John Richards and the Battle of Waterloo
John Richards was born in 1792 in the Parish of Pembrey, a village in the County of Carmarthenshire. The ancient village lies on the seashore of the Burry Estuary, between the towns of Llanelli and Kidwelly. In 1801 the population of Pembrey was 1455 [a]. Its main buildings of significance were the Parish Church of St Illtud and the ancient manorial house known as 'Court Farm', which is set on the slope of Pembrey Mountain. Along with the tower of St Illtud, Court Farm was used as a landmark and a navigational aid for many of the mariners that were sailing in and out of the estuary. The nearby mill at Achddu was also an adjunct to the village.
Being on the coast, it is probable that many of the inhabitants of Pembrey would have been fishermen and seamen and, as seams of coal were being worked in close proximity, a number of people would have been employed in coal-mining. Pembrey was also an agricultural village closely linked with sheep farming, according to the contemporary traveller Nicholas Carlisle who, in 1811 wrote...
There is a very extensive common in this parish, used as a sheep walk, and at times overflowed by the tide; the right to which is chiefly attached to certain farms in the adjoining parishes: it is computed, that from eight to ten thousand sheep depasture there for eight months of the year [a].There may have been the beginnings of an iron industry there, for in that same year, there is evidence of an iron works being erected by Messrs Farquharson & Simons. [b]There was also a 'living' being made on the nearby Cefn Sidan Sands where 'ship wrecking' , deliberate or otherwise, was being carried out. The place became infamous for this despicable trade.
By April, 1814 we find John Richards listed as a 'Labourer', in County Longford, Ireland, with three other men from Carmarthenshire, all were signing up with the British Army. Along with Evan John, Stephen Jones and William Jones, John Richards was in Granard, County Longford, enlisting with the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot, which had recently returned to garrison duty in Ireland after seeing service in most of the major battles of the Peninsular War. John is described in his Regimental papers as being 5 foot 8 inches, of fair complexion with hazel eyes, brown hair and an oval face. [c] In just over a year, John Richards is in Belgium...
Following Napoleon’s escape from Elba, the 32nd was sent to the continent to join the Duke of Wellington’s army, and on 16 June 1815 it fought at Quatre Bras, the preliminary battle before Waterloo itself. During the main fighting on 18 June, the regiment was part of the 5th Division commanded by Sir Thomas Picton of Iscoed, Ferryside.* It faced most of the major French attacks in the vicinity of La Haye Sainte farmhouse, forming a classic infantry square to resist the onslaught. Then, as the regimental history recounts:
A strong body of French infantry advanced against the left wing, and pressed on to the lane. Sir Thomas Picton instantly placed himself at the head of his division to meet the attack, crossed the lane, and charged the French, who — firing a volley--retired. The attack cost us a gallant leader. Sir Thomas Picton received a ball through his right temple and fell dead from his horse. His body was borne off the ground by two grenadiers of the 32nd regiment... During the charge a French officer seized a stand of colours belonging to the 32nd Regiment; but he was instantly run through the body by a sergeant's pike (Sergeant Switzer), as well as by the sword of Ensign John Birtwhistle, who carried the regimental colour until severely wounded. [d]As Hugo White, of the regimental museum in Bodmin, states...
Sir Thomas Picton commanded the 5th Division in which the 32nd was serving at Waterloo. He had already had a most distinguished career under Wellington in the Peninsula, before retiring to his estates in Wales in 1814. He was recalled from his well earned retirement the following year and took command of the 5th Division in Wellington’s army in Belgium. He was wounded at Quatre Bras on 16th June, but concealed the fact, and, although he must have been in great pain, continued to command his Division. On 18th June, at Waterloo, he was killed by a musket ball which hit him in the temple, killing him instantly, while leading a counter attack at one of the most desperate moments of the battle. His body was carried to the rear by two soldiers of the 32nd Foot, Grenadier Company. There is a monument to this gallant soldier at Carmarthen.[e]The 32nd suffered significant casualties at Waterloo: 647 men started the battle, but by the end of it, only 131 were still standing. These were the worst figures for any British regiment. The 32nd’s part in the battle is commemorated by a re-enactor group, based in the south west of England, which takes the regiment’s name: see The 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot re-enactment group.
After the war, the regiment was garrisoned principally in Ireland, although it also saw service in the Ionian Islands (1817-25), which were then under British occupation. In 1831 John Richards and the rest of the regiment sailed to Canada. Tensions were high, both between Canada and the United States (which had attacked Canada as recently as 1812) and between the British and French settlers within Canada itself. These tensions eventually culminated in the Lower Canada rebellion of 1837, when the French Canadians attempted to break away from British rule. Thanks to the 32nd and other forces, the rebellion was swiftly put down, but tensions between Canadians of British and French descent and culture continue to this day. John Richards was medically discharged from the army in 1838 as a result of his being 'worn out by long service and chronic bronchitis'. His character and conduct was described as exemplary. At the time of his discharge, Private Richards could not write as he signed his name with a cross.
In 1841 Pembrey's population had risen to 2850 [f], and we find a John Richards living in Furnace Row, Pembrey, whose occupation is listed as an 'Agricultural Labourer' living with a Mary 'Richards'. [g] Although it is not certain if this is our Waterloo hero or another John Richards, because John married a Mary Dicker in 1845. The wedding was held in Pembrey Church on Oct 14th 1845 and solemnised by the Vicar, J. Jones. Both were recorded as living at 'New Pit House'. [h] His wife Mary, was born in 1804 and baptised in St Mary Magdalene Church, Launceston, Cornwall. [i] About this time, Pembrey was described as being...
a village and parish, in the hundred of Carnwallan, county of Carmarthen, about 4 miles from Llanelly. The manufacture of iron was formerly carried on in this parish to a considerable extent, and large sums of money were expended in opening bituminous collieries, and constructing a commodious harbour and wet-dock, called 'Pembrey Harbour'. These collieries have ceased to be wrought for some years, but there is a probability of their being re-opened, and the harbour brought again into requisition.[j]Communication with the outside world had been improved as the village of Pembrey was served by a mail coach, appropriately called The Picton, which carried the mail from Swansea to Carmarthen via the Ship & Castle, Llanelli, and Kidwelly, but this mail supply was insufficient for the locality, so that in 1845 a meeting was called for the acceleration of all incoming and outgoing mail [k]. This demand would have been beneficial to Pembrey, so we find that in 1849 there is Receiving House for the mail in the village at John Thomas' Grocer Shop. [l] It is highly likely that he would have known the Waterloo veteran John Richards, of the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot.
In 1851 John was described as a 'Chelsea Out Pensioner' and was employed as the 'Post Carrier' between Pembrey and Llanelli, taking the mail between the two places. [m] It is most likely that he would have been selected for this duty because, as a Chelsea Pensioner, a recipient of the Waterloo Medal, and having given 19 years of service to the Crown, he would have been a safe bet to look after the Royal Mail.
In the sunset of his life, his home was at a place called 'Pit Hill House', Pembrey. This is probably the same place named on his burial record as 'Pwll Newydd' or 'New Pit'. (later Stanley's New Pit) [n]. John Richards was buried in the graveyard of Pembrey Church on the 29 July 1856**. J. Jones the Vicar at that time made a small note in the margin of the burial register, 'He was in the Battle of Waterloo'.
Four years later on December 23rd, 1860, Mary, John Richards' widow married the collier Evan Williams, both were living at Pentre-partridge? [o] Within a year they were living in Bonville's Row (Poss. Sandy Road?), Pembrey.
Notes & Citations
We acknowledge with thanks, Caru James, Librarian of the Llanelli Library and Hugo White, of Cornwall's Regimental Museum, Bodmin.
* In his book Old Llanelly, (1902) p75. Innes writes that in early June 1815, Sir Thomas Picton of Iscoed is said to have crossed the Falcon Bridge, Llanelli bound for Waterloo, 'where he died gloriously at the head of his brigade, driving three times their number of Frenchmen down the slope '
** This was the same graveyard where 12 year old Adeline Coquelin was interred. Adeline Coquelin was the niece of Josephine, former wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France. Adeline had been on-board the ship La Jeune Emma which was wrecked off the Cefn Sidan Sands in 1828.
[a] Topographical Book Wales Book 1 Nicholas Carlisle' Pen Bre' or Pembrey p83
[b] The Industrial and Maritime History of Llanelli and Burry Port 1750 – 2000 by Craig, Jones & Symons. P 41
[c] Public Records Office WO/25/367 and WO97 GBM
[d] Colonel G C Swiney, Historical Records of the 32nd (Cornwall) Light Infantry, now the 1st Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s L.I., from the Formation of the Regiment in 1702 down to 1892, p. 120.
[e] Hugo White, Cornwall's Regimental Museum
[f] Pigot's 1841
[g] 1841 Census
[h] Marriage Cert
[I] Baptismal Certificate Mary Dicker 10 October 1804
[j] Hunts 1844.
[k] Carmarthenshire Antiquary -''The Postal History of Llanelli' XII p59 1976. By Brian Cripps
[l] 1849 Hunts.
[n] The Industrial and Maritime History of Llanelli and Burry Port 1750 – 2000 by Craig, Jones & Symons. P 43
[o] Marriage Cert, Pembrey Church 23rd December 1860. p164
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