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Wilthew’s and the army 1823 – c.1871 (from ‘Bisset Generations’)

September 8, 2011

[Originally published 15 June 2011, Bisset Generations]

In an earlier post I noted that one son of John Shaftoe Wilthew and Susannah Charlton/Bell had apparently joined the army , with local newspaper reports from the events of 1859 reporting that:-

“A son that has gone to be a soldier some time ago, took a razor from him.”

I had narrowed this down to one of three sons: John Shaftoe Wilthew jnr. (baptised 1833), Charlton Wilthew (baptised 1835) or George Edward Wilthew (baptised 1843). But I hadn’t been able to narrow it down to which son it might have been. Now, I have two son’s who I know were in the army.

George Edward Wilthew

George Edward Wilthew I had already identified in the 1851 census, living with his parents and siblings in Bassaleg, Monmouthshire.

[Class: HO107; Piece: 2453; Folio: 84; Page: 12; GSU roll: 104194.]

I had also found evidence that he married a local girl from Monmouthshire, Elizabeth Dwyer, and had at least two children by her ( I have now identified 5 other children born in the area between 1870 and 1877 , with no other Wilthew family identified living in the area, who may also have been children of the couple) before both parents and one daughter died in 1877/78. The family was living in the St Woolos in 1871.

[Class: RG10; Piece: 5346; Folio: 26; Page: 1; GSU roll: 848446]

I hadn’t however been able to locate him in the 1861 census, shortly after his father murdered his mother. However, I have now done so. In 1861, his name was mis-transcibed as ‘Witthew’ (despite in the original document, with names listed alphabetically, it is quite obviously ‘Wilthew’), and unfortunately the Soundex and ‘Similar spellings/meanings’ indexes are happier associating Wilthew with ‘Wild’ than with more commonly mistranscriptions of the name (Willthew, Withew, Witthew, Wither, Wilthers, Wiltheir, Wilthen, Wilthens, Wilthan, Wiltham, Willer, Whitten, Walthew, Welthews, Weethew, Arlthew beings some examples). So searching is time-consuming requiring various uses of wildcards and truncation symbols and trawling through original documents trying to decipher hand writing and matching against families and GRO/Parish records.

So, in 1861 I found him listed as ‘George Wilthew’, residing at the Infantry Barracks on Regent Road, Salford, Manchester, a private in the 84th Regiment of Foot.

[Map] Salford Barracks circa late 19th century[Map] Salford Barracks circa late 19th century

This regiment had recently returned from service in India and Burma, so getting to look at the regimental records to see if I can identify when George joined would be useful. I suspect it unlikely he served during the Indian Mutiny of ’57 as he would have been 14 or 15 at this point. Given his age, it is unlikely George was the son referred to in the newspaper reports of 1859.

John Shaftoe Wilthew jnr now holds various military records, and through their catalogue I found the discharge papers for one John Wilthew.

Discharged from the army on 9th June 1857, this would almost certainly appear to be John Shaftoe Wilthew junior. He is listed as being 20 years and 10 months old when he joined, on 26 April 1854 in Glamorgan, putting his birth at around June 1833. He is also listed as having been born in ‘Dunston’, near Newcastle upon Tyne, so this all fits in with the movements of his family (who in 1851 are listed as residing in Bassaleg, Monmouthshire).

He is listed as having joined the 12th Royal Regiment of Artillery, and of having served 2 years and 7 months of his 3 years
and 45 days in Malta (This would likely be between mid 1854 and mid 1857). Malta at this time served as a supply post and hospital for wounded soldiers during the Crimean war.

This gem of a find lists his conduct as having been “indifferent”, and the reasons for his being discharged from service as (i) being court martialed on 14th June 1855 for habitual drunkenness (he had been sentenced to 28 days imprisonment), (ii) drunkenness and insubordination on 26th January 1857 (no punishment) and (iii) a medical report which concluded he was unfit for further duty. the medical report is damning in conclusion:-

“This [????] in September 1856, at Malta, fell over the ramparts of Fort St Angelo [whilst?] very drunk and when picked up his left thigh was found to be broken. It is now a little shorter than the other and the limb is weaker and he cannot bend his knee as freely as formerly. He is [now?] physically unfit in the making of an artilleryman.

Disability caused by an accident when drunk.

After a careful examination I am of [the] opinion that John Wilthew is unfit for service and likely to be permanently disqualified in military duty, but that he is able to earn a livelihood. 29th May 1857.”

He was discharged in Woolwich, and is listed as being previously occupied as a ‘labourer’, 5′ 10″ tall with a dark complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. Having not yet found any record of him in the 1861 or later census, or any likely GRO or parish certificate of death, I suspect this alcoholic, unemployed ex-soldier dumped in south London in 1857, with an habitually drunken father living 300 miles north in County Durham may have slipped below the radar and prove difficult to find.

William Wilthew

The uncle of both of these soldiers was William Wilthew, my Great, great, great, great-grandfather. Baptised in 1800, he married his wife Anne Gilles at St Mary’s Anglican Church, Gateshead, on 23 Sep 1822. I had identified in an earlier post two parish records for children baptised in 1824 and 1825… John Wilthew and ‘Isabina’ Wilthew [Sabina Jane Wilthew, my Great, great, great-grandmother].

Bishops Transcript Births John and Isabina Wilthew 1824 and 1825

Bishops Transcript Births John and Isabina Wilthew 1824 and 1825

In these records, William Wilthew is listed as a ‘Soldier’ and later what looks like a ‘Marine’. I had initially searched, and the National Archives site with little success, and having later found that the same William Wilthew seems to have been arrested for fraud in the 1840s but also been declared bankrupt at least twice (again in the 1840s), whilst using alias, I had considered the fact that this may have simply been an error or lie (which wasn’t uncommon on baptism and entries).

However, I have now identified, via the National Archives, an attestation record for a William Wilthew… for joining the marines in 1823, and being discharged in 1827. So the next visit to the archives will hopefully shed some more light…

Item reference ADM 157/17/144: Folios 144-145. William Wilthew, born Whittingham [should be Whickham] Northumberland. Attestation papers to serve in the Royal Marines at Chatham 1823 (when aged 22). Discharged 1827 as Run. 77th Company.

… and see if there is again an inter-generational pattern with this Wilthew family.


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