of Cornwallis’s regiment over the course of the war, but this story is not about the Americans’ struggle for independence but rather about Benjamin Grisdale himself.

General the Earl Cornwallis

Cornwallis himself was quickly “paroled” after Yorktown and returned to England but many of the men of the 33rd were not so lucky and were to remain in captivity until 1783. It is not known exactly when Chaplain Grisdale was released. But after returning to England and leaving the army, through the benefaction of Queen’s College he was given the “living” of the parish of Chedworth in Gloucestershire in 1785 and, through the intervention of the Cornwallis family, he also received the living of Withington Gloucestershire in 1791.

Benjamin Grisdale and Charles Cornwallis had obviously become good friends during their time together both in England and America, because they were to exchange numerous personal letters when Cornwallis was subsequently posted all over the world and until his death in India 1805. Here is one written by Cornwallis to his friend Benjamin from a “Camp near Banglalore” on September 8th 1791:

Dear Grisdale

In the same packet of letters which contained yours of the 18th December, I found one from Mrs Cornwallis, informing me that she had given you the living at Withington. I trust you will know me too well to doubt the sincerity of the joy which I felt on that occasion: may you long enjoy every comfort and happiness of domestic life.

God know when our war will end, I hope and trust it will be soon, or it will end me; I do mean that I am sick, I have stood a burning sun and cold wind as well as the youngest of them, but I am plagued, and tormented, and wearied to death.

God bless you my dear Grisdale, I have no time to send you news, but can only assure you that I am with great truth,

Your most faithful and affectionate friend,

Cornwallis

Benjamin didn’t marry until 1791 when he was 47 His wife was Elizabeth Unwin  the daughter of William Unwin of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. They had seven children: Charles (1793), William (1795), Elizabeth (1797), Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William 1807/8. Of the boys only the second William was still alive in 1841 when he died at Cubberley Rectory in Gloucestershire where he was curate, aged just 34. He had attended Rugby School and followed his father to Queen’s College Oxford.

The Rev Benjamin Grisdale died on 18 June 1828. He had a full life indeed.

In an earlier article entitled ‘ Old Soldiers don’t always fade away’, I wrote about one of my own ancestors: Levi Grisdale.

See: https://grisdalefamily.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/208/

This was picked up by Who do you think you are? magazine. They interviewed me and wrote about Levi in the latest edition:

Did a Cumbrian soldier “save England and Europe” from Napoleon?

In the mid-nineteenth century in the small Cumbrian market town of Penrith there was a public house called the ‘General Lefebvre’. Locals jokingly referred to it as the ‘General Grisdale’, after its publican, an old ex-Sergeant Major called Levi Grisdale. It seems that Levi was quite a character, and we might well imagine how on cold Cumbrian winter nights he would regale his quests with tales of his exploits as a Hussar during the Napoleonic Wars. How he had captured the French General Lefebvre in Spain, as the British army were retreating towards Corunna, or even telling of how it was he, at the Battle of Waterloo, who had led the Prussians onto the field; a decisive event that had turned the course of the battle and, it is usually argued, led to Napoleon’s final defeat.

Scouts of the 10th Hussars During the Peninsular War – W B Wollen 1905

Numerous individual stories survive from these wars, written by participants from all sides: French, British, German and Spanish. Yet a great number of these come from the ‘officer classes’. Levi was not an officer and, as far as is known, he never wrote his own story. Be that as it may, using a variety of sources (not just from the British side) plus some detailed research in the archives, undertaken by myself and others, it is possible to reconstruct something his life. Levi spent 22 years in the army, fought in 32 engagements, including at the Battle of Waterloo, rose to be a Sergeant Major and was highly decorated. There is even an anonymous essay in the Hussars’ Regimental museum entitled: How Trooper Grisdale, 10th Hussars, Saved England and Europe! This suggested, possibly with a degree of hyperbole, that it was Levi who caused Napoleon to leave the Spanish Peninsular in disgust! But the events of the Peninsular War were decisive. Many years later Napoleon wrote:

That unfortunate war destroyed me … all my disasters are bound up in that knot.

I greatly enjoyed discovering a little about Levi. What follows is my version of this Cumbrian’s life and deeds. I hope you will enjoy it too!

Levi Grisdale was born in 1783, near Penrith in Cumberland’s Lake District. He came from a long line of small yeomen farmers. His father, Solomon, and his grandfather, Jonathon, had both been farmers. They were born in the nearby small hill village of Matterdale; where the Grisdale family had lived for hundreds of years. Although obviously a country boy, Levi somehow found his way to London, where on 26th March 1803, aged just 20, he enlisted for “unlimited service” as a private or ‘trooper’ in the 10th Light Dragoons, later to become ‘Hussars’ – an elite British cavalry regiment. How and why he enlisted in the army we do not know. His older brother Thomas was probably already a soldier based at the cavalry barracks on the outskirts of Canterbury, and maybe this contributed to Levi’s decision. We know nothing of Levi’s first years in the army; but in October 1808 he, with the 10th Hussars, embarked at Portsmouth for Spain.

A Charge of the 10th Hussars under Lord Paget

The regiment, having passed through Corunna, joined up with the now retreating British army, under its Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore, at Zamora on December 9, 1808. Under Sir John Slade, they became part of the army’s defensive rear-guard. They arrived at Sahagun in Spain on the 21st December – just in time to take part in the tail end of a successful action known as the Battle of Sahagun. Before the battle, Levi had been made a ‘coverer’ – a sort of bodyguard or ‘minder’ – for the fourteen year old Earl George Augustus Frederick Fitz-Clarence. It wasn’t unusual for wealthy and well-connected young men to become British officers at such a tender age, and Fitz-Clarence was certainly well-connected. He was the bastard son of the future King William IV and nephew of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV – who was the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief.

During the battle Levi was wounded in the left ankle by a musket ball. It can’t have been too serious a wound because only a few days later he was to take part in another engagement. His exploits there were, in large part, responsible for us being able to reconstruct Levi’s story today. I will take some pains to explain what happened. The account I will present is based on numerous sources and on several eyewitness accounts; not just British, but also German, French and Spanish. There are some inconsistencies but when taken together they provide a coherent enough picture.

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

Despite the victory at Sahagun, the British army had continued its retreat towards Astorga and Corunna. But Napoleon had heard that the British were intent on a crossing of the River Esla, two miles from the Spanish town of Benavente. He sent his elite cavalry, the Chasseurs à cheval, commanded by one of his favourites, General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, to cut them off and prevent the crossing. But due to dreadful weather they had been slowed down and they arrived just too late. Sir John Moore had already crossed the river on the 24th and departed with the bulk of the British army. He had, however, left a strong cavalry rearguard in the town of Benavente, and a small detachment was watching the river fords. Early on the morning of 29th December, British engineers destroyed the bridge at Castrogonzalo. When Lefebvre and his force of about 500 – 600 cavalry arrived, we are told that this was at nine in the morning, there seemed no way to cross, because the river “was swollen with rain.”

Lefebvre could see that “outlying pickets of the British cavalry were stationed along the Western bank of the River Esla.” He thought, wrongly as it turned out, that the few scouts to be seen were all that remained of the British at Benavente. Eventually he managed to find one place to ford the river and, according to one report, first sent across “a peasant mounted on a mare” to see find out what response there would be. Seeing there was none, Lefebvre crossed the river “with three strong squadrons of his Chasseurs and a small detachment of Mamelukes” – though not without great difficulty.

One account, drawing on a number of sources, nicely sums up what ensued:

The French forced the outlying pickets of the British cavalry back onto the inlaying picket commanded by Loftus Otway (18th Hussars). Otway charged, despite heavy odds, but was driven back for 2 miles towards the town of Benavente. In an area where their flanks were covered by walls, the British, now reinforced by a troop or squadron of the 3rd Hussars King’s German Legion, and commanded by Brigadier-General Stewart, counter-attacked and a confused mêlée ensued. The French, though temporarily driven back, had superior numbers and forced the British hussars to retreat once more, almost back to Benavente. Stewart knew he was drawing the French towards Paget and substantial numbers of British reserves. The French had gained the upper hand in the fight and were preparing to deliver a final charge when Lord Paget made a decisive intervention. He led the 10th Hussars with squadrons of the 18th in support, around the southern outskirts of Benavente. Paget managed to conceal his squadrons from French view until he could fall on their left flank. The British swords, often dulled by their iron scabbards, were very sharp on this occasion. An eyewitness stated that he saw the arms of French troopers cut off cleanly “like Berlin sausages.” Other French soldiers were killed by blows to the head, blows which divided the head down to the chin.

The French fought their way back to the River Esla and started to cross to its eastern bank – swimming with their horses. But many were caught by the pursuing British cavalry, and either killed or made prisoner. General Lefebvre, however, did not escape. His horse had been wounded and when it entered the river it refused to cross. He and some of his men were surrounded by the British cavalry under Lord Paget, which consisted of the 18th Hussars and half of the 3rd Hussars, King’s German Legion. During this encounter Lefebvre was wounded and taken prisoner, along with about seventy of his Chasseurs.

General Lefebvre is Captured at Benaventa. Painting by Dennis Dighton. Royal Collection, Windsor

So who was it that captured General Lefebvre? Some British sources claim simply that it was Private Grisdale. In Levi’s own regimental book we read that Lefebvre was pursued by the “Hussars” and “refusing to stop when overtaken, was cut across the head and made prisoner by Private Levi Grisdall (sic).” Other witnesses suggest that it was in fact a German 3rd Hussar, called Private Johann Bergmann, who captured the General, and that it was he who subsequently handed over his captive to Grisdale.

Any continuing mystery, however, seems to be cleared away by later witness statements made by Private Bergmann himself. His statement is corroborated by several other German Hussars who had taken part in the action, and by letters written by some German officers who were also present. Bergmann’s extensive testimony, taken at Osterholz in 1830 , is recorded in the third person. It states that there were:

three charges that day… at the third charge, or in reality the pursuit, he came upon the officer whom he made prisoner. He was one of the first in the pursuit, and as he came up with this officer, who rode close in the rear of the enemy, the officer made a thrust at him with a long straight sword. After, however, he had parried the thrust, the officer called out ‘pardon.’ He did not trouble himself further about the man, but continued the pursuit; an English Hussar, however, who had come up to the officer at the same time with him, led the officer back.

Bergmann went on to say that he hadn’t known that the officer was Lefebvre until after the action, when he was told he should “have held fast the man.” He added that he was young and “did not trouble” himself about the matter.  All he remembered was that the officer “wore a dark green frock, a hat with a feather, and a long straight sword.”

All the other German witnesses and letters confirm Bergmann’s story, but we also learn that the General had fired a pistol at Bergmann “which failing in its aim, he offered him his sword and made known his wish to be taken to General Stewart.” But Bergmann “didn’t know General Stewart personally, and while he was enquiring where the general was to be found, a Hussar of the tenth English joined him, and led away the prisoner.”

So this it seems is the truth of the matter: Lefebvre was surrounded by a German troop and captured by Private Johann Bergmann. Levi Grisdale, with the 10th Hussars, might have arrived at the scene at the same time as Bergmann or very slightly after, opinions differ. Lefebvre asked to be taken to General Stewart and so Bergmann, “not knowing General Stewart personally”, handed him over to Private Grisdale who “led the prisoner away.”

Lefebvre was delivered to the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore. Moore, who, we are told, treated the General, who had suffered a superficial head wound, “kindly” and “entertained him at his table.” He also gave him his own sword to replace the one taken when he surrendered. “Speaking to him in French”, General Moore, “provided some of his own clothes; for Lefebvre was drenched and bleeding.” He then “sent a message to the French, requesting Lefebvre’s baggage, which was promptly sent.”

Napoleon, who had viewed the action from a height overlooking the river, didn’t seem too put out by the losses of what he called his “Cherished Children.” But he was very upset when he heard of Lefebvre’s capture. He wrote to Josephine (my translation):

Lefebvre has been taken. He made a skirmish for me with 300 Chasseurs; these show-offs crossed the river by swimming, and threw themselves into the middle of the English cavalry. They killed many of them; but, returning, Lefebvre’s horse was wounded: he was drowning; the current led him to the bank where the English were; he has been taken. Console his wife.

In the aftermath of the battle, a Spanish report from the town of Benavente itself, tells us that on:

The night of the 29th they (the British) used the striking pines growing on the high ground behind the hospitals as lights, at every step coming under the fire of French artillery from the other side of the river, answered feebly by the English, whose force disappeared totally by the morning, to be replaced by a dreadful silence and solitude….

The British cavalry had slipped away and, with the rest of the army, continued its horrendous winter retreat to Corunna. Levi Grisdale and the 10th Hussars were with them.

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

General Lefebvre himself was later sent as a prisoner to England, and housed at Cheltenham where he lived for three years. As was the custom, he gave his word or “parole” as a French officer and gentleman that he would not try to escape. He was even allowed to be joined by his wife Stephanie. It seems that the couple: “were in demand socially and attended social events around the district.” Other reports tell us that General Lefebvre was in possession of a “fine signet ring of considerable value which had been given him years earlier by his Emperor Napoleon. Lefebvre used this ring as a bribe to get escape and was thus able to escape back to France, where he rejoined his Division.” This was, says one commentator, “an unpardonable sin according to English public opinion.” So much for a gentleman’s word!  The Emperor reinstated him as commander of the Chasseurs and he would go on to fight in all Napoleon’s subsequent campaigns, right up to Waterloo – where he would share the field once again with Levi Grisdale.

I have kept us a little too long in Spain. This is, after all, not the story of the retreat to Corunna, much less a history of the first Spanish chapter of the Peninsular War. After the so-called March of Death and the Battle of Corunna, Levi Grisdale was evacuated back to England by the Royal Navy – with what was left of the 10th Hussars. Here his fame started to spread. The Hampshire Telegraph of 18th February 1809 announced that Grisdale was back in Brighton with his regiment and described him as: “tall, well-made, well looking, ruddy and expressive.” He was promoted to Corporal and awarded a special silver medal by the regiment, which was inscribed:

Corporal Grisdale greatly distinguished himself on the 1st day of January 1809 (sic). This is adjudged to him by officers of the regiment.

The years passed. The regiment moved from Brighton to Romford in Essex, but was once again back in Brighton in 1812. Of this time we know little; only a few events in Levi’s life. Soon after his arrival back in England, he somehow arranged to get away to Bath, where on 29 March 1809, he married Ann Robinson in St James’ Church. Their only son, also called Levi, was born and baptized at Arundel on 12 March 1811 – sadly he was to die young. On 17 February 1813, he “was found guilty of being drunk and absent from barracks.” But, it seems, he was neither reduced to the ranks nor flogged. Other evidence suggests that the whole regiment was “undisciplined and tended to drunkenness.” Whether the leniency of his treatment was due to his record at Benavente we will probably never know.

But by February 1813, Levi, by this time a Sergeant, was back in the Iberian Peninsula, serving in a coalition army under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, who was later to become the Duke of Wellington. With the 10th Hussars, he fought his way through Portugal, Spain and France and, so  his regiment’s records tell us, was actively engaged at the Battles of Morales, Vitoria, Orthes and, finally, at the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. Here the British and their allies were badly mauled. But news soon reached the French Marshall Soult that Napoleon had abdicated and Soult agreed to an armistice.

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher's Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher’s Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

And that should really have been that as far as Levi Grisdale’s military campaigning days was concerned. Yet one more chapter lay ahead. A chapter that would no doubt later provide Levi with another great story to tell in his Penrith public house. Napoleon, we might recall, was to escape from his exile on the Island of Elba in February 1815. He retook the leadership of France, regathered his army, and was only definitively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815. It has often been said that the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo “hung in the balance” until the arrival of the Prussian army under Prince von Blücher. One writer puts it thus:

Blücher’s army intervened with decisive and crushing effect, his vanguard drawing off Napoleon’s badly needed reserves, and his main body being instrumental in crushing French resistance. This victory led the way to a decisive victory through the relentless pursuit of the French by the Prussians.

And here it is that we last hear of Levi’s active military exploits. According to his obituary, published in the Cumberland and Westmoreland Advertiser on 20 November 1855, Levi had been posted on the road where the Prussians were expected to arrive, and he led them onto the field of battle! We are also told that during the battle “his horse was shot from under him and he was wounded in the right calf by a splinter from a shell.” Finally, according to a letter written by Captain Thomas Taylor of the 10th Hussars, written to General Sir Vivian Hussey in 1829, Levi, who was a by now a Sergeant in No1 troop under Captain John Gurwood, and “who was one of the captors of Lefebvre … conducted the vedettes in withdrawing from French cavalry during the battle.

Of course, Levi Grisdale certainly did not “save England and Europe” from Napoleon. But, along with thousands of other common soldiers, he played his part and, unlike countless others on all sides, he survived to tell his tales in his pub.

What became of Levi? After he returned to England, he was promoted to Sergeant Major and remained another nine years with the 10th Hussars. When he left the army in 1825, aged only 42 but with twenty-two years of active service and thirty-two engagements behind him, his discharge papers said that he was suffering from chronic rheumatism and was “worn out by service.” Hardly surprising we might think. The army gave him a pension of 1s 10d a day. His papers also state that his intended place of residence was Bristol. He was as good as his word as and he was to become the landlord of the Stag and Star public house in Barr Street, Bristol.

Christ Church, Penrith – where Levi Grisdale is buried

Yet by 1832 Levi and his family had moved back to his native Penrith. His wife Ann died there in July of that year. It seems that Levi was not one to mourn for too long. Within about two weeks he had married again. This time a woman called Mary Western – with whom he had four children. He continued his life as a publican and, as I have mentioned, christened his pub the General Lefebvre; he even hung a large picture of the General over the entrance. During his last years, Levi Grisdale gave up his pub and worked as a gardener. He died of ‘dropsy’ on 17 November 1855 in Penrith, aged 72, his occupation being given as “Chelsea pensioner.” He was buried in the graveyard of Christ Church in Penrith.

Despite what we know about Levi’s life, we will never know what was most important to him – his family, his comrades? Nor will we know what he thought of the ruling ‘officer class’? What he thought of the social and political system that had led him to fight so many battles against adversaries he knew little about? Nor whose side he was really on? We will never know these things, though we can imagine!

As General Macarthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” ‘General’ Levi Grisdale certainly died but, thankfully, his memory has not yet faded away.

Sources

Mary Grisdale. Levi Grisdale. Unpublished research 2006; David Fallowfield. Levi Grisdale 1783-1855, Unpublished article. Penrith; Philip J. Haythornthwaite. Corunna 1809: Sir John Moore’s Fighting Retreat. London: Osprey Publishing 2001; Lettres de Napoléon à Joséphine, Tome Second, Paris 1833, Firman Didot Freres; Christopher Hibbert. Corunna, Batsford 1961; Michael Clover. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. Penguin Books 2003; North Ludlow Beamish. History of the King’s German Legion, Harvard 1832; Christopher Summerville. The March of Death: Sir John Moore’s Retreat to Corunna. Greenhill books 2006; Brime, D. Fernando Fernandez. Historical Notes of the Town of Benavente and its Environs.  Valladolid 1881; Wikipedia.  Battle of Benavente. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Benavente.; The Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars. http://www.horsepowermuseum.co.uk/index.html .