Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tracing a Military Man 4

The 1881 Census for  Stevenston reveals that Finley Gibson’s brother, William, also took up residence in their widowed sister’s household in Schoolwell Street. Both men are listed as army pensioners. According to William’s service pension documents, he had taken his discharge from the army on 7 September 1880 at which date he was aged 38.

Though these pension papers give his number as 1245, this is an error: William was, in fact, Pte 1265 of the 2/4th, the King’s Own Royal Regiment of Foot. Like Finley, his birthplace was St George’s District, East London, and his civilian occupation was labourer. His intended place of residence after discharge is given as 57 Newcommon (Newcomen) Street, Borough, London. Whether this address had been that of the Gibson family home is uncertain, but William apparently chose to go to Ayrshire instead, perhaps having heard that Finley was living there.

William was in the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Foot (King’s Own Royal Regiment)  [WO12/2271]. He had enlisted on 21 June 1859 at Newington. His description: height 5’4 and a half, chest 30”, hair dark, build slender.

The first thing William did on enlistment was go AWOL until 17 July 1859. He rejoined his Regiment on 18 July 1859 and was ordered to be inducted into his Corps as a pardoned deserter. Not a good beginning to William’s military career and giving a fair indication of both his attitude and of what was to come.

The Defaulters Book entries for William show his conduct to have been ‘Fair’ and that he acquired only one Good Conduct badge during the entire course of his service. He appeared on Regimental defaulters a total of 35 times including 4 Courts Martial. This must constitute another sort of record.

Nevertheless, he was locked into the army for a considerable time. At date of discharge he had completed 19 years, 251 days’ service – eight and a half years of which were served abroad. Stations included Corfu, Malta, Halifax Nova Scotia and, unexpectedly for me, Natal - for a year and five months. This must have been around the time of the Anglo-Zulu War, I thought, and so it proved: William Gibson had actually visited South Africa with his regiment. Could he have been at Isandlwana? Or at Rorke’s Drift?

To be continued

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