The Chelsea Out-Pensioner

My 2x great grandfather, Richard Ashton, was born in Pewsey, Wiltshire, in around 1822. Richard was a labourer, probably in agriculture, at the time he joined the army. When he retired he became a shepherd. In the absence of any photographs, it is interesting to note his physical description from his army paybook upon his retirement from the army. He was described as 5′ 7″ with brown hair and light grey eyes.

Richard served 21 years and 1 month in the Army; his career began when he enlisted in the 54th Regiment of Foot at Swindon in Wiltshire on 25th September 1843. There was no conscription in the 19th century, so Richard must have chosen an army career. His army number was 2042.

A distant cousin of mine kindly let me have a copy of Richard’s pay book and in ‘The Services Abroad’ section it tells us that he served in India during the ‘Indian Mutiny’. Three ships took the 54th out to India: The ‘Sarah Sands’, the ‘Lady Jocelyn’ and the ‘City of Manchester’.

It is assumed that Richard was aboard the ‘City of Manchester’ which arrived in India on 12th November 1857, as he arrived in Calcutta on 16th, whilst the ‘Lady Jocelyn’ arrived on 1st November and the ‘Sarah Sands’ didn’t arrive until 21st January 1858, having had to divert to Mauritius after a dramatic incident mid-voyage involving fire and abandonment. You can read more about the incident using this link Fire on board the SS Sarah Sands – drama in the Indian Ocean, 1857

I had hoped for some time that Richard had been aboard the ‘Sarah Sands’ and had valiantly returned to the burning ship to ‘save the colours’. That dream was dispelled when I contacted the Regimental Museum, Dorchester, Dorset who gave me the information about the three ships and confirmed that Richard was not aboard the ‘Sarah Sands’.

I have not been able to trace when Richard married his wife Martha. Martha was born in Antrim, Northern Ireland, so they may have married there. Martha was still alive in 1911, but my hopes were dashed again when I saw on the census that she hadn’t elaborated on her place of birth. Richard and Martha’s first child, also Richard, was born c1856, at the Tower of London. It is thought that this was the barracks for the 54th Regiment of Foot at the time.

The next known child to come along was Margaret Ann who was born c1858 in Antrim. This suggests that Martha did not travel out to India with Richard, but went on to join him later as their next child, Mary, was born in 1862 in Moradabad. Sadly, I believe that Mary must have died in infancy as there is no record of her on the 1871 census, which was the first census after the Ashtons returned to England. Another daughter, Caroline, was born c1864, also in Moradabad, and Richard, his wife and children landed back in England on 10th July 1864. It probably wasn’t a very pleasant journey with a small baby and two young children.

On 18th October 1864 Richard was admitted as a Chelsea Out-Pensioner, ie he retired, having risen to the rank of sergeant.

Richard’s next known child was Robert who was born c1868 in Pewsey, Richard’s home town. Then came Mary (my great grandmother) on 14th December 1871 at Timbridge Farm, Little Bedwyn, and finally Alice M born c1874 Thannaghmore, Antrim.

I do wonder whether Richard’s wife Martha was also born in Thannaghmore and that she had family there whom she visited periodically. At the time of the 1901 census, Martha was in North Wales with her daughter and grand daughters. They were very close to Angelsey, so perhaps they were on the way to Ireland for one of these family visits.

I haven’t been able to find a record of Richard’s death, which, assuming Alice was Richard’s child (I’ve been caught like that before!) would have been between 1873 and 1881.

Richard Ashton is my most ‘fleshed out’ ancestor but for whom, ironically, I do not have a record of his birth, marriage or death.

Rosie Knees

© Rosie Knees 2009


The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset