John Thompson - his birth and family of origin, and military record | DBHome | Family History | Jessup family |

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 John Thompson Grenadier Guard. 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.

John Thompson, was discharged from the Grenadier Guards at Westminster in May 1825, joined the Royal Veterans at Mullingar in Ireland later that year and came to Tasmania with them in 1826. His certificate of discharge (see the report this document) gives his place of birth as Lamesbury in the county of Lancaster. As there is no such place in Lancashire, or elsewhere in Britain, I wanted to investigate the possibility that Lamesbury was a copying error from an earlier unknown document in which his native place was given as Samlesbury, Lancs. This report follows a visit to Preston, Lancs., where in the County Record Office I was able to search the parish registers of Samlesbury which is a rural locality a few miles east of Preston, today just to the east of the Preston exit from the M6 motorway on the road to Blackburn. There is little more there now than the church, St Leonard the Less, Samlesbury, and a farm named Church Farm with a few other houses within view in a rural setting of gentle hillsides with pastures and hedgerows. At the time in question it was a chapelry with a curate and associated with the parish of Blackburn. From the number of births, deaths and marriages in the late 1700s it must have had a population of several hundred people engaged in agriculture and cottage industries, especially spinning and weaving.

The birth of John Thompson is indeed recorded in the baptismal register of Samlesbury. It was a few months later than it should have been according to his discharge papers, being early in 1786 rather than in the previous year:-
John Thompson, Fa: John Thompson, Mo: Alice Thompson, Born: 16th Feb. Bapt.: 17th Feb. 1786.

The military record says that when discharged from the Guards on 16 May 1825 he had served 21 years and 234 days since his 18th birthday, which would indicate a birth date of 24 September 1785. So when he enlisted "at the age of eighteen" on 25 November 1803 he put his age up about five months. There can be little doubt however that the boy born at Samlesbury is the man who was discharged in 1825 and came to Tasmania the following year. Besides the military record, even with its errors of detail, there is some corroborating evidence concerning his family in the Samlesbury registers. (See also below what more I have learned from the military records I was later able to examine in more detail at the National Archives.)

The baptismal entries at this time did not give the mother's maiden name although there had been a short period around 1780 when much more useful information on the parents of baptized children was recorded. In that period the bishop had instructed clergy to include surnames on both sides and grandparents names and the occupations of the men, but unfortunately for us the practice was not sustained. There were however several Thompson entries in that more detailed form, and that has been very useful although not for the baptism of other children of John and Alice Thompson; and I could not find their wedding. There was one older child of John and Alice: James Thompson, b. 30 Dec. 1784, bapt. 30 Jan., 1785. The name James there is significant because it was the name of John the father's grandfather, to which I will return. Besides James b. Dec 1784 and our John b. Feb 1786 acknowledged as the two sons of John and Alice Thompson, there is another possible child: the birth of an illegitimate son to Alice Cross, Christened George 27 April 1783.

I don't know how many other young women named Alice there were at Samlesbury at that time, but I saw no others so named in the registers, and there is a neat co-incidence which links Alice Cross with the Thompson family. The baptism of her child George was in the period in which the unusual amount of information was given on parents: she was described as the daughter of Thomas Cross of Samlesbury, Son of Isaac Cross, Samlesbury, Yeoman. In 1780 there had also been another child named George Cross, the son of John Cross and Margaret Smith. That John Cross was described as the son of another John Cross, so in a different line at that point from Alice daughter of Thomas Cross, but probably related and using a traditional family name. At about the same time there was a marriage on 13 March 1783 between Augustine Thompson and Ann Cross. Augustine was described in an entry for a baptism as being of Samlesbury, weaver, son of Edward Thompson of Samlesbury, weaver; and his wife Ann Cross was described as the daughter of Thomas Cross of Samlesbury. The name Augustine reminds us that our John had a son in Tasmania named Augustus, my great grandfather, so it would be strange if there were not a close relationship of Augustine Thompson and his wife Ann to John and Alice Thompson the parents of our John. My guess is that Ann Cross who married Augustine was the sister of Alice Cross. They were both daughters of Thomas Cross. And so I think this Alice was same Alice as the mother of James and John and married John their father after giving birth to George. I would not be quite certain that John Thompson the father of James and John was also the father of George, although it seems quite likely. Age is a consideration and the name George appeared several times in the Cross family rather than the Thompson family, but most interestingly one such George Cross was a witness at the marriage of an earlier generation John Thompson and his wife Esther Forrest on 15 Oct., 1761. John the father of our John b. 1786 was the son of John and Esther Thompson, born 15 May and bapt., 31 May 1764. So Alice Cross gave her son George the name of a man who was a witness to the marriage of our John Thompson's grandparents, that is, the parents of John Thompson b. 1764. I think Alice married John at about the time it appears that her sister Ann married Augustine Thompson, but it is a pity the marriage of John and Alice was not found.

You would think that in a small community it would be possible to document all the relationships but I have often found in working with small village populations that they moved around a good deal more than we might expect, often between neighbouring parishes, but it is difficult to discover where the relevant records might be if they are outside the parish we know, and it is also possible to miss some entries. There are often patches of writing that are almost if not entirely illegible or where the microfilm or fiche copy is too faint to make out. I am not completely sure of the name Cross although I must have seen more than a dozen examples of it. The way letters were formed in handwriting in those day was sometimes quite different from the way we write, in Cross especially the r and the double s, even the o was often not clear, and that in addition to the fact that not everyone wrote as neatly as we would wish - but then who am I to say that! At one point I thought the name could be Cowper or Crofts, but some old entries from around 1750 make it fairly clearly Cross.

I am reasonably confident of John b. 1764 and Alice, whose birth I did not find, being the parents of our John b. 1786. I said that James Thompson b. 1784, the brother of our John, would have been named after his father's grandfather. We are fortunate in this search that John and Esther Thompson, the grandparents of our John who married in 1761, were still having children around 1780 when the unusual amount of detail on family backgrounds was being recorded. Earlier John and Esther had the following children baptized at Samlesbury: Esther 17 Aug. 1762, John [apparently our John's father] 15 May 1764, Frances bpt. 15 March 1767, Sarah bpt. 12 Feb. 1769, Elizabeth bpt 24 March 1771, William bpt 5 July 1772, Sarah (2) bpt ? May 1775, Matthew bpt 3? March 1777, Michael b. 17 March, bpt. ? July 1778, and Henry bpt. 13 June 1780. The second last of them, before Joseph b. 26 bpt. 28 October 1783, was Peter b. 18 March, bpt 21 May 1782, recorded as son of John Thompson of Samlesbury, weaver, son of James Thompson of Samlesbury, weaver, by Frances his wife [i.e. wife of James] Daughter of John Hallathon of Liverpool; and [child's mother:] Esther, Daughter of John Forrest of Balderstone, weaver, by Sarah Daughter of Thomas Barker of Pleasington, weaver. So there we have a nice little family tree and some social history all in one baptismal entry, and when combined with the births of their other children including John b. 1764 it establishes them as a separate line of Thompson descent apart from that of Augustine Thompson, son of Edward, who married Ann Cross the apparent sister of Alice. If it were not for this separation I might have been inclined to investigate the possibility that Ann and Alice Cross were the same person and so perhaps were Augustine and John, so Alice/Ann would then have a married of our John's parent under the name Augustine about the right time although only a month before James was born, but Augustine and John the father have different fathers if the description of "Augusting Thomson" as son of Edward Thompson at the baptism of a child with Ann in October 1783 is correct and John b. 1764 to John and Esther is the John who married Alice. Then there is the closeness of the births of a child of Augustine and Ann btp. in April 1783 and George the son of Alice born in June 1782. They are probably different people and John would have named his son Augustus in Tasmania having in mind an uncle by marriage, the husband of his mother's sister, who was probably also a relative on his father's side but no closer than a first cousin of his father - i.e. in addition probably to remembering a colleague in the Royal Veterans, Augustus Walsh.

Before the marriage of John Thompson and Esther Forrest in 1761, which is the earliest record in our direct Thompson line that I have found, there were several children born at Samlesbury to Lawrence and Mary Thompson (sometimes Thomson) John 28 Sept 1751, twins Mary and Martha 7 Jan 1754, William 8 June 1756, Ann 7 Dec 1761. Lawrence and Mary might have had other children, I was not necessarily recording all Thompsons. Now I think I should have noted them all, and also all the Cross entries. I looked for Thompson baptisms back as far as 1744 but had to stop then. We do know however that John who married in 1761 was the son of James Thompson and Frances Hallathon whose father John came from Liverpool, and that his wife Esther was the daughter of John Forrest and Sarah Barker whose father Thomas came from Pleasington, so that takes us back to some of my and my siblings 5xg and 6xg grandparents in the early 1700s and late 1600s, although we have not (yet?) documented all the vital events for them.

There were several Cross households apparently from about 1750 and probably earlier. I saw Thomas son of John Cross and Mary 2 Dec 1751, and their daughter Ann 24 Sept. 1750, and Bart? 8 Nov 1753. This Thomas Cross would not be the father of Alice for his father was said to be Isaac, not John, and his birth is too late. In a different family there was William son of Isaac (note Isaac, above, the Yeoman grandfather of Alice) and Ann Cross 17 Dec 1769, as well as Elizabeth dau of James and Ann Cross 23 Jan 1763, and Ann dau of Lawrence and Jane Cross 10 Dec 1769. Then there was the more detailed entry for George Cross, bpt 9 August 1780, son of John Cross son of John Cross of Samlesbury, Farmer, by Ann Daughter of James Ainsworth of Balderstone, Husbandman; and [child's mother] Margaret, Daughter of John Smith of Samlesbury, carpenter. If Alice was about the same age as her husband John Thompson b. 1764, her father Thomas might have been born about 1730-1740 and grandfather Isaac perhaps around 1700 + or - 20 years or so. The Isaac noted here would be likely to be a later generation. So the indications are that there were several lines of descent in the people named Cross at Samlesbury and we do not have any further definite links to earlier generations for Alice although more work might reveal some.

I should have looked at burials too in case some of the people I believe were in our tree died young and to order to help with the identification of people who were otherwise close to each other, but I was pressed for time and anxious not be too late and driving back tired on the very busy motorway to Birmingham after starting out just after 6 a.m. I did take time however to go to Samlesbury, which as noted above, is quite convenient and it was worthwhile. It is in a pleasant and productive rural environment and the local church is still active with regular services and community activities in a joint benefice with Walton le Dale. In the churchyard I saw two later John Thompson gravestones. There were probably more Thompsons but I did not have time to search the whole yard. One was John Thompson who died Sept. 16th, 1881 aged 86 years and his wife Catherine who died March 13, 1897 aged 71 years. He would have reached almost back to the period I was studying. Another was "John Greaves Thompson 10-10-1867 to 7-11-1957 son of T. R. and A. T. of this parish at one time a manager of coal mines in this County Palatine of Lancaster". I would not be surprised if we still have relatives living in the area although most of the families there in past centuries would have moved away with the economic and social changes of the last 300 years, the period over which we can now trace our Thompson history.

Just when our John or his parents made the move south is unknown but it would be a point of interest if there were any way of finding out, such the places of birth of later children. I did not search much past the time of our John's birth but I did not find any more children of John and Alice at Samlesbury and I would not be surprised if they moved when John was still quite young. Against this one might put the fact that his occupation, no doubt before his recruitment in 1803, was given in his discharge certificate as weaver. He came from a family of weavers and this might suggest he was still close to his origins at the age of "eighteen", but not necessarily. It could simply have been the traditional occupation of his people. He was enlisted in the Guards at Horsham in Sussex and might already have had the example over some years of his parents being prepared to be more adventurous in moving and over a longer distance than would have been typical of the agricultural workers and cottage weavers of Samlesbury from which they came. If I am right about Alice being the daughter of Thomas Cross and granddaughter of Isaac a yeoman then her family would have been a little better off than most, having freehold title to their farm land, although in the circumstances of her having a child before marriage she might not have felt as welcome a member of the family as otherwise. These things might have helped them to act more independently, while John the father of our John coming from a very large family of brothers and sisters with few assets to share would had an incentive to move on and make his own way, especially at a time when the textile industry was being forced out of the cottages into factories. In any case joining the army was a good way for a young man to make his way into broader fields, and he certainly did that, serving overseas against Napoleon, and finishing up on the other side of the world.

Since writing the above I have been again to the National Archives in Kew and discovered a little more of John Thompson's military history during his 21 years in the First Foot Guards as they were known when he enlisted and which were given the title of the Grenadier Guards after their contribution to victory at the Battle of Waterloo. First I established without doubt that there was only one John Thompson who served in that regiment in the relevant period. There was no other at least up to 1854, so the idea of there being perhaps two of them was not a solution to the problem we had of his being called Sgt J Thompson on his medal for the Peninsular War despite the fact that his discharge specified that he spent his whole time of 21 Years and 234 days since his 18th birthday as a private, to which we added the apparent contradiction of the policy that recruits into the Royal Veterans Company were required to have served previously in British units as NCOs. Both in the WO 97 series of discharge records and in the actual listing of members of the regiment in the pay musters over many years I found one and only one John, but plenty of other Thompsons. I also went carefully through the series of discharge papers which are in alphabetical order for all the guard regiments and saw that his was the only one among those who had at least served long enough to qualify for a pension. The index now available on line at Kew for those who served up to 1854 also had only the one John Thompson, the one born at "Lamesbury" (which we now know to have been Samlesbury), Lancs. But there is a solution. He served as a Serjeant for a little over a year from about the end of the Peninsula campaign until a few weeks after Waterloo, so if those officials who verified qualification for the award had taken his rank from the regimental records for the year in which that part of the war against Napoleon ended he would have been listed as Serjeant (the spelling is that in those records). I did not find the actual date of his appointment as Serjeant, but it must have been in the first half of 1814 for he was amongst the privates before and he appeared among the serjeants in subsequent musters of his company until that of June to December 1815, when his name was among the serjeants with a note "To private 12 July 1815" and also among the privates "From Sjt. 13 July 1815".

There was no explanation for this reduction in rank. It was unusual. It may be significant that it was a few weeks after Waterloo which was fought on 18 June 1815 , and that he was listed among those of his company who were still "In Foreign Service" but not at Waterloo. Those who fought in the great battle were listed separately with a red line down the page beside their names and the word Waterloo written in red in the margin beside it. That practice of separately listing the Waterloo veterans, with their special designation, within each rank in each company, was continued for several musters after the event. They always took precedence over the others in later lists. Whether John Thompson missed out because of some misdemeanor which also led to his demotion is something we will probably never know. He might, like others, simply have had duties elsewhere unrelated to the reason for reduction of his rank, but the majority of his company, like most of the regiment, did take part at Waterloo. One consolation for his descendants is that it might have saved his life. While they so distinguished themselves that they are the only regiment to have been given an official name won on the field of battle, the Grenadier Guards suffered a significant number of deaths even if a smaller proportion of casualties than the British Army as a whole which had 13,000 casualties out 24,000 men. (That was in an allied force of 74,000 with similar losses.) I saw several lists of names of a dozen or so deaths in various Grenadier companies. Anyway he survived and whatever the reason for his demotion he was content to remain in the regiment for another 10 years. He was still listed among the privates in 1825. The discharge certificate was simply wrong and should have included the number of days he had served as a serjeant, in the column where provision was made for it, but perhaps he did not wish to challenge the record and thus be required to explain how he was still a private. Later he could still have used his experience at that rank as a qualification for entering the Royal Veterans.

The discharge certificate is also contradicted by regimental muster returns in regard to the date of his recruitment. The muster return for the half year 25 June to 24 December 1803 lists John Thompson among several recruits whose service began on 25 October. The discharge document says: Period of Service: From 25 Novr. 1803 to 16 May 1825. So there are several points at which it cannot be relied upon, including this and his age and service at other ranks. That first return in which his name appears was made from Barham Downs. The next several returns up to the period ending 24 December 1805, but for which the last actual report was dated 8 April 1806, were made from Chatham. The next was from Westminster 2 July 1806, but that does not mean that they were there at that time for the return for June - December 1806 stated that most of his company were "In Foreign Service". When they were abroad the returns were always made from Westminster with no statement of just where they were in fact at that time. From December 06 to December 07 the returns were made from Deal and then there is another period of foreign service in 1808 which we know to be the time when Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) led an expeditionary force to Portugal and Spain after Napoleon had invaded Portugal. John's company was briefly back at Chatham at the end of that year but from June 1810 returns were continually made from Westminster until after Waterloo and John Thompson was specified as among those serving in foreign parts for several years from the latter half of 1810. It was in the following years that the victories of the Peninsula War were won until the last at Vittoria in October 1813 forced the French to leave Spain, and Wellington invaded the south of France early in 1814. Allies invaded from the north after the defeat of Napoleon near Leipzig in 1813 and he resigned in March 1814 - for the first time. It appears that John Thompson remained abroad with those companies that did not return until he was among the men in the muster reported from Windsor 25 July 1816. (Incidentally, I noticed a Samuel Beswick among those at Waterloo, and earlier a Jonathan Beswick in the regiment in 1804.) I did not have long enough for the time consuming task of reading through the long lists of names for each half year (it takes hours to do few years) to discover where he was in each of the following years, but his company was last reported during his term of service from "Tower" mid 1825, and the following report was made from Westminster. So he was in London somewhere when he was discharged, but not necessary at Westminster as I previously reported. He was within the central area in which it would have been easy for him to have known and married Harriet if she did come from Newington and with her to have planned a new way of life. (Added note:- But, now that I have seen the signature of the John Thompson who married a Harriet at Newington, I think it was someone else, because it is different from the signature in his discharge papers.)

I should record also that Hazel and I went to Mullingar in County West Meath when we were in Ireland about a month ago and saw the place where John Thompson was recruited into the Royal Veterans, which brought him to Tasmania. His place of abode was then given as Lynnbury and we wondered whether Harriet his wife came from there and whether it is where they might have been married or perhaps if they married elsewhere such as Newington, Surrey, they might have visited her people there. I found that there is no place called Lynnbury now but the area on the southern outskirts of the town of Mullingar is called Lynn and that name occurs in several places such as courts of houses or streets and the Lynn Industrial Estate, and there is a locality called Lynton. According to old maps in the National Library in Dublin, in earlier times the parish to the south and south east of the parish of Mullingar was called Lynn. Unfortunately I was advised at the Library in Dublin that the records of both parishes were destroyed in the Four Courts fire during the civil war in 1922, so we have no prospect of finding a marriage if it was there and little chance of any further information on Harriet's family if that was her home, not at least without knowing her surname, even if she did come from there. But I think John is more likely to have been there briefly in connection with the military and that if Harriet was Harriet Conybear who married a John Thompson at Newington soon after our John was discharged nearby in London in 1825 then her family is likely to have come from Somerset or Devon. Indeed I saw some Connebere (various spellings) entries at Colebrook, Devon, when I was researching the family of Richard Olding Cummins. (But as noted above that John and Harriet was probably a different couple.) However they did it, John and Harriet made a new start in 1825 when John was nearly 40 and made the big move to Van Deimens Land for John to earn his crust as an old soldier guarding convicts, a class in the population from which came later those with whom at least some of their descendants would intermarry.

DB 11 August 2004

See also John Thompson's family and life in Tasmania

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