When I was first getting stuck into my family tree researches in earnest, I spent a lot of time sorting out my Williams ancestors in North Wales, specifically around Dolgellau/Dolgelly and Barmouth. The documented male line stops sharply in 1845 with the birth of my great great grandfather Ellis Williams and his twin brother Griffith. With no father present, or even named on the birth record, their young mother Sydney Ellis handed the two boys into the care of her father Griffith Ellis (age 64) and mother Anne Lewis (59).
My search for the father is on hold indefinitely, perhaps pending a useful DNA match with earlier generations of Dolgellans ( Dolgelistas? Dolly-go-lightlies?) who headed for the New World.
Turning to Sydney’s parents, I found that I could not establish anything beyond their place and year of birth. The records showed that Griffith was a Chelsea pensioner, that it to say he was a soldier who was long-serving or who had been injured in service. When I first latched onto this in 2006, the conjunction of available records suggested that he was an Able Seamen on the HMS Neptune at the Battle of Trafalgar. Exciting news indeed, and on the back of that I spent an afternoon at the Kew Archives handling the original ship’s muster book which had been partly given over to detailing the names of all the men it had captured.
Some time later, when discussing this with my cousin Alison (who shares Griffith as an ancestor through his eldest daughter Gwen), she was somewhat uneasy about this naval connection. I left it at that until more records emerged.
Fast forward to this week when I receive a long handwritten letter from Alison – you remember those letters don’t you? Full of pictographs of eagles, giant eyeballs and people dancing to Bangles’ songs. Well, that’s about how long ago it is since I received a real letter. Anyhoo, Alison has rather indefatigably pursued this nook of our family history to uncover the real story of Griffith’s military history. She also found out a stack of information about one of Sydney’s other “parental partners” but I’ll save that for another day.
At the same National Archives in Kew she found the document WO 119/36/2 which were Private Griffith Ellis’ discharge documents:
… in consequence of being worn out from West India service, is rendered unfit for further service and is hereby discharged
… to prevent any improper use being made of this discharge … the following is a description of the said Griffith Ellis. He is about 35 years of age, is 5 feet 5 inches in height, brown hair, grey eyes, fair complexion, by trade a staymaker.
Statement of Service
|Corps||From||To||As Private||in West Indies|
|16th Regiment of Foot||16 Oct 1799||26 June 1816||16 years, 58 days||8 years, 159 days|
- signed in Limerick, 10th June 1816.
His recuperation time was spent at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin and after discharge he returned to Dolgellau where he married Anne Lewis in October of the same year.
OK, so where did Griffith spend those sixteen years, age 18-35 with the 16th Regiment of Foot?
- 1800. Sailed to Cork in Ireland.
- 1803-1815. Wars with France.
- 1804. 7th January; embarked to the West Indies, landing at Barbados on 26th March, 573 strong. 7th April; sail from Barbados and are engaged at the battle of Surinam. The regiment would waste away here until 1811. 27 Officers and over 500 men died of disease with more being invalided home with Yellow Fever.
- 1806. Attacked at Surinam, losing 75% of the command yet winning the small scale battle.
- 1810. Detachments start to return to England from Barbados and Surinam, leaving in 1810 and 1811.
- 1812. The last detachment leaves the West Indies. The very last group are ship wrecked off the Irish Coast with the loss of a few men, 1 wife and several children, along with all regimental documentation, equipment and property being lost. After rebuilding with English and Irish volunteers they march to quarters at Sunderland in July. 1813. Moved to Perth in Scotland that March and to Ireland in July.
- 1814. (War with the United States) Embarked from Monkstown in Ireland in the spring for Canada as an advanced guard to the army being sent there. Landed in Quebec on the 29th May before moving to Chambly, later Montreal and finally to Fort Wellington.
- 1815. Rushed back to England in response to Napoleon's revival, leaving Quebec in July and arriving at Portsmouth in August before being moved to join Wellington's army at Ostend. Moved into the army of occupation in Paris and finally sent back to England. They miss the battle of Waterloo due to their transport from Canada being late and, once the treaty was concluded, march back to Calais and arrive at Dover very late in December.
- 1816. Moved to Ireland. Land at Monkstown 3rd February and stationed at Fermoy, Limerick and Cashel in turn.
Wouldn’t you be exhausted? Griffith was of a hardy nature, and went from these experiences to living with a fractious wife and daughter, bringing up his grandchildren, before finally calling it a day at age 90 in 1871.
There’s still an open question about who Able Seaman Griffith Ellis of Barmouth might be, and what his connection to my Ellises might be: uncle? cousin?