John Thompson, military discharge and possible place of origin | DBHome | Family History | Jessup family |

[ See John Thompson birth and military record for updated information.]

John Thompson, my gg grandfather, who came to Tasmania, then Van Deimen's Land, in 1826 with the British army unit the Royal Veterans (RV) had previously served in the First Regiment of Foot (or Grenadier) Guards as explained in the web page His son Augustus born in Tasmania married Mary Ann Featherstone and their daughter Maud who married Henry Jessup was my mother's mother. We have been hoping to find his place of birth and hence a way of discovering of his family of origin from evidence contained in the Army records of his recruitment into the First Foot Guards, but the lead we had in the past year turned out to be a real puzzle.

Graeme Marsden, who is a member of an organisation in Boston, USA, with a special interest in the First Foot Guards and author of a web site on them was in touch with me a few months ago and gave the following reference to an index of members who had been discharged from the regiment:-

WO 97/213/18 JOHN THOMPSON Born LAMESBURY, Lancashire
Served in 1st Foot Guards Discharged aged 40 1803-1825

The place of his birth given here as Lamesbury, Lancs., was a puzzle because we could not find any place of that name, either in present day lists of UK placenames or historical lists of old parish names. Nor could Graeme who comes from Lancashire and is an experienced family historian think of any similar name which could have been confused with it. I did suggest Samlesbury, near Preston, as a possibility, but it seemed rather unlikely (although it was in fact the case, see John Thompson birth and military record).

WO 97 is a very useful series of records of the service of soldiers made at the time they left the Army giving certain details of their recruitment and years of service. It is only available at the National Archives (PRO) at Kew in London. I was thus able in London recently to find the discharge certificate of John Thompson and hoped to find in the microfilm of the actual hand written record a clue to the birthplace that might have been lost in the transcription to a typed index. Unfortunately for my hypothesis, the name Lamesbury was clearly written with the initial letter exactly the same as in Lancaster, and quite different from the initial S in Sussex which was mentioned as the county of his recruitment, so we are no further ahead in finding his origins. More on that later, but the discharge certificate does contain other interesting details of his history and personal characteristics, as follows:-

His Majesty's 1st (or Grenadier) Regt of Foot Guards, whereof F. M. His Royal Highness The Duke of York, K.G. AND G.C.B. is Colonel.

These are to Certify

I. That John Thompson born in the Parish of Lamesbury [clearly written but just possibly Lauresbury or Lainesbury or Lancesbury or something similar, although several people looking at it say it is Lamesbury, and I have a photocopy for anyone to check] in or near the town of --------- [unfortunately blank] in the County of Lancaster was enlisted for the aforesaid Regiment at Horsham in the County of Sussex on the 25th Day of November 1803 at the age of Eighteen for Unlimited Service.

II. That he has served in the Army for the space of 21 Years and 234 days after the Age of Eighteen, according to the subjoined Statement of Service:

In What Corps: Grenr. Guards.

Period of Service: From 25 Novr. 1803 to 16 May 1825.

Private: 21 years, 234 days.

Total: 21 years, 234 days.

III That by the authority of HRH The Commander in Chief, dated 7th May 1823, he is hereby discharged in consequence of Length of Service.

IV. That he is not, to my knowledge, incapacitated by the Sentence of a General Court Martial, from receiving Pension.

V. That his general conduct as a Soldier has been good.

VI. That he has received all just Demands of Pay, Clothing, etc., from his Entry into Service to the date of this discharge, as appears by his receipt underneath.

VII. I, John Thompson, do hereby acknowledge that I have received all my Clothing, Pay, Arrears of Pay, and all just Demands whatsoever, from the time of my Entry into Service to the time of this Discharge.

Certified by Jno Christie, Segt, Clerk[?] Gendr Guards. Signature of Soldier, John Thompson.

VIII. To prevent any improper use being made of this Discharge, by its falling into other hands, the following is a Description of the said John Thompson. He is about Forty Years of Age, is five Feet seven Inches in Height, Brown Hair, blue Eyes, fair Complexion, and by trade or Occupation a Weaver. Given under my hand and the seal of the Regiment at Whitehall this 16th day of May 1825.

Signed ..... [illegible] Commanding Officer. [End of Document]

The length of service being counted from his eighteenth birthday gives an exact date of birth: 18 plus 21 years and 234 days before his discharge on 16 May 1825. That is 24 September 1785. As they said in his description, he was "about 40" or in his fortieth year. This agrees reasonably well, as these things go, with his age given as 74 at in the registration of his death in 1858. If the exact date of birth were correct it could have been a useful way of confirming a possible birth record of birth or baptism, [but as it turned out it was not correct.]

Another significant detail is that he had served the whole of his 21 years and 234 days as a private, but this raises a question because according to what I have read of the history of the Royal Veterans in Tasmania recruits into that unit, which was sent out to guard convicts, were supposed to have been non-commissioned officers in previous service in the British Army. Also, he was known later in Tasmania as Sergeant Thompson, for example in his death notice in the Launceston Examiner he was said to have been a sergeant in the Grenadier Guards. That rank appeared on a piece of paper with his campaign medal for the Peninsula War which was awarded about 1840, many years after the period of service. Ray Denny a descendant of his daughter Elizabeth at Scottsdale, Tas., has the medal and note in a case apparently as it was presented. He was a private in the Royal Veterans when they arrived in Hobart, and there is no evidence of his gaining rank later. Those in charge of convicts, especially if they were superintendents, were sometimes known in the colony as "sergeant", eg our other soldier ancestor Sandy Mackenzie who was known as "Sergeant Mackenzie" although he only ever held the Army rank of private. John Thompson was in charge of a prison in Launceston in his later years, after his discharge from the RV so it could have been a courtesy title. On the other hand he could have been briefly in another Army unit after leaving the Guards before joining the Royal Veterans, but I think that should also have shown in the WO 97 records at Kew and I did not see that might have been his among the other John Thompsons whose discharge was documented. [The as reported in the linked document pay records for his company show that he held the rank of sergeant from some time in the first half of 1814 to July 1815.]

John Thompson was enlisted into the Royal Veterans at Lynnbury, in Co. Westmeath, Ireland, 2 1/4 miles SSW of Mullingah [Mullingar] on 8 December 1825. This was about 6 months after his discharge from the First Foot (or Grenadier) Guards. The muster and pay records, show that the Guards were at Westminster or Whitehall in the quarter of his discharge. That is consistent with the certificate saying that his place of discharge was Whitehall. We are all familiar these days with the ceremonial duties of the Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace and they have been associated with Whitehall for a long time as the premier regiment of the British Army, but they have always been a real fighting force and in those days being on guard duty at the seat of government was a serious matter and a normal part of their duty. It seems that in the following few months he must have had some reason for going from that familiar location to Ireland. Two possibilities come to mind. One is that he had joined another army unit meanwhile, and the other that he went there for family reasons.

If it was for family reasons that he went to Ireland, it could perhaps have been for his wife's family, as his own native place was in England. At this stage we know very little of her, except that her first name was Harriet and that she died in Tasmania in 1840 after having several children born there. We should search for more detail about her in such places as the baptismal records of her children or their marriages. There is no good evidence of any children having been born before their arrival in the colony, but it is not impossible, alhtough one work on the Royal Veterans raised a question of whether one child on the ship might have been theirs. We have tended to assume that they were married shortly before departure and there are two marriage records of a John Thompson to a woman named Harriet in the IGI for the period between the date of John's discharge from the Guards and his recruitment into the RV. One is at St Peter's, Bolton, Lancs., to Harriot Winders, 17 October 1825, and the other at St Mary Newington, Surrey, to Harriot Coneyber, 15 October 1825. There are other possible marriages in earlier years, but it seems more likely that he married after retiring from active service and before joining a unit in which special provision was made for married men, as for example in the houses provided for them in Hobart, where there was a street named Veterans Row. Both the above are plausible: this first in being in the county of his birth to which he might have returned and second in being in the south near where he was recruited and not far from where he was serving when he retired. I was initially inclined to favour Newington because it is in Southwark within easy walking distance of where he had been stationed at Westminster. As Graeme Marsden has pointed out he would only have had to walk across Wesminster Bridge. It makes sense that he might have married a woman from that parish and I found that two possible brothers of Harriet were also married there, but then I found that a large number of Thompsons were married in the same place so there need be no connection with the guards at Westminster. [Since seeing the signature of John Thompson on the microfilm of the marriage register for St Mary Newington I have doubted that it was the same as the signature of John Thompson on his discharge papers, but I am not certain the he actually signed the copy of the discharge paper that I saw.] We still need a reason for him to have gone to Ireland before 8 December 1825. If Harriet Coneyber was his wife that name or Connybeare or similar name is associated with Somerset and Devon rather than with Ireland, so a visit to her family in Ireland is unlikely. Certainly, if he had joined another unit he could easily have been sent there as the British maintained a strong presence especially after the rebellion of 1798 and anxieties about French support for Irish rebels. For example, Britain had 35,000 troops in Ireland a few years later in 1828. However it seems likely that his retirement from the guards, his marriage and recuitment into the RV were part of a plan to start a new life in the colonies, and the move to Ireland could have been part of that plan. It is hard to know how to proceed further on this question. Checking more Tasmanian records for the maiden name of Harriet is an important step to take. [I have since checked the archives in Hobart and found no mention of Harriet's native place on any of the births or marriages of their children, or on her death registration. We do know that she arrived on the same ship with him in 1826.]

One thing I had hoped to look into was the possibility that neither of the above marriages was his and that he married at the location where he was recruited in 1825, but many of the Irish records have been lost and I discovered at the National Library in Dublin that the parish records of the Church of Ireland for Mullingar and Lynn have not survived, apparently destroyed in the burning of the Four Courts during the civil war in 1922. He is not likely as a British soldier to have married except in the Established Church. There were no civil registrations at that time.

On the continuing question of where "Lamesbury" might have been or whether it was Samlesbury [which we now know it was], although the name is practically unknown there are two entries in the 1851 census for Cheltenham, in which people are said to have been born at Lamesbury, apparently in the same county of Gloucestershire. That is a co-incidence in our research effort as we will be looking at records there in a few weeks for Hazel's family. So far I have not been able to trace the people listed in the census with that birthplace. There was one strange reference on the Internet I have not been able to follow up to "Lamesbury Abbey" in what may be a work of fiction, or perhaps a reference to Malmesbury - but there is no Malmesbury in Lancashire. Malmesbury Abbey is in Wiltshire near Gloucestershire. Certainly, I will still check the baptismal register of Samlesbury for 1785 if I can find it when we go north in August. (Added note: Which I did and found him there: see John Thompson birth and military record)

One nice little sidelight is that the description of John Thompson when he was about 40 would except for his occupation have fitted me at the same age, and still would except for the colour of the hair!

DB 3 July 2004, revised 6 September 2006

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