Friday, March 20, 2015

Thomas Holmes, 17th Lancers: Anglo-Zulu War 1879

Pte Thomas Holmes 17th Lancers,
Dublin ca 1875
Another shadowy figure of the Anglo Zulu War steps into  the light. I now know more about a man who in the main would have been forgotten except by members of his family. My thanks go to his descendant (Denise Neufeld) for the information on Thomas Holmes.

Thankfully the story of Thomas is shrouded in much mystery: a bland story would not be of interest at all. It starts back in 1856 in Wiltshire England. Even before he joined the army Thomas was in trouble having been labelled an habitual criminal prior to enlistment, however I am ahead of myself.

Thomas was born to Sarah BUY/BYE: the spelling of her surname remains uncertain. The 1841 census shows her as being born c 1833 Daunstey, Wiltshire, daughter of James and Ann Buy (Bye). Thomas was born in 1856 and baptised on 27 July 1856. It is worth noting that the father of Thomas Bye (Buy) was not recorded on the baptismal records of Wiltshire. Sarah did get married - to one James Holmes but this was in 1858, March Qtr in Chippenham. Shortly after the marriage the newly-weds moved to Wandsworth in London as shown on the 1861 census.
Thomas is indicated as Thomas HOLMES son of James Holmes. Despite research it has not been confirmed if James Holmes was in fact the father of Thomas, as Thomas was baptised as Thomas Buy. Young Thomas drifted into trouble in Wandsworth and was jailed more than once. I learnt via his criminal records that if anyone committed more than one offence they were classed as an habitual criminal.

Despite the uncertainty re his father Thomas kept the name (Holmes) for the rest of his life. As an example of his criminal life there's an entry concerning Thomas in Wandsworth prison.
'Calendar of Prisoners Wandsworth Prison. Dated 4 March 1872. General Quarter Sessions of the Peace Holden by Adjournment Saint Mary Newington.
No 28 Thomas Holmes. Previous Convictions * 14 days 18th Aug 1870, 21 Days 7th Oct 1870,21 Days 3rd May 1871 (2 Months) Criminal Justice Act 13th July 1871.Age 16 Trade or Occupation, Labourer. Committing Magistrate J Bridge Esq. Wandsworth Police Court. Committal date 19th Feb 1872. In Custody 19th Feb 1872.Offence: Feloniously breaking and entering the dwelling house of William Price and stealing therein one pistol and other articles, his property. Tried 5th March 1872 before W Hardman. Pleaded Guilty of Housebreaking and Larceny, after a previous conviction of Felony. Particulars of previous convictions charged in the indictment and proved in Court. Two Calendar months Hard Labour for Larceny, Wandsworth Police Court 13th July 1871. Sentence of Court: 12 Calendar Months hard labour.'
Thomas left Wandsworth Prison on 3 March 1873 and after a few months decided to enlist in the army. This he did on the 2 September 1873, he joined the 17th Lancers, the 'Death and Glory' Regt. 

By 17 November he had been admitted to hospital with gonorrhoea, during the course of his career he also contracted syphilis. Even on his enlistment details he gave false information, stating he came from Somerset: a check of his papers confirmed it being the right man. Old habits continued and on 9 January 1877 he was in military prison for receiving stolen money, released on 10 Oct 1877. In all he was in the regimental defaulters book seven times and was court martialled once. Thomas saw service in India and in South Africa. In South Africa he is believed to have taken part in the Battle of Ulundi and to have been in the party that recovered the body of the Prince Imperial who was killed on 1 June 1879.

Army life especially on horseback did not agree with Thomas and soon he was up before a medical board suffering from varicose veins, so badly that he was discharged from the service on 4 January 1881. He gave as his intended place of residence as his parents' home in Wandsworth. 

On 17 April 1881 he married Mary Elizabeth SANDHAM.  On 12 October 1889 he was present at the death of his father (?) when in a drunken brawl James Holmes struck his head on a curbstone. One W Chance was charged with manslaughter. Thomas and Mary had five children, twin boys born in 1898; both died shortly after they were born, part of the horrendous infant mortality rate in Victorian London. [Sarah 1882, Violet 1894, the twins in 1898 (Tom and James) and Tom in 1900.  The boys all died shortly after birth.]

At this moment I have been unable to confirm precisely when Thomas entered Canada but a search revealed that in August 1906 a Thomas Holmes left Liverpool on the SS Luconia arriving in New York on 25 August 1906, passenger Thomas Holmes b 1856 England; however, this may not have been the correct individual. It is possible, though not definite, that he went to the USA thence to Canada where his wife and daughter followed the next year. Thomas found himself in Oakville, Manitoba, a labourer on a farm. He eventually moved to Oakville as the Canadian census shows. In 1914 despite dyeing his hair he was turned down when trying to re-enlist.

At the time of his death he was a Caretaker in a local bank. Thomas Holmes late 17th Lancers departed this earth on 2 April 1923 in Oakville, Manitoba. Cause of death, Cerebral hemorrhage and Lung abscess aged 66 years 9 months and 7 days.

This is his obituary:
At his home last Sunday Mr Holmes passed away and in his passing another of that fast dwindling army, the soldier empire makers of the Victorian era went to his reward. The late Mr Holmes was an ex-member of that very famous regiment the 17th Lancers, the Death or Glory Boys, and with them saw much service. He served with Chelmsford in the Zulu war of 1879, and doubtless took part in most of the big engagements of the campaign, when this was over he accompanied his regiment to India where after several years service he was invalided home. The deceased was born in Wiltshire, England, coming to Canada in 1907 and was followed a year later by his wife and family. He resided in Oakville for many years where he was much loved and respected by members of the community.
Mr Holmes is survived by his wife and two daughters , Mrs House of Winnipeg and the other in London (Wandsworth, England). The sympathy of the whole community is with the family in their recent bereavement.'

So concludes the story of Thomas Holmes - or was it Buy/Bye?

Graham Mason
Anglo-Zulu War Researcher

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